Contest winners will be recognized by our contest judge (a published Canadian poet) with a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place ranking as well as the appearance of their contest entry poetry on this contest website.
An interview with the first-prize winner will be published on the contest website, or an affiliated publication, or Allyson Latta's website, "Memories into Story", www.allysonlatta.ca, recommended by The Writer magazine in the 125th-anniversary issue as one of "16 of Our Favorite Writing Blogs and Websites" (March 2012). Allyson has served as our contest's Editorial Consultant and published interviews with our contest winners from 2012 to 2015.
Our interview with 2016 first-prize winner, Rebecca Gismondi, can be found below.
To develop talent, the Contest will commit $500 to online private mentoring with our contest judge (for his/her biography, see Contest Judge).
Rather than a cash prize, our Contest winners will receive as follows:
1st place: 5 private online mentoring sessions (each session is a 1/2 hour in length)
2nd place: 4 private online mentoring sessions (each session is a 1/2 hour in length)
3rd place: 3 private online mentoring sessions (each session is a 1/2 hour in length)
Online mentoring sessions create an opportunity for these aspiring poets for private instruction and to have a selection of their poems closely reviewed.
Your Voice is Yours for a Reason ~ My Interview with Rebecca Gismondi
Heidi: Why did you decide to submit this particular poem to the contest?
Rebecca: It's my favourite piece that I've written so far. I think it accurately reflects who I am both as a person and as a writer and I think it showcases my style appropriately. It's always important to submit your best work and I believe this reflects that!
Heidi: What's the backstory to this poem?
Rebecca: This poem is based off of a painting by Paula Rego, who is one of my favourite artists. It's called "The Loving Bewick", and it's of a woman sitting down and a pelican perched above her with its beak in her mouth. I first saw this painting in Lisbon and fell in love with both Rego's work and this particular painting, and was inspired to write this piece! I think it also came from me reflecting on who I am when I am in love with someone, and how one often throws themselves into another person and becomes lost in them and the idea of being in love.
Heidi: When did you start writing poetry?
Rebecca: I think I was 9. I remember in elementary school we had to make a poetry book for an assignment and I was hooked from then on. Poetry has always been something constant in my life and has always been that one thing that I can walk away from for a while, but always come back to and feel the most at home.
Heidi: Do you remember your first poem? Care to share a couple of lines? What inspired that first poem or your first piece of creative writing?
Rebecca: I think it was about candy. I wish I remembered a few lines! It was from that poetry book I had to write in school, and I wrote about things like candy, my parents and life as a 9-year-old. I used to write short stories and "novels" when I was younger, and they were all just amalgamations of events that were happening in my life: growing up, making friends, liking boys. I wrote a poem as well when a friend of mine passed away when I was 10 from cancer, and from then on I realized that it could really be an important outlet for me.
Heidi: Was poetry your first creative outlet, or was it another style of writing? Or another art form?
Rebecca: I was involved a lot in acting when I was very young up until I got out of university, but writing was always hiding there the whole time. It took a few different experiences for me to bring it out a little more, but I wrote a lot of short stories, plays and screenplays as I got older. I only became really serious about poetry specifically a few years ago.
Heidi: Do other forms of artistic expression and/or life experience influence your writing?
Rebecca: Life experience is the basis of all of my work! Everything I write, whether it be screenplays or poetry, comes from events that have happened to me or to those I love. I feel a stronger connection to my writing and I feel that my style emerges more effectively when I write from a personal place. But that being said, I am incredibly influenced by art as well. I often will go to galleries and just sit in front of a painting and write, and I can always find myself in whatever piece I am looking at, which I think is so beautiful.
Heidi: Who has influenced or encouraged your writing - which writers/authors, other artists, teachers/mentors, loved ones?
Rebecca: I absolutely adore Sylvia Plath. I'm a huge fan of Charles Bukowski, Ben Ladoucer, Ocean Vuong, Sara Peters, Ada Limon. Paula Rego, as I mentioned, is a big inspiration of mine. And beyond that, any person that is in my life, or has come into my life at one point that I've connected with, or who has shown me their heart has influenced my writing in some way. I am lucky to have met and interacted with people who have only inspired and encouraged my writing more, even if the outcomes may not have necessarily been positive. Any event, good or bad, is the best source of inspiration for a writer in my eyes.
Heidi: What do you do to develop your craft?
Rebecca: I read a lot - poetry, screenplays, novels, articles. I write. And I write. And I write. It is the most important thing - to actually do the work! I've had so many mentors tell me that you cannot call yourself a writer if you don't write, so I have taken that to heart and I make sure to set time aside, even if it's only a few times a week, to work on my writing. And I immerse myself in various different art forms like plays, films, galleries, museums. Going out and experiencing different art forms and just having interesting experiences in general help you hone and develop what you want to write about and what influences you. And I love to travel. Planting yourself in a new environment with new people and new surroundings shakes you up and forces you to look at things differently.
Heidi: What advice do you have for fellow aspiring poets?
Rebecca: Write! Make time for it. If it is your passion and what you love, take as much time as you can out of your day or week to work on it. Read poetry and even go out and listen to poetry as well! There are so many amazing poets out there (even right here in Toronto!) and we have such a wonderful community who are so warm and welcoming. And if you happen to go to a reading and are inspired by someone, go up to them and say hi! Connecting with other writers is so great, and I can guarantee they will love to talk about writing with you. And finally: be confident in your work. I know it's easier said than done, but don't try and compare yourself to other writers. Your voice is yours for a reason, and don't be afraid to share it.
Rebecca's contest winning poem and the names of our 2016 top three contest winners are listed below!
1st place: Rebecca Gismondi
2nd place: Alexander Doro
3rd place: Darian Selander
Here are the winning poems in 2016 as selected by contest judge, George Elliott Clarke:
the pelican (1st place, Rebecca Gismondi)
He would feed me sardines perched above me
every night before we fucked in the big white lighthouse
I never bled more than I did that summer;
his beak digging into my back as I pulled handfuls
of feathers – but I loved the thrashing of his wings
and the uneven wood beneath my arched back.
He covered me when
we finished and I could smell the oceans he had flown
over on his neck. In the morning, he would open his gull and I
climbed inside as he flew me back to the city.
He would never let me sit atop his back to see
the flush of green or the meeting of mountains. Only inside
his mouth did I belong. I wished more than anything to be
a sardine – to be dangled above others, to have their adoration
proved to me before I slid between their teeth forever.
If These Walls Could Talk (2nd place, Alexander Doro)
When the pipe in the kitchen burst, the remnants of my family gathered
around the surge of blasting water,
only a mother, son and daughter.
The walls that had been stoic
through a thousands fights and watched while we grew up
and apart, began to cry. The drywall had dampened
and swelled with stress, about to collapse
above the table where we once sat,
like a scab which we pried and picked at.
My mom had plucked the plaster
Letting loose the rush of memories while stopping the water
Me and my sister wiped the tears of streaming water,
An art which
My dad could have fixed the fissure,
The wound in the wall.
Except he was the piece of plaster missing,
Leaving the house shattered, and us
Cold Knees (3rd place, Darian Selander)
We’ve got cold in our knees Brother
What are you doing up so late
What’s the difference between deer hide and the back of your neck
I was born fifty years too late
To hold your hand
Brother and now I sit
Watching new gulls
As the lines in your hands
The lines on your face
The lines etched into your back.
Brother I’m worried about your eyes
The scabs that form around them
Why don’t you ever do anything
I like to blame the victim
Before anyone else can
I claim all the shame for myself
Like a fat cat
Lapping up another fat cat’s blood.
There will be time enough
To find fault, but until then
I’ll pile it high like a high pile of bones
A high pile of bones that melt into the sky
Then I will be able to see
Through your wolf eyes
Your jackal slits
You would slit your own mother
Stem to stern
With those sharp eyes
I feel like I’m doing a dirty thing writing this down
But Brother if one of us dies
Then only one of us will be left
With the truth
And you haven’t looked well
I’ll wrap you in a blanket
Or will I smother you
It’s been so long since I have held anyone
And just like red dye,
You’re all over my arms
And I’m so desperately trying to hide
That I want to be you, Brother,
I know hard times is just another word
And watching it all go to shit
Is what you’re used to
You’re skinny all over,
But big, like a raven
If anyone can survive this
Its you Brother.
Cold knees come from praying.
1st place: Chloë Catan
2nd place: Basia Gilas
3rd place: Marina Black
Here are the winning poems in 2015:
Uprush (1st place, Chloë Catan)
I’ve always been attracted to what’s in the distance,
and the hazy aqueducts. Fernando Pessoa
In my book of disquiet
there’s a chalk glare,
the tail end of a country
I can’t catch across the gap,
then again a rush of flint shingle
breaks against the parapet.
There’s a sea lion I didn’t see
swim to the surface, through
the ashes we’d strewn
with butterflies we thought would float,
but were now sinking with him.
There’s a lion with a monkey’s face
and a lady, slim as a question mark
holding a mirror in her hand,
and I cannot eat for looking
at the strange beauty of it.
There’s walking the tight,
the rope, the stalag.
There’s a slap and its sting
and I rain from the ground up.
There are suitcases, many of them
and rubble, furniture, toys
heaped in pyres on a ship—
a box, or is it a saw-in-half.
There are whales from the porthole.
Negative Curvature (2nd place, Basia Gilas)
Brain matter crenulates inside the skull
making more surface area for neurons
like sea slugs anatomical frills provide
more surface area for them to filter feed.
At one time cosmologists speculated the
Universe might be shaped like a Pringles
potato chip, the geometric opposite of a
sphere, like Jimmy’s flipped eyelids.
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropic Probe
however, in showing off the Universe’s baby
pictures, proved it’s flat within .4% margin
of error. I was hoping it was shaped like a saddle.
In hyperbolic geometry things aren’t as we
know them. For instance, the sum of a triangle’s
angles can equal zero! It took math nerds 2000
years to find a flaw in Euclid’s parallel postulate.
Jonas Bolyai’s father, Wolfgang, said to him:
For god’s sakes please give it up. Fear it no less
than sensual passion because, it too, may take
up all your time and deprive you of your health
peace of mind and happiness in life.
My mother’s plea with equal urgency:
Don’t get pregnant.
She taught me how to crochet and thereby
some mysteries of the hyperbolic plane,
which hid in Barbie’s hoop skirt ruffles,
curving away from themselves atop the
toilet tank. Each row of stitches increasing
by one; an algorithm for exponential space.
Dr.Taimina, in 1997, was the first person
to crochet a hyperbolic plane. She took
what women do when they have nothing
else to do and gave her students the ability
to handle the impossible. Sometimes hard
questions ask from us too much imagination.
For instance, I’ve never held a newborn.
Forget the Colour of Wheat (3rd place, Marina Black)
Forget the colour of wheat alongside the tracks.
The train Vyborg – Leningrad rushes past villages with bullet’s velocity. Past
the twilight of twitching eyelids - the cataracted eyes in whiteness, not in history. Past
Finland Bay. Ten times the trees. Endlessly. Finally. The city. Everything. Ceaseless air. Idle
in low temperatures. And the childish snow falls sidelong
onto mansard roofs. Past
spell silver-laced windows that are partly faces. And suddenly
the colonnades of Nevsky prospect are overturned by Akhmatova’s funeral. Drone dull buzzing folding into
the traffic of legs stiffened in numbness trotting their way.
Two steps. And steps.
You were holding the coffin over the wound
ached on the lovelorn paper. Clucking
jaws. There is, it seems, no heresy like the heresy
of saying good-buy. All I do now
is listen to your music. For nobody,
for no living ears: as I am
your syllable. I am
and I - am poem
in the midst of matrons in furry hats, crows, cobblestones, wide open mouth of bridges and clumsy jackets.
As if a traveller seized by the dark thirst. The North is driving herd
into the Baltic, heads down whining in sorrow.
The Savior on the Blood is ink-bleeding its tower-knots of fire, licking
your shivering body with tongues whose blood is not your own. How fathomless
it is to be embedded in glacial light. How fragile
the winter light is after all, perched precariously. How always
on the verge of disappearing. And then
you are no more either. And I
remember things that have been said lead-onto-white, pain-onto-wire,
sinews, tautology – the knacks for catching dying life’s moth or
violated pale virgin flakes with their busted gills –
bitter wad of silence.
Just letters left, preserved
by wonder. If yes -
in what language?
1st place: Shayne Golosky-Johnston, water ghosts
2nd place: Isabella Aidar, Ghosts, Animals & Tattoos
3rd place: James Hinds, Make Your Poetry Suffer
The winning poems in 2014:
water ghosts (1st place, Shayne Golosky-Johnston)
your last word was water,
which I poured from a hospice
a good last word, i think,
that was our favourite place:
the water-house at the edge of
town that some delinquent sunk
out of boredom and desperation
we made it our home
lived in it for years
spent our moons
finding Jesus in plywood
and our suns sharpening
ballpoint pens until
they forged swords
from words scrawled in red
we carved ohms
on the empty holy
altar of our ark
to angel fish
and watched the
exchange of lost
souls on the seas
your glass bottle
containing a human
sense of being
Ghosts, Animals & Tattoos (2nd place, Isabella Aidar)
“& all night I bathed, you & your ink, you and your
breath: drawing ghosts on the glass like the softest tattoos.
But was it only a dream? In the morning your nudity
next to mine, answers: no animals, no ghosts, no tattoos.”
An etched badge lives in my skin-
a certificate of a risen phoenix.
It moves with my curves, bends with my folds.
The wings spread as flames; the tail traces my spine
like a tongue, while the moon wanes on your shoulder.
The mandala over my heart tells a story. And yours-
the skull tells me of your dead father.
One rose for each fallen pet unfolds on your back.
Even the goldfish, you say.
We sit in the tub as though resting on shore,
& all night I bathed you, you & your ink, you and your
hands grazing the Maori lines contouring my arm.
You give me a different kind of sugar.
Line after line, our noses snuff;
fingers interlace against the glass wall.
In your grasp I’m a muse
who wears bubbles and finger paints with steam.
Black pupils expand; wings of a bat.
I draw my lips close onto your blue
breath: drawing ghosts on the glass like the softest tattoos.
We trace the metal bumps of each other’s rings
on noses, lips, nipples and tongues.
Roar and growl as jungle cats, I claw your back,
only to lie down. Big spoon, little spoon.
We’re kittens now who stretch and purr.
I tug your lips with my teeth, tiger and tigress,
roll ourselves as joints in a blanket foolishly.
In the morning, your nudity
lingers as a clammy draft in my room. The note
you left on my dresser, crinkled,
like the tissue from the nose bleed you had.
Flashbacks of spirals and polygons on your chest,
the moon waning on your shoulder, roses on your back.
Flakes of dirt; the sole remnants of your ghost shoes.
My fingers still pruned - reminder of a
soak in the tub when we thought we were felines.
The empty crease where your body laid bruised
next to mine, answers: no animals, no ghosts, no tattoos.
Make Your Poetry Suffer (3rd place, James Hinds)
Does your poetry suffer?
Do your rhymes bleed?
Do your words ask your syllables to love?
I tell you! this poetry really does suffer
to love -
that's why it writes.
Vulnerable speech: my humble offering.
prostrate to broken, raw, suffering poetry; a real and edgy life tide.
These beautifully fractured words speak my truth!
and it's real - even though I'm deluded.
Does your poetry suffer?
Can your Inner Massa express 400 years of slavery with that willful tongue - a - whipping?
Please do -
all your ancestors watch, wait, and weep -
celebrating your cotton-picking tune.
Hearts split open when your words are heard; eyes stream! with our shared vision.
So if I'm stuck,
if I'm paralyzed by my own self-piteous mental rhymes,
this poetry will joyfully suffer,
Does your poetry suffer?
Can your inner Fuhrer capture the suffering of concentration camps with your chambered words?
Zyklon B - a - foamin' from your lips,
Zundercommando's lies through your stained, unbrushed teeth.
From the Promised Land they watch and ask us to remember,
they ask us to change -
they ask us to
My poetry suffers, because it is so.
My words lie,
my stanzas cheat,
my presence steals -
and my onomatopoeia's just ain't buzzin' no more.
All pretense thinned,
no censorship to buffer;
my heart cracks open as this poetry suffers.
Does your poetry suffer?
These words pulse, beat and shake with the pain of its truth -
one does not get any more forthcoming than this.
We are exactly what we are looking for and
it is ourselves we must keep,
but still - we seek.
This poetry anguishes with a purpose
to break free of its iambic chains;
to escape the prison of its own expressions.
If your poetry is
like this wildly beating heart,
then it suffers for joy;
your poetry suffers to be whole.
Does your poetry suffer?
Do your rhymes bleed?
Do your words ask those syllables for love?
Make your poetry suffer.
1st place: Natalia Darie, Maroon
2nd place: Whitney Sweet, Brass Plaque and a Bottle of Beer
3rd place: Bria Lubiens, Blue
The winning poems in 2013:
Impossible the hue
of a childhood sky
Holds the gaze steady
over lands and lands
strung round your collar;
Churns motion thick
inside the pallor of your true hands
And you are taller than
Only a few years; within their stubborn curves
Dug trenches between us;
Already now my unhinged voice seeks
refuge in your sober mouth.
Tighter and tighter you wrap
skin of a still lake
over water, my body
a drum against yours
lies quiet as a leaf.
No longer do the eyes
past our accidental kingdom
of patient stones;
Sweet ruins run their course
and settle on the tongue like rust red
Dust of a dead beautiful
Ancient blood wakes, runs down the pillars
of temples, cakes on my soles
to keep the ground safe
from punctual mistakes.
Night groans, coils inside my chest;
From tip to toe a cocoon
in sleep I follow
to learn your color, maroon.
The animal sludge slumber
lifts from my bones.
Brass Plaque and a Bottle of Beer
7:00am flight to Montreal
Hôtel - Dieu
I don’t speak French
We sat watching you die
I told you to
Until after lunch
Your sisters will be back
I held the baby
That wasn’t permitted inside
“Votre bébé est beau”
The nuns said smiling
He cried fat, hot and hungry tears
I could not feed him
The funeral was at a Catholic church
Performed by a French priest
In broken English
It felt strange I’d only met you twice before
Your family is immeasurable
They buried your ashes under a tree
Facing Covey Hill
Through a blue veined sugar bush
Over ankle breaker field stones
Past cedar scrub
By the elderberry field
They buried you with
A brass plaque
And a bottle of beer.
We stood in Lion’s park with the big yellow
swing on Saturday looking up when we
heard the Robin’s panicked
squawking. The golden nest sat against
the eave of the building
where a boy once flew off his
swing and broke his leg as a warning
to us all. We pictured vibrant
blue eggs up there between
power lines and the stucco and wanted
those treasures to remind of childhood
outdoors. I found a long leftover branch
from a summer storm to
lift the eggs from their perch
but I was scared and the girl who
dad dubbed the bird-chucker tried
with more force. What tumbled
down was not blue but pink and
fleecy and made the most peculiar
sound when they hit the ground
and as momma Robin scolded
I realized I was shaking
and the one in my hand was warm,
I may have even felt it flutter.
1st place: Ana Rodriguez Machado, An Afternoon in Central America
2nd place: Nora Grove, Chirico #1
3rd place: Jill Talbot, Vulture
The winning poems in 2012:
An Afternoon in Central America
The mountains danced with shades of cadmium and emerald.
The policemen came to thank us for coming from so far away.
We aimed their loaded M14s and posed for pictures.
Everyone laughed. Sand turned to stone.
Behind the girl with golden hair, a little boy ripped a worm in half.
a dog yaps somewhere around the corner
its sound bounces like a batted racket ball
off stucco walls
blocks of sunlight and deep shadow
on empty cobble stoned streets
is it siesta
or something sinister
a sense of menace
pervades this place
why does it feel familiar
I am a stranger here
perhaps Lorca knows
is that why he was shot
his poetry stifled by black boots
gun butts keys shovels
fear an invisible gas leaks
through window sills
under bolted doors
it is not yet evening but close
after dark things happen
some cry out
others cover their ears and wait
no one knows for sure
why or who is next or when
at dawn life resumes
in patterns of light and shadow
in houses and on streets
where a dog's bark is heard
I want to be a part of it—
outside my Georgia Strait window, the turkey vulture circles and circles,
she goes to fetch her young and they take turns gnawing at a captured baby seal.
The lesson of the day is ruthlessness, selfish survival, a good eye.
I know it is a she because
when every battle is ‘til death due us part and every piece of carcass—
continental breakfast—true bonds require the right hormones.
I know it is a she because the default is ‘he’
Animals are all male, don’t ask me why. Stuffed animals, especially.
Whether I should refer to it as a she, as lesbian, gay or transgender,
half sea or half lion? (never half white) is something they’d never ask,
in the wild.
Locusts will travel thousands of miles, one by one, in great crowds.
Follow the leader, they frantically keep up with the pact, the locust in front being the guide, and possibly breakfast, if he dares
We sit in classrooms discussing 19th century literature,
and I long for the mad waves on days
they tell me to bring an umbrella, I long for the grand entrance of wind,
fighting the trees. I long for the Queen Ocean, powerful, unaffected by the politics of land. Uninterested but angry.
You study DNA, forgetting about it when you go to the bar, chromosome shopping. Terrified that you may have your own mate call, terrified that you’d also fight to get your belly full.
Not knowing—somewhere there's a seal looking for its pup.
Somewhere there is a youthful vulture showing off.
You clutch your copy of the APA manual (4th ed) as if it might save you.
You are half man, half suit, and a bit iPad3,
the vulture of the modern world
... or the baby seal?