CBC Poetry Prize 2020: Pandemic poem wins top spot, with three B.C. poets named runners-up

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      A poem that captures the transformation of Canada during the onset of the pandemic has won a national literary award.

      CBC, in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, announced the winner of the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize today (November 12).

      The jury—consisting of poets Kate Kellough, Dion Brand, and Stephen Collis—chose the winning piece from 2,930 submissions.

      Montreal-based Matthew Hollett, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, received the grand prize for  his poem “Tickling the Scar”. Hollett receives $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, CBCBooks has published his poem, and he will receive a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

      The jury issued a statement about why they chose the poem:

      Tickling the Scar’s lines turn from intimate witness to distant reportage and culminate in a chilling statement about the present moment. Walking the Lachine Canal, the poem’s central I dissolves into an anonymous masked figure, the poem returning to the image of a lung, seen in the form of a lake and of a splayed mussel shell. As it breathes, it explores greed and recklessness, courage and industriousness, shifting scales effortlessly from the damage being done today, to the damage already done to the natural world that surrounds us. This is a poem without a false step, gliding smoothly between the topical and timeless.”

      Matthew Hollett
      April White

      In response to the announcement, Hollett responded by saying that he is humbled by being chosen and reflected upon how he now regards the piece.

      “It was hard to write about the pandemic, and I find my poem difficult to read now, as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb,” he explained. “Those early days back in the spring felt so strange, and I wanted to document that strangeness. This feels like a new kind of poem for me, so it’s very encouraging.”

      He elaborated on his inspiration for the poem.

      "During the early days of the pandemic in Montreal, I took to walking along the Lachine Canal because I live nearby and it felt spacious and safe,” he said. “As spring gave way to summer, the situation in Quebec became more and more grave, and the news was full of horrific stories about what was happening in the province's long-term care homes.

      "The pandemic felt viscerally close at hand and yet strangely distant, as I had only recently moved here and didn't know anyone directly affected. Walking the canal became a way of grappling with this abstraction, and with how quickly the world was changing."

      In addition, there are also four runners-up for the CBC Poetry Prize who will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

      Three out of the four poets are from B.C:

      Anna Quinn
      Radio-Canada/Hamza Abouelouafaa

      Meanwhile, Anna Quinn was named the winner of the Prix de poésie Radio-Canada 2020 for “Mauve est un verbe pour ma gorge”, which was chosen by a jury—comprised of Sylvie Drapeau, Rodney Saint-Éloi, and Baron Marc-André Lévesque.

      Quinn receives the grand prize of $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and her poem has been published at Radio-Canada’s Ici on lit website.

      Four runners-up will receive $1,000 each from the Canada Council for the Arts:

      The 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize will open for submissions in April.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.