Vancouver poet Lise Gaston wins 2021 CBC Poetry Prize

Lise Gaston has won the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize for James

She will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will also attend a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Gaston’s winning poem was published on CBC BooksYou can read James here

Gaston’s work was selected from nearly 3,000 English-language entries. 

Gaston was born in Toronto and raised in Fredericton and Victoria. She received a BA from the University of Victoria and a MA from Concordia University in Montreal. Before moving to Vancouver, she lived in Edmonton for three years. Gaston taught English at the University of British Columbia for two years. 

She said that she wrote James in hopes that her poem could speak to other parents who have also endured the loss of a child.

“I think it honours us parents who don’t have living children. Talking about it helps to recognize us as parents, not just that we’re recognized by others, but that we can recognize ourselves and honour our grief around it. When I started speaking about it and I was very vocal — not just in poetry, but also socially — it surprised me how many people then shared their own stories of loss. In that way, we can help honour each other,” Gaston said in an interview with CBC Books.

“I am thrilled, surprised, and most of all so grateful to be able to honour my son in this way.”

“Poetry has long addressed the materials with which life furnishes or afflicts everyone, love and loss above all. And at the farthest reaches of our existential concerns, there is death, writ large to us to be managed as grief. Good poets find or forge ways to redeem and make these sing. Perhaps technique really is the test of sincerity, whether political, emotional or indeed beyond these realms. Maybe in spending some minutes of our lives with a poem here and there, our great reward might be the dissolving of falsities that come from the separate silos we too often make of head and heart.

“Here is a poem written with the sensitivity of a monarch landing on the palm-side of a wrist. Its beauty and pain are expressed with a profound emotional intelligence that pulls the reader inward and outward again. In its appreciation of its subject, James invites such wonder and asks what it might take to break the social taboo still attached to the loss of an infant. It is an aching joy to read,” the jury said in a statement.

The 2021 CBC Poetry Prize jurors were Louise Bernice Halfe, Canisia Lubrin and Steven Heighton

They selected the shortlist from a longlist of 31 writers that was compiled by a team of writers and editors from across Canada.

The four finalists for the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize were Mia Anderson of Port Neuf, Que. for Onion, Adriana Oniță of Edmonton for Untranslatable, Bola Opaleke of Winnipeg for The Morgue in My Tears and Alison Watt of Nanaimo, B.C. for Addendum — “Flora of a Small Island in the Salish Sea”

They will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Marise Belletête won the Prix de poésie Radio-Canada 2021 for Sommes-nous de la même gorge qui ne consent plus à la prière.

Last year’s English-language winner was Montreal writer and photographer Matthew Hollett for his poem Tickling the Scar.

The CBC Literary Prizes have been recognizing Canadian writers since 1979. Past winners include Alison PickDavid BergenMichael Ondaatje and Carol Shields.

If you’re interested in other CBC Literary Prizes, the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.


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