The Walrus Poetry Prize 2016

The Walrus Foundation is delighted to announce the shortlist for the fifth annual $4,000 Walrus Poetry Prize and $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award, generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation. Celebrated poet Hoa Nguyen will choose this year’s Walrus Poetry Prize winner from the shortlist compiled by The Walrus’s poetry editor, Damian Rogers.

Help select the 2016 Reader’s Choice winner by reading the shortlist and voting for your favourite between October 4 and October 26. The poll is located beneath the shortlisted poems at the bottom of this page.

Hal Jackman Foundation
Poetry in Voice

I Open the Dryer and a Robin Sails Out
For Adrienne King

You are driving a bus across Alberta,
deciding between seasons, plucking aphids and roses.

Over mountains I feel the peak of a horizon
before it breaks in half and spits up floes of mayflies.

You keep vultures at bay with cigarette butts,
throw darts for chops in every rusted legion.

Never step in the same puddle of warm beer twice
we learned the sticky way.

Gasoline rainbows the road, a clock made of stone,
a chair swivels in two official languages.

I write the word rich instead of king
and it becomes an act of will.

I’m sure I found ticks of whiplash under my skin.
I may never drive again.

While you are driving, you split the night
into finer units of night.

Colloquium: J.T. Henry and Lady Simcoe on Early Ontario Petrocolonialism

Mrs. Hamilton drank tea with me. Mrs. McGill, wife of the commissary,
Capt. John McGill, and Miss Crookshank, her sister,
are pleasant women from New York. I gave a dance this evening.

The oil springs on Oil Creek formed a part
of the religious ceremony of the Seneca Indians,
who formerly lived on these wild hills.

The Governor set off from hence in a sleigh,
with six officers and twenty soldiers.
Brant and twenty Indians are to join him and guide him

A spring of real petroleum was discovered on the march
by its offensive smell.
The Aborigines dipped it from their wells
and mixed it with their war-paint,
which is said to have given them a hideous appearance.

The governor found his expectations perfectly realized
as to the goodness of the country on the banks of La Tranche,
and is confirmed in his opinion that the fork of the river
is the most proper site for the capital of the country, to be called New London.

The “thick scum” which the Indians gathered,
and which careful, prudent men, now guard against conflagration,
flows into peaceable tanks, and, instead of lighting up the wilderness
for uncouth savages, sends joy and comfort into thousands of distant homes.

I have been very much amused by reading Watson on chemistry,
in which there is an account of the making of an artificial volcano that I think would please you.

The thought is quite romantic—perhaps poetic—
that the little animals which occupied these shells ages before men appeared
allowed their substance to be converted into oil to fill them,
and thus, with true charity, even “gave their bodies to be burned.”

We dined with Mrs. Hamilton, wife of Mr. Robert Hamilton, and
struck a vein of gas and oil which spouted over the top of the derrick,
and was fired by the night lamp hung in the derrick, burning the rigging down.

I observed some trees on fire; the flames, in part concealed,
appeared like stars, and had a beautiful effect.

The Indian women have remarkably sweet voices
the odor of the oil is rather unpleasant
and the music would sound well among the rocks.

Note: “Colloquium” is a pilfered erasure dialogue excavated from fragments of two public domain texts: J.T. Henry’s The Early and Later History of Petroleum (1873) and The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, Wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada 1792-6 (1911). Italicized lines come from Lady Simcoe’s diary, unitalicized lines from Henry’s History of Petroleum.

On Being Threatened Over Red Willow Park

St. Albert, Alberta

The black patina of wood tar
stinks and sticks to the soles of our shoes
as Matthew and I follow the rails
over a darkness named Sturgeon,
no longer a river but the last slow leak
of what inspired French Christians
to raise a white chapel and a convent
and this trestle bridge at the bottom
of a valley—a dry scar against the grain
of the boreal plains. It’s Canada Day.
I’ve come home to see my grandmother
through to the afterlife. The only light:
red and white Catherine Wheels
scorching the sky over Seven Hills.
Those distant cracks colour the boredom
of adolescent boys and girls leaning
into each other and another long July.

Matthew and I are alone on the bridge,
suspended in a bit of quiet, until two
men emerge from the tree line.
Their steps sink into gravel, words
slur and swell in volume. We back
onto the platform, four rotting planks
and a rust­-gnawed railing, and they pass
then turn to say that if the two of us
were thrown down into the riverbed,
had our necks cut from right to left,
or our heads caved in around
the flat­-bottom steel tracks, no one
would know who to point a finger at.
They laugh and walk away and I feel
the whole small world of this place
ripple through my hair and in my legs
as if a freight train from Redwater
or Westlock were ploughing on past me.

To think that all of it could end like this:
the brunt of some bad joke told
by two cheap drunks on a bridge meant
for trains in a town raised by saints
under the scarce light of fireworks.

Safe Word

No one

Has lots of them

Lays or friends or anything

That can make a little light in all that darkness

—Jack Spicer

Cuz man I don’t feel safe at all
4.5 million Americans with “security clearance”
Of one kind or another in D.C. since 9/11
Walk right up into my business my “classified” info or
Some undisclosed facility millions with access

To big red flashing buttons    do you

feel safe?

In Canada the Law says
I got no right to feel my body’s harm
In bed the physical humiliation that turns me on
Like a chandelier in a port-a-john
Is smashed to
Shit the lights out I remember coming
To after your sucker punch
Love a glint in the eye of my shiner, shine, my love

Splitting Worlds

Wenesh aw? Who is that?
I know her not, the girl she is
hard lines drawn by a
world that forced her
conformation, and built
a smooth, clear border
between her inside
and out.
HI hey hey hey, HEY hey hi…

Wenesh aw? Who is that?
the girl within, features
once strong and clear,
fading the well-formed
warrior of her past into
a cloudy cream of loss,
of falling, fragmented links.
HI hey hey hey, HEY hey hi…

Nmaanaadendam, I’m sad
I cannot take her back,
cannot reclaim her robust
beginnings, full of a rich fern-
green heritage and deep,
sweet fruits of ancestors’
lineage, in an earth untorn
by cultural clear-cutting.
HI hey hey hey, HEY hey hi…

Aabiish Eshaad? Where is she going?
but to find the roots to
her grandmothers.
To reawaken the hazy faces and
soft, rubbed out pathways
to her distinct identity in this world
of splitting.
HI hey hey hey, HEY hey hi…

The Walrus Foundation extends its deepest gratitude to the Hal Jackman Foundation for its generous support of the Walrus Poetry Prize and poetry in The Walrus magazine.

The Walrus Foundation is a registered charitable non-profit (No. 861851624-RR0001) with an educational mandate to create forums for matters vital to Canadians. The foundation is dedicated to supporting writers, artists, ideas, and thought-provoking conversation. We achieve these goals across multiple platforms, publishing The Walrus magazine—which focuses on Canada and its place in the world—ten times a year in print, tablet, and mobile editions; curating and producing the national series of public Walrus Talks; convening annual sector-based leadership dinners; posting original, high-quality content daily at; and designing such digital projects as Walrus Ebooks and Walrus TV. The foundation also trains young professionals in media, publishing, and non-profit development.