The Walrus Poetry Prize 2014

The Walrus Foundation is delighted to announce that Michael Prior has won both the $4,000 Walrus Poetry Prize and the $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award, which are generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation.

“It means so much to have my poem selected by the judge and voters,” Prior says. “It’s an honour to be included in the pages of The Walrus.” Prior is an emerging poet, a Vancouver native, and a graduate student at the University of Toronto’s creative writing program.

“Ventriloquism for Dummies” will appear in the December issue of The Walrus magazine and can be read online at this address. Prior’s forthcoming book of poetry, depicting the legacy of his Japanese Canadian grandparents’ internment during the Second World War, will be published in 2016 by Véhicule Press’s Signal Editions.

The Hal Jackman Foundation’s generous support makes the Walrus Poetry Prize and Readers’ Choice Award possible. In the prize’s inaugural year, the foundation’s president, Victoria Jackman, expressed her belief that “Canadian poetry deserves the position of prominence it enjoys in the pages of The Walrus.” The Hal Jackman Foundation, she said, is proud to be part of an initiative that finds “new voices and admirers” for Canadian poetry.


Hal Jackman Foundation
Poetry in Voice

Winner

Ventriloquism for Dummies

By Michael Prior

Pine plosives, alveolar carpentry:
my life, lived like an elaborate glove.
Tilt my head, a pale seashell scribed by lathe,
and listen to the few unfurling thoughts,
the dry shake of dust. Semper idem, no?
I loved that girl with the Cheshire-cat grin
inked across the nape of her neck’s vellum.
My hinged digits once traced its glow as if
it were a sliver of moon. Nowadays,
she works nights on an alabaster lake.
My first thought was, he lied in every word,
and I wasn’t wrong. Charlie McCarthy
may be my homeboy, but that suede coffin
became my home. Evenings in the valley,
I dreamed a redwood forest. At its heart
was another jester with a cheap suit
and misplaced mandible. Drop me, toss me,
and I lie limp: a tidal tryst of bleached
branches, a good joke gone bad, or a line
soured by time. Got wood? It’s all I’ve got.
Try not to notice these synchronized lips,
that hoary cripple, with malicious eye.


Finalists

Mount Rainier Twice in a Day

By Nicholas Bradley

What next? When I was half the age
I am now, I watched a man pick blackberries
in brambles across the road. Juice and blood
gloved his hands. I would have said then
that the violence and dread of wartime
purpled his fingers. Or was it the wealth
of a ripe age? Now I revise: the man,
the road, the fulsome berries were
merely there. I was half my age.

When we took in the Chittenden Locks
last month and strolled along Shilshole
Bay’s edge, eyeballing boats—we’d buy
that one someday, or this one, and be fishers,
who are free, or make a killing in Dungeness
crabs—, omens were everywhere, like barnacles
on dry-docked hulls. Salt chuck slapped
wooden vessels and the concrete breakwater.
Limpets and mussels glistened in shallows.
We caught the last light on the Olympics
across Puget Sound. Unrepentant oysters
delighted in the salty stink. The names
were briny and knotted on the monument
to the sons of Leif Erikson: Olaf, Einar,
Arne, Dag. Coho, sockeye, kokanee, chinook,
chum. Did fishy words bring Vikings
luck? Skagit, Dosewallips, Tacoma, Duwamish.
Whispering maps beckoned, but the odds
favoured disaster: boats on fire, brothers lost
at sea. When the half-moon came out we finished
with inscriptions and foraged for dinner
on Ballard’s Beemer-fringed boulevards.

The next morning I watched Rainier
till clouds consumed it. Clear skies that evening
divulged the volcano again—immense, aloof.
I thought of blackberries and the crack of gunshot
when a slab releases to loose an avalanche.
The proximate realm so far from our own explodes
this sphere to remake it. All the world’s wonders
are on display when gates and valves bring keels
up the Ship Canal while salmon climb
their ladder. A duet: alto and basso. Everything,
Heraclitus said, is arsy-versy for a time.
The ocean is shipwrecked. Black bear cubs refuse
to descend from trees. I’m neither mountain
nor monument. Your heart traps mine as summits
catch storms. Let’s call this calm the rain shadow.
What will remain? Zero moves through all things.


Outliving Ambition

By Robin Richardson

Through the foyer of The Carlyle, playing dress-up
in my knockoff goddess garments, open as a mother,
as the gala fills with gods and CEOs.

The squid, they say, tastes biblical, the flood to be exact.
Reminders we’re survivors, chewing on our Hokusai fancies.
I could fill this wing with what I’ve been inclined to hide

inside me: kraken, sure, and corked champagne, bronze
erections of the fabled brave. The entrée is a siren summoned
from her odyssey with nets and sous’-knives, served with a berry

soup of mid-day blue. I am uncomfortable with beauty.
What we kill we eat, and what we spare becomes our savior;
there is no master where there is no slave. I said we; let’s leave

that be, as I’m a forgery so skillfully constructed it outdoes
the real thing. I mean just watch me strip off this humanity;
the newest virgin in a harem, hell bent on a takedown.


Wah Wah

By David Alexander

Our hero runs the beach—he’s ex-police—
he reads the idiot books—All you need to know
to seem a Soviet submariner
—so longfully—
if you wonder what he looks for in a woman
it’s this—has she mastered classic American disguises?

The stripper mom who works her way through college—
minivan-driving adulteress empty-nester—
director of films about slutty teenagers—
bingo-winning coffee-slinging diner Dixiecrat—
spinster of poems dedicated to the forest wildlife.

He daydreams badges for aspiring world leaders—
Egomania—Fanatical Obsession—Electronic Amusement—
Pornographic Information Management—False Consciousness—
Sportsmanship—Statesmanship—Sarcasm—Rah-rahism—
Unrealistic Expectation—Idealistic Entanglement—Etceterism.

What really turns him on is when she blends right in—
a pilot powers up the seatbelt light—not that there’s
turbulence—the attendant’s just sick of that kid
on the flight who runs the aisles—but he’s tired—
so tired—his eyes are heavy—heavy—why?

Too late—it’s time—he passes out—the stewardess
sheds her wig and locks the cockpit—she radios
her client—on the ground the passengers are led—
heads-bagged—through a hangar—she’s been told
they won’t be harmed—and promised prompt payment.

Her clients want a Canada Council grant—dental visits
for fourteen political prisoners—release of dissident MPs
from the party whip—full pension for the Ottawa Senators
and amnesty—mandatory labelling of Mendelian modified
maple trees—savvy PSAs for kitchen products that really work.


Tour

By Catriona Wright

Our riot grrrl group, Gretel Berserk, is on
the growl, a reunion howl hitting every swamp.

Our music is a bolt of raw silk, best suited
for dozens of couture crotchless panties.

Not convinced? You will be. Your life is all galas
and Gossip Girl. A real shabby gabfest. Get ready.

Our backstage rider includes demon tartar, tarantula
caviar and a tarot card reader with a deck full of threats.

The sting is in the riff, kiddies. No smoke machine,
just spliff after spliff until the air is an organza gown.

Correction: we don’t glow. We sweat. Enough salt
to preserve four-hundred cod for a transatlantic voyage.

Some songs are answers. Some bleed. We turn
down proposals and pee on sticks. Nothing sticks to us.

Skanks and stones. Get up here and say that shit
to our faces. Come on, we triple bitch dare you.

Thought so. We sliced off our right breasts to better aim
our crossbows. We’ll give you a demo after the show.

Girl, please! Zeus could come down
as a swan, a computer virus, a tsunami, and still
he would cower before the flounce of our thighs.

The Walrus Foundation is a registered charitable non-profit (No. 861851624-RR0001) with an educational mandate to create forums for conversations on matters vital to Canadians. The foundation is dedicated to supporting writers, artists, ideas, and thought-provoking conversation. We achieve these goals by publishing The Walrus magazine—which focuses on Canada and its place in the world—ten times a year; producing the national series of Walrus Talks; posting original, high-quality content daily at thewalrus.ca; and training young professionals in media, publishing, and non-profit development.