The Walrus Poetry Prize 2017

The Walrus is proud to announce that for his poem “Epistemology,” Shane Neilson has won the sixth annual Walrus Poetry Prize, founded and generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation. Lenea Grace has received the Readers’ Choice Award for her poem “Echo.”

Celebrated poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel, and Walrus deputy editor Carmine Starnino judged the contest. The winning poems will appear in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of The Walrus. This year’s winners will also appear in the anthology for Poetry in Voice, a nationwide poetry-recitation contest for high-school students.

Poetry Prize winner Shane Neilson is a poet, physician, literary critic, and PhD candidate in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University. He is the author of five collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Dysphoria (Porcupine’s Quill, 2017). “Because Margaret Atwood is CanLit royalty, I feel like I’ve been knighted—or at least made a squire. My PhD supervisor, Lorraine York, will be proud,” says Neilson. “In addition to thanking Ms. Atwood, I offer my gratitude to Jordan Abel and Carmine Starnino, the duo that whittled the submissions down to the final five. In particular, it is an honour to have been appreciated by Jordan, a leading Indigenous poet whose work I have been reading for years. Finally, and here I speak for many poets, we thank the Hal Jackman Foundation for providing us a place to be.”

Readers’ Choice winner Lenea Grace is a founding editor of the online poetry magazine The Mackinac, and her work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Washington Square Review, CV2, and elsewhere. Grace’s debut collection, A Generous Latitude: Poems (ECW), is forthcoming in 2018. “I’m delighted that ‘Echo’ resonated with so many and chuffed at the notion of Margaret Atwood even reading my poem, let alone liking it!” says Grace. “‘Echo’ is part of a series of poems I wrote that broke a multi-year case of writer’s block. It seems fitting that a winter poem born at the break of a new year should be published in a winter issue on the crest of another. Many thanks to The Walrus and the Hal Jackman Foundation, and to Margaret Atwood, Jordan Abel, and Carmine Starnino for placing ‘Echo’ on the shortlist.”

Statement from Jordan Abel:
“‘Epistemology’ is striking not just because of the relentless questioning, but because those questions are always pressing at the core of what it means to be here together. The clarity comes in realizing how few answers we actually have.”

Statement from Carmine Starnino:
“Like an AI algorithm gone haywire, Shane Neilson’s poem, with its beautifully bewildering rush of questions, breaks open the half-truths, the denials and evasions that we draw on when giving an account of ourselves to ourselves. It’s a vision of consciousness as cross-examination, and a perfect expression of our polarizing era.”

The Walrus is dedicated to finding and publishing the best of Canadian poetry. Past winners of the Walrus Poetry Prize have ranged from previously unpublished poets like Bardia Sinaee (Readers’ Choice, 2012) to known Canadian talents like Kateri Lanthier (Walrus Poetry Prize, 2013) to up-and-comers like Michael Prior (Walrus Poetry prize and Readers’ Choice, 2014).

The Hal Jackman Foundation, which is committed to fostering creativity and enriching our community through the arts, has generously supported the prize since its inauguration. The foundation also supports poetry in every issue of The Walrus.

Hal Jackman Foundation
Poetry in Voice

WINNER

Epistemology

by Shane Neilson

Why does it hurt when emotion spills out of a body? How does emotion spell ‘body’? What does it mean to be good? Why is the surplus of beauty everywhere? What is the password? Is there always another way? What is the real word for ‘real’? Is there room for one more? Is it meant to be? What is the subject to time? Why are the painful questions four words long or less? Why steel, steel, steel? Where is the path? What is a story? How much more loss? Is this the end? Who are the dead? Is there a reason? Is it safe? What remains? How come?

What about me? Am I good? Where can I hide? Am I allowed? Am I all in one piece? Am I alive? What’s in it for me? Where can I trade less for more? Am I being objective here? Do I have to accept this? What does my father’s face mean? Can I escape? Can I take it with me when I go? Can I wake up now? Can I see change when it is coming, or only when nothing is the same? What is my role in this disaster? Did I do the right thing? Did I mean to? Am I right or wrong? Did I choose that? Am I responsible? What do I know? All my life: what do I know?

When I say need, what do you hear? Can you hear me? Do you have a secret? Are you talking to me? I know you are, but what am I? Will you miss me? If I told you, would you believe me? Can I ask you a question? Will you take care of me? If I needed you, would you come? Can I help you? Why do you hate me so much? How can I make better? What can I get for you? Can you show me? Why do you talk about me that way? Will you hurt me and go on hurting me? Can I count on you? Will you let me go? Do you believe in me? When will you give me what I want?

Where do you hide? Will you wait? Where will you go? Why did you fuse the words “pain” and “love”? Were you born in a field, or sui generis? How do you see yourself? Do you even have a plan? How do you get out of bed in the morning? Did you think for just one second? Are you high? What is your problem? Are you sure? Do you care? What do you care? Why am I asking? Are you serious? How bad do you want it? Are you all in? Are you protecting yourself? Are you insane? Are you both the rhyme and reason? Are you both terrible act and the turning season?

Who is included in “we”? Do we belong here? Are we there yet? Can we stop now? Do we look at the sky hoping for deliverance? Can we heal in story? Where did everyone go? Why must we fail? Why are we afraid? Do we prefer strength? Can we be serious for a second? How did we get here? Can we work this out together? Were we meant to be together? Can we split the difference? Should we? Do we have common ground or is it in another year, another season? Yes. Another season. Are we in agreement? Is there anything else we can argue about?


READER’S CHOICE

Echo

by Lenea Grace

Sweetheart, tell me about Lubbock (on everything)
under pinball lights, over soft beer
in a cabin bar on Geary Ave — tell me this
winter was a gift, a slow pour — a love
song composed years before
we were born. Tell me a decade
of stories. Tell me California is the seventies,
low palms and hot pink sky, strip mall runways.
And England the forties, austere in wool
jumpers, smart and moored.
Tell me about the smoking section
on a British Caledonian flight.
Tell me about your shabby genteel aunts.
Tell me about your grandfather with a solo lung —
he swam across Memphremagog once
or twice. Free love and how many
brothers and sisters your father had (has).
Tell me how my father woke up in the desert
at 4 a.m. — my brother’s birth the horizon,
reverberating latitudes. Tell me the physics
of lovelock, love locked between parallels,
separate breakfasts at kitchen tables
in Houston and in Toronto.
Tell me this is it. Tell me this isn’t it.
Tell me about hangover rock —
let’s get into the metaphysics of regret —
misinterpret our lyrics, call my name Lenea, Lenea
in the gloaming, in the gloaming. Draw nearer.


Previous Poetry Prize Winners and Finalists


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.