5 writers make the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist
The winner will receive $6,000 and attend a writing residency. Read the poems now!
Writers Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Jillian Clasky, Jaclyn Desforges, Kyo Lee and Anna Swanson have made the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist.
Their nominated works are:
- restitution OR Nanabush speaks to the settlers by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm (Neyaashiinigmiing, Ont.)
- Variations on Genesis by Jillian Clasky (Ottawa)
- I Can Communicate If Communication Is Another Form of Sinking by Jaclyn Desforges (Hamilton, Ont.)
- lotus flower blooming into breasts by Kyo Lee (Waterloo, Ont.)
- Sweetness | מתיקות by Anna Swanson (Guelph, Ont.)
The winner will be announced on Nov. 23. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week writing residency.
The remaining four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.
All five finalists had their work published on CBC Books. You can read their poems by clicking on the links above.
This year's finalists were selected by a jury comprised of Joseph A. Dandurand, Catherine Graham and Tolu Oloruntoba. They will also select the winner.
If you're interested in other writing competitions, check out the CBC Literary Prizes. The 2024 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2024 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April. The CBC Short Story Prize will open in September.
Get to know the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize English-language finalists below.
Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm is from the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation in Ontario. Kateri is a writer, poet, spoken word artist, publisher, Indigenous arts activist, former Owen Sound and North Grey poet laureate and assistant professor in creative writing, Indigenous literatures and oral traditions at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. Her publications include a collection of short stories, The Stone Collection, radio plays, libretti, a graphic novel, Nimkii, spoken word albums, Standing Ground and A Constellation of Bones, a chapbook, bloodriver woman, and the collections of poetry, my heart is a stray bullet and (Re)Generation: The Poetry of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm.
There always seems to be the presumption that Indigenous people will assimilate into dominant society and those ways of thinking and being, but never the other way around. I wondered what Nanabush would make of it.- Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm
Why she wrote restitution OR Nanabush speaks to the settlers: "Reconciliation in the minds of settlers and colonial governments always seems to assume that Indigenous people will continue to bend to fit the colonial project thereby causing the least possible disruption and discomfort to them. There always seems to be the presumption that Indigenous people will assimilate into dominant society and those ways of thinking and being, but never the other way around. I wondered what Nanabush would make of it.
"I have never entered a writing contest so I thought I would try so I could discuss the process with my students."
Jillian Clasky is a poet and fiction writer from Toronto. She is currently in the final year of her BA in English at the University of Ottawa. Her work has appeared in journals such as Prism international, flo. and Rust & Moth and has been recognized by the Adroit Prizes and the Norma Epstein National Award in Creative Writing.
I built this poem out of fragments I collected over the past few years, mostly stemming from ruminations on lighthearted topics like embodiment and mortality and our received ideas about death.- Jillian Clasky
Why she wrote Variations on Genesis: "I built this poem out of fragments I collected over the past few years, mostly stemming from ruminations on lighthearted topics like embodiment and mortality and our received ideas about death, including the strangeness of biblical stories and religious rituals.
"I've always wanted to submit to the CBC Literary Prizes, but I was too nervous! Last semester though, I took a poetry workshop that really helped me strengthen my craft and inspired me to finally send in a poem."
Jaclyn Desforges is the 2023/24 Mabel Pugh Taylor writer-in-residence at McMaster University and Hamilton Public Library. She's the queer and neurodivergent author of Danger Flower, winner of the 2022 Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry and one of CBC Books' picks for the best Canadian poetry of 2021. She's also the author of a picture book, Why Are You So Quiet? Jaclyn is the winner of the 2018 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia and is working on a novel. Desforges was a reader for the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize.
I wrote about the experience, which got me thinking about trauma and healing. And the ways we manage to connect with one another —to love one another —even and especially after we've experienced terrible pain.- Jaclyn Desforges
Why she wrote I Can Communicate If Communication Is Another Form of Sinking: "I was out with a friend, doing our usual hike at Princess Point in Hamilton. We quickly realized something terrible had happened — the tallgrass prairie where we walk each day had been completely burnt up. There were all these scorched snail shells. I looked it up and learned that this type of controlled burn is done by the Royal Botanical Gardens every spring to help manage invasive species and recycle plant nutrients. It's good for the landscape. Still, it was unnerving. And the birds sounded different — they weren't singing in their usual way. It sounded more like screaming. I took a recording at the trailhead and sent it to my partner.
"Later that day, I wrote about the experience, which got me thinking about trauma and healing. And the ways we manage to connect with one another — to love one another — even and especially after we've experienced terrible pain.
"I'm always excited to see the CBC Poetry Prize longlist come out! It's such a wonderful opportunity for poets. I try to submit my work as much as I can, but the CBC Poetry Prize in particular has always been a special dream. And for whatever intuitive reason, I felt like this poem in particular might be a good fit."
Kyo Lee is a queer, Korean-Canadian high-school student, writer and dreamer. Her literature has been recognized or published by the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award, Prism International, University of Toronto, Ringling College and the New York Times. Her debut poetry collection will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2024. She loves peaches, sunsets and the idea of summer but not summer itself. She is trying to love more.
This poem speaks specifically to my experience with love in the Korean language and the continued effects of war, colonialism and related personal and cultural history, despite being a generation away.- Kyo Lee
Why she wrote lotus flower blooming into breasts: "I am a different person in each language, or at least that's how I often feel. This feeling is particularly eminent for me in how I love, how I fall in or express love, when I am made to acknowledge that various versions of myself have been moulded by language and all that comes with it. This poem speaks specifically to my experience with love in the Korean language and the continued effects of war, colonialism and related personal and cultural history, despite being a generation away.
"For me, this disconnect between mine and my culture's understanding of love is heightened by my queerness, especially at its existence as a difficult and sometimes criminal status in the Korean society and language. The present day homophobia in Korea is also largely rooted in Western imperialism and the Christian dominance that occurred during and after the Korean war which further confused my understanding of what love in Korean is/can be. However, the poem is ultimately about growing out of these broken definitions of love and redefining it beyond language or history, into a personal one. I like to think that the poem documents my journey as I learn the softer parts of love.
"I was recommended to submit to the CBC Literary Prizes. As I was reading previous years' longlisted poems, I found myself seen or inspired, and decided that it was a place I wanted my work to appear."
Anna Swanson (she/her) is a queer Jewish writer and librarian based in St. John's and currently completing an MFA at the University of Guelph. Her writing is interested in themes of chronic illness, concussion, embodiment, identity, queerness, Jewish ritual, intergenerational trauma and survival joy. Her first book of poetry, The Nights Also, won the Gerald Lampert Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Her second book, The Garbage Poems, is forthcoming from Brick Books in 2025. In 2015, Swanson was shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize for her entry The Garbage Poems. She works with Riddle Fence as a poetry editor and loves swimming outdoors in all seasons.
I wanted to look at how practices of sweetness, pleasure, food and embodied connection are also passed intergenerationally. I wanted to remind myself that traditions which might seem frivolous or indulgent can actually be tools of collective survival and transformation.- Anna Swanson
Why she wrote Sweetness | מתיקות: "This is part of a project about Jewish food rituals, their relationship to intergenerational trauma and the ways in which they can also be a form of collective resilience. The archetypal food ritual for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is to dip apples in honey to wish each other a sweet new year. I wrote this poem on the first night of Rosh Hashanah last year, imagining a year filled with sweetness for myself and the world around me.
"As part of the larger writing project, I knew I would be writing about difficult family history, intergenerational trauma in Jewish communities and the ways Jewish trauma has been weaponized against other groups. I wanted to look at how practices of sweetness, pleasure, food and embodied connection are also passed intergenerationally. I wanted to remind myself that traditions which might seem frivolous or indulgent can actually be tools of collective survival and transformation. I haven't always been comfortable entering Jewish spaces, for a variety of reasons, so I wanted to write a kind of Jewishness that I felt at home in. I am inspired by Jewish writers like Aurora Levins Morales and Elliot Kukla and Dori Midnight (and many others) who reimagine Jewish rituals and liturgy in ways that are transformative, inclusive and deeply rooted in collective liberation. I don't think I knew I was writing a spell until after the poem was finished, but that is very much in line with how I think poetry can function in the world — as a kind of magic.
"When I submitted this, I wanted to wish us all some sweetness for this coming year, during a time that hasn't been particularly easy. As I write this, in the midst of the unfolding news in Gaza, my heart is breaking in so many directions. I don't know how to grieve without fear that my grief will be weaponized against Palestinians. I remind myself that solidarity is a kind of sweetness, that we do not stand alone, that another world is possible."