CBC Literary Prizes

How Alessandra Naccarato wrote the poem that won the CBC Poetry Prize

Alessandra Naccarato on how she wrote her award-winning poem, Postcards for my Sister.
Alessandra Naccarato won the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize for Postcards for my Sister. (Jacklyn Atlas)

Alessandra Naccarato's poem Postcards for my Sister won the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

As the winner of the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize, Naccarato receives $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and will have her story published in Air Canada enRoute magazine and on CBC Books.

Below, Naccarato discusses the inspiration behind her award-winning poem and what motivates her to write.

Family legend

"I've been trying to write this poem for many years, contemplating what my grandmother's journey means and how it connects to my own lived experience, and to choices I have that maybe she didn't.

"The last time I saw her, she was in her 70s. She had left her husband — it was an arranged marriage — and she somehow found this strength to get on a bus and create a new life for herself. She passed away a year after that. The story of my grandmother has defined a lot of my life — how I understand myself, the choices I make and how I understand courage and change."

Connecting to the past

"My relationship with her became a lot stronger after she passed away. I visited the village in Italy where she grew up; I did archival research into her arrival into Canada and listened to oral histories of what was happening there at that time. I discovered stories of Italians arriving with huge vats of olive oil and secret sausage that was then confiscated as they arrived in this country."  

"All of that research — and journey through poetry — has opened up a whole new relationship with her. So much can be lost between generations, and when we lose the elders in our family. Yet there's still this possibility of reconnection with those we've lost through art, narrative and stories."

Writing is listening

"Writing is an act of listening. I need to find moments of revelation and epiphany through a practice of getting out of my own way and quieting my mind, so the world that gets created in poems or stories can come through. And the sound of my writing is even impacted by walking, by the way sound moves inside of silence, in the natural world."  

The power of poetry

"Poetry is the way I see the world. In my internal landscape, I'm time travelling all the time, through grief and joy, through different countries and continents. It can all be compressed into one moment of contemplation. Poetry can time travel, it can compress so many different parts of the world into a single thought, a single moment. And that is the magic that stole me away."

Alessandra Naccarato's comments have been edited and condensed.

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