CBC Literary Prizes

P.E.I. writer Bren Simmers wins 2022 CBC Poetry Prize for work inspired by how Alzheimer's affects language

She will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will also attend a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Simmers will receive $6,000, attend a writing residency in Banff and have her work published on CBC Books

Bren Simmers is a writer from Prince Edward Island. (Mike Needham)

Bren Simmers has won the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize for her poetry collection Spell World Backwards

She will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will also attend a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Simmers' poems were published on CBC Books. You can read Spell World Backwards here.

Simmers is the author of four books, including the wilderness memoir Pivot Point and Hastings-Sunrise, which was a finalist for the Vancouver Book Award. Her most recent collection of poetry is If, When. She was previously longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2013 for I Blame MASH For My Addiction To MLS and in 2012 for Science Lessons.

LISTEN | Bren Simmers' interview on On The Coast with Gloria Macarenko

Today the CBC Poetry Prize winner for 2022 was announced. Bren Simmers from P.E.I. won with her book "Spell World Backwards," a collection of poems which tells the story of her mother's experience with Alzheimer's. She is the author of four books—-including the wilderness memoir Pivot Point and Hastings-Sunrise----which was a finalist for the 2015 City of Vancouver Book Award. Bren joins us on the show for more.

Spell World Backwards was inspired by Simmers' mother's experience with Alzheimer's, she told CBC Books.

"My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2017. As I started writing about her deterioration, I became interested in how language is affected by the disease," she said. 

LISTEN | Bren Simmers' interview on As It Happens:

The 2022 CBC Poetry Prize winner readers her winning collection Spell World Backwards and discusses her writing.

"In this series, I try to mimic some of the looping, nonsense words and holes in her speech. As she progresses into late-stage Alzheimer's, it has become increasingly difficult to communicate with her, outside of touch. She still loves to dance though!"

"Spell World Backwards is a moving sequence of poems that unflinchingly addresses the complexities of dementia, kinship, and grief, and reaches the core of our common humanity. Told in a set of incomplete block-shaped stanzas with deliberate textual omissions, the sequence sets into motion a narrative that draws upon themes of mother and child, love and separation, memory and forgetting," the jury said in a statement.

The 2022 CBC Poetry Prize jurors were Armand Garnet Ruffo, Megan Gail Coles and Hoa Nguyen

The jury selected the winner and the shortlist from a longlist of 26 writers that was compiled by a team of writers from across Canada.

LISTEN | Bren Simmers on Spell World Backwards:

Spell World Backwards is the name of a poem from PEI's Bren Simmers, inspired by her Mother's diagnosis with Alzheimer's Disease. That poem is one of five that's been shortlisted nationally for the CBC Poetry Prize.

Simmers' winning poetry collection was selected from over 2,200 entries.

"I am incredulous and so grateful! I've always wanted to win the CBC Poetry Prize, but never thought it would happen. I know my mom would be proud too. She used to carry my poems in her purse and show them to people in the grocery store," Simmers told CBC Books.

The other four finalists are Rachel Lachmansingh of Toronto for From the Mouth, Brad Aaron Modlin of Guelph, Ont., for To the Astronaut Who Hopes Life on Another Planet Will Be More Bearable, Luka Poljak of Vancouver, for Mouth Prayers and Kerry Ryan of Winnipeg, for Grief white. They will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

LISTEN | Bren Simmers on winning the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize:

The 2022 CBC Poetry Prize winner spoke with Matt Rainnie about her winning poetry collection Spell World Backwards.

Philippe Labarre won the Prix de poésie Radio-Canada 2022 for Scènes de la vie poreuse.

The 2021 winner was Vancouver poet Lise Gaston for her poem James. Other past CBC Literary Prize winners include Alison PickDavid BergenMichael Ondaatje and Carol Shields.

The CBC Literary Prizes have been recognizing Canadian writers since 1979. Bren Simmers is the first ever CBC Literary Prizes grand prize winner from Prince Edward Island.

For Canadians interested in other CBC Literary Prizes, the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

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