Literary Prizes

The Grolar Bear's Ballad by Catherine Greenwood

Catherine Greenwood made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for The Grolar Bear's Ballad.

2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

Catherine Greenwood has made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for The Grolar Bear's Ballad. (Thomas Ogier)

Catherine Greenwood made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for The Grolar Bear's Ballad.

She will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have her work published on CBC Books.

Alycia Pirmohamed won the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize for Love Poem with Elk and Punctuation, Prairie Storm and Tasbih.

You can read The Grolar Bear's Ballad below.

The Grolar Bear's Ballad

DNA analysis has confirmed that a bear shot in the Canadian Arctic last month is a half-polar bear, half-grizzly hybrid.  ... the hybrid's father was a grizzly and its mother was a polar bear.
                                                                                                                          National Geographic

First-generation hybrid ursid
I's a mutt of mud and snow. 
Ma were old Polar stock and Pa 
pure Grizzly (other way 'round, 
we'd be Pizzly — some prefer Nanulak). 
Mother migrated south on a shrinking floe 
and swum the salt-chuck's 
final lap to land.  Father, fishing salmon 
on the Archipelago, smelt her coming 
and pursued her rank musk upriver. 
Found her lunching on loon

in a Churchill dump. Her seal eyes, 
his bullish hump — fate got written
on love-bitten rump. On a honeymoon
rummaging bins the pair grew smitten 
with the taste of tourist-tossed 
bannock and that squib of pork 
from the can of beans. 
Man is not delicious
their fortune cookie read. 
Such were the marriage, a solstice
spent licking tins. Never met him.


Eight moons later I were born
a twin. I remembrance the milky pang
of my sister and our den in a dim
bank of snow, the warmth of our mother,
a smothering heat of seal-fat
fueling the furnace in her belly.
She'd trod north to rear us
in old country ways: Mackerel shanties
like Gannet and Guts, how to knock wind
from a walrus, how to read moonlight
on fox-face and feather, how to swim.

I sank. Hairless toe-pads cracked
on hunts. Scoop-Snout and Poop-Eyes
the uncles called us. Sister Mud-Foot
and me never fit in.  A forepaw's full count
of seasons 'til I struck out on the land
to track our birthright's mystery.
Tailing a southbound caribou herd
we crossed a border of tamarack
and fell in with our father's kind,
a rough lot stinking of carrion
whose song was gruff and tuneless.


Growl-givers, the Grizzly gaveled out
history. Anointed us Mule-Nuts,
unworthy title. White hide no barrier,
in green-time I tarried with dark-advised sows
what sought out my seed, carriers
of blonde cubs whose being
breached the unspoken law of myself. 
Battle clarion of boar in rut,
road-kill cuisine, them's ways
stuck in our craw. Snout-scarred,
maw full of roots, we roamed

salal reaches aweful, alone. Meatless
on mountaintop, a dead metal bird
with bones in its belly; paw-slicing
panes of ice on men's dwellings.
A wolf gave warning, all kith killed
by a hail of hard stones: humans
make of us monsters
he snarled
and slunk off, society-starved. Stole
strips of chum strung on stone beaches,
dried-up tongues tasting
of salt and sleep. Nowhere were home.


One autumn we ended on permafrost
where tundra greets sea. Bog-berry
sotted, I sniffed a breeze what bore
lost others in its brine, wondering
at my ghostly brothers as they woke
from sun-shifting meadows of snow.
It struck us like a blow
from a whale — the giant fib
a tail-whack as the bullet broke my ribs.
Blubber echo fading. Stunned. Hunter
hunkered in cooling blood with gun.

In the key of a snowflake a lullaby
tinkles like icicles in the arctic
of our emptied skull. A restless
clicking of claw on floorboard,
we're crossed from Alive
to After. I is Here, Time's ticking
mongrel. Bleached and brushed, bound
with blue felt, our pelt's a promise
to the past before it melts.
Some day I'll don my skin
and roaring, rise and reappear!

O, but the world is formed of mud and snow,
and my glass eyes was made in Ohio

Read the other finalists

About Catherine Greenwood

Catherine Greenwood has lived in British Columbia, New Brunswick, China and southeast England. She recently moved to South Yorkshire where, as a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, she is pursuing an interest in Scottish Gothic poetry. Past jobs include publications analyst, foreign expert, financial aid adjudicator and pet sitter. Her poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies and been recognized with several prizes, including a gold National Magazine Award and the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award. Along with Gothic poetry, she has been working on a neo-Gothic novel.

About the CBC Poetry Prize

The winner of the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The remaining finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.