CBC Literary Prizes

Thinking about entering the CBC Poetry Prize? Past finalist Ross Belot has some advice for you

The CBC Poetry Prize finalist shares why writing during the pandemic matters and gives advice for those wanting to enter the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize.
Ross Belot is a poet, photographer and documentary filmmaker from Hamilton, Ont. (Ross Belot)

Ross Belot changed the course of his career when he quit his job and decided to do an MFA at Saint Mary's College of California. That's where he wrote the poems that got him shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize.

His poetry collection Moving to Climate Change Hours was supposed to come out this spring, but was delayed because of COVID-19.

Belot spoke to Peter Mills, host of Saskatchewan Weekend, and Giacomo Panico, host of Ottawa's In Town and Out, about the CBC Poetry Prize and the place of poetry during a global pandemic.

The CBC Poetry Prize is accepting entries until May 31, 2020. The winner will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and have their work published on CBC Books.

Poetry can be a coping mechanism

"One of the wonderful things about poetry is you're delving down into the darkness. Poetry is an attempt to say the unsayable. [You're] delving into the unconscious of feelings and spirit. There's a reason people put poems on their fridge: it speaks to them in ways a novel doesn't. 

Poetry is an attempt to say the unsayable.

"Writing about events helps you cope. There's a lot of unprocessed trauma, just put your head down and go through it. The act of writing has brought up a lot around it, it's healthy to have that stuff processed. It may be many years later, but there it is."

The past CBC Poetry Prize finalists offers advice to those thinking about entering the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize. 6:40

Poetry can give you structure

"Particularly with poetry, we're talking about dealing with the unconscious. Starting to write down how you're feeling, what you're thinking about... allows us to process a lot of the uncertainty that we're feeling in the world right now.

"It's worth delving into poetry and experiencing it. I think it's a good relief valve. And with the unstructured nature of our days right now, it's good to try and put some structure around it and pick a specific time you're going to write." 

The CBC Poetry Prize was just the beginning

"For me, all those years where I didn't get recognized, at least I was aware that somebody would be reading my work. That's a motivation in itself. 

"It's a huge opportunity. It was an exciting time, but also it gets noticed beyond the local poetry community. It gets recognized nationally, but also by people that normally aren't as attuned to poetry. A number of local papers, but even beyond were writing articles about me being a finalist. It's nice to see that notice for poetry.

It made me feel like, 'I'm on the right track here. I've made a shift and this is really working out well.'

"It's inspiring to be recognized for your work. I had just started an MFA program, all the poems had come out of it. To see that all those poems that I'd been writing be recognized the way they were, it made me feel like, 'I'm on the right track here. I've made a shift and this is really working out well.'"

Past CBC Poetry Prize finalist Ross Belot discusses the power of poetry during this time and offers advice to aspiring writers. 7:52

Put your work out there

"First of all: write! Get the stuff down, start writing. Then start working with the local community, and maybe [think about] continuing education at a local school or college. Find groups you can meet with and develop your writing. See what other people are doing. Of course read, read a lot! 

"Look hard at your work when deciding what you want to submit. That whole process is also very useful for a writer. Go and look for your best work, tune it up and submit. Don't hesitate: put it in. Go for it!"

Ross Belot's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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