CBC Literary Prizes

Tickling the Scar by Matthew Hollett

Matthew Hollett has won the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize for Tickling the Scar.

2020 CBC Poetry Prize winner

Matthew Hollett is a writer and photographer from St. John's, currently living in Montreal. (April White)

Matthew Hollett has won the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Tickling the Scar.

He will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and his work has been published by CBC Books.

You can read Tickling the Scar below.


In spring the ice on the Lachine Canal melts
into algae blooms and great blue herons. Grackles
and red-winged blackbirds warble urgent duets
with distant ambulances. Thousands of Montrealers
are drowning in their beds. I walk the canal
because I'm grateful to breathe, even through a mask,
and because it feels spacious. Less petri dish. Along the path,
freshly-dredged jumbles of crossbars and wheels
are so consumed by zebra mussels that you can barely tell
they used to be bicycles. A survivor of the virus describes
feeling as though a bag of rice was being dropped on her chest
every time she took a breath. Seagulls drop bivalve shells
on the canal's concrete walls, where they split open
into pairs of tiny desiccated lungs. Whenever I see a single one,
I imagine its partner coughed up on the opposite side of the water.
There are nursing homes where staff have deserted en masse.
A man takes a job at one because it's the only way
to be with his father. He sobs when describing to a reporter
"the stench of urine, feces and disinfectant." A rainbow
is painted over its front entrance. At CHSLD Herron,
a relief nurse finds ninety-year-olds so dehydrated
they're unable to speak, "with urine bags full to bursting."
They bring the army in, repurpose refrigerated trucks
as morgues. Songbirds build nests with discarded masks.
I think of walking the canal as tickling the scar.
Tracing a fault line between "before" and "normal."
There was a lake here, before it was torn
into an industrial corridor. A long blue lung.
It's slowly healing over. You can sit on the grass
and watch herons stitch it back together
while your phone shows you horror after horror.
They're reopening the restaurants tomorrow.

Listen to Matthew Hollet read Tickling the Scar

Tickling the Scar won the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize. 2:24

Listen to Matthew Hollett on Let's Go

If you live in Montreal, you have most likely walked along the Lachine Canal at some point. Throughout the pandemic, it's been a spot where many people have gone to exercise, get fresh air and meet up with friends. A Montreal poet has just won the the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize for his poem about the Lachine Canal. It's call Tickling the Scar. We speak with the author of the poem, Matthew Hollett. 8:59

Read the other finalists

About Matthew Hollett

Matthew Hollett is a writer and photographer recently transplanted from St. John's to Montreal. His first book, Album Rock, was published in 2018. He won the 2017 NLCU Fresh Fish Award for Optic Nerve, a collection of not yet published poems about photography and seeing. His work has most recently appeared in Prism International and The Malahat Review.

The poem's source of inspiration

"During the early days of the pandemic in Montreal, I took to walking along the Lachine Canal because I live nearby and it felt spacious and safe. As spring gave way to summer, the situation in Quebec became more and more grave, and the news was full of horrific stories about what was happening in the province's long-term care homes.

Walking the canal became a way of grappling with this abstraction, and with how quickly the world was changing.

"The pandemic felt viscerally close at hand and yet strangely distant, as I had only recently moved here and didn't know anyone directly affected. Walking the canal became a way of grappling with this abstraction, and with how quickly the world was changing."

About the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize

The winner of the 2020 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 the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

The 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

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