Mount Royal University Professor Richard Harrison wins 2017 Governor General Award for poetry collection

Mount Royal professor Richard Harrison won the 2017 Governor-General Literary Award for poetry Wednesday for his collection of poems, which were titled On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood.

Award-winning poetry collection inspired by father and the 2013 flood

Mount Royal University professor Richard Harrison won the 2017 Governor's General Award for Poetry Wednesday. Harrison was cited for his collection On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood. (Mount Royal University)

Calgary poet — and comic book lover — Richard Harrison added a new super power to his prose Wednesday.

That's because the Mount Royal University professor was named the winner of a 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for his collection of poetry, On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood, published by Hamilton's Wolsak & Wynn.

It was the latest honour for the book that also won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and the third prize for poetry in the 2017 Alcuin Society's Book Design Awards. It was also shortlisted for the City of Calgary's 2016 W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and a finalist for the poetry category of the High Plains Book Awards.

Harrison said receiving the news that he'd won the award made him "ecstatic."

"I can't say anything other than that," Harrison said in an interview with The Homestretch. "The poets I met when I was an undergrad, and first going to poetry readings, some of them were Governor General Award winners.

"So this particular prize has that sense for me of history with poetry itself." he added.

3 distinct threads

Harrison explained the book came out of three distinctly different threads. One was his desire to treat individual poems as characters. The second thread came in 2011, when his father died of dementia. And the third thread came out of the 2013 flood, when the basement in Harrison's Sunnyside home was flooded, causing him to reappraise his belongings.

Harrison's father played a unique role in his poetry.

"I'm pretty autobiographical in my work, so there is this extended conversation with him. It's his voice and his reciting of poetry when I was a child that I think of when I think of how poetry should sound," Harrison said.

Mount Royal University professor Richard Harrison, the 2017 Governor General Award winner for poetry, at a pop up poetry event. (Mount Royal University)

Harrison's six books include Big Breath of a Wish, poems about his daughter and language, and Hero of the Play, a hockey-themed book. Harrison also writes about super heroes, cosplay, spoken word poetry and mathematics.

He also co-authored a book of essays, 2010's Secret Identity Reader, with MRU's Lee Easton. 

At Mount Royal, Harrison teaches composition, creative writing (poetry), and comics and graphic novels.

And while he acknowledged he wasn't likely to get rich writing poetry collections, he gets value from them nevertheless.

"The validation for this kind of art is never money, but it is the way in which people listen — the way it touches them," he said.

English-language winners

Other winners Wednesday included St. Johns's native Joel Thomas Hynes, who won the English language fiction prize for his novel We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night.

Vancouver-based playwright Hiro Kanagawa took the drama prize for Indian Arm, and the non-fiction prize went to Graeme Wood for his book The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.

Cherie Dimaline won for English language young people's literature, for The Marrow Thieves, while David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett were cited for young people's literature (illustrated). Oana Avasilichioaei's Readopolis won for French to English translation.

French language winners

The French-language winners are as follows:

  • Fiction: Le poids de la neige – Christian Guay-Poliquin.
  • Poetry: La main hantée – Louise Dupré.
  • Drama: Dimanche napalm – Sébastien David.
  • Non-fiction: Les Yeux tristes de mon camion – Serge Bouchard.
  • Young People's Literature - Text: L'importance de Mathilde Poisson – Véronique Drouin.
  • Young People's Literature - Illustrated Books: Azadah – Jacques Goldstyn.
  • Translation (from English to French): Un barbare en Chine nouvelle – Daniel Poliquin.