Winnipeg poet Jason Stefanik 'still absorbing the shock' of Governor General's Award nomination

A Manitoba poet who uses of Elizabethan canting language to weave tales of modern urban life has been shortlisted for Governor General's Award in poetry.

Stefanik explores gritty urban landscapes using Elizabethan canting language

Jason Stefanik, who lives in Winnipeg's North End, has been nominated for a prestigious Governor General's Award. (Coach House Books)

A Manitoba poet who uses Elizabethan canting language to weave tales of modern urban life has been shortlisted for the 2018 Governor General's Award in poetry.

Jason Stefanik's collection Night Became Years has been attracting a lot of attention from critics and lovers of poetry.

He was awarded this year's Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award for his protest poem, Letter to Leonard Peltier, in which the narrator writes to the American Indian Movement activist who was convicted — many believe wrongfully — in the shooting deaths of two FBI agents in South Dakota.

As for his latest accolade, Stefanik said he's still processing the GG nomination, which was announced Wednesday.

"I'm still absorbing the shock," he told CBC, adding while he's honoured, "it still feels a little unreal."

Stefanik said he decided to use canting language — a kind of a secret code often used by thieves or beggars — from the Elizabethan period because it comes from a time when there was a lot of both collision and fission of cultures in Europe.

"I try to look at Winnipeg from that sense, and try to see what crossovers there are from when people were living 400 years ago, and the words and definitions they were using to describe themselves," he said.

"Are there any similarities or counterpoints in how we view ourselves today?"

Night Became Years by Winnipeg poet Jason Stefanik examines and explores — using Elizabethan canting language — themes such as love, Indigeneity, geography, race and identity.

Stefanik was raised in Manitoba's Interlake with his adoptive family, and now lives in Winnipeg's North End.

"I do try to centre my narrator in a cityscape, and have him stroll through the different alleys of a city, looking at different situations that are affecting our city."

Growing up in a rural area, Stefanik said he was drawn to poetry early on.

"I didn't have cable, so I really was able to get a lot of enjoyment out of very action-orientated epic poetry," he said.

"I just think that after that early exposure, I was always really interested in rhyme and what makes a poem work."

Stefanik is a founding member of neither/neither, a creative collective at the Edge Gallery on Main Street, and also facilitates a small poetry workshop for inmates at Stony Mountain Penitentiary.

The winners of this year's Governor General's Literary Awards will be announced on Oct. 30. Each winner receives $25,000.

With files from CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show


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