Judges’ Remarks

Youth Category Judge: Dr. Bonnie Nish

Judge’s General Remarks

I was amazed by the strength of all of these poems. I felt as though I had been on a journey through our city as they were not only powerful testaments to the many diverse areas of Vancouver, but these young writers brought me right to these various locations with their words. I felt as though I was there with them. I could feel, taste, and smell the surroundings as I read. There was a lot of attention paid to the losses by the various communities which were being written about, but along with the losses there was a very strong sense of respect and understanding. For such very young people I was impressed by how they understood that the loss of a neighbourhood was not just the knocking down of buildings, but the loss of a way of life whether it was in Chinatown, Hogan’s Alley or the traditional Indigenous Lands that are occupied.  -Bonnie Nish

FIRST PLACE: “ending credits for an ending of ‘chinatown'” by Adrian Yue about Chinatown

From my first read of this poem I was taken in by the language, by the subtle story woven into memory, both the implied and the explicit. A gentle remembering of a child’s rides to Chinatown with their (mother, grandmother?), bookended by the end of Chinatown as they not only knew it but as they understood it to mean to their family and many more like theirs. Finally, to the gentrification of not only the area but the beloved buses which took them there. Unique in voice, subtle in layering, powerful in metaphor and images this needs to be known and remembered. -BN

SECOND PLACE: “Lotus Flower” by Isabel Hernandes-Cheng about Chinatown

The use of the Lotus Flower as a metaphor for the Chinese immigrant blossoming even in the harshest environment is not only maintained throughout the poem but gives the elegance and honouring to those who worked so hard to find a new life in an often-unwelcoming new place. Chinatown itself became that place where new immigrants could flourish, a home away from home even in the grimiest of locations. There was beauty in what it offered. There were so many lines that stayed with me and will continue to do so, as they gave meaning for those that made too many sacrifices for a country that really did not want them. -BN

THIRD PLACE: “Home at Vie’s” by Sharon Pan about Hogan’s Alley

There is a vibrancy about this poem that draws you in and makes you feel you are living in this moment years ago. The use of language to not only create a picture, but to make you feel as though you are actually there stays with you long after you read it. This poem so successfully captures the atmosphere of the restaurant that I felt as though I could smell and taste the food and feel the rhythm of the room beating out into the street. For a shorter poem the use of language accomplished a lot. -BN

Emerging Category Judge: David Ly

Judge’s General Remarks

With poems based on locations ranging from Kitsilano Beach to the bustle of Commercial Drive, and to locations I hadn’t known about, all of these poems were brilliant in their own right. But as much as I liked each of the 127 submissions, what it boiled down for me was looking for that heartbeat that jumps out at you in a poem; the quiet but loud voice and perspective that makes you take a step back and read again and again. The three winners in the Emerging Category honed in on this quiet heartbeat, and I can’t wait to read their first collections when the time comes. – David Ly

First Place: “Entertainment” by Jeremy Chu about the former Marco Polo Nightclub in Chinatown

Though The Marco Polo night club no longer exists in Chinatown, Jeremy Chu captures the legendary hotspot in such a finessed and controlled poem, making readers feel as if they were there. Guiding us from within The Marco Polo itself to the sidewalk outside where “the crackle of shoes / atop sidewalks and the crackle / of a wild microphone / are the same voice,” this poem moves beyond what The Marco Polo had to offer in terms of music: the poem “Entertainment” sheds light on the poignant impact The Marco Polo left on its visitors as a place where “you hear so much / more music than music, / you hear bodies knowing / their way.” -DL

Second Place: “the stone artist” by Theresa Rogers about the construction of the Stanley Park seawall

It takes a refined point-of-view to showcase a single location in a poem that simultaneously pushes the narrative forward, and Theresa Rogers does this beautifully with “the stone artist”. Like how the artist in the poem carefully stacks his stones along Vancouver’s seawall, Theresa Rogers has meticulously built this poem up with few, but beautifully arranged words. “the stone artist” displays a wonderful balance between nuanced description and honed poetic voice. -DL

Third Place: “Contrasts” by Donna Seto about Chinatown

A poem that isn’t afraid to break free of itself, “Contrasts” revels in playing with form and succinct imagery, while giving readers multiple character studies to strike emotional chords about generational and cultural divides. Seto cleverly contrasts the poem’s nostalgic opening image with a heart-breaking ending image, making for a skilled piece of writing; deceptively simple but very impactful. “Contrasts” is surely a promising sign of what’s to come next from the author. -DL

Established Category Judge: Rachel Rose

First Place: “Sen̓áḵw” by Susan Alexander about Vanier Park.

Loosely organized as a sestina, this poem hits all the right notes. The sestina, a form with six lines repeating in an intricate pattern, is echoed in the movement of Three-kite man as he flies his kites at Vanier Park, the “thrust and zoom, synchronized twirl,” of expert kite maneuvering, “like calligraphy.” At the same time, this poem takes us on a journey to re-vision Sen̓áḵw, as the speaker learns—and perhaps we learn as well—from a group of actors who “step out of character to talk of Sen̓áḵw,” sharing the history of the First Nations families set adrift on a barge in 1913 while their village was torched, at this place also known as Vanier Park.  With expert craft and skill, this exceptional poem deepens our understanding of a specific place in our city, as well as the fraught history of that place. It also it has, as every great poem must, a compressed and refined power, where language means more than it needs to, where meanings double back on themselves and lift off the page, expanding and astonishing in the process. -Rachel Rose

Second Place: The Modest Contribution of Babies to the Protest at the Member of Parliament’s Office” by Leslie Timmins about Khatsahlano Beach (known as Kitsilano Beach) and a protest by 350.org at Broadway and Arbutus

This powerful protest poem speaks to both people and place in Vancouver, as it centres the experiences of protesters against climate change trying to make their voices heard as our city endured an unprecedented heat dome during the pandemic. There is happiness to be found in the communal gathering, in “heat-dazed” babies held tenderly in parents’ arms, people smiling “with their eyes” above their masks, but it’s a joy shot through with grief, “a complicated sort of joy, like seeing a falling star—” This sense of the collective, of care for the crowd and for specific places, is echoed and repeated throughout the poem; the office around which protesters are gathered is mere blocks from Khatsahlano beach, at which “an intertidal genocide” is taking place. Protestors unite to demand change, “for the sake of the chorus,” which is all of us, “beloved, dear friends, good neighbours,” even as the poem closes without the Member of Parliament showing up. -RR

Third Place: “To The Otter Who Snuck into the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden and Ate the Koi by Kelsey Andrews about the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown

This excellent poem follows the trajectory of an otter who developed a taste for the koi that live in Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, an otter who outsmarted the Park Board who tried to catch it, devouring koi that had lived for half a century in the gardens. This fishy saga alone would be enough to make this an interesting poem, but what elevates it to exceptional is the way the speaker compares him or herself metaphorically to the untrappable otter. The speaker too was once feral, unhoused, but now lives in the caged luxury of “an SRO inspected periodically/for bedbugs.” Like the otter, the speaker too ghosted invisibly through the same DTES streets, unseen. The otter, though, disappears; the speaker remains trapped among people who are trying to tame him or her, “medicate me well/enough to get some kind of job.” Vancouver is that rare city where coyotes roam the streets, where otters and raccoons and even bears make cameo appearances; it is also a city where many citizens are homeless. “On stony beaches/where rich people are housed/otters live under docks and smell terrible,” notes the poem, insisting that readers acknowledge the presence of the feral, the semi-invisible, the wild, the dispossessed living in our city, who, unlike the otter, refuse to simply disappear. -RR