Vancouver writer’s personal poem earns top national honour
Gaston’s poem James topped a list of almost 3,000 entries received from across Canada.
The poem is about Gaston’s stillborn son, a topic she explained took her some time to address in her writing.
“This is the most personal and in many ways the most difficult poem I have ever written. It took me a while to find the form to put this aspect of the experience into poetry,” said Gaston in a written statement.
In addition to a cash prize of $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts , Gaston will receive a two-week writing residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and will be published on the CBC Books website. The four other finalists will each receive $1,000 and will also be published on CBC Books.
The other finalists were: Mia Anderson of Portneuf, Que. with Onion; Untranslatable by Edmonton’s Adriana Oniță; Winnipeg’s Bola Opaleke with The Morgue of My Tears and Nanaimo’s Alison Watt with her work Addendum — Flora of a Small Island in the Salish Sea.
“In my experience living in multiple Canadian cities, it can seem that poets and poetry communities talk to and support each other in smaller, more local ways, which can be really lovely. This award, through the long list and finalists, is one that also brings disparate conversations and styles into a national venue, which is generative and delightful,” said Gaston via email. “It’s an absolute honour to win the top prize, but the most powerful component, for me, is to have this poem nationally published and publicly accessible. I feel incredibly vulnerable sharing the poem, but primarily I am so grateful that I get to honour my son in this way.”
Gaston is the author of Cityscapes in Mating Season, which was named as one of the 10 must-read books of 2017 by the League of Canadian Poets. Other recent work has appeared or is about to appear in Brick, Canadian Notes and Queries, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review and Best Canadian Poetry in English. Currently Gaston is working on a new poetry collection she says will be set primarily in Edmonton and in B.C.’s Gulf Islands and will include her winning poem James.