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ARC POETRY MAGAZINE
                     2016 POEM OF THE YEAR                        

In Arc Poetry Mag­a­zine‘s sum­mer 2016 issue we are pleased to announce the win­ner of our Poem of the Year con­test!

Doy­ali Islam’s “site” earned the title of Poem of the Year, and Cur­tis LeBlanc won over audi­ences to receive Read­ers’ Choice for his poem “In Recog­ni­tion of a Quar­ter Cen­tury of Con­tri­bu­tion to UMA.” This year’s Diana Breb­ner Prize judge, Dina Del Buc­chia, selected “NU” by Claire Far­ley as the best poem from a National Cap­i­tal Region poet. Con­grat­u­la­tions to our con­test win­ners, all of the poets who received hon­ourable men­tions, and every­one who made the short­list!

NH: Your writing and performance are infused with hopefulness and beauty. Even when describing loss or longing, your poems are generous, gentle, and lush to the ear. You’ve been on Canadian Festival of Spoken Word championship teams. You’ve taught and performed widely. When you are before a microphone, the audience is quiet and rapt. Can you describe the difference in meeting your audience in such a peaceful way, in a performance field that often relies on the quick, the rhythmic, and the driving?
 
BW: Thank you for this question, and your kindness in appraising my style of writing and performing. I think the generosity of spirit and the gentleness you perceive in my way of writing and speaking can be attributed to many different things.

As it relates particularly to spoken word poetry, I think my performance style was powerfully impacted by my early experiences as a performer. While it is true that I am also a disciple of the culture of poetry slams in Canada, just as much, in those early years, I was performing often in the humble, modest setting of a cafe open mic (at Umi Cafe, Ottawa).

I think gaining my stage acumen in such a modest, deeply human environment gave me a different, perhaps unique, sense of what "success" was and is, in the performance context. Because the environment of the cafe, and the open mic, particularly, was quite communal and intimate in nature, it became apparent that the way to succeed was through authenticity and through the ability to render and express some element of my inner-most, spirited self while on stage. I could only be moving, I could only be impressive or worthy of affirmation to the degree that I made my spirit known within the space of a performance. I suppose, then, what I am speaking of is a sort of nakedness, a willingness to be seen in a form of expression that evades pretense in favour of honesty.
 
Also, because I was so young when I began performing my own poems (I was about 20 during my first show), the experience couldn't help but be formative, in terms of helping me develop and grow into an adult subjectivity and strength-of-intellect. I can say quite honestly that before I began sharing my poetry on a regular basis, I did not know myself very well. The act of sharing my poetry taught me who I was, and the power and responsibility I could wield if I chose to use my gifts of language and speech for the sake of exploring my potential to love. 
 
I think that is where the gentleness, hopefulness and generosity comes from. For a long time, I have understood that the best thing, spiritually, that poetry can do for me, is create opportunities for my freedom and my honest expression of self. In writing and in performance, most of what I am trying to do is articulate my disposition to the world in an authentic way. It just so happens that I have made love my life's devotion, so that commitment to love is reflected (hopefully) in my every word and deed. Of course, this commitment implicates my choices as a writer and performer in a powerful way. 
 
People used to ask me quite often why my poetic work referenced love so frequently, so explicitly, even, as you say, in poems about loss and longing. I used to say that my responsibility as a poet is to tell the truth, and I believe love to be part of the truth of every story, every movement and iteration of righteous humanity. Therefore, even the poems of mine that are not *about* love will still feel lovely, because love, for me, is part of the way of the truth of being alive. A poem without love ceases to live, in my opinion. But, of course, the scope of love that I am talking about can be approached from several angles. I believe all writers write for the sake of love, whether they are choosing to do so consciously or not. 
 
To write from a loving disposition also enriches my life, I think. I enjoy performing poetry mostly insofar as it gives me the chance to make my heart and intellect known to other people. The act of performing authentically gives other people the chance to relate to me in such a way as to expand the possibilities for love in my life. I like to think about performance as a chance to bare my heart. Others, seeing my bare heart, decide, within the space of one poem or more, whether they have the strength and the will to love the heart that they see in me. If they decide they do have that strength and will, it means that poetry has facilitated a loving connection. That is its power. So, I write and perform with this potential in mind, even subconsciously. I write for the sake of healing and in order to call out for love. There is no love without generosity, tenderness, receptivity, so perhaps my poems must have these qualities, too, if they are to succeed, spiritually.
 
N.H.: Arc’s annual issue of the year will be on the theme of Art in the End Times.  With the unrelenting negative news that we are exposed to, our writing changes in ways to reflect that. You have recently been exploring delivering in person and online workshops to encourage writing “from a place of authentic joy, celebration, honour, as a way of counteracting the spectrum of trauma, violence and injustice that burdens many of us on a daily basis." Can you explain your approach to teaching writing as tool for emotional work?
 
B.W: I believe poetry is one of the best tools we have for understanding the world, and for creating the consciousness for healing the world. I mean this both in reference to the internal world of the human being, and the social, political world we share. I think it is natural that the internal world of a human being is always being influenced by the social world around them, and visa versa. Because, throughout history, poetry is one of the only things that can articulate the interaction between the individual and social realities of humanity in an absolutely simultaneous way, I think it is interesting, and perhaps necessary, to help people find their poetic voices, so that they can make sense of the world.

I believe that the emotional, spiritual, and heady intelligence of every human being is so great that all poetry requires,in the basic sense, is the fortitude to articulate your truth. If we writers are willing to do the painstaking work of finding our bottom-most truth, once we bring it to the surface, it will naturally be imbued with all the forms of intelligence that such work requires. We need not,in my opinion, struggle to find poetic meaning, we only have to have the tenacity and humility to reckon with the deep forms of meaningfulness that are inherent to our existence. I try to help people stay in touch with that tenacity and that humility.

As one of my favourite poets, Nigerian-Canadian poet Titilope Sonuga, once said to me: the poetry begins where we begin to tell the truth.  I think the humility and the ability to reckon with difficult truths is exactly what our world needs, socially and politically. If we are strong, humble, and in touch with the truth of our own subjectivity, we can begin to reconcile the complications of our time and age. Writing and speaking poetry is such a very human act, and I think a basic dislocation from humanity is making room for the violence and cruelty and injustice that is burdening us, presently. For some people, the development of creative and poetic resolve creates a gateway for personal, political and social resolve, because, as we know, writing requires empathy. So does our world. I hope I can use poetry to help others (along with myself) become freely empathetic. That is one of the political contributions I hope to make in my lifetime.
 
 
N.H.: Do you feel that there is a social responsibility to meet in the way we use our writing, as we react, with empathy, to trauma?
 
B.W: I am not sure how to answer that, in the sense that I think people can choose to use the power and potential of writing as a way of dealing with their own traumas. Beyond that, I am not sure about the responsibility of writers to address trauma. I think, basically, one of the responsibilities of the writer is to help create more empathy in the world. The writer, and particularly the poet, I feel, has the power to reveal the human condition to itself.

The most that writing can hope to do is help the reader/listener better reconcile their humanity. I think most pain, most suffering, comes from confusion. If a poem or a novel or short story can, in whatever way, create clarity and defeat confusion for other people, I think new possibilities for healing are created.

It is the writers work to convey some understanding(s) about the world, even if those understandings are speculative or in-progress. The more salient the understanding, and the more directly that understanding can be conveyed to the reader/listener, the more chance that the words create some healing or soothing impact. This is why the world loves the writing of Maya Angelou, or Isabelle Allende, or Dionne Brand or Arundhati Roy. These are people who managed to pass on some deep, subtle, elegant understandings about the world. They each filter(ed) the world through their own lens and the profundity of their own humanity in order to produce poems, novels, memoirs, stories, that help us understand what it is to be human. Even when the words are gnarly, they are sage. Even as the writers themselves admit that they are imperfect, there is something about the humility and honesty of the devoted writer, which, at the best of times, produces a potent and necessary medicine. I am trying to create this medicine, too, in so many ways. 
 
Listen to Edmonton based artist Brandon Wint's new spoken word album, The Long Walk Home, here




Interview by Natalie Hanna.
Renewal and recov­ery are under­ly­ing themes in this vol­ume, which in every line demon­strate the mind’s capac­ity to view the world in a fresh and mean­ing­ful way. This the­matic inter­est is estab­lished early in the open­ing series of mono­logues when Young Eve, expelled from Eden, real­izes the indif­fer­ence of the world now sur­round­ing her — “You’ll find sym­pa­thy / in the dic­tio­nary between shit and syphilis.”

Read Dean Steadman's review of Meira Cook's Monologue Dogs.

Check out all of our new reviews here
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Lampman Awards

Arc is proud to announce the three finalists for the Archibald Lampman Award, for an outstanding book of poetry by a National Capital Region Author published in 2015. The three finalists are:

 
David Groulx, Wabi­goon River Poems 
(Neyaashi­inig­mi­ing, ON: Kege­donce Press, 2015)

N.W. Lea, Under­stander 
(Ottawa: Chaudiere Books, 2015)

Pearl Pirie, the pet radish, shrunken 
(Toronto: Book­Thug, 2015)

The 2015 Archibald Lamp­man Award will be pre­sented in con­junc­tion with the City of Ottawa Book Awards on Octo­ber 19. Watch for a read­ing by the Lamp­man final­ists, announced in the fall!

Learn more

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Western University professor Tom Cull has been named Poet Laureate for the City of London by the London Arts Council.


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