By Erica Pierre-Pierre
Arc Poetry Magazine has announced its list of finalists for the 2021 Archibald Lampman Award. This annual prize recognizes a remarkable book of English-language poetry written by an author living in the National Capital Region. Apt613 sat down with Arc Poetry Magazine’s managing editor, Chris Johnson, to talk about this year’s nominees, the award and the awesomeness of Ottawa’s poetry community.
Arc Poetry Magazine was founded by three Carleton University professors in 1978. It began as a triannual print publication and has evolved over the years to encompass additional programming, such as awards and contests. The Archibald Lampman Award was named after the eponymous 19th-century poet who lived and worked in Ottawa. The prize was first given in 1986 as an initiative to highlight the local Ottawa literary community and Ottawa-based poets.
“It just seemed like a fitting way to pay respects to books of poetry that have been published by Ottawa-based writers, and we can celebrate them by giving out this prize and a little bit of prize money and really encourage poets to stay in town and keep publishing their work,” says Johnson of the award.
Eight titles were nominated for the 2021 prize:
- The Marta Poems by Susan J. Atkinson
- We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite by Conyer Clayton
- Locked in Different Alphabets by Doris Fiszer
- Perfume: Poems and Word Sonnets by Seymour Mayne
- Walking on the Beaches of Temporal Candy by Christian McPherson
- footlights by Pearl Pirie
- Finish this Sentence by Leslie Roach
- A Different Wolf by Deborah-Anne Tunney
This year’s Archibald Lampman Award competition is being overseen by judges Mike Chaulk, Rasiqra Revulva and Jane Munro, three prominent Canadian poets of diverse backgrounds and poetic styles. After taking time to carefully read each work, the judges unanimously shortlisted three titles on the basis of their uniqueness and use of inventive language, among other merits.
The shortlisted works are Locked in Different Alphabets, footlights, and A Different Wolf.
Doris Fiszer is an Ottawa-based poet whose work has appeared in an array of North American anthologies and journals. The poet’s long list of accolades also includes the 2017 John Newlove Award, Tree Reading Series 2016 Chapbook contest, and a shortlist nomination for the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Locked in Different Alphabets is a collection of memoir poetry.
If successful in this year’s Archibald Lampman Award competition, it would be Pearl Pirie’s second time winning the prize. The poetry and fiction writer lives in Alcove, Quebec, and has received numerous awards and nominations for her work. Described by the judges as “a playful tribute to the momentary,” footlights was also long-listed for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
Deborah-Anne Tunney both resides and was born in Ottawa. She is a poet, novelist and short story writer and her work has been published in an array of literary journals and anthologies within Canada, the United States and across the Atlantic. The poems of A Different Wolf explore the lasting influence of Alfred Hitchcock both within the world of cinema and on a personal level.
Beyond recognizing these outstanding works, Johnson’s hope is that this prize continues to inspire writers to see the benefits of a career in Ottawa. Admittedly, the literary community in the nation’s capital is small compared to those of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Johnson estimates that about 75 per cent of the organizations funded by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) are based in or around Toronto.
And yet, while perhaps underestimated by comparison, Ottawa’s literary community is robust. According to Johnson, there are currently close to a dozen celebrated, regularly published authors and poets who have chosen to reside in Ottawa throughout their careers and have repeatedly put Ottawa on the map as a well-respected literary centre.
“We’ve got really, really strong writers,” says Johnson. “We want to show that there are people that are celebrating writing in Ottawa and good reasons to stay here and do your work.”
A big part of Arc’s mission is also demonstrating to future generations of writers that widespread recognition can be achieved without having to relocate to a larger city. Rather than being seen as a detriment, Johnson explains that Ottawa’s compactness offers a number of advantages in that its closely-knit community is both accessible and encouraging.
“Ottawa writers are really friendly, and they want to bring people into the scene, and they want to encourage each other,” he says. “Writers are really willing to open up and share their experiences if that’s what a new writer is looking for.”
“We want to show that there are people that are celebrating writing in Ottawa and good reasons to stay here and do your work.”
While the pandemic has hindered the community’s ability to gather in-person, virtual events have persisted throughout the pandemic. This said, Johnson looks forward to what the eventual lifting of restrictions will mean for poetry in Ottawa – a sentiment undoubtedly echoed by countless others within the city’s literary community.
For now, many events in Ottawa remain virtual. The winner of the 2021 Archibald Lampman will be announced via Zoom on October 20 at the Ottawa Books Awards Ceremony.