2016 JESSAMY STURSBERG POETRY PRIZE: FIRST PLACE

Congratulations to Muneeza Sheikh and Aubry Williams, winners of the 2016 Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize! We’re excited to share their poems with you today, as well as a brief interview with each of these young poets. The prize is awarded annually through the Jessamy Stursberg Youth Poetry Trust Fund, sustained by a generous donation from the Stursberg family and other donors in honour of Jessamy Sutrsberg. The prize was established to foster a lifelong relationship between Canadian youth and the literary arts–specifically poetry–in honour of Jessamy’s lifelong love of poetry. The prize awards six student poets across two categories: the junior category, for students in grades 7 to 9, and the senior category, for students in grades 10 to 12.

Find the full awards announcement here.

FOR A CHILD SOMEWHERE

by Muneeza Sheikh
winner in the junior category

for a child somewhere

Muneeza

Muneeza Sheikh was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and moved to Canada at the age of two. As a child, she possess an affinity for reading and writing, whether it be a few sentences about the snow outside, or a quick thought about the life of another person, poetry has allowed her to become more compassionate and empathetic toward others. She now views words as vivid images painting in her head and strongly believes that they are powerful forces that can influence others. She tends to write poetry that socially criticizes society to evoke positive change within the world. She currently writes for Her Culture and Awoken Magazine as a blogger and poet, and is also a part of her school’s Syrian Refugee Family Committee. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering at her local hospital, reading books and short stories, and of course, writing poetry!

How long have you been writing poetry?

Before writing my poem “for a child Somewhere”, I had never formally recorded my poetry; it was more like small spurts of ideas in my mind, some fleeing and some staying. However I had watched a video about a child breadwinner, who had the most brightest smile in spite of his plight. Contrastingly, I, on the other side of the world could not stop complaining about my daily predicaments. The young boy’s courage and perseverance evoked an immediate guilt response from me as I realized that children living in the same world as myself were suffering, and I resolved that I had to do something about it. This marked my passage to maturity as I finally understood that by recording what I thought, my ideas would not only engender within my own mind, but they would grow into a powerful expression of my innermost thoughts, feelings and desires that could positively impact others.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?

My all time favorite book must be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, because of what it taught me about humanity, and the fact that hope and beauty can exist in the face of despair. I also like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

How do you see writing and poetry being a part of your life over the next several years?

Over the next several years, poetry will never leave my side, as it is a way that I can express my thoughts, feelings and desires. It acts as an outlet for me to share my ideas to the world. So long as I can think and write, poetry will always find its way to me as I constantly paint images in my head with words and phrases. As long as I feel that there are issues in the world that need to be addressed, I will continue to express my opinions and share the stories of the struggling, and be the voice of those who are silenced and cannot be heard. Poetry is my passion as it boosts my self-worth, increases my sensitivity to others and my surroundings and no doubt makes me feel alive.

If you could give other students one piece of advice about writing, what would it be?

If I could give other students one piece of advice about writing I would definitely tell them that the most impactful and powerful poems are ones that come from the heart. In order to master the art of writing, one must understand the power and control that we have over words. We can use them to hurt someone, yet at the same time, we can use them to positively change the world.

What is your favorite thing about poetry?

My favorite thing about poetry is the power and influence that it can have on any individual, regardless of where they come from, their gender, their race, their ethnicity, their socioeconomic status and even their sexual orientation. Poetry has allowed me to better understand people and society such as human nature and conditions that bind us all. It has taught me valuable life lessons such as the need for a sense of belonging, the immorality of racism and prejudice, the goodness of compassion and empathy, and the beauty of hope in the face of despair. However, most importantly, poetry has sparked within me the courage to express my beliefs, values and ideas. Poetry reminds me that the pen truly is mightier than the sword, and that I have the power to change the world, one poem at a time.

ON THE ROOF

by Aubry Williams
winner of the senior category

on the roof

Aubry

How long have you been writing poetry?

I started writing poetry, ostensibly, three years ago, in the eighth grade. My poetry has become legible in the last few months, under the tutelage of a wizened and benevolent English teacher, (ironically) Mr. Young.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?

My favourite author is JRR Tolkien; and favourite poets are Shel Silverstein, Tom Wayman, and Langston Hughes. I like to claim to be a descendant of Robert Burns, but, deep down, don’t know if that’s true. My favourite books are the Lord of the Rings books, as well as Dune, Watchmen, and Slaughterhouse-Five.

How do you see writing and poetry being a part of your life over the next several years?

I will continue to write, if only to myself, so that when I get old and wizened I can look back and laugh at all of the stupid things I thought, perhaps even find an insight or a relic of a past age, something I can tell my wife or kids, something for them to feign interest in.

If you could give other students one piece of advice about writing, what would it be?

Do poetic things. I’m not much for advice.

What is your favorite thing about poetry?

My favorite thing about poetry is creating the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that go into it, and then struggling to convey those while also making it make sense; what a rush.