On Saturday, June 10 at our annual awards ceremony in Toronto, we were thrilled to honour the winners of seven League of Canadian Poets awards: three book awards, one spoken word award, two membership awards, and an award for outstanding volunteer contributions. Sheri-D Wilson joined us from Alberta to host a lively evening of celebration at the final event of the second day of our annual conference.
The winner of our Raymond Souster Award was Louise Bernice Halfe, for her book Burning in this Midnight Dream, published by Coteau Books! There to accept the award was Halfe’s son, Usne Butt, joined by her grandson. The jurors called the book “the start of a larger dialogue” —
“Burning in this Midnight Dream honours the witness of a singular experience, Halfe’s experience, that many others of kin and clan experienced. Halfe descends into personal and cultural darkness with the care of a master story-teller and gives story voice to mourning. By giving voice to shame, confusion, injustice Halfe begins to reclaim a history. It is the start of a larger dialogue than what is contained in the pages.
Awoken from the sleeping forest I listened / to the distant arrival of sound.
“She moves through hurt, anger, and shame by shining light on the dark parts of what we do to each other. It allows us, as readers, intimate knowledge and hope for reconnection and love. The book moves out of simple poetry, and moves towards reconciliation through poetry. Burning in this Midnight Dream helps to heal and helps to restore respect because of its unwavering intimacy. The best of writing happens when voice inspires healing. This is exactly what Louise Bernice Halfe does with her award-winning collection.”
Our Pat Lowther Memorial Award winner was Sue Sinclair, for her book Heaven’s Thieves, published by Brick Books. There to accept the award was Kitty Lewis, publisher at Brick Books at honorary member of the League.
“The beautiful Heaven’s Thieves, by Sue Sinclair, is a constant conversation with the earth, with our human companions and present-day world, and with our civilization’s best elements, insightfully chosen by the poet: wisdom, heroism, loving emotion, the struggle with regret and all forms of pain, the struggle with death. Above all, it is a constant conversation with any of us who will read it. It stimulates and provokes us constantly, it asks us what it is that we feel and think, and it listens seriously. Sinclair’s noted power for expressive, penetrating phrases, images and comparisons here finds new levels of intensity and intimacy. And the conversation that Heaven’s Thieves conducts is not with us alone: it brings to the table a wide variety of figures from many cultural and historical sites, and puts us in refreshed contact with our world and our past. On every page is a poem of formal accomplishment. On every page, too, is a host of thoughts—sharply focused and unified yet free and encouraging freedom—jthat send the reader back to life with new vistas and new love.”
Our Gerald Lampert Memorial Award went to Ingrid Ruthig, for her debut book of poetry This Being, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
“Formally elegant, Ruthig’s poetry is smooth and reflects an impeccable ear. Ruthig picks up an idea and unspools it to its end with precision and calmness. This is a book that took its time to be made and for its performance, being consistently excellent from front to back. Her poems read as sonic and ‘sombre supplicant to the whims/ of living, age, genetics, and weather’ fashioned into a ‘stronghold of I.’”
We were so excited to have Sheri-D Wilson with us to present her own award, the Golden Beret Award for spoken word. The 2017 winner of the award was d’bi.young anitafrika, whom Sheri-D first encountered in a mentorship program during which she was assigned as d’bi’s mentor. In the years that followed, anitafrika grew as a poet, playwright, performer, and teacher, facilitating her own workshops in Africa and North America.
d’bi.young anitafrika is a queer Black feminist artist, United Nations speaker, Canadian Poet of Honor, InkTalks/TED speaker and YWCA Woman of Distinction. The internationally celebrated African-Jamaican dubpoet, dramatist, educator, director and dramaturge is also a 3 time Dora Award winning writer-performer for her epic triptych of plays The Sankofa Trilogy and The Orisha Trilogy. anitafrika’s groundbreaking creative praxis – the Anitafrika Method – uses the Sorplusi Principles as an intersectional anti-oppression human development framework, which is studied and practiced globally by artists, instigators and policy-makers. d’bi is the founding Artistic Director of Watah; Canada’s only professional theatre company that offers year-long tuition-free artist residencies to Black and diverse artist-instigators. She is also the founder and CEO of The Sorplusi Institute and Sorplusi Publishing, a research-based social enterprise with a micro press extension producing and publishing works by Black and diverse creators. Author of 7 plays, 6 dub albums and 5 books, d’bi has toured nationally and internationally. She is currently creating the first ever Dub Opera, tackling global environmental issues through a large-scale political musical entitled Lukumi (previously titled Bleeders), scored by her Afro-fusion-Reggae band The 333. Lukumi garnered the Summerworks NOW Magazine Audience Choice Award for it’s first workshop presentation in summer 2016. Catch d’bi this season in the remount of her critically acclaimed triptych The Sankofa Trilogy featuring the plays Blood.Claat, Benu & Word! Sound! Power! exploring three generations of Jamaican womxn. Blood.Claat was nominated for 5 Dora Awards and garnered 2 of them in the categories of Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance.
We were also excited to present our three annual awards for outstanding contribution to poetry and the League: our life membership award, honorary membership award, and Colleen Thibaudeau Award. We were pleased to welcome Gord Downie to the League as our honorary member, for his contributions to promoting Canadian poetry to the public in Canada and beyond. Longtime League member Allan Briesmaster was honored with our life membership award, for his decades of work in supporting Canadian poets and his incredible contributions to the League and our members. We were also excited to award the Art Bar Poetry Series with the Colleen Thibaudeau Award, and award that celebrates outstanding volunteer contribution to the Canadian poetry community.
You can find our 2017 poetry award shortlists here.