2021 Jessamy Stursberg Youth Poetry Prize Winners

Congratulations to the 2021 Winners of the Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize. The jurors were incredibly impressed with the quality of poems submitted this year, and we thank everyone who shared their poetry with us— we know the future of professional poetry in Canada is in good hands!

The Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize for Canadian Youth was established to foster a lifelong relationship between Canadian youth and the literary arts, specifically poetry. The prize is supported through a generous donation from the Stursberg family and other donors in honour of Jessamy Stursberg. The prize accepts submissions from young poets all across Canada, with three prizes awarded in both the Junior (grades 7 to 9) and Senior (grades 10 to 12) categories: 

Winner: $400
Second Place: $350
Third Place: $300 


WINNERS: Jessamy Stursberg Senior Category 

Jury: Melanie Flores, Grace Lau, JC Sulzenko 


First Place: How to Write a Poem by Angela Cen 

From the jurors: This is a well-crafted, highly original work.  The poet’s use of metaphor and hyperbole is masterful and evokes an abstract, yet very real, impression. A pleasure to read and savour 

Begin carefully as you approach your writing with empirical rigor. Dutifully perform linguistic algebra to solve for each unknown stanza. Slice open etymological cadavers to replicate their emotion-generating genome. You, a logician cloaked in artistry, have mastered the mechanics of poetic calculus. Stifle a sigh when your calculations and dissections bear no fruit. Run your tongue along self-made foreign melodies buried in archived epics. Feign indifference as elusive eloquence slips through your grasp. Swallow this dissonance and taste the sting of a long-forgotten language. Find solace in literary cacophonies. Carve a shadow out of text and fall into its abyss. Learn to sketch a sunrise with similes and carve characters out of consonants. Train your fingers to dance across a page and leave behind a trail of words. Etch life into each written piece. Hide the warmth of a friend’s laugh behind crackling onomatopoeia. Camouflage the memory of an old home in frames of ornate imagery. Immortalize moments in writing and seal them with rhyme. Begin again but this time slower. Savor the sticky-sweet sensation of the sentences you summon. Listen as the click-clack click of your keyboard metronome becomes an iambic drum. Allow your cluttered thoughts to unfurl into rows of tidy Times New Roman. And maybe then you’ll remember, how to write a poem.


Second Place: jiaozi by Vanessa Chan 

From the jurors: This poem’s gift is its tenderness, an offering of nostalgia drawn from the poet’s memory. It is a wonderful balance of creative metaphors, vulnerability, and reflection. A pleasure to read and reread. 

To the bundles of gold the size of my ear that lay nestled in the red thermos, castled by sweet potatoes: I was embarrassed. Those early mornings, my mother’s hands deftly pinched your dough edges to seal her love within pockets of pork and chasms of chives. Those early mornings, steam cradled your layers in the silver pot of my mother’s labour, singing with the leaves of a Chinese cabbage stuck to a porcelain plate. Those early mornings, my mother gingerly handed me the smiling pink handle of my butterfly lunch bag where the red thermos lay, granting you shelter and safety until I would twist open the lid to the smell of your warmth. At twelve pm sharp, their noses turned up at the sight of foreign flavours When they asked for your name, my mouth stumbled over Mandarin syllables, falling at their feet They looked down on me with the ends of their lips pursed and eyebrows turned in These faces reflected onto mine, reflecting onto you, changing you, contorting you into bread cheese lettuce ham. I am embarrassed but I do not want to taste my resentment anymore.

Third Place: grapheme-colour glossary by Izabella Salih

From the jurors: A poem of surprising originality, elegance of craft and form, and close attention to grammar, with the bonus that it’s whimsical and amusing. 

1: designated leader, an instinctual autocrat. cherry red with perfect posture, and an attitude that makes you want to say you’re right, now stop gloating. mellow yellow 2, with their sunshine smile— what 1 sometimes wishes they could be. the kind of student who makes straight A’s look easy. adversely, 3 copped a gentleman’s C. this lime green reveler cruises through life with a certainty only acquired through a trust fund. 4 is the most flamboyant of the bunch, with a fuschia personality, a frequenter of the local spin class, and a tendency to turn small talk into a dinner invitation. 5 soars above the others with bold opinions and an effortless efficacy. rest is foreign to this electric blue free spirit. next to their neighbour, 6 seems tepid; a delicate creature hazy lilac and benign. while they rarely speak their soft, sincere whispers make credence effortless. 7, love child of athena and harmonia, a cloud white aura, a mother to all. logical and systematic to the core, they love nothing more than exercising their apophenia. pecan brown 8 is familiar with simple pleasures: a sunset, a soft blanket, a good book. on the brink of hedonism but for their infinite selflessness. meanwhile, 9 lives for the thrill and adventure. a sharp tongue, dry humour, a tangerine hue, and a habit of sighing when conversation turns philosophical. last, (and mathematically speaking, least), is shadow grey 0. the first one at the office, last one to leave, knows everyone’s birthdays, and the janitor’s first name.



Jessamy Stursberg Junior Category 

Jury: Laura Cok, Samantha Jones & Matthew Stepanic

From the jurors: We were impressed by the breadth of work and attention to form and style that came from such a young and diverse group of poets. The entries were a snapshot of what concerns young writers today: social media, the pandemic, becoming themselves, relationships with family, and more. After reviewing all of these incredible entries–many of which we wish we could have also included–we’re excited to see more work from this very talented next generation of poets. 


First Place: Seaweed Soup and a Happy Birthday by Mark Kim 

From the jurors: In “Seaweed Soup and a Happy Birthday,” the poet’s careful and developed craft is on full display. This poem showcases not only their ability to use plain language to delve into their personal history, but they also know how to pack a punch in a stunning image and spend the full value of a five-dollar word. The poem’s thoughtful form and phrasing made it a clear and unanimous first choice for all of us. 

A tradition for life, for death, and everything in between. Narrowed into a warm bowl, with an emerald glow, and dark leaves. My vision is adjusted to the shades, the intricacy of the recipe, and history. A year of life passes, another bowl filled, and the aroma of vitality pollutes the day. The broth of sea, greens of the water, and a reminder of my past, present, future. The surface is broken, ripples undulate, and I’m back. Mom asks how it tastes, it’s good. A little salty. It doesn’t matter. Good morning, good night, and everything in between.


Second Place: undefined variables by Michelle Masood 

From the jurors: In “undefined variables,” a simple lunch scene is deconstructed by the speaker searching for meaning by sloughing off the things it is not. We loved the strong imagery, the inventive style, and the way the speaker keeps moving towards an essential truth just out of reach, and nearly grasps it.  

lunch time was not defined. not by the food rotting in my bag, not by my coming, slow and unwanted, not by my leaving not the music leaking from my headphones, no, not the wind either. not the oranges, not the bite. not the vines twisting between the creek and the table, nor the footsteps twisting between the creak of the table. not the crosswalk passing by without even a wave. not the frenetic fidgeting with the tea thermos. no, it was not defined by the book pages weighing down the empty desk, the tangled up headphone wires, they weren’t it. it wasn’t the morning dew on the walk to school, or the sun’s light sifting through the clouds. not the patches of daisies, or the pigeons cuddled up together. just like it wasn’t the moon’s pale imprint stamped into the sky, or the stars in hiding behind her. not the pools of ink and graphite on my hands, not the clouds of pot, full of boys like the beatles wandering into math class and turning half the kids into stone. but that wasn’t it either. not the headache attached to your reflection, not the itch you can’t scratch, not the stretch of your back when you try to. no, not the moths settling for streetlamps, not their wings folding and being picked off by kids on the playground. not the anomalous dandelion, four flowers crowded all into one, fighting to survive. not quite human, but almost.


Third Place: I am a woman by Nida Atique 

From the jurors: The potent imagery in “I am a woman” immediately grabbed our attention. We loved the way that the colour red was used as an anchor to connect different scenes from a life story. The volta at the end of this piece is a revelation that left us thinking long after we put the poem down.  

Red, blood pooling between my legs. Red, goes my brain, blank and confused. I run to my mother, whose red saree is swaying in the wind. Red go her cheeks, as I exclaim what is coming out of me. Red is the colour to describe my fathers’ anger, who says to never speak about it again. A red cloth placed over my head. I must be hidden away from the men. Red, my mother says, means I am a woman. I am a woman Red, the colour of the heavy lehenga I am forced to wear. The rich mehndi soaked deep into my skin, creating an intricate red design. Sticky red lipstick, smelling of strong synthetics and starch. A small red bindi, placed on my forehead. A symbol of a married woman. Red, the hue of the turban of a man I’ve never seen. The man who I must spend the rest of my life with. I am a woman Red again, but not the one from before. At first, they said not to bleed, now they wait for more? They waited and waited, for a sign of virginity to make sure I was pure. It is a check for your honour, my mother had said, but how did my honour get down there? And so nothing came, the sheets smiling bright white. He starts to see red, and his hand goes smack , a dark red bruise spreading across my face You deserve it he says, but I wish to ask why. I am a woman Silky red pillowcases, matching curtains too, My dowry that’s been collecting since I was two. Red spices and sweets all enter the house, Glaring red eyes, appraising each item. He says it’s not enough, that some stuff must be missing. Am I not sufficient, or do my materials mean more? I am a woman The last of the blood, seeing red after a painful nine months. A faint cry, a bright red baby placed into my arms. It is supposed to be a joyous occasion. But they all whisper “Its a girl, what a burden” Insincere smiles as they pray over the child. And I fear, when she grows ups, will she be a woman?