The Walrus Poetry Prize 2017

The Walrus Foundation is delighted to host the sixth annual $4,000 Walrus Poetry Prize and $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award, both generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation.

The following five 2017 semifinalists have been chosen by celebrated poet and novelist Margaret Atwood from a shortlist compiled by Jordan Abel, 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize winner, and Carmine Starnino, deputy editor of The Walrus.

Winners will be announced in the January/February issue of The Walrus.


by Tristan Joseph Boisvert


1. hungry shame, unverbalized pain
“head bowed down, coming out; father’s shouts, ‘keep it in, hide your sin, sodomites have no rights.’”
synonyms: don’t accept fate; lion’s gate nigh
antonyms: fight, fight, fight; hold your head high


2. a knot tied neat; gallowman’s feet
“mother’s bows were always neat.”
synonyms: loop, lasso; lynch mob school
antonyms: God send me a son, no sissy boy pawn


3. water sprayed high, the ferryman’s sigh; far, far from the other side
“Underflow mire tugs hard at the bow whilst Charon grins and claims his sin”
synonyms: how quickly they hung you;
antonyms: how slowly you died

a lover, a friend; a son’s
name frozen on my lips,
buried in my heart;
a call to arms

sweet Jeremiah coming out
with false prophet doubt,
the day was right
the moment was not

it broke you—
they broke you
but they won’t break us all

so when you wake
at the lion’s gate,
and the lion roars—

sweet Jeremiah,
hold your head high


by Sadie McCarney

And now you heave
your pallets of the dead,
their shucked-off husks

all gifted to Science
to help the hung-over
who would be doctors:

a fatty liver’s calcified
ridges, like Rockies
the size of a fishbowl

fort; the neat sortilege
of brittle old-man bones.
In class they’ll name

and groom the cadavers
like housecats, but you
do rounds of your own,

like the night you said
you’d split for the bar
“just after this album”,

but got blazed, forgot
that 8-tracks loop back
around for hours. Again

you traipse the bulk
of bodies in silence
past the Med School’s

bleached-lancet labs,
Shipper/Receiver for
a ghastly cargo. Again

you label the unlucky
rodents, their natural
labcoats white as spittle,

and again… At last you
twitch awake in a hospital
bed. An I.V. juices you

up with Lasix, your
arms julienned where
the nurse jabbed it in.

They bring morphine
so you float in a mint-
green haze, and med

students from back then
scrub in as your surgeons.
Bright lights, your pink

offal-guts on a screen,
and once again you
heave your pallets

of the dead at 4AM
past doors like decisions.
Quiet, sterilized clean.


by Lenea Grace

Sweetheart, tell me about Lubbock (on everything)
under pinball lights, over soft beer
in a cabin bar on Geary Ave — tell me this
winter was a gift, a slow pour — a love
song composed years before
we were born. Tell me a decade
of stories. Tell me California is the seventies,
low palms and hot pink sky, strip mall runways.
And England the forties, austere in wool
jumpers, smart and moored.
Tell me about the smoking section
on a British Caledonian flight.
Tell me about your shabby genteel aunts.
Tell me about your grandfather with a solo lung —
he swam across Memphremagog once
or twice. Free love and how many
brothers and sisters your father had (has).
Tell me how my father woke up in the desert
at 4 a.m. — my brother’s birth the horizon,
reverberating latitudes. Tell me the physics
of lovelock, love locked between parallels,
separate breakfasts at kitchen tables
in Houston and in Toronto.
Tell me this is it. Tell me this isn’t it.
Tell me about hangover rock —
let’s get into the metaphysics of regret —
misinterpret our lyrics, call my name Lenea, Lenea
in the gloaming, in the gloaming. Draw nearer.

Moon with Contrail

by Kathleen McCracken

They were talking about Wetaskiwin
or maybe it was Wichita

when he pulled the pickup
leftways down a dirt track

scored through aspens
spilling into snowfields

braked sharp and cut the engine
under shocks of borealis.

Look up, he said, north east
of where that trapper’s moon

is set on riding shotgun
to the bear.

His hands in yellow roping gloves
were raised

a stockman’s deliberate surrender
to the cobalt blue.

Here is eucharist
for renegades

let the spinning skies shake out
their fall of holiness.

She swallowed down the galaxies
came streaming from his mouth

the morals and the oaths
the pledges and the blessings

but from the corner of her eye
tracked a wing-tip contrail

(so slow to dissipate
in the cold beyond the canopy)

of a coast to coast connector, LaGuardia to LAX
a rend, a rib, a stitch, a scar

at odds yet plainly wedded
to a moon full up with hunger

or a west whose once upon a time
has long since given way

to rock oil spills and fracking drills
strip mining, malls, wild horse culls

the strontium uranium
overgrazing overkill

cooked up in California’s
crystal cool cookhouses

or private Palm Beach clubs
the Gulf as slick with crude

as wagon wheels
gone westering.


by Shane Neilson

Why does it hurt when emotion spills out of a body? How does emotion spell ‘body’? What does it mean to be good? Why is the surplus of beauty everywhere? What is the password? Is there always another way? What is the real word for ‘real’? Is there room for one more? Is it meant to be? What is the subject to time? Why are the painful questions four words long or less? Why steel, steel, steel? Where is the path? What is a story? How much more loss? Is this the end? Who are the dead? Is there a reason? Is it safe? What remains? How come?

What about me? Am I good? Where can I hide? Am I allowed? Am I all in one piece? Am I alive? What’s in it for me? Where can I trade less for more? Am I being objective here? Do I have to accept this? What does my father’s face mean? Can I escape? Can I take it with me when I go? Can I wake up now? Can I see change when it is coming, or only when nothing is the same? What is my role in this disaster? Did I do the right thing? Did I mean to? Am I right or wrong? Did I choose that? Am I responsible? What do I know? All my life: what do I know?

When I say need, what do you hear? Can you hear me? Do you have a secret? Are you talking to me? I know you are, but what am I? Will you miss me? If I told you, would you believe me? Can I ask you a question? Will you take care of me? If I needed you, would you come? Can I help you? Why do you hate me so much? How can I make better? What can I get for you? Can you show me? Why do you talk about me that way? Will you hurt me and go on hurting me? Can I count on you? Will you let me go? Do you believe in me? When will you give me what I want?

Where do you hide? Will you wait? Where will you go? Why did you fuse the words “pain” and “love”? Were you born in a field, or sui generis? How do you see yourself? Do you even have a plan? How do you get out of bed in the morning? Did you think for just one second? Are you high? What is your problem? Are you sure? Do you care? What do you care? Why am I asking? Are you serious? How bad do you want it? Are you all in? Are you protecting yourself? Are you insane? Are you both the rhyme and reason? Are you both terrible act and the turning season?

Who is included in “we”? Do we belong here? Are we there yet? Can we stop now? Do we look at the sky hoping for deliverance? Can we heal in story? Where did everyone go? Why must we fail? Why are we afraid? Do we prefer strength? Can we be serious for a second? How did we get here? Can we work this out together? Were we meant to be together? Can we split the difference? Should we? Do we have common ground or is it in another year, another season? Yes. Another season. Are we in agreement? Is there anything else we can argue about?

The Walrus Foundation extends its deepest gratitude to the Hal Jackman Foundation for its generous support of the Walrus Poetry Prize and poetry in The Walrus magazine.

Hal Jackman Foundation
Poetry in Voice

Previous Poetry Prize Winners and Finalists

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