The Confederation Poets Prize, named in recognition of a group of Canadian poets who were born around the time of Canadian Confederation, is awarded annually to the best poem published in Arc during the preceding year. In the formative years of a new country, these poets helped lay the foundation for a tradition of poetry.
A century later, Arc honours them and acknowledges the wealth of new Canadian poetry.
This year’s winner is Barbara Nickel for “Vancouver Aquarium Secret” from Arc 69, our Children’s Poetry annual. Nickel’s descriptions of moving through urban Vancouver in the first part of the poem sketch out the content well, but the real pleasure is her command of cadence, of speed, to match the pace of the cityscape. It’s a concurrence of vowel sounds and line lengths, grammar and word choice that works to create a visceral response that matches the scene. And this is true of the second half, too, but that visceral response now matches the slowed, peaceful movement of jellyfish in water—that rhythmic bob and sensory stillness matched by long vowels and the use of the full page and its white space. Technically marvelous, you respond to it physically because Nickel connects the language to the body.