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2012’s best poem pub­lished in Arc: Vancouver Aquarium Secret by Barbara Nickel

Nickel photo

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 waterthat 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.