Arc’s Poem of the Year Shortlist (2023)

A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights by Damen O’Brien

Pickup Fifty-Two by David Barrick

Fulgura Frango (or How to Count to Infinity) by Dominique Bernier-Cormier

Career Day by Joseph Kidney

Telling the Bees by Larissa Andrusyshyn

Nine Months, at 34 by Lianne O’Hara

A Song, or Call by Lisa Martin

Latchkey by Michael Fraser

Thousand Moon Creek by Pete Smith


A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights

All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9), in a row; everyone except Damen O’Brien is behind a white veil so that image pops out. Damen O’Brien is wearing an all black zipper shirt and sitting in front of a dark background which makes his bright blond hair (and white skin) pop; his smile is minimal and he looks into the lens with intense eyes, from under dark eyebrows.

Damen O’Brien reads “A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights”

A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights

after the painting by Hieronymus Bosch 

The man made of egg shells with tree trunks for legs was there and the man with a bird’s head was there and the man with ravens flying out of his bottom, he was there, there was fire of course and it burned terribly, but after the first century, everyone became used to the pain and the people from heaven were there, always complaining about the management, the self-promoters were there, networking furiously, people who owned more than 90% of humanity’s wealth were there, Jesus had got that right, but so were the ones that steal the remote control, reluctant voters were there, checking their watches, people who say, ‘it’s the principle of the thing’, who say, ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’, who say, ‘let the market decide’, or ‘trickle down economics’, they were there in droves pushing shopping trollies, Superman and Captain America were there, raising their flags, but not Batman, poets were there, counting syllables, stabbing each other with sharpened em-dashes, the balladeers were absent, close-talkers, they were there, the saliva bubbling on their lips, all the American presidents and all the president’s men, Trump was in there twice, there were skeletons of course, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, method actors, really focusing on the next line, due mainly to an administrative error, petty bureaucrats were there, if there were rapists, murderers, child molesters, I never saw them, there were massage therapists and personal trainers, a whole troupe of musicians entertained us for days, the instruments coming out of awkward nooks and crannies, timeshare providers, holiday package offerors, the people who put discount labels on things, who upgrade phones, who buy premium wines, they were there in such profusion, I walked on their bodies, the bones cracking like lollies, I was there and you were there and the I that is not I and I that hides behind the I, they were all there, clamouring for attention, there was mostly sulphur, but also bleach, smoke, chlorofluorocarbons, mom’s apple pie, the man who introduced rabbits to Australia, the woman who invented disposable nappies, Nietzsche was there, a little surprised, ballroom dancers, people who buy and sell guns are fast-tracked there, provided machine guns and bandoliers, but no bullets, a huge strawberry is there – no one knows why, fish appear prominently, there is at least one person who is composed of legs, possibly a soccer player, people who don’t pay taxes and other people who are jealous of the people who don’t pay taxes, Dante passes me on the way out the door, wizards there muttering incantations, that red-haired girl from Stranger Things, it’s not that bad, it’s hell, but its not that bad, all the industrialists are there, all the denialists, people who give vouchers rather than picking out presents, they’re there, the military industrial complex is there, still finding ways to kill things for money, we’ve got the capitalist hell, full of levels depending upon what you did in life, other than the man with a mouth as big as a house and the fish with legs, it’s much like here, I pass the guy with a trident, I pass the three-headed dog, I pass the swarm of flies, I pass the comedians who still make racist jokes, I pass the crowd of white women who are scared of black women, if it’s hell, it’s the hell as it should be, not excoriatingly bad, not spiteful, not nasty, just a little bit different, like that holiday you will never take again when it turned out it was the off season and everything was closed for renovations and there was also a lot of gastro going around, the blackouts and the searchlights, the boredom and the pointlessness, the Stephen King paperbacks in the reception room of the hotel, the petty, petty, doom that comes for all.

All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Rusty Priske on “A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights”

This poem envelops you—not in a warm embrace but in a tornado of images, sounds, emotions. I find myself melting into the poem and simultaneously trying to find my way out while also luxuriating in the overwhelming of the senses. The ekphrastic nature comes through by conveying the same feeling the painting gives to anyone who gazes upon it, but with the poem the feeling is a more internal and more overtly psychological. This messes with your head in all the right ways.

Bios

Damen O’Brien is wearing an all black zipper shirt and sitting in front of a dark background which makes his bright blond hair (and white skin) pop; his smile is minimal and he looks into the lens with intense eyes, from under dark eyebrows.

Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. Damen’s prizes include the Moth Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the New Millennium Poetry Competition. His poems have been published in journals all over the world. Damen’s first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, is available through Recent Work Press. [update provided in 2023]

by Damen O’Brien

Back to the top

Pickup Fifty-Two

I am the man with nine fingers
in a jar. The man who is one finger
short of a hand. The man who hides
a boy in his belly. The boy who won’t go
belly up. The man who smiles too
quickly, laughs at the wrong line of the joke.
The boy who swims with a torn dorsal fin.
The man who grasps a harpoon. The whale
who wishes he were a man. The whale whose vision
dims the deeper he goes, who sees double.
The boy who keeps one man in the mirror, another
in the woods out back. The woodshed becoming
a man at night. Padlocked golem, shivering
timbers. A sliver in the finger
of the boy, his whole hand soaking
in Epsom salts. His whole body a hand.
The boy who fingerpaints the face
of a father in beach sand. The man who jolts
awake in class, too big for his britches.
The boy who whittles the man down
to a hatchet-faced king. The buzz
of a card deck spraying the floor. The man grown
tired of boy’s games, his back too sore
to bend over and pick up the mess, who confesses
I am the boy, rooted belly-deep, cutting
the deck and dealing again.
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Margo LaPierre on “Pickup Fifty-Two”

This piece riffles through language and time with surprising, quiet horror and time-piercing introspection. A mythic quality suffuses the man, the hand, the mirror, the deck, the woods out back. Laconic yet iterative, this beguiling poem speaks playfully of age and holds its secrets like a sliver in the finger.

Bios

David Barrick wears thin-rimmed black glasses and a furry hat, with a sparse beard and mustache and a paper coffee cup in his hand; he is grinning and is sitting, with people's backs in the background behind him.

David Barrick is the author of the poetry collection Nightlight (Palimpsest Press, 2022) as well as two chapbooks. His work appears (or is forthcoming) in Grain, The FiddleheadPrairie FireBest Canadian Poetry 2024and other publications. He lives in London, ON, and is managing director of Antler River Poetry. [update provided in 2023]2

by David Barrick

Back to the top

Fulgura Frango (or How to Count to Infinity)

Ucluelet, Vancouver Island

Years ago, my friend Arnold lived 
on this island, building a robot

that could count (in theory)

all the fish in the world. It’s very hard,
he would say, to tell fish from water,

sounding like a proverb.

Something about the brute force 
of data, something about a net of neurons.

A salmon crests the surface now, 
a silver muscle, flexed.

*

Back in darker and more Bavarian 
days, bells were inscribed with the Latin phrase

Fulgura Frango—I Break Lightning

and rung to ward off storms. A brass pulse 
to warn God people were there, to spare them.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Between 1753 and 1789, 
a hundred and three bell-ringers died, 
in Germany alone,

a rope of lightning seized in their hands.

*

Today, my brother-in-law lives 
on this same island, and swims through streams, 
counting salmon before they disappear.

An inventory of loss, he says, 
like a poem wearing a flannel shirt.

The numbers speak for themselves.

*

I can never remember if treasure 
is a countable noun.

Some treasure, like some water, 
the indivisible ocean.

Or one, two, three treasures, 
like fish, each its own

locked wealth of blood,
each its own ticking future.

That’s the mistake we make, 
of course: to divide the undividable,

to try to cleave, by the ringing of a bell, 
grief or storms or silence

into bearable moments.

*

My brother-in-law can tell Sockeye 
from Koho from Chinook in the blink of an eye,

in the split second it takes 
for a single silver scale, like a pixel, 
to flash across a dark screen of silt.

He floats, face-down, eyes open, 
as still as humanely possible, numbers

caught softly in the net of his brain.

As still as a machine. As a wreck.

*

I Google what would happen if lightning 
struck the ocean while you were swimming.

Would you and all the fish die? No. 
The salt water would spread the charge,

would turn the singular I of lightning 
into a diffuse We of waves,

the particular into the vague, 
the unbearable into the bearable,

so that each living thing would feel at most 
a tingle down their spine.

*

Sometimes, I imagine Arnold’s robot 
still wandering the ocean a thousand years from now,

working on its impossible task, 
the pulsing brass heart of it

powered by photons and salt, 
by the moon’s gravity, ticking up, up, up.

Something about an unreachable horizon.

Something about a line of any length 
(a fuse, a poem)

holding an infinity of points.
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Sarah Tsiang on “Fulgura Frango (or How to Count to Infinity)”

“Fulgura Frango” is a layered and moving piece that reminds me of the fish in the poem itself, “a salmon crests the surface now, / a silver muscle, flexed.” This silver poem darts between elegy and love, between the tenderness of a human and the devastation that is humankind.

Bio

Dominique Bernier-Cormier is smiling, facing sideways and wearing his dark hair in a back-of-the-head bun; he also has a dark beard and mustache and is wearing a scoop neck shirt. The image is black and white.

Dominique Bernier-Cormier is a Québécois/Acadian poet. His second book Entre Rive and Shore, a multilingual work of poetry and translation that explores bilingualism and Acadian identity, was recently published by Goose Lane Editions. He lives in Vancouver, where he teaches at a Francophone high school. [update provided in 2023]

by Dominique Bernier-Cormier

Back to the top

Career Day

All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9), in a row; everyone except Joseph Kidney is behind a white veil so that image pops out. Joseph Kidney stands in front of a display case with an open book inside; he is wearing a white baseball cap and shirt, and has a brown beard and brown hair.

Joseph Kidney reads “Career Day”

Career Day

At Herbert Spencer Elementary, named 
for the man who coined survival of the fittest,
one girl with a notepad, suspenders, a trilby, 

had WRITER written on a white HELLO MY NAME IS.
The boys, who insensitive to pain often caused it,
ran around screaming objection objection objection

sustained. Noticing that nobody came as a teacher, 
Mr Winpenny said nothing, happy to be spared
ridicule even if it meant being spared admiration. 

Because they say the brain is wider than the sky 
I came to class that day as a neurosurgeon:
scrubs anemically green, smile and superior laugh 

implying scalpel, a gaze that swept across
the heads of my peers and saw nothing 
but German clocks. On a portable light box 

I clamped the silver-black film to hang 
with tomographic shavings of the intellect
as though it were soppressata. —This, I said, 

is the corpus callosum, the “hard body” 
inside the wet body inside the white body 
inside the soft body. And don’t even get me 

started on the heart, spasmodic bladder of blood  
which knows nothing, let alone love.— I saw
on their puzzled faces that a piece was missing. 

—Behold, I said— gesturing toward a steel dome 
whose mirror-skin, bending, both stretched and shrank 
the classroom, so one might think it was trying 

to stuff its environment under its lid. There, concealed, 
hid the secret labour of the previous evening: a brain
exquisitely moulded in gelatin, the deepest of reds

permitting the light like the garments worn by figures 
in a panel of stained glass, each of the mind’s convolutions
finely detailed, the structure firm, with a slight 

allowance for wobbling to simulate the activity 
of thought. One moment voilé, the next voilà 
as I raised the cloche like half a ringing cymbal

and revealed utter collapse: a kind of cubist rubble, 
semi-coagulated thinking that wallowed in its own 
expired glue, shattered to a puddle, the shallow red, 

the mind which force converts from divinity
to gore, spread on the platter like a dynamited trout,
and useless, unless, useless but for caution. 
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Alison Goodwin on “Career Day”

Delightful. “Career Day” waltzes through tercets, its images layering to create rich and colourful metaphors. Who has not witnessed a wild hope or dream collapse? But here, voilà: the falling apart births art itself. Kidney’s “Shore Leave” a completely different sort of poem, was shortlisted in 2022 for this contest.

Bios

Joseph Kidney stands in front of a display case with an open book inside; he is wearing a white baseball cap and shirt, and has a brown beard and brown hair.

Joseph Kidney has published poems in Arc, Vallum, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, PRISM, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (in Arabic translation), and forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024. He won the Short Grain Contest from Grain, and The Young Buck Poetry Prize from CV2. His chapbook Terra Firma, Pharma Sea is available from Anstruther Press. [updated in 2023]

by Joseph Kidney

Back to the top

Telling the Bees

All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9), in a row; everyone except Larissa Andrusyshyn is behind a white veil so that image pops out. Larissa Andrusyshyn leans against an off-white wall with her shadow behind her; she is wearing a light blue and white T-shirt and has her hair up as she looks to her left, into the camera, and smiles with a closed mouth and dimples.

Larissa Andrusyshyn reads “Telling the Bees”

Telling the Bees

The Royal Beekeeper whispers your mistress is dead, but don't you go,
taps the hive and drapes it with a black ribbon.

The bees are in mourning.

Old traditions keep us busy with something other than grief,
so we’re told the bees are messengers between worlds.
They’ll put a good word in for you.
If the Fentanyl should be your last catastrophe, the bees will come
and wake you in the wreck.

Our parents teach us to tuck and roll, run, call fire and fire and fire.
That’s what I want to do, And scream a cluster of exploding stars into your brain,
plot the galaxies that spiral beyond ours where we could swim
beneath the surface of the ice like pickerel.

Maybe we are the hooks that float above them. Brother,
maybe I am the ice and you are the gorge that guides the water.

We should have been born on Lake Winnipeg. We should have been fish.

You fell off the wagon. I peeled back my life and found us
back in Reno, in some dusty casino
where I was staring at a taxidermied bear in the lobby while you all ate dinner.

Memory is a toboggan you drag behind you. I want to tell the bees
that before there was no going back, your cracked teeth, criminal records,
conspiracy videos, the scissor of anger twisting your face—
before that, you were the strong one, blond and blue-eyed.
A good Ukrainian son with his tomboy sister.

I was the one sinking while you stayed afloat. Until the poles flipped
and I found myself wanting the bees to carry that version of you back to us.

When it comes to disaster there’s always the question of what survived,
weave of mornings where I worry for the phone to ring.
I can’t plan a funeral; I can’t play the grieving sister
when I’ve lived up here so long with you underwater.

This week everything is disaster; Notre Dame is burning.

I read about the beekeeper who keeps the hives on the roof,
how he sees the funnel rising over the city
and he asks after his apiaries.

In the wide angle of the news I’m thinking of close ups—
the velour bodies nudging through smoke,
finding a way in the silt and wet stone.

Of the many photographs shared: the serpentine spire falling,
a Paris skyline on fire and below the crowds signing arias,
satellite images showed the bees coming and going in the hives.

With everything looking so irreversible,
the bees went to touch the impossible world, to deliver the messages,
and every one of them
returned.
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Kevin Matthews on “Telling the Bees”

This poem treats loss not from the point of view of the condolence-offerer, but the passenger in grief, longing for co-witnesses and just not knowing where this thing will take us. While we read, as it also happens in grieving, the focus pulls down to the speaker’s intimate knowledge of one particular hidden feature of Notre Dame, amid all the carnage, as if it could provide a synecdoche for disaster too great in scope to be verbalized. It’s not easy writing grief not bogged down in cliché, but “Telling the Bees” avoids the negative rendition of loss in favour of the experience, the grind of it.

Bios

Larissa Andrusyshyn leans against an off-white wall with her shadow behind her; she is wearing a light blue and white T-shirt and has her hair up as she looks to her left, into the camera, and smiles with a closed mouth and dimples.

Larissa Andrusyshyn has published two poetry collections: Proof and Mammoth. She works for non-profits facilitating creative writing workshops for at-risk youth and is busy finishing up her latest manuscript. She lives in Montreal with her adoring cat Lulu. [updated in 2023]

by Larissa Andrusyshyn

Back to the top

Nine Months, at 34

All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9), in a row; everyone except Lianne O’Hara is behind a white veil so that image pops out. Lianne O’Hara looks back over her shoulder, wearing a dark coat and her brown hair up in a top-of-the-head bun; she smirks, standing beside a brick wall with vines growing on it.

Lianne O’Hara reads “Nine Months, at 34”

Nine Months, at 34

Flat on my back in a field: the ewes are fat with lamb. A March hare flips and leaps;
tumbles over itself with precision. I hold my stomach with both hands, don’t push
away the farm dog when it licks my face. I am stupid with glee. When I return

to the city, the shops explode with glitter. Under the pink, there is a promise:
bulky women wobbling in the aisles; prams blocking the footpath, milk, milk,
milk. I count the trolleys holding life: mouse-eared onesies in leopard print, knitted 

socks the size of plums, purple with anticipation. The fat women are everywhere.
In summer, I empty the bathroom bin into my pockets and carry out another test:
if she floats, then she is not. Clear water breaks against my fingers; I am left empty-

handed. Cut-up turnips bare their teeth in well-kept gardens, laugh at the tiny feet 
of witches and nurses and ghosts. At night, I cover my ears and weep. In November, 
a plastic snake is pushed inside. I watch my womb on a screen. I had hoped for more,

someone says. A little on the low side. I am a blanket of translucent goo: the curtain
is a paper towel. My legs are still / above my head
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Glennys Egan on “Nine Months, at 34”

I’m moved by Lianne O’Hara’s poem, which captures something so many people know all too well but rarely speak openly about. She takes us along on a private journey with the speaker of the poem: the hope and excitement, the disappointment and despair. It is something so personal that is taking place (literally) inside of her, but is also somehow everywhere she looks. Finally, she ends in a position (literally) of utter vulnerability—and all we can do is hope for her, too.

Bios

Lianne O’Hara looks back over her shoulder, wearing a dark coat and her brown hair up in a top-of-the-head bun; she smirks, standing beside a brick wall with vines growing on it.

Lianne O’Hara is a poet and playwright. Her work is published in The London Magazine, Banshee, Poetry Ireland Review, Abridged, Queering the Green: Post-2000 Queer Irish Poetry, and elsewhere. Her play Fluff sold out a six-show run at the 2022 Dublin Fringe Festival. She lives in Ireland. [update provided in 2023]

by Lianne O’Hara

Back to the top

A Song, or Call

Lisa Martin reads “A Song, or Call”

A Song, or Call

I text my friend to check in.
We’re basically just waiting for the last breath, 
he texts back, from somewhere in our city.
I try to imagine the window frame, traffic,
adjacent shopping, rain. I get on my bike,
connect the helmet’s clips beneath my chin.
I’m thinking of last breaths, riding at top speed
to the bottom of the ravine. This was last night.

So it is gone now: Everything. Me. You
beside your dad. Your hands, his. Your shirt
creased at the back above your belt.
You have been wearing this shirt all day, leaning
on things; there is a dip at the bottom of the ravine
where cool air gathers. Breaths gather. I begin
to shift gears; I have trained myself to love
certain forms of pain, to think if I do this work
I might be alive longer. I might be stronger.
At the top of the ravine, I order a pint.
Later, a piece of cake. It comes sprinkled
with marigold petals, like a grave. Rain and wind.
Overhead, strings of lightbulbs in pretty arcs.
I am speaking now in the past tense.

I have shifted tenses, gears. What do you do?
What work? What would you have rather done?
At the grad student meeting, we take turns
saying our names and the names of our disciplines.
I say my name, too, as if someone has not just died.
As if someone did not die when I was so young
his death ruptured the sky, made the cool air
in the dip at the bottom of every valley colder.
Sometimes I want to be sad forever. Do you?
I don’t want sadness to kill me. Do you?
I can be sad for the least reason, but I am now
often also happy. When it is my turn to speak,
I do not say my interest or my dissertation
is the dead. And living: how to live. Have you
ever biked so fast downhill into hard wind
you felt you were the flung ash
of your own life? Not dead, but capable
of becoming dead very easily which is to say
did you ever feel so much alive?

I used to haul myself up from the river
pushing the pedals as if reeling in a fish
stronger than I was, by far, or winding
up, with a winch, an anchor which had
to come up if I were to live.
Were any of us to live? For how long?
I was having coffee. My friend had turned 61.
Happy birthday, I said, at the precise moment,
perhaps, you sent your text: Dad passed.
I didn’t see your message for an hour.

I was still thinking about that hour
when, this afternoon, a grad student
who studies the brains of black-capped chickadees
told me her research intention is to determine
how birds respond to one another’s calls, and songs.
She has to make the birds dead to know.
She puts the dead birds in an fMRI. But, first,
she plays a recording of another chickadee’s call.
She gives their brains an hour to be changed
by what they’ve heard. I love you.

I have a friend who grew up in poverty and violence.
She is afraid of heights. Yesterday she scrambled
a treacherous ridge with her companion, told me after:
My spirit was alarmed. I said, Yes. Yes. I know.
Which cells respond when another bird calls?
When a bird sings alone will its own body answer?
Is the spirit alarmed? Are the cells changed?
What do the birds think they have heard?

There was a time I did not have enough
good friends. My spirit was alarmed.
Now my poems are full of them.
My life is full of them. I still want more.
The friend whose birthday is today
tells me she is teaching her students cliché.
Not whether to use it or not but how it
asks us to reconsider everything, what we
make out of what is at hand. A young barista
with an asymmetrical haircut takes our order.
We do not know what other people need,
how they will respond when we call, or sing.
All my friends are too depressed for me to get
them out of the house, my friend says. The barista
delivers her coffee, my tea; he says, here, my friends.
We’re basically just waiting for the last breath.
Is it still good to be on this planet? my friend asks.
It is a question, though she does not put it that way.
She forms the words of a declarative sentence: It is still good.

The things that change us are small—a song, or call.
Last week the barista let my friend’s grandchild
move the steam arm of the espresso machine.
And, she says, for this I will always love him.
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Lise Rochefort on “A Song, or Call”

Like the sun-flash of spokes off a bicycle’s turning wheel, this poem strobes with the pre-occupations of the quotidian and the universal. A text, small talk, birdsong, a barista’s kind gesture, cool breeze on hot skin; the expressions of life and death corkscrewing in and out of our daily routines as someone takes their final breath. Martin’s deft language and tense changes make a kaleidoscope of time. Definitely worth several reads.

Bios

Standing in front of a black background, Lisa Martin has a serious expression and long, straight red hair that comes down and rests on her chest, which is covered by a textured green sweater that compliments her eyes; she has a neutral expression and though she is facing forward, she does not make eye contact with the camera.

Lisa Martin is an award-winning poet and essayist, the author of Believing is not the Same as Being Saved (University of Alberta Press, 2017) and One crow sorrow (Brindle & Glass, 2008). She is currently at work on a new book of essays. [updated in 2023]

by Lisa Martin

Back to the top

Latchkey

Too green to know we were poor,
I fed the coyote growling inside me
with change from phone booths.
I remember how I unlatched doors with
the side edge of a fresh hockey card,
the way summer sat in my dust-filled fro
abbreviated by the key shoe-stringed 
under my catchpenny polyester shirts.
I didn’t know there was another way to be. 
The last time I swiped a bag of corn chips
I unknowingly dashed past the store holder.
How he slapped the profile off my face,
the way fever kick-drummed and flamed
my cheek. I never stole again.
I still think of that time I parted the door
for the exterminator after I said my parents
weren’t home, and the way his gaze 
quickly populated the skeletal walls and 
fumbled into fridge-hidden corners before
heading out seconds later to the rat-scented 
hallway and into my past.
How I thinned into an even thinner 
apartment unaware it was my first chess 
game with the reaper, and not knowing 
I was lucky to have won. 
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Nancy Jo Cullen on “Latchkey”

In “Latchkey,” the picture of childhood innocence is unsettled by the simmering threat that roils through the poem. Here, the nostalgia and naiveté that often shape poems about childhood have been weaponized against the speaker, the latchkey kid. “Latchkey” rejects wistfulness as the reader is brought to a sinking understanding of the perils the unsupervised child has survived.

Bios

Michael Fraser is seen from mid-chest up, wearing a blue Trilby hat with a dark brown band, a brown suit jacket and a colourfu (mainly orange)l, patterned shirt with a collar. He smiles, looking at the camera in a friendly way through his large, round glasses.

Michael Fraser is published in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018. He has won numerous awards, including Freefall Magazine’s 2014 and 2015 poetry contests, the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, the 2018 Gwendolyn Macewen Poetry Competition, and the League of Canadian Poets’ 2022 Lesley Strutt Poetry Prize. [updated in 2023]

by Michael Fraser

Back to the top

Thousand Moon Creek

i
Paul Creek is a swift thief this time of year
    when ice is breaking up on the lake.

It takes the image of the moon and kites
    a thousand counterfeits downstream.

These many moons pock the creek’s dark surface
    like tight-packed scales of trout.

The creek’s sudden coinage
    spent behind a stand of birch and aspen.

An image of moon hangs still in the sky
    but soon the trout will steal even that.

ii
Where are you headed with our moon, trout?
Alaska? Japan?
Bring it back! It’s the Awakening Moon:
without it our year won’t start; without it
a wave of darkness will rise to swallow us.

iii
The trout splits open its belly,
             pours out offerings to its god, water,
                         in darkness behind the swamp-birch.

A few bright fingerlings trickle through,
             tickle the underbelly of the new year,
             flicker downstream, incite
                         the cold, dead world to riot.
All of the poets shortlisted for Poem of the Year Contest in 2023 (9): Pete Smith, Michael Fraser, Lisa Martin, Lianne O’Hara, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Joseph Kidney, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, David Barrick and Damen O’Brien.

Sadiqa de Meijer on “Thousand Moon Creek”

This poem speaks of the moon, that old image, and astonishes us with its glow. In the diction, we hear the ice breaking up, the fish moving. It closes with a birth we might not otherwise witness—an intimacy that the poet has turned inside out to give to the world.

Bios

this image is blurry; Pete Smith is balding, with red-blond hair in a mane, thick black rims on his glasses, and a blue shirt. He smiles slightly.

Pete Smith lives on the unceded land of Tk’emlups te Secwepémc. He has published poems, reviews and essays internationally, including Bindings with Discords, 2015, from Shearsman. He was short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, 2015, and Malahat Review’s Open Seasons Award, 2017. A fourth above/ground chapbook, Now You See It Now, is imminent. [updated in 2023]

by Pete Smith

Back to the top

Bios

Damen O’Brien is wearing an all black zipper shirt and sitting in front of a dark background which makes his bright blond hair (and white skin) pop; his smile is minimal and he looks into the lens with intense eyes, from under dark eyebrows.

Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. Damen’s prizes include the Moth Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the New Millennium Poetry Competition. His poems have been published in journals all over the world. Damen’s first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, is available through Recent Work Press. [update provided in 2023]

David Barrick wears thin-rimmed black glasses and a furry hat, with a sparse beard and mustache and a paper coffee cup in his hand; he is grinning and is sitting, with people's backs in the background behind him.

David Barrick is the author of the poetry collection Nightlight (Palimpsest Press, 2022) as well as two chapbooks. His work appears (or is forthcoming) in Grain, The FiddleheadPrairie FireBest Canadian Poetry 2024and other publications. He lives in London, ON, and is managing director of Antler River Poetry. [update provided in 2023]2

Dominique Bernier-Cormier is smiling, facing sideways and wearing his dark hair in a back-of-the-head bun; he also has a dark beard and mustache and is wearing a scoop neck shirt. The image is black and white.

Dominique Bernier-Cormier is a Québécois/Acadian poet. His second book Entre Rive and Shore, a multilingual work of poetry and translation that explores bilingualism and Acadian identity, was recently published by Goose Lane Editions. He lives in Vancouver, where he teaches at a Francophone high school. [update provided in 2023]

Joseph Kidney stands in front of a display case with an open book inside; he is wearing a white baseball cap and shirt, and has a brown beard and brown hair.

Joseph Kidney has published poems in Arc, Vallum, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, PRISM, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (in Arabic translation), and forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024. He won the Short Grain Contest from Grain, and The Young Buck Poetry Prize from CV2. His chapbook Terra Firma, Pharma Sea is available from Anstruther Press. [updated in 2023]

Larissa Andrusyshyn leans against an off-white wall with her shadow behind her; she is wearing a light blue and white T-shirt and has her hair up as she looks to her left, into the camera, and smiles with a closed mouth and dimples.

Larissa Andrusyshyn has published two poetry collections: Proof and Mammoth. She works for non-profits facilitating creative writing workshops for at-risk youth and is busy finishing up her latest manuscript. She lives in Montreal with her adoring cat Lulu. [updated in 2023]

Lianne O’Hara looks back over her shoulder, wearing a dark coat and her brown hair up in a top-of-the-head bun; she smirks, standing beside a brick wall with vines growing on it.

Lianne O’Hara is a poet and playwright. Her work is published in The London Magazine, Banshee, Poetry Ireland Review, Abridged, Queering the Green: Post-2000 Queer Irish Poetry, and elsewhere. Her play Fluff sold out a six-show run at the 2022 Dublin Fringe Festival. She lives in Ireland. [update provided in 2023]

Standing in front of a black background, Lisa Martin has a serious expression and long, straight red hair that comes down and rests on her chest, which is covered by a textured green sweater that compliments her eyes; she has a neutral expression and though she is facing forward, she does not make eye contact with the camera.

Lisa Martin is an award-winning poet and essayist, the author of Believing is not the Same as Being Saved (University of Alberta Press, 2017) and One crow sorrow (Brindle & Glass, 2008). She is currently at work on a new book of essays. [updated in 2023]

Michael Fraser is seen from mid-chest up, wearing a blue Trilby hat with a dark brown band, a brown suit jacket and a colourfu (mainly orange)l, patterned shirt with a collar. He smiles, looking at the camera in a friendly way through his large, round glasses.

Michael Fraser is published in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018. He has won numerous awards, including Freefall Magazine’s 2014 and 2015 poetry contests, the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, the 2018 Gwendolyn Macewen Poetry Competition, and the League of Canadian Poets’ 2022 Lesley Strutt Poetry Prize. [updated in 2023]

this image is blurry; Pete Smith is balding, with red-blond hair in a mane, thick black rims on his glasses, and a blue shirt. He smiles slightly.

Pete Smith lives on the unceded land of Tk’emlups te Secwepémc. He has published poems, reviews and essays internationally, including Bindings with Discords, 2015, from Shearsman. He was short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, 2015, and Malahat Review’s Open Seasons Award, 2017. A fourth above/ground chapbook, Now You See It Now, is imminent. [updated in 2023]

Skip to content