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The Walrus Poetry Prize: Readers’ Choice

Public voting open from August 31 to September 30
The Walrus Poetry Prize

Congratulations to the writers of the five shortlisted poems for the inaugural Walrus Poetry Prize, co-presented by founding partner the Hal Jackman Foundation. Voting is now open for the $1,000 Readers’ Choice award. Read the finalists here, then cast your vote (limited by cookies to one per visitor) using the widget at the bottom of this post.


The Devil’s Advocate

by Méira Cook

My lords and ladies, gentlemen of the jury—
when you hear hoofbeats, assume horses. Not zebras.
This is true in almost all parts of the world
except the African savannah, where it is safer
to assume zebras. Also eland, giraffes, herds
of this and that. In India, assume cows; in Spain,
bulls, matadors in their sun-blurred hooves.
In Tuscany, angels, in kingdom-come horses again,
pale quartets of “Wish You Were Here.” My client
sends his regrets. He is busy
falling through blank verse for all eternity while a mere afternoon
passes its shadow over us. The sun moves from one window
of the courthouse to the next, and then it is tea time.
One sugar or two? Perhaps a bun. Stretch
and yawn and back we go. I submit
for your perusal Exhibit A.
This is a map of the world, of God, and of everything.
Above is heaven, below is hell.
The future is to the right, the past is to the left.
My client, in his plea for mercy, wishes me to recall
his salient points. His sense of humour, direction, and yes, style,
his tendency to violent foreshortenings, and that finding
himself irredeemably zebra, he hoofed the streets
of his brawling, captious nature, kicking
up dust and all the limping platitudes
of this earth, our home. They tell you dreams
don’t come true. But they never tell you how.


Petite-mort

by Nyla Matuk

The stoat takes a last stand, and, turning white
ermine as winter’s breath, would rather face its hunters
than soil its fur in a chase, buying purity
with its own death. This cui candor morte redemptus

is the word in the dream made flesh.
Look at the choppy surface on these headwaters.
How should I presume, excited to the moon,
the difference between such raptures?

In Mad Men, every car scene is a wavy ur-dream,
clouds from the recent past that seem
a reminder that I used to take a man
at his word. The feeling hovers, then begs,

finally coming to small death. I will buy
my own purity, wearing a red dress.
They say “rave” is from the French rêve.
Who are the great, mad men? Spell it “small death.”

Consider that the dream, riding the horns
of ornamental dilemmas, feels like mortality.
For and against the grain. Rave, death, rêve, dress,
the spotted stoat’s last stand, the dream the ermine’s last breath.


Rip Torn

by Stevie Howell

Almosted into marble by the Medusa-eyed hoi polloi,
The Queen’s stone jowls, éraillure of crow’s feet,
are freshly quarried—fifty years late,
her face is lithic-flaked into a new lustrous, toothy smile,

as electricity excites mercury vapour, she is light-boxed,
backlit, mounted, thrust every few paces in the chambers
of the London tube. Her
cumulonimbus-hued bust, the size of Easter Island moai,

is shit-grinning over diamonds, on exhibit for the great
unwashed to grub up drool over. Jewels encased in
UV-proof acrylic vitrines, whettingly
argon-sandwiched, cannot be made stonier by our

brutish, countryside-bred, dazed unblink. We share
our sheep’s hypoxic shrug at the Lorenz curve of the earth,
we leap magpie flat-footed, shriek obsidian
disbelief tidings, genetic-fervent for useless, shiny things.

The Janus of the Jubilee and Olympics has the Queen
loitering in tunnels, her visage pinned to brick; a tattered
flag to the proclaimed, uncharted
country of herself billows above the footbridge—

the gammon display reminiscent of Styrofoam castles,
glue and sand. Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom, Iraq
under Saddam. But my companion says no,
she looks like an albino Grinch. She looks like Rip Torn

in a Swarovski choker and cotton candy wig.


Barnacle Goose Ballad

by Bardia Sinaee

Barnacle geese enjoy Nordic palatals,
stone relief fish beds and aberrant gulls.
When shellfish submerge and wash up riding buoys,
the geese fly one lap, plunge into fjord, ease

back their black neckties and splurge.
Barnacle geese sing hymns to their children
then push them off cliffs to see if they live.
No trust falls. No terranean birds.

Barnacle geese sing hymns to their children
then teach them the words. We’d call this stoic:
ask Goose Dad for insects and have your pick,
but ask about sex and he’ll make you eat fins.

I saw it last Christmas: Mom gutting the bird,
bailing fistfuls of pebbles and sand from its craw.
She took out its windpipe and voice box intact
and blew out a goose call the neighbours all heard.

Goose heads on platters with poppy seed loaf.
Goose born of driftwood in barnacled reeds.
Goose on the cliff with sisters and brothers.
A few on the ledge, a few in the water.


To an Ideal

by Nyla Matuk

I noticed you first, your birth a paranormal float on that sintered
causeway of white light. As a gift moves us to tears, so your

amatory pleas reamortized all our uses for Moreau and Mastroianni
in La Notte, along Rome’s hospital road, the grace of her hardened outbacks

swayed by illuminations of buxom blondes on ceramic piazzas.
Do I take this man as a full bouquet? I do.

Bus stations when they mattered—when they épatait la bourgeoisie
rounded the corners of each View-Master slide.

They called me the hyacinth girl, an allusive-historical
moment propice that fairly educated T.S. Eliot on Henry James.

Then James was labelled “pale porpoise” by Vladimir Nabokov.
Quick to judge; aesthetically judgmental. In truth, like a hyacinth,

a limp handkerchief, a little goodbye. Whosoever has reason to object.
Juror, face the accused. Accused, face the juror. There’s that star moment,

the delicate cliffhanger when an Olympian gymnast’s taped feet come into focus
on TV, and it is the cliché, it is the still point of the turning of the world,

from which an analogical chain forms in our minds: torrential rain
to missed balance beam; Ayers Rock, resting as some junked furnace of the gods,

to a motherboard that, from Central Command on the deity’s planet,
was sent the final, last regulatory body for this mortal coil.

In front of the daily glow of your magic lantern, how do you adopt the
depressive position? How can such flickerings bring on suspicion, harvest

your light from perspective studies by Flemish masters? I can’t
know this, because there are some things that remain terrible, sublime,

agglutinous, in the gulf between what I notice and what I should want.
I look back in wonder. I’m always in recovery over such things.

Maybe curatorial velocity is realized with the help
of a lever-operated Scopitone, a one-armed bandit peep show.

Sunshine, so much of it, leaving a purple sheen.
Cinema of a fairy world, chimera of woods.

Cedar- and pine-framed memories of childhood.
The soft relief of those conifers across the lake, long and late.

My melancholias were prequels to my mortsafes.
Armed with the new logic, Paul de Man played the ingenue,

a Swiss Army knife of delusion and semblance. He depended on the kindness of strangers. They fell away, and he became that awful unheimlich: himself.

Get this: Titan arum, the world’s tallest flower, bloomed. A lime green
phallus, shot from the centre of an undulated, cabbage-purple cup of shrubbery.

If Longinus had a vagina. The long story of the vagina.
Pope says science can unite humans with God (Huffington Post).

The long and vagina of it.
Science says Pope can unite God with humans.


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And So It Begins

Introducing the Walrus Poetry Prize
The Walrus Poetry Prize

Distrust the person who tells you poetry isn’t competitive. It is. Your poems are in competition whether you like it or not — with the poems your peers are writing; with the other poems you yourself have written; with all the poems that have ever been written; with a pint and a chat at the pub down the street with the person who knows you best; with the Jays’ game; with Toddlers and Tiaras (maybe the stiffest competitor of all); with Call of Duty Modern Warfare III. Your poems are competing for the attention of the most over-entertained audience in human history. So you might as well write like it.

Competition is good for art. The poet who writes with the full bloodthirsty hoard of her competitors in mind will avoid the poet’s cardinal sin: taking her reader for granted. Why should someone read your poem over, say, Thomas Wyatt’s, or Emily Dickinson’s? Why should someone read your poem when she could be playing laser-pointer fetch with her cat, or swimming at Sugar Beach with someone beautiful? The answer is she shouldn’t, unless the poem can make a solid case for itself.

We started giving each other prizes for our poetry sometime in the sixth century BC, during the Athenian Dionysia. The winning poet would receive a goat.  This was the symbol of Dionysus. The Walrus Poetry Prize has in at least two ways improved upon this model. We still give out the symbol of Dionysus — today that’s cash. The payout is $5,000 for the juried winner, and $1,000 for the Readers’ Choice winner. (more…)

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