Posts Tagged ‘Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest’

Disquiet and Experimentation: Interview with writer Chloë Catán, first-prize winner in the 2015 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest


Chloë Catán



Chloë Catán’s poem “Uprush” (read it here) received first prize in the 2015 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. She received private online mentoring sessions with contest judge Stuart Ross, who had this to say about her submission:

“It was wonderful to award the first prize in a contest for unpublished poets to a poem that begins with an epigraph by Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese writer who published very little during his lifetime. With few words that stretch beyond a syllable or two, ‘Uprush,’ a beautifully paced, economically crafted poem, is rich in sound, language, and image. Like a dream, this poem tumbles disorientingly down the page, both celebrating itself and at war with itself: it exalts; it contradicts. There is tension between the stuff of nature and the stuff with which we have burdened nature. Each reading of ‘Uprush’ reveals new nuances, new phrasings, new possibilities.”


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Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Poetry “resembles the graceful nature of dance; it is like a moving thought”: Conversation with poetry prize winner Natalia Darie

Natalia Darie’s poem “Maroon” has won first prize in the 2013 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. Now in its second year, this national poetry contest for previously unpublished writers was established by Heidi Stock, a poet herself. Heidi is president of Prospect Research Experts Inc., a grant research and writing firm that helps charities find private sector funding, and creator of Gift To A Star, an initiative that recognizes and rewards staff and volunteers at Canadian charities. She is also the founder of the Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience.

Vancouver’s Poet Laureate Evelyn Lau is honorary patron of the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. This year’s judge and mentor is poet Shannon Bramer, whose thoughts on the competition and Natalia’s poem you can read here. For the past two years I’ve been the contest’s editorial/media adviser.

Here’s my conversation with Natalia …


Natalia Darie

Natalia Darie


What inspired you to enter the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest?

For years I enjoyed writing as a very private and intimate endeavour. Gradually, however, I began to yearn for a sense of connection with other writers and readers. I started to see the beauty in sharing by attending poetry readings and coming into contact with the wonderful community of writers that Toronto has to offer. Because of my extremely introverted nature, I have never recited in front of an audience — although, I dream of building up the nerve, one day, to do just that. In the meantime, I decided to share my poetry in silence by entering the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. The idea of being mentored really attracted me to this particular contest. There is, after all, no greater gift than learning.

Your winning poem is beautiful and haunting. Why did you choose this particular one to submit?

I must confess that, learning how to write, or at least how to give a coherent voice to my thoughts, has been a very slow process for me. In the past, I struggled through many drafts and revisions of poems and remained very critical of them. Over time I learned that it is more important and satisfying to relinquish some control and allow thoughts, emotions, and words to flow before revising and rethinking. This, I believe, has slowly added more authenticity to my work and allowed me to express myself more accurately. The reason I entered “Maroon” is that it is one of the few poems I feel most complete about. Many times, there exists a discrepancy between what I wish to express and the reality of the work. I feel that “Maroon” comes very close to depicting my feelings and thoughts at the time it was written.

What is the backstory to your poem, if you don’t mind sharing?

Like most things in life, the backstory is a love story. The poem is based largely on the unique cocktail of feelings that appeared in me when I reconnected with an old lover whom I had not seen or spoken to in a couple of years. As we learned each other all over again, I was overwhelmed by the exquisite way in which old memories blended with the reality of the present to create an experience that was at once familiar and slightly alienating. It was like a perceptional paradox and I knew I had to put it down on paper.

What has winning this contest meant to you?

I am very grateful to have won because it is the first recognition, so far, that I have received for my work. There is perhaps no greater feeling than that of being understood, and winning this contest has given me a great deal of positive reinforcement to continue writing. My goal in writing has always been to communicate precisely how I feel. If someone out there “gets it” or can relate to my poems in some way, then I have achieved my purpose. Of course the prize of being mentored by an inspiring poet and author like Shannon Bramer is a precious one.

Have you written in other forms? Fiction? Creative nonfiction?

I have attempted several times to write short stories but the much larger volume of words at my fingertips alarms me. In the end, my sentences get shorter and shorter, thoughts get more and more condensed, symbolism takes over — and then suddenly the whole thing turns into a poem.

When did you know you wanted to write poetry? Was there a trigger or “aha” moment?

When I was an overly dramatic teenager, I used to scribble words instead of doodling as a way to vent my angst. Slowly, as the hunger to articulate my emotions became more and more acute, I began to write. At first the writing was very clumsy and free-flowing, mostly just an outlet for frustration. Over time I began to love the writing itself over the purpose it originally served. What I love about poetry is the way in which it can seem aloof and yet be incredibly precise; the beauty of its conciseness; and the powerful impact of the arrangement of words on a page.

What sparks your desire to write a poem?

I seek new experiences and sensations almost constantly, so a lot of my inspiration is born out of novelty. I feel that there is no better time to explore an emotion or thought than when it is fresh, raw, and not yet changed by time and desensitization. Of course the effect that time and change have on life can also be valuable to delve into during the creative process. Most of my inspiration comes from questions I ask myself, and lessons I learn about human interaction. I am also sometimes plagued by bigger, philosophical questions that turn into obscure poems that nobody can understand.

How do your experiences as a nurse inform your writing?

Aside from the obvious material that nursing provides me with, adventures in human suffering, it has also taught me how to approach fear. I have often been, and still am at times, very afraid of being creative because of the vulnerability it requires and the uncertainty that it carries. In nursing, you are not afforded the luxury of being scared. So one must develop the ability to enter an unstable situation in which exist multiple variables beyond our control, and rely on focus, critical thinking, faith in oneself, and sharp powers of observation to be successful. Nursing has given me the confidence to recognize and address the fear that sometimes appears in starting, continuing, or finishing a poem. It has also taught me immeasurable lessons about human relationships, and about our relationship with death and impermanence.

Are your poems generally rooted in personal experience, or are they works of imagination, or both?

My work is mostly rooted in personal experience, although the specific imagery that I stumble upon is often pure fiction. I become obsessed with the ideas that arise out of experience because I believe that, with enough reflection, we can learn something from everything that happens to us and in front of us. I naively refuse to accept that most lessons are subtle ones and I often fall into the entertaining but tormenting trap of thinking that I am on the verge of figuring out certainties. Poetry helps alleviate the need to find concrete answers to life’s questions by allowing me to embrace the beauty of the chaos intrinsic to living.

You enjoy interpretive dance. Are you influenced by the intersections between the artistry of poetry and dance?

I am fascinated by the parallels between dance and poetry. Both art forms are highly fluid yet require discipline and, at times, restraint. Because poetry is rhythmic in nature, it resembles the graceful nature of dance; it is like a moving thought. Dance is also highly personal; when I watch a dancer, I know that if another dancer were to perform the exact same choreographic scheme, they would probably do it differently, adding to it their unique essence. Poetry is also very subjective because it has the potential to capture even the most obscure and complicated of emotions.

Who are some of your favourite poets or writers?

The first poet I ever read was Sylvia Plath. Her work was truly transformational; I could sense the anguish in many of her poems and her use of imagery astounded me. The work of Reinaldo Arenas possesses an almost dream-like quality and his fearlessness is palpable in almost every poem. David Rakoff has been an inspiration in terms of his astute social commentaries and scorching humour.

Are there individuals who’ve personally encouraged you in your writing?

I am exceptionally lucky to have an avid reader for an older sister. She has a BA in English from York University, and she exposed me to important writers such as Douglas Coupland, Michael Ondaatje, Chuck Palahniuk, and Gabriel García Márquez. I think it is important to have a strong guiding influence when one is young and presented with an endless variety of authors. My father too has been an inspiration in terms of my spiritual perspective; he has been immersed in Buddhist teachings for approximately four years and has propelled my curiosity in that area. This has heavily influenced my worldview and, as a consequence, my poetry. Last but not least, my mother has been my pillar during many complex and often difficult conversations on topics ranging from death to happiness, and she has taught me that one can expand enormously on an idea simply by having an honest dialogue.

What do you do regularly to practise and develop your craft?

I feel like I read constantly. Reading, for me, is like experiencing different lives simultaneously. I believe that I will never cease to learn from and be influenced by other authors. I also immediately capture any words/phrases or ideas that come to me unexpectedly (I  have a notepad that follows me everywhere). While I was in school, I completed a creative writing course at Ryerson University and I plan on participating in University of Toronto’s creative writing summer workshop. I attribute a large part of my development as a writer to trial and error. I learn best when I experiment.

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

I can only provide advice plucked from my own limited life experiences. I think the most important thing is to have a plan for dealing with the fear that will inevitably appear during the creative process. This fear is good, because it means we are questioning ourselves — but it should be informative rather than debilitating.

What are your personal writing dreams?

I arduously desire to develop the self-discipline required to write more often and more consistently. In a world filled with constant distractions and noise, it is very challenging for me to achieve the inner quietness needed to focus on the essence of my feelings/thoughts. I hope for more people to relate to my poetry, and of course I am eager to continue to learn from the inexhaustible sources of literary genius that exist in the world.

♦     ♦     ♦


Visit the website of the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest to read all three winning poems: Natalia Darie’s “Maroon” (1st prize); Whitney Sweet’s “Brass Plaque and a Bottle of Beer” (2nd prize); and Bria Lubiens’ “Blue” (3rd prize).

And read my interview with the Ana Rodriguez Machado, first-prize winner in the 2012 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. Poet and writer Catherine Graham was last year’s judge and mentor.

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Poets Are Always Aspiring: Shannon Bramer on judging the 2013 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest

Coming up in my next post is an interview with Natalia Darie, first-prize winner in the 2013 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. Here’s poet and mentor Shannon Bramer with thoughts on her role as judge and why Natalia’s poem captured her imagination. ~ Allyson


Shannon Bramer

I was flattered and surprised when Heidi Stock wrote to ask if I would judge a contest for aspiring poets. I thought — who, me? I’m still aspiring! I still nervously send work out to publishers and literary journals. I still struggle with every new poem like it’s my first time trying to write one down. So I come to this contest with humbleness.

I chose three poems from a stack of dreams, complaints, heartache, nostalgia, and mystery. Every person who sits down to try and write a poem, no matter how experienced, is taking a risk. Sometimes this risk involves a semi-colon or a lowercase letter — other times it’s an idea or an emotion or a wobbly metaphor trying to find its way into the world.

Poetry is about putting strangeness and beauty to work. Poetry is about the silence between words and all the weight of one word left in the right place, alone. Sometimes a poet writes something down and leaves it there even when he or she isn’t sure how it got there. That’s what I like about poems.

This contest was especially wonderful and challenging to participate in because of the rules: poets entering should not have had a poem published. You must not be a poet yet. You must be aspiring. Hmmm.

I chose Natalia Darie’s poem “Maroon,” because it made contact with me. The title, first of all, a colour: maroon. A brownish-crimson colour, the dictionary says. The colour of dry blood. But the verb maroon is important too. This time the word means to leave (someone) trapped and isolated in an inaccessible place, especially an island.

And so I found myself on this island, within a poem about remembering a body, a voice, a place. Yet this poem also evokes reunion. The past and present are depicted as one landscape: a landscape of lakes, ruins, trenches — the stubborn curve of years that come between people. And finally, one voice, one body — merging with another:

Tighter and tighter you wrap

skin of a still lake

over, water my body

a drum against yours

I read this poem over and over again. I wanted to take the poem apart and put it back together again with the poet. I found the voice raw, not in a crude way, but in a deeply thoughtful, genuine, reaching sort of way. And I wanted to know the person who wrote it.

One must always be aspiring. Being a poet means just this: striving, aching, reaching for the words and silences that seem beyond us.


Natalia Darie


Visit Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest to read the winning poems:

Natalia Darie’s “Maroon”

Whitney Sweet’s “Brass Plaque and a Bottle of Beer” (second prize)

Bria Lubiens’ “Blue” (third prize)


SHANNON BRAMER is a poet, playwright, and co-founder of Broken Cloud Company. She is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently The Refrigerator Memory (2005) published by Coach House Books. Currently she teaches poetry to elementary school students and is the poet-in-residence at The Creative Children’s Dance Studio in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto. Her newest collection of poetry, Precious Energy, is forthcoming from BookThug.

Shannon blogs at Broken Cloud Company and Poet in the Playground.

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Winners of the 2013 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest / And introducing … the Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience

girl writing2


I’m pleased to announce here the talented winners of the 2nd annual Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest:

1st prize: Natalia Darie

2nd prize: Whitney Sweet

3rd prize: Bria Lubiens

Contest judge Shannon Bramer selected the winning entries and will mentor these promising poets, who will split $1,000 in prize money toward online private instruction. Winners’ names will also be announced in the November issue of Quill & Quire.

My interview with 1st-prize winner Natalia Darie will appear on this website in coming weeks. (Meanwhile, here’s my conversation with the young poet who took last year’s top prize, Ana Rodriguez Machado.)

The Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest is the vision of Heidi Stock, founder and president of Aspiring Canadian Writers Contests Inc., and its honorary patron is memoirist, novelist, and Vancouver poet laureate Evelyn Lau. Poet Catherine Graham kicked off last year’s competition as inaugural judge and mentor.

Congratulations to this year’s winners.

You can read their poems here.

♦     ♦     ♦


And …

if you’re an aspiring songwriter, take note (pun intended) of the just-announced Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience, which will take submissions starting October 8, 2013.

Visit the Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience website, and read more about the contest here: “Unsigned singer-songwriters compete for mentoring opportunity with multiple Juno Award–winning artist.” The 2014 mentor is Canadian recording artist Luba. This contest is sponsored by Aspiring Canadian Writers Contests Inc., and supported by the Songwriters Association of Canada.

Entries are being accepted between October 8, 2013 and December 22, 2013, or until 300 eligible entries are received.

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Successful National Contest for Emerging Poets Returns for Second Year on April 1, for National Poetry Month


“Poetry,” said English poet Thomas Gray, “is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.”

It’s time again to take up your pen, or juice up your laptop, and discover what’s inside you that longs to breathe and burn. The Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest, a unique initiative to encourage and identify this country’s promising new poets, returns for its second year today, April 1, during National Poetry Month.

Poet Shannon Bramer will judge this year’s contest and also mentor the prize-winners. I’m honoured to have been asked back as editorial/media adviser.

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Monday, April 1st, 2013

Interview with Ana Rodriguez Machado, First-Prize Winner in the 2012 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest


Queen’s University student Ana Rodriguez Machado has won first prize in the 2012 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest for her entry “An Afternoon in Central America,” and I’m pleased to share my interview with the young writer below. Poet Catherine Graham, who judged the contest, describes Ana’s submission this way:

“Concise, charged with menace, and with an arresting range — from the highly poetic, The mountain danced with shades of cadmium and emerald, to the stinging last line — this five-line poem hooked me.”

You  can read Ana’s poem, along with those of second-prize winner Nora Grove and third-prize winner Jill Talbot, on the contest website here. Congratulations to the three winners, each of whom has been awarded online mentoring sessions with Catherine.

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Thursday, December 13th, 2012