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In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, The Power Plant and the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) invited the public to write ekphrastic poems inspired by one of The Power Plant’s Fall 2020 exhibitions.

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry written about a work of art, often striving to connect what we see with feelings, memories and other insights. Well-known examples include Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams.

The contest submissions were pre-judged by Roland Gulliver, Director of TIFA, then judged by Elder Duke Redbird. We are thrilled to announce the finalists are:

Inspired by Nathan Eugene Carson: Cut from the same cloth

  • Winner: LAID BARE by Darian Razdar
  • Honourable Mention: Same Cut, Same Cloth by Vanilla Being (Victoria Atteh)

Inspired by Manuel Mathieu: World Discovered Under Other Skies

  • Winner: Hung Up by Peter Gillies
  • Honourable Mention: Seen by Anna Jane McIntyre
  • Honourable Mention: Wake by Kim Mcghee

Inspired by Howie Tsui: From swelling shadows, we draw out bows

  • Winner: a whirring sound pinged off the walls by Javier Fuentes
  • Honourable Mention: ACTS OF SURRENDER by Shanan Kurtz

The winning poems can be found below, and if you would like to read all of the poems by the finalists, you can read them here. You can also hear the finalists read their poems on SoundCloud here.


Winning Poems

LAID BARE by Darian Razdar

Inspired by Nathan Eugene Carson: Cut from the same cloth

I. Shine On

Only so much here
two eyes can show you
yet so much to know, perceive.

Look in the mirror
find your self there — wait!
Your eyes, perhaps, deceive you.

In that mirror, see
Black skin, white mask shrouds
before you, I was just me.

II. Divine Feminine

Leave me alone,
don’t you see?
In these blues
my body craves its extremities.

Let this be,
where I stretch hand to foot
folding toward my beingness
alive and divine. You see —

the small of my back,
these heavy shoulders and tired hands,
both raying legs, my gilded skin haloing
do not serve you, but me.

I see you
implore you,
the depths of the blues
were meant for few.

Yet you are all here
a staring contest
I was born to win.
You see me,

leave me alone.

III. Encounter

Breath. Stop and stare
lay in wait, do no crack,
stay strong, soft, and still
now — if not until infinity.

In such silence become comfortable
my sentry pose even bearable
and yet, as cause arrives surely at effect,
shall I blink and betray my glare?

You there! How familiar so you seem
our bodies both shine divine and shimmer
your eyes match mine — finally, fragile
as if we were meant to be.

Cut from the same cloth
of nights in hurt and pain, or so they say,
come closer, closer and between us we may
stitch together a new, golden day.

— Darian Razdar


Hung Up by Peter Gillies

(incidentally, between Rivière Froide 1 and Rivière Froide 3 for the first time)

Inspired by Manuel Mathieu: World Discovered Under Other Skies

You are spending an unusually long time
being here, in my face.
Such presence sometimes signals curiosity,
an intense data sensory process and attention span.

I take this as a friendly posture,
a desire to “understand the artist’s meaning”,
which must be grounded in empathy
for the form, for the context.
Mustn’t it?

This is how dialogue develops right?
Something presents.
Your feet may flirt around the hall,
but when they arrive there is a settling in
and a respectful stillness.

Then there is resonance. It tugs.
A gravitational attraction of sorts—
or more precisely, a perturbation
of my relationship with Earth.
Though I cannot physically move.

This sense of your presence, however, can be illusory.
An adaptation, I imagine,
from centuries of mankind’s polite surveillance of the masters.

And as you may rightly observe,
I am but a naïve youngster.
Inexperienced, with only a handful of hangings.

What’s one to do?
Isn’t an emotional reaction inevitable?
Notwithstanding the “do not touch” sign.

Let us imagine for a moment
that I am the master, the object of respect,
the reason you and I are here.

Or, perhaps I am the brush,
connecting intention with interpretation,
elevating poses, entering fantasies.
Many bristles, one point.

Either way, I might have something to say.
And you might not shuffle along quite so soon.
And leave me hanging.

— Peter Gillies


a whirring sound pinged off the walls by Javier Fuentes

Inspired by Howie Tsui: From swelling shadows, we draw out bows

somewhere in the labor of ruin*
ghostly marauders peaked through the scaffolding
lit up by myths and folktales

those carriers of memory
were as strong as the arms that held the bow
while the shadows carried our attention

through that cavernous silence
when we dissolved our intentions
a whirring sound pinged off the walls

— Javier Fuentes

*Sadek, W. (2016). The ruin to come: essays from a protracted war

Manuel Mathieu art hung on the wall at The Power Plant, Resilience - a Landscape of Desire, 2020.

The beginning of April marks the start of National Poetry Month. It’s been 23 years since Canada started celebrating the occasion, and this year the League of Canadian Poets has invited the community to celebrate with the theme of resilience.

There are many poets who have shared their stories through different forms of verse, prose and poems. To celebrate these poets and their stories, the Toronto International Festival of Authors has selected eight writers in Canada who have recently celebrated (or will soon!) the release of their debut poetry books that share their perspectives, experiences and stories of resilience.


Cicely Belle Blain

Cicely Belle Blain headshot
Photo via arsenalpulp.com

Cicely Belle Blain is a Black/mixed, queer femme who has made an impact through their passion for justice, liberation and meaningful change via transformative education. Blain is noted for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver, and through poetry, Blain has continued making an impact. Their debut book, Burning Sugar (August 2020) was published under the VS. Books imprint from Arsenal Pulp Press. Burning Sugar explores life, both through the beauty of friendship and love, as well as the legacy of colonization and its impact on Black bodies.

 

 

Junie Désil

Junie Désil headshot
Photo via talonbooks.com

Poet Junie Désil has performed at many literary events and festivals, and her work has appeared in Room Magazine, PRISM International, the Capilano Review and CV2. In September 2020, Désil’s debut poetry collection eat salt | gaze at the ocean was published by Talon Books. Throughout the collection, she uses a zombie metaphor to explore Black sovereignty, Haitian sovereignty and the treatment of Black bodies, with her own experience of growing up Black and Haitian of immigrant parents on stolen Indigenous Lands shaping the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jessi MacEachern

Jessi MacEachern headshot
Photo via invisiblepublishing.com

Jessi MacEachern, a poet and English literature teacher in Montreal, has had her work published in Poetry Is Dead, Vallum, MuseMedusa, Canthius, PRISM and CV2. Last month, MacEachern celebrated the launch of her debut collection, A Number of Stunning Attacks (Invisible Publishing). The six poems draw on innovative styles by women poets in Canada, using the page and sparse lines to lead readers through fragmented moments, putting them in a position to feel and experience it first-hand. It leads to an intimate look at the emotional difficulty of facing the self and the other.

 

 

 

 

Tolu Oloruntoba

Tolu Oloruntoba headshot
Photo Credit: Franctal Studio via tolu.ca

Tolu Oloruntoba is a writer, project manager and founder of Klorofyl, a literary and graphic art magazine. Born in Nigeria, and after living there and in the United States, Oloruntoba emigrated to Canada and now lives in the Greater Vancouver Area with his family. His chapbook Manubrium was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award. This May, his debut poetry collection The Junta of Happenstance will be published by Anstruther Books. The collection explores dis-ease, both through Oloruntoba’s former experience working as a physician and through family disfunction, (im)migrant experience and urban/corporate anxiety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha Ramoutar

Natasha Ramoutar headshot
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Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough. In September 2020, her debut book, Bittersweet was published by Mawenzi House. Through her memory, and the help of photographs, maps, language and folklore, Ramoutar explores the concept of home, belonging and resilience. She is one of the editors of Feel Ways: A Scarborough Anthology, and will be celebrating the launch of the book on April 30 through the Toronto Lit Up programme.

 

 

 

 

jaye simpson

jaye simpson headshot
Photo via twitter.com

jaye simpson, a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person of the Buffalo Clan, often writes about being queer in the child welfare system, and being queer and Indigenous. simpson performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in 2017, performed with the Vancouver Slam Poetry 2018 Team and was named the Vancouver Champion for the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2019. Their work has also been featured in Poetry Is Dead, This Magazine and PRISM international. simpson’s debut poetry book was published in September 2020 by Nightwood Editions. The collection, it was never going to be okay, is where simpson tries to break down years of silence, exploring intergenerational trauma, Indigeneity and queerness.

 

 

Lily Wang

Lily Wang headshot
Photo via gordonhillpress.com

On the CBC’s Best Canadian Poetry list of 2020 is Lily Wang’s debut collection Saturn Peach (Gordon Hill Press, August 2020). Through the book, Wang chronicles the strangeness of a technologized world, leading readers into a dream-like state by exploring memories and moments. Heartbreaking, but also warm and inviting, the collection is one that readers will feel the desire to read again once it’s over. Lily Wang is the founder and editor of Half a Grapefruit Magazine. Her work has appeared in Peach Mag, the Puritan, the Hart House Review and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ash Winters

Ash Winters headshot
Photo by Andrew Rowat

Ash Winters, a queer and sober Toronto-based poet, navigates the intersections of addiction, identity and trauma in their work. In their debut poetry book, Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days (Dagger Editions, January 2021), readers get a deeply personal look at Winters’ stay in rehab. The collection of 90 poems, one for each day of their stay, gives an honest exploration of the challenges and emotions of overcoming addiction. It’s heartfelt and humorous, and you can learn more about the collection during the Toronto Lit Up launch on April 3.

Natasha Ramoutar headshot