Established poets, writers who dabble, and people who have never penned a poem but have long felt their inner muse calling, take note: the Montreal International Poetry Prize is back.
Organized by McGill’s Department of English, the competition is held every two years and awards a prize of $20,000 to an original poem of forty lines or less.
“What’s exciting about this prize is it is tapping into the life and energy of poetry,” says Eli MacLaren, Associate Professor, Department of English, and Director of the 2022 competition. “Poetry is for everyone. It works its way into countless things we do, from prayer and meditation, to pop music, to media and advertising. Even scientific explanations frequently have recourse to metaphor and strive for the richest expression in the most concise terms. That’s poetry.
“So many people submit to this competition. The cash prize is a measure of their participation,” says MacLaren. “Meanwhile, at the backend, the economics of this non-profit undertaking allow us to employ a team of McGill students to help run the competition. It’s making a material difference in their lives, too. At its best, the Montreal Prize is a literary community and an economic structure for the energy of people’s poetic creativity.”
Celebrating the power and play of language
Founded in 2010, the Montreal Prize is a non-profit institution dedicated to the poem as an art form. The Montreal Prize is crowdfunded rather than endowed: it is paid for by poets for the benefit of poets. The entry fee is $20 CAD by the deadline of May 1 ($25 for the later deadline of May 15). Multiple submissions per poet (at the reduced rate of $17) are welcome. Entrants have the option of making a donation to sponsor the entry of a fellow poet somewhere else in the world who cannot afford the fee.
The 2020 competition drew over 5,000 entries from around the world. The language of the competition is English, and the international jury is open to “world Englishes,” i.e., to the diversity of the English language as it is spoken in different regions today.
“Language is central to who we are, and poetry invites us to explore how language works – to see its power and its play, to sift our experiences through it, to slow us down and renew our sympathy,” says MacLaren. “Through the intelligence and emotion of poetry, we consciously bend language to reflect our lives, find clarity, and examine our deepest selves.”
Biggest single-poem prize in the world
The judging of this competition is blind. The jurors who select the finalists, and the single judge who chooses the winner, do not know the names of the authors as they read the poems. It is meant to accent the creation of the new poem, rather than any author’s prior achievements or celebrity status.
The $20,000 prize, believed to be the highest monetary award given for a single poem, is intended to make a real difference in the life and career of a working poet. The judge who will award it to one winning poem is Lorna Goodison, poet laureate of Jamaica (2017–20) and recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (2019). Goodison’s many collections include Collected Poems (2017), Supplying Salt and Light (2013), Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems (2006), and Controlling the Silver (2005),
This year’s jurors are: Michael Prior, Liz Howard, Medrie Purdham (Canada), Cameron Awkward-Rich, Heather Christle (USA), Joanne Limburg, Rhian Williams (UK), Conor O’Callaghan (Ireland), Tanure Ojaide (Nigeria), Nabina Das (India), and Mark Tredinnick (Australia). Tredinnick was the winner of the inaugural Montreal Prize, awarded in 2011, and his latest collection, Walking Underwater (2021), was titled in honour of that prize-winning poem.
Throughout the current entry period, judge and jurors are introducing themselves and their work in an online reading series, “Fluid Vessels.” Five events are scheduled, each consisting of fifteen-minute readings by two or three of these poets, followed by questions from the moderators and audience. The events are free and open to the public. The schedule and registration instructions can be found on Eventbrite.
Labour of love for McGill English Department
All of the poems selected by the jury, approximately sixty in total, will be published in The Montreal Poetry Prize Anthology 2022. The last anthology, published by Véhicule Press of Montreal as part of their Signal Editions series, included poems from the Bahamas, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, the Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom.
The Montreal Prize is administered by a team of faculty and students in McGill’s Department of English. MacLaren, Director of this year’s competition, teaches poetry, Canadian literature, and the history of the book. Graduate students Martin Breul, Jeremy Desjarlais, and Andy Perluzzo, and undergraduates Lowell Wolfe, Savannah Sguigna, and Lizzie Schulz, have played key roles in organizing and publicizing the initiative over the past year. Professor Alexander Manshel, who has published on American literature, the sociology of literature, and prize culture, helped recruit this year’s jury. Pascale Théorêt-Groulx, a Montreal installation-and-performance artist, has provided technical support.
More information about the Montreal Prize can be found at its web site www.montrealpoetryprize.com: a link to the submission platform, the rules and regulations of the competition, shortlisted and winning poems from past competitions, and audio files of poets reading their work. News about the prize, including events and the announcement of the winner, can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org