Category Archives: poetry

Submissions now open for 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize

photo-1457298483369-0a95d2b17fcdThe Restless Writers have just learned that submissions are now open for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize.

The Walrus Foundation announced today that the fifth annual Walrus Poetry Prize will be judged by The Walrus poetry editor Damian Rogers and celebrated poet Hoa Nguyen. The Hal Jackman Foundation generously supports this $5,000 prize.

Submissions will be received between August 5 and September 12, and Rogers will narrow them down to a short list of five poems. Nguyen will be tasked with selecting the $,4000 winner. (No pressure!)

The five finalists will be revealed online on October 3, where readers can vote on their favourite poem until October 26. The Readers’ Choice winner will receive $1,000.

Both poems will appear in the January/February 2017 issue of The Walrus, at, and in the Poetry in Voice anthology.

Information at a glance:

Submissions open: August 5 – September 12
Shortlist announced: October 3
Vote for the Readers’ Choice Award: October 3 – October 26
Winners announced: December 6
Entry fee: $25

For more information—including eligibility requirements, rights and how to submit, visit

Even if you don’t submit a poem, please be sure to vote for the Readers’ Choice winner.

Good luck to all!


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Tread gently: Some tips for critiquing poetry

photo-1429032021766-c6a53949594f“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
~ Robert Frost

The Restless Writers are a diverse bunch. Our interests range from children’s picture books and YA to memoir to spoken word. Recently, a few of our members have even ventured into poetry. And while we as a group are supportive of all our individual efforts–even if we haven’t had a lot of experience with a particular genre–we are not all confident in our ability to critique poetry.

I have a graduate degree in English literature, so you’d think I would have some skills when it comes to reading a poem and giving feedback to help the poet better express her idea. But my university years are well–well!–past, so I have been trying to find ways that I can offer feedback in a constructive way. Because with our writing group, it’s all about trying to make each other better writers.

Poetry doesn’t appeal to everyone, and you might not get or even appreciate each poem you read. But hopefully my approach to critiquing a poem will help you give positive and constructive feedback to the poet in your group.

Immediate impact: 
The first thing I reflect on when I read a poem is how it makes me feel when I read it for the first time. I try not to get bogged down in the structure or form of the poem at this stage–I let the words and rhythm carry me through. Does my mind delight in the poet’s language? Does she make me think about an object, an experience, a setting in a new way? Do I smile involuntarily because of the way she described a particular moment? Can I relate to the subject? Is it uniquely personal or oddly universal? How did her poem touch me, on an emotional or intellectual level?

Dig a little deeper:
Next, I think about how the poet achieved these impacts. How did she use language and metaphor to evoke a specific mood? How did she structure the poem? Did she employ a specific form, and was she true to the spirit of that form? Was she consistent in her use of meter and rhyme? How did structure and form help to emphasize different elements of her poem? Where could she have used such devices to better effect? How did she use words and sounds to jar, to charm, to tease, or to question? The important thing at this stage is to be honest but respectful, and tread gently.

Move forward:
To wrap up my critique, I provide suggestions regarding word usage, punctuation, and spelling. If I found some phrases to be a little clichéd, I try to help her come up with some fresher or more surprising options. If I really liked a particular stanza or rhyme, I let her know that too. I also like to find out what she wants to do with the poem. Is it a stand-alone piece that she wants to submit to a journal? Or will it be part of a larger work or series of works? Perhaps she wants to read it at an event or gathering, or keep it all to herself. Whatever she wants to achieve, I offer to do a second reading before she considers it done.

I always bring my own emotional state and life context to each poem I read. Different poems with different subjects will have different impacts on me, depending on what is happening in my life at the time of reading. But I think that’s one of the beautiful things about poetry–it can create an intimate connection between the poet and the reader, using language as a bridge. And for the Restless Writers, poetry is just another way we get to explore the ideas, themes, and words that keep us writing.

Happy critiquing!



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Spread the Light

Do you like to write poetry? Are you on Twitter?

Consider joining in a collaborative Twitter poem Wednesday June 20, 8 – 10 pm EST, in celebration of the solstice. The theme, naturally, is Light.

How does this copoem work? Simply get on Twitter and tweet a line or two of original poetry. Make sure to include the hashtag keyword #copoem in your tweet so it doesn’t get lost. (If you search using the hashtag key you will be able to see what others have written too.)

Afterwards, the tweets will be gathered and stitched together – perhaps with an edit or two – and the final poem will be posted at Who knows what we’ll come up with…it’s an experiment!

Thanks to Tara T. @tara_in_canada for this fun idea and Karen Kachra @karenkachra for organizing everything!

Happy Solstice,
The Restless Writers


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And the powerful play goes on

Today is the birthday of the great American poet Walt Whitman. Controversial from the moment he self-published Leaves of Grass, Whitman has been maligned as immoral, perverse, sacrilegious and decadent. But he is also praised as the poet of democracy, the father of free verse, and possibly the first Beat poet.

I like to think of him as one of the original restless writers—in addition to writing, he made a living as a typesetter, a clerk, a teacher, a journalist and a nurse. “Do I contradict myself?” he once said. “Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

                                                                                                 From O Me! O life!


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Overcoming my “prejudice against poetry”

I had a wonderful meeting with the other two winners of the BPL all-night short story contest over the weekend. Karen Kachra, Jennifer Mook-Sang, and I met up at CJ’s Café in Bronte to get to know each other and read our prize-winning stories. (Which were lovely, by the way! I’m looking forward to reading more of their work in the future.)

Child covering eyes

You can't make me read it!

We chatted about what we liked to read for pleasure, and Karen mentioned feeling like she had a bit of a “prejudice against poetry”. (Love that phrase, Karen!)

The three of us agreed that poetry made us feel a bit dense. We expect it to be full of symbolism and deep thoughts and references that we just won’t get. Poetry seems like a lot of work.

Being required to take a graduate seminar on the long poem (think T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound) during one dark, Montreal winter may have ruined me for poetry. By that time, I had already finished my undergraduate degree in English Literature and published a few poems—I had had my fill.

Ten-plus years later, and I still generally skip the poetry in the literary journals I read. I’m drawn to the stories, the dialogue, the action.

But every once in a while, I’ll catch a word or a phrase in one of the poems I’m passing over—“violet night”, “vainglorious”, “this gritty pearl”—and sigh over the sensual power of language. I remember being amazed, way back when, by how poets more than anyone else get to play with words and use them in surprising ways to elicit emotional reactions.

It’s time I started reading poetry again. I’m looking for recommendations to help me get over my poetry prejudice. Jennifer and Karen recommended Billy Collins. Any others I should check out?



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Poetry as a symptom of insanity

This is from my Forgotten English word-of-the-day calendar:

metromania: A species of insanity in which the patient evinces a rage for reciting poetry. From Greek metreon, metre, and mainomai, to be insane.

—Rev. John Boag’s Imperial Lexicon of the English Language, c. 1850



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I bet he thinks these poems are about him

I thought I’d share two poems I wrote several years ago. Both poems were published in the Queen’s Feminist Review, Vol. 3, 1995, under my maiden name. I don’t think they exist anywhere electronically.

Short Mulch

your love lies like
woodchips  sandalwood
fragrant and breathing
against my roots


The Salamander that you drew on my hipbone
has grown attached to me.
Its brief black outline has
crept silently along the taut wires
of my abdomen, snuck into my
bellybutton and attached itself to
my womb, though what it hopes to
achieve there is anyone’s guess.
Yesterday, I felt the beast’s periphery
expanding and wrapping its way up to
my ribs, where its breathing
stays in cadence with my heart beat.
Every now and again I can hear
the salamander’s tongue hissing a
soft lullaby against my sternum,
trying to tickle my bones.
There it lies,
curled up like a tiny, red and gold
panting dog but breathing fire
instead of air.
I wonder how many other salamanders
created by your fiery hand lie
beating at breastbones and
turning blood into billows
of steam and love and anger.

These poems mark the fresh beginning and the disastrous, humiliating end to a relationship I was in at the time. It’s funny to see them published in the same volume.

Maria McDonald

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