Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg poet wins prestigious literary award

Winnipeg poet Katherena Vermette wins Governor General's Literary Award for 'elegant' book of verse about much-maligned area of city

  • Print
Winnipeg's Katherena Vermette at the Governor General's Literary Awards ceremony in Toronto  on Wednesday. North End Love Songs won the award for poetry.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg's Katherena Vermette at the Governor General's Literary Awards ceremony in Toronto on Wednesday. North End Love Songs won the award for poetry.

THERE'S an enduring tendency among writers to dwell on negative experiences in their works and typically overlook joyous occasions like winning a Governor General's Literary Award.

Winnipeg poet Katherena Vermette -- whose book North End Love Songs won the GG for poetry Nov. 13 -- said she should break that nasty habit and pen an ode to her elation at having her verse nationally celebrated.

"I always write about sad things, I always analyze bad things in the world and let the good things fly by," the 36-year-old Métis author said from her Toronto hotel room after the Canada Council for the Arts announced the 14 winners and $450,000 in prize money. "I totally should write about this."

North End Love Songs is Vermette's first solo collection, although her work had previously appeared in several compilations. The three judges noted that, "in spare minimalist language, North End Love Songs attends to the demands of Indigenous and European poetics, braiding an elegant journey that takes us from Winnipeg's North End out into the world. We enter the undocumented lives of its citizens and celebrate them through Katherena Vermette's beautiful poems."

When she was read the jury citation for the first time over the telephone, Vermette was ecstatic at hearing her best review ever.

"Oh, I like that," she said. "I'll take it."

Vermette has been writing poetry since she was 10, long enough to know that poets can't expect much public acclaim or big paydays like the $25,000 that came along with her win.

"The nomination came as a complete surprise," says the West Broadway resident. "The win is insane. I didn't think it was in the cards. It wasn't even on the radar. I don't know what to think of it yet. I'm kind of basking in the glow. It's a good day."

The 108-page collection, published by J. Gordon Shillingford, focuses on Vermette's experiences growing up in the North End as a teen, and dealing with those memories when she moved back to the neighbourhood as a mother of two daughters. Her verse is spare and quiet, yet powerful.

"I wanted to look closer at the place and say I know it doesn't look the best on the outside but if you look closer it's really beautiful and amazingly strong," she said. "What appears to be broken is not broke at all."

The first section of poems is dominated by pieces about birds, which she linked to women she knows in the North End.

"The bird is a great image for a North End girl or indigenous women, because they appear fragile but birds are intensely strong," said Vermette, who is completing her master's degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. "They have wide wings and can take off at any moment.

"I'm definitely a bird, maybe a squawking chicken at times. I like to stretch my wings sometimes and fly away."

Her literary output extends beyond poetry to a just-completed children's picture-book series called The Seven Teaching Stories and a collection of short stories. Winning a prestigious award with her first book has her heartened about her writing future.

"It feels very validating," said Vermette, who will be presented with her award Nov. 28 at Rideau Hall. "It's hugely affirmative. I've been my greatest doubter."

It was also announced Wednesday that Canadian-Kiwi writer Eleanor Catton's The Lumaninaries had won the English fiction prize, while Vancouver author Sandra Djwa's Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page took home the English non-fiction GG.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2013 C16

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Stuart Murray announces musical RightsFest for CMHR opening weekend

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......
  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should confessions extracted through Mr. Big police stings be admissible in court?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google