KEC student places second in national poetry competition


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A local student has once again found himself in the national spotlight.

On April 21, Al Gilbert, a Grade 11 student at Kildonan-East Collegiate, placed second in the national Poetry in Voice competition in the English-stream. A jury composed of poets Michael Crummey, Fiona Tinwei Lam and Brandon Wint evaluated the English recitations. Stephanie Omorotionmwan of Calgary, Alta. placed first, while Bem Denga, also of Calgary, finished third.

(From left) Kylie Alexander, Al Gilbert, and Bushra Adan, Kildonan-East Collegiate’s Poetry in Voice team, finished second nationally in the recent poetry performance competition.

“I was a lot less nervous (this year),” Gilbert admitted. “I kind of knew what to expect and how it all went. I got to enjoy my poems and enjoy reading them a lot more. I also kind of knew what judges were kind of looking for and what I should emphasize.”

The honour comes with a cash prize of $2,000, with an additional $500 for KEC’s library to purchase new poetry books. Gilbert finished third in the 2021 contest, which came with a $1,000 prize and $250 for poetry books for the school.

Tannis Francis, a teacher at KEC who has been involved with the Poetry in Voice program for seven years, said the funds will be used to add contemporary voices to school’s collection.

Al Gilbert, a Grade 11 student at Kildonan-East Collegiate, finished second in the national Poetry in Voice English-stream competition, winning $2,000 and another $500 for KEC’s library to buy poetry books. Last year, Gilbert placed third in the national English competition.

“So many people consider poetry to be old British men. We’ll be focusing more on Canadian poets,” Francis said. “To expose our students to this is pretty cool.”

For this year’s competition, Gilbert recited Comfort by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza and Someday I’ll Love Ocean Veoung by Ocean Veoung during the semifinal round, adding One Art by Elizabeth Bishop for the final round.

“All my poems dealt with the themes of loss and grief and identity,” Gilbert said. “Those topics are interesting to explore, especially being LGBTQ. It’s important to tell my story through my poems.”

While Gilbert — who was joined on KEC’s Poetry in Voice team by Kylie Alexander and Bushra Adan — said he is drawn to the performance aspect of the competition, being so involved has also opened his eyes to the potential for expression that poetry holds.

“Poetry is really powerful,” he said. “I like exploring it.”

The success he’s had with Poetry in Voice, and the doors it has already opened for him, has been invaluable.

“Very inspiring,” Gilbert said. “It’s given me inspiration that I can make a living in the arts, doing performance.”

“It’s nice to see poetry being received as an art form,” Tannis added. “It’s nice to see those accolades given where they should be.”

Considering the success he’s had so far, Gilbert is keen to go for gold next year.

“It would be pretty cool if he won,” Tannis said. “No pressure!”

Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community Journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at Call him at 204-697-7112

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