A Grade 10 student at Kildonan-East Collegiate has placed third in a national poetry competition.
On April 22, Al Gilbert won third prize in the English Poetry in Voice stream, taking home $1,000. The prize also includes an additional $250 for the purchase of poetry books by KEC’s library.
Gilbert said that while he has always been inclined to perform, he only came to poetry through taking a chance on the Poetry in Voice program last year.
"I’ve always been a performer and I like to read, so it seems like a gradual next step," Gilbert said.
The competition features students performing readings of poems, which are chosen from a master list selected by the Poetry in Voice organization. Owing to COVID-19, this year’s competition allowed for students to record their readings, and upload the videos to the central website.
"This year, I made a big connection with all the poems, so I hope I find that again," Gilbert said.
Two of the poems Gilbert chose to read were Jason Purcell’s Men in the Guts and John Elizabeth Stinzi’s America (I’m Putting My Queer Shoulder to the Wheel).
"Those poems are very topical of today, they’re contemporary," Gilbert said. "They speak a lot about society, and a lot of it ties in around social justice and LGBTQ rights, which is a topic I like to explore and think about."
His readings of the poems received good reviews from the poets themselves.
"Check out this EXTREMELY GOOD recitation of my poem," Stinzi tweeted on April 23. "Congratulations to Al."
"Bowled over by the recitation of Men in the Gut by Al Gilbert," Purcell tweeted when the semifinal round videos were posted in March. "What a talent! I’m routing for you, Al."
Gilbert also read Not Horses by Natalie Shapero.
"That was more of a personal pick," he said. "It was such a fun poem to do. It talks a lot about changes. The title popped out immediately. I used to love horses as a kid, so I was like, What do you mean Not Horses? I immediately found a connection to it."
Thierney Dignadice of Selkirk, Man., won first place in the English competition, while Vancouver, B.C.’s Zara Smith placed second.
Tannis Francis, a teacher at Kildonan-East Collegiate, has been involved with Poetry in Voice for six years now. Each year, a team of three students compete in the regional competition. The student from each team who scores the highest at regionals qualifies for the national semifinal round.
Along with Gilbert, his year’s KEC team was made up of Emily Adam, a Grade 10 students, and Emily Kruk, a Grade 11 student. While Gilbert qualified for the English finals, Kruk made it as far as the semifinal round in the bilingual stream. In the end, the KEC team also placed third nationally.
"It was a good year," Francis said. "The three of them are very brave and very expressive, and patient with me in terms of getting advice."
With two more years of high school yet to come, Gilbert said that if he is able to take part in the competition again, he would jump at the chance.
"It would be great to make it to the finals again," he said. "I’m not expecting to, but if I put in the work it would be nice to make it this far again. I want to find more poems to connect with."
For more information, visit www.poetryinvoice.com
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112