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274 Garry St.
(Between Portage
& Graham)

Winnipeg, MB
Canada  R3C 1H3

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The Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry

As the Winnipeg Free Press reported on October 23, 2007, Aqua Books now endows the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. The article was on the same page as the story about Kid Rock punching out another diner at The Waffle House. The Arts is a very broad category. (If you missed it, it's here.) Here's the skinny.

The Lansdowne Prize for Poetry was new to the 2007 Manitoba Book Awards. (The award was named the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry in recognition of Manitoba poet Dorothy Livesay, who was born on Lansdowne Avenue in the North End.) The award comes with a $1000 prize, and honours the best book of poetry (in either official language) by a Manitoba author. Seeing that Manitoba was a have-not province in terms of celebrating our poets, some pro-active folks formed the Manitoba Poetry Endowment Fund in 2005. Members of the Manitoba Poetry Endowment Fund Initiative include academic Deborah Schnitzer, and award-winning poets Chandra Mayor and Lori Cayer. Cayer co-chairs the group with Turnstone Press production editor Sharon Caseburg.

“We are the community coming together,” says Caseburg. “We are writers, we are publishers, we are people involved with magazines and with libraries, people who believe in reading and writing and the importance of poetry.”

Robyn Maharaj, then the executive director of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, which began administering the province’s book awards in 1988, welcomed the initiative.

“It hasn’t been so much us initiating the awards but community members coming to us with the funding or the impetus to create these awards, much like the Manitoba Poetry Endowment Fund Initiative," she says. “Even though we do put on the big glitzy gala, we really do run on a small budget and limited resources so we don’t have anyone committed to enhancing the awards we do have or developing new ones.”

So the Fund members had bake sales, raffles and sold blood to raise the money for it. It was maybe the only award that doesn't have a government/corporate sponsor. Because of the lack of a big backer, it was only going to be awarded every other year. (And not because there aren't enough good poets in Manitoba. Or because the bake sale cookies weren't good enough.)

After they did all that work, I came along. I had been asked to be a judge at the 2007 Awards, and went I went to the Gala, Brandon poet Laurie Block came up to me and thanked me for supporting poetry in Manitoba. (He had read at Aqua Books a year previous.) Later that night, Laurie won the first Lansdowne for his book, Time Out of Mind. That such a talented guy as Laurie thanked me for the little tiny bit of little that I did, gave me an epiphany. After that. I began secretly negotiating with the Manitoba Writers' Guild.

Negotiations successful, the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry became the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/prix Lansdowne de poésie. Aqua Books kicks in the $1000 prize money (hopefully to increase in coming years), and the award is now awarded every year. So, pretty exciting. Now I don't know why it took so long for the Awards to get a poetry prize. Maybe poetry isn't considered sexy, but I keep telling the Young People that a great poem is just like a great song. (Without the annoying music. And the puerile lyrics. I guess George Bowering would never have written My Humps.) Poetry was the first type of literature, and may even predate literacy. But poetry is not just mouldy oldies. Poets keep reinventing themselves and their form, and Manitoba's own are no exception.

Our sponsorship of the prize also includes the Aqua Books Lansdowne poetry series, which has been a great success, and maintain's the award's profile all year.

For the 2009 Aqua Lansdowne shortlist, click here.

For the 2008 Aqua Lansdowne results, click here.

Lire ce communiqué de presse en français, clique ici.

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