The Atlantic Poetry Prize was established in 1998 through the combined efforts of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia, poets, publishers, and post-secondary institutions, who raised funds to annually honour the best book of poetry by an Atlantic Canadian. In 2014, the Award was renamed the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award after the legacy of Father Joseph Murray Abraham.
One prize ($2,000) is awarded each year for a book of poetry that was written by a full-time resident of Atlantic Canada and published and/or distributed for the first time in Canada in the year prior to the submission deadline. See Submission Guidelines for details.
2019: Alison Smith, this kind of thinking does no good (Gaspereau Press) | Finalists: Basma Kavanagh, Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots (Frontenac); Annick MacAskill, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press)
Jury: Alice Burdick; Georgette LeBlanc; matt robinson
Jury's citation: "this kind of thinking does no good is an unapologetic, tough and expertly driven collection of poems written by poet Alison Smith. Tough—keen observations of life's most difficult circumstances and experiences come to light. Courageous—her sharp wit surprises you out of lethargy and shakes the foundations of what even the best convention has to offer. Her concise observations surprise and delight—all in a book's work. '... Or is it the skin itself a second brain? /We barely know how feelings think.' In This kind of thinking does no good, Alison Smith writes like no other about everything you shouldn't be saying out loud. Here, feelings think, the skin's vulnerabilities are told. As only Alison Smith’s expertly crafted verse can."
2018: Julia McCarthy, All the Names Between (Brick Books) | Finalists: Allan Cooper, Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us (Gaspereau Press); Alison Dyer, I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game (Killick Press)
2017: Jennifer Houle, The Back Channels (Signature Editions) | Finalists: Margo Wheaton, The Unlit Path Behind the House (McGill-Queen’s University Press); Patrick Woodcock, You Can’t Bury Them All (ECW Press)
2016: Sue Goyette, The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl (Gaspereau Press) | Finalists: Phillip Crymble, Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry); John Wall Barger, The Book of Festus (Palimpsest Press)
2015: Susan Paddon, Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books) | Finalists: Brian Bartlett, Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) Sylvia D. Hamilton, And I Alone Escaped To Tell You (Gaspereau Press)
2014: Don Domanski, Bite Down Little Whisper (Brick Books) | Finalists: Mary Dalton, Hooking (Signal Editions); Sue Goyette, Ocean (Gaspereau Press)
2013: Lesley Choyce, I’m Alive. I Believe in Everything. (Breton Books) | Finalists: Carole Glasser Langille, Church of the Exquisite Panic: The Ophelia Poems (Pedlar Press); George Murray, Whiteout (ECW Press)
2012: Sue Goyette, outskirts (Brick Books) | Finalists: Warren Heiti, Hydrologos (Pedlar Press); Anne Simpson, Is (McClelland & Stewart)
2011: John Steffler, Lookout (McClelland & Stewart) | Finalists: Douglas Burnet Smith, Learning To Count (Frontenac); Johanna Skibsrud, I Do Not Think That I Could Love A Human Being (Gaspereau Press)
2010: Tonja Gunvaldsen-Klaassen, Lean-To (Gaspereau Press) | Finalists: Anne Compton, Asking Questions Indoors and Out (Fitzhenry & Whiteside); Zachariah Wells, Track & Trace (Biblioasis)
2009: Brent MacLaine, Shades of Green (Acorn Press) | Finalists: Sue Sinclair, Breaker (Brick Books); Alan R. Wilson, Sky Atlas (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
2008: Don Domanski, All Our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books) | Finalists: George Murray, The Rush to Here (Nightwood Editions); Anne Simpson, Quick (McClelland & Stewart)
2007: Steve McOrmond, Primer on the Hereafter (Wolsak & Wynn) | Finalists: Mary Dalton, Red Ledger (Véhicule Press); Peter Sanger, Aiken Drum (Gaspereau Press)
2006: Anne Compton, Processional (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) | Finalists: Robin McGrath, Covenant of Salt (Creative Book Publishing); Harry Thurston, A Ship Portrait (Gaspereau Press)
2005: David Helwig, The Year One (Gaspereau Press) | Finalists: Sue Goyette, Undone (Brick Books); John Smith, Fireflies in the Magnolia Grove (Acorn Press)
2004: Brian Bartlett, Wanting the Day (Goose Lane Editions) | Finalists: Jill MacLean, The Brevity of Red (Signature Editions); Sue Sinclair, Mortal Arguments (Brick Books)
2003: Anne Compton, Opening the Island (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) | Finalists: Brian Bartlett, The Afterlife of Trees (McGill-Queen’s University Press); Robert Moore, So Rarely in Our Skins (The Muses’ Company)
2002: M. Travis Lane, Keeping Afloat (Guérnica Editions) | Finalists: Herménégilde Chiasson, Conversations (Goose Lane Editions); Patrick Warner, All Manner of Misunderstanding (Creative Book Publishing)
2001: Anne Simpson, Light Falls Through You (McClelland & Stewart) | Finalists: Douglas Burnet Smith, The Killed (Wolsak & Wynn); John MacKenzie, Sledgehammer and Other Poems (Polestar/Raincoast)
2000: Ken Babstock, Mean (House of Anansi) | Finalists: Herménégilde Chiasson, Climates (Goose Lane Editions); George Elliott Clarke, Beatrice Chancy (Polestar)
1999: John Steffler, That Night We Were Ravenous (McClelland & Stewart) | Finalists: Don Domanski, Parish of the Physic Moon (McClelland & Stewart); Robin McGrath, Escaped Domestics (Creative Book Publishing)
1998: Carmelita McGrath, To the New World (Killick Press) | Finalist: Carole Glasser Langille, In Cannon Cave (Brick Books)
Remembering Father Abe
Father Joseph Murray Abraham was a Canadian Jesuit missionary who dedicated his life to giving education and agricultural opportunities to the poorest people of Kuseong, India. Father Abe, as he was affectionately known, died on August 28, 2012 at the age of 87. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life thronged to his funeral in Kurseong, high in the Himalayan mountains, to show their appreciation for all he did. Memorial services were also held in Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto.
“He was arguably one of Halifax’s most ingenious sons,” wrote WFNS member Kathleen Martin in a 2012 story in Progress Magazine. “Many of his greatest lessons, he would tell you, came from observing how Atlantic Canadians find innovative solutions with limited resources. How to treat people with kindness. How to share hardships. How to tell a story. How to keep trying. How to ask friends for help.”
A picture of Father Abraham surrounded by kids at the end of a production of The Wizard of Oz. "He felt it was important that the poor have access to theatre, so he would rework plays to include as many children as he could in them," says Kathleen Martin. "He would then would put on a big meal so that their families could eat and watch the play."
Kathleen was a little girl when she first met Father Abe, a cousin of her mother’s. She remembers him as an inveterate writer and lover of poetry. As a remembrance of a remarkable man, the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic poetry prize was named in his honour.
Born in North Sydney in 1925, Father Abe attended Saint Mary’s College High School in Halifax and entered the Jesuit order in Guelph, Ontario, in 1941.
A Jesuit for 70 years, Father Abe volunteered for the Canadian mission in Darjeeling in 1948. India had just achieved independence when he arrived. His first years in India were spent completing a degree in theology and learning the Nepali language. During this time, he was also put in charge of a boys' orphanage that was attached to the parish school. This was his first taste of the problems faced by the poorest of the poor. It was also when he began his practice of asking family and friends in Canada to help their Indian brothers and sisters. He mobilized his mother and the ladies group at her church to make warm flannel pajamas for all the boys. After graduation he was assigned to St Joseph’s North Point, in Darjeeling – teaching children of affluent families. He was an outstanding teacher, but his heart was always with the disadvantaged who were everywhere.
In 1959 he was assigned to take over St. Alphonsus high school in Kurseong. Housed in an old hunting lodge, the school building was a ramshackle affair, never intended to hold as many students as it did. In 1960, he returned to Halifax to complete a Masters in Education at St. Mary’s University. Then he drove his mother’s car across Canada asking Canadian friends to help him build a new school by giving up family dessert one night a week. With pledges from over 1200 families Father Abe returned to India in 1962 ready to build his school.
Political events, however, caused massive inflation in the price of building materials. He could no longer afford to buy the cement he needed to build the new school. So he made it--out of the mountain against which the school stood. With every student, teacher and administrator working two periods a day for ten years, they chipped away the mountain, which poor workers then turned into concrete blocks, and built the new St. Alphonsus School, completing it in 1972. Their motto was “the best education we can give to the poorest children we can find.” It stands to this day, a high school for more than 1,000 students.
But there was more. He started a poultry of 3,600 birds on the school roof, dividing the fowl into small ‘businesses’ of 300 to 400 each. These were managed by children whose tuition was being paid by an increasing family of friends in Canada. The students learned the practical uses of math and science, as well as the value of teamwork. When Fr. Abe left St Alphonsus after more than 20 years, former students joined him to set up another enterprise in 1978: the St. Alphonsus Social and Agricultural Centre (SASAC).
There he pioneered programs in biogas and Square Meter Vegetable Gardening, a method for organic farming in small spaces. Once the techniques were perfected, his young people went into neighbouring villages to teach poor farmers, who had only small, rocky plots to work, how to dramatically increase the yield of their land, grow crops that brought higher prices, and maintain healthy gardens without chemicals. Fr. Abe also build villages for poor families, and pioneered organic mushroom growing, an ideal small, home-based business for poor women.
A prolific writer and mesmerizing public speaker, Father Abe drew in an army of Canadian friends who supported his projects and with whom he kept in regular correspondence over more than 50 years. Even after retiring, well into his eighties, Father Abe began writing a daily poem, a “Rhymed Reflection,” which he shared via email with his friends. He continued this practice almost until his death.
For further information on J.M. Abraham and the work he did in India, please see this documentary called Louder Than Words, The Story of SASAC (Saint Alphonsus Social and Agricultural Centre). It was produced in 2006 by Priscilla Wyrzykowski.
"Pacem in Terris" is a poem J.M. Abraham wrote in response to Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth. Father Abe's Pacem in Terris was published originally in the Sacred Heart Messenger at Christmas time in 1963.