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Illustration courtesy of YYCPOP

YYC POP: Portraits of People gives Calgary writers a stage

By Troy Hasselman, November 23 2019 —

Writers, both experienced and aspiring, will have a chance to share their take on the city of Calgary with YYCPOP: Portraits of People, a writing contest created by Calgary’s poet laureate Sheri-D Wilson. The competition is open to residents of Calgary, the surrounding area and expats and will allow writers to submit a poem, prose piece, snapshot or slash fiction, no more than 50 lines long, about an individual from Calgary or a historical figure that has had an impact on the city, with the catch being that the figure in the story can’t be named. The contest is meant to explore the changing identity and shifting nature of our city.

“When I applied to be the poet laureate I submitted this project to them,” Wilson says. “The idea came from something I’ve always wanted to do and I thought it would be a great thing to offer the community. Not only as an opportunity to write but when the pieces get done we get to share them and we have the opportunity to communicate and share ideas and stories which has always been my imperative.”

Selected stories will be included in a hardcover anthology from Frontenac House that will be published next year. Those included in the anthology have a chance to partake in readings of their work next April, during National Poetry Month, and some submissions will even have excerpts shown in ads on city buses.

“Someone sends something and I have three people who sit on a jury and choose those poems and there are people editing,” Wilson says. “Some of those people, about 80 of them, end up published by Frontenac House and they’re in this anthology. Everyone who sends something will be seen on the website. Everyone gets an opportunity to be seen and heard. At the end of April, during National Poetry Month, there will be four readings and everyone will have an opportunity to come and share their work. At the same time there will be quite a number of people who will be chosen to have excerpts of their poems shown on buses.”

While Calgary is often stereotyped as a business-oriented city that doesn’t value the arts in the same way that cities like Toronto or Montréal do, the contest is meant to show the many different perspectives that Calgarians have on the city and the diversity of voices within it.

“I can say that the perception of how Calgary is seen and heard nationally has always been one thing,” Wilson says. “This book is to address that and to say there’s lots of voices here with a lot of interesting stories. It’s an opportunity for us to see through the stories, who we are and what are our stories. So far there’s a wide, wide range of diverse voices in this book already. The submission are really interesting.”

Sheri-D Wilson. // Photo courtesy of YYCPOP.

Wilson has seen the arts scene grow dramatically in Calgary during her lifetime, and she is happy about the many young, creative people that live in the city, though she does have concerns about the current state of funding for the arts in our province and the impact that could have on the future of arts in Calgary.

“I was an artist here 50 years ago and I left because there was nothing here, and I came back because I thought there was some really interesting work being done here and I felt that I could contribute to the overall voice here,” Wilson says. “I think that so many people have stayed here which says a lot about the city and that said, I will comment that the present government has made the biggest slash to arts funding that has ever been made. It’s slashed almost in half over four years. I’m really alarmed at that because arts bring a whole lot into the economy. It’s so sad because the artists will leave and the young people will leave because there’s no opportunity for them to have a voice.”

Submissions will be officially allowed for YYCPOP: Portraits of People until midnight on Nov. 30, though submissions will still be allowed into the next week. For more information about the contest visit Sheri-D Wilson’s website.

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