Winston Collins / Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem

Descant is pleased to announce the 2014 Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem valued at $1000!


The winner of the 2014 prize is Andy Verboom for his poem, "Rite"

This year's judges, Mark Kingwell and Leanne Shapton, describe Andy Verboom's poem:

Rite is a beautifully anarchic, even witchy poem: a detail-heavy tale of euphoric conflagration, a demon-lover’s catalogue of things and ideas sacrificed to fire. Academic knowledge of every conceivable kind is incinerated – “Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion,” David Hume enjoined against all system-building metaphysics. Insects, fruit, writing instruments, and notebooks all meet the same fate. There are arresting phrases throughout: ‘plashing / of plastic bags’, ‘Lascaux-style genitals’, ‘Pencils turn charcoal, their erasers / harder nipples’. Partly a sort of a high-toned version of Alice Cooper’s  School’s Out for Summer, partly a perverse but gorgeous lover’s-quarrel-with-the-world anti-poem, this neatly enjambed lyric is, finally, a funny and moving paean to fire. Like so many excellent poems, it communicates its own ars poetica even as it instantiates that position. Destruction, it says with quiet glee, is the linking concept of all language, ritual, human interaction, indeed life itself.

This annual prize is in memory of Winston Collins, writer and enthusiastic teacher of literature at the universities of Cincinnati, Princeton and Toronto. The prize will perpetuate his remarkable talent for encouraging self-expression through writing.


The judges for this year's competition are Mark Kingwell and Leanne Shapton.

Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Descant and Harper’s Magazine. His latest book, Unruly Voices (Biblioasis, 2012) is a collection of essays about politics and human imagination.

Leanne Shapton is an artist illustrator, and writer who was born in Toronto and lives in New York. A previous contributor to The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, Jane, Seventeen, Saturday Night, and Maclean's, she has published several books and is also one of the founders of J&L Books.


More information about previous winners below.

About the Prize

  • One (1) Winner will receive CAN $1000, plus payment for publication* in Descant;


  • Maximum entry length is 100 lines, typed, double-spaced;
  • The writer should not be identified on the entry: include a separate cover sheet with the writer’s name, address, phone number / email, and the title of the poem enclosed;
  • Previously published material, or material accepted elsewhere for publication, cannot be considered; 
  • Include a S.A.S.E. (with appropriate Canadian postage/ IRCs/ US $1);
  • Descant employees are not eligible to enter

Entry Fee

  • $30 entry fee (includes GST and a one-year subscription; make cheque or international money order payable to: Descant);
  • Multiple entries are allowed; however, each entry must be accompanied by its own entry fee;
  • Note that anyone already subscribing to our magazine will receive a one-year extension to their current subscription

Send entries to: 

The Winston Collins/ Descant Prize Competition
c/o Descant

50 Baldwin Street
Toronto, ON
M5T 1L4



Winston Collins Prize 2013 Winner

The winner of the 2013 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem is John B. Lee, for his poem "Bringing the Farmhouse Down" chosen by Mark Kingwell and Leanne Shapton. They describe the poem here:

"Bringing the Farmhouse Down" deftly and tenderly evokes the past life of a family home with refreshingly unsentimental texture. There is a wealth of concrete detail in the description of the house’s destruction, an act evoked with precise, even blunt, language that nevertheless reveals the aura of beauty that can surround things in our tough material world: "from the peen-bruise of the punched studs / and the dry-lime fragrance / of the splintering slats." The short lines, hyphenated adjectives, incidental rhyme, and alliteration create a jangly Anglo-Saxon rhythm reminiscent of Hopkins, just as the close attention to objects and tools recalls Ted Hughes or Galway Kinnell: "in the long hall / the wicker wheelchair / winced like a toy / while the girls played / broken-legged doll." Thematically, we found the shifts in time particularly effective in executing the major conceit and house-as-memory, and acknowledging the delicate, ever-haunted structures we call consciousness and identity. The poem works like a tiny ghost story: images, voices, and children gliding in and out of its rooms.

John B. Lee also won the inaugural Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem in 2007, awarded by judges Douglas Glover (author of the 2003 Governor-General's Award-winning novel Elle) and Lisa Moore (author of the 2005 Giller-prize nominated novel Alligator). The judges then were struck by the “exuberant, nimble language” of Lee’s winning poem, “The Green Muse” proclaiming it “a gorgeous meditation on the colour green,” and were impressed by Lee’s linguistic craft, admiring the “deft juxtaposition and dreamy alliteration” of the piece.


John B. Lee was inducted in 2005 as Poet Laureate of Brantford in perpetuity, the same year he received the distinction of being named Honourary Life Member of The Canadian Poetry Association. Lee is the recipient of over sixty prestigious international awards for his writing including the CBC Literary Award for Poetry, the People’s Poetry Award, and the 2006 inaugural Souwesto Writing Award (University of Windsor/Black Moss Press). He has well-over forty books published to date and is the editor of numerous anthologies. Lee’s work has appeared internationally in over 500 publications, and has been translated into French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.


Winston Collins Prize 2012 Winner

The most recent winner is Heidi Garnett, for her poem entitled "Blood Orange"

Judge's Citation:

We chose "Blood Orange" in part because it is filled with arresting lines of outrageous originality and curious beauty. It is a poem that from the get go is bursting with life and laughter. Two women at a beach during a nameless war, exhibit a recklessness, happiness and freedom, which perhaps only the very young and very foolish can feel regardless of circumstances. "Blood Orange" conveys the inescapable duality of happiness and loss that makes up each human life. And, most remarkably, it describes how joy echoes around even the most tragic of events.








Our 2011 Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem recipient is Barbara Schott of Winnipeg, MB for her poem Thin Ice. Honourary Mentions were awarded to Carla Hartenberger of Toronto for Naked in the Sun, and Pamela Porter for The Place of Feathers. Congratulations to our recipients.

Our 2011 finalists were announced on Feb 8 at a gala event at Supermarket, Kensington Market, Toronto. The turnout was fantastic. Thank you to everyone.

Each of the three finalists will have their winning poems highlighted in the Summer 2011 issue of Descant, our 40th anniversary issue, and Barbara will read at our celebratory event June 29th at Harbourfront, Toronto. See information about the event here.





Last year's Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem went to St. John, NL's Leslie Vryenhoek for her work "Letitia's Cold Footsteps", with Honourary Mentions going to Nepean, ON's Jessica Hiemstra-van der Horst for "Eating Quince with Musicians" and Toronto's Myna Wallin for "Death, Wildlife and Taxes".

The 2010 finalists were announced on Feb 19 at a gala event sponsored by PAGEWAVE GRAPHICS, Toronto; thank-you to everyone who came out to help make this an extremely successful event!

The three finalists had their winning poems highlighted in a special section in the Summer 2010 issue of Descant.





2009's Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem went to Hamilton's Marilyn Gear Pilling for her work "Billy Collins Interviewed On Stage at Chautauqua", with Honourary Mentions going to Fredericton's M. Travis Lanefor "In a Glass Darkly" and Guelph's Shane Neilson for "Naming Uncle Bridges' Farm".

The three finalists had their winning poems highlighted in a special section in the Fall 2009 issue of Descant.





2008's Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem went to Elgin, NB's Elizabeth Venart for her work "On the Day I Cut Cabbage", with Honourary Mentions going to Montreal's Cora Siré for "Before Leaving Hué" and Montreal's Celia Ste Croix for "The Poem on Your Body".

The three finalists had their winning poems highlighted in a special section in the Summer 2008 issue of Descant.





The inaugural Winston Collins/ Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem went to Brantford's John B. Lee for his work "The Green Muse", with Honourary Mentions going to Victoria, BC's Yvonne Blomer for "The Roll Call to the Ark" and Toronto's Jim Nason for "Chardin’s Rabbit".

The three finalists had their winning poems highlighted in a special section in the Summer 2007 issue of Descant.