Kootenay poet Emily Nilsen recently won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award honouring a first book of poetry by a Canadian writer. We caught up with her to ask what it’s like to now be an award-winning poet.
Emily Nilsen is well-known to readers of Kootenay and Coast Mountain Culture magazines. She’s responsible for some of our more popular features, such as the KMC cover story about modern-day trapping as well as the feature detailing one Prince Rupert’s woman’s descent into madness due to a brain tumour. So we were excited to hear recently that she won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award honouring a first book of poetry by a Canadian writer.
Emily’s debut book of poetry called Otolith was published by Goose Lane’s Icehouse poetry division and launched late last year. It’s named after a series of bones that govern our sense of gravity and balance and, according to her publisher, “Emily Nilsen attempts a similar feat in poetry with lyrical and nostalgic meditations on growth and decay, geological time, place, nature, and relationships.” The award she received for Otolith is in memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who supported work by new writers and comes with a $2,000 prize purse. We caught up with Emily at her home in Nelson, British Columbia, to congratulate her and ask her more about the prize.
Congrats Emily! Tell me a bit more about the award.
Well, it’s called the Gerald Lampert Memorial and it’s given every year by the League of Canadian Poets, for first poetry collections.
How did you find out about your win?
Email. I was long-listed and then tucked it away in the back of my mind. It was great news to receive, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
And now you’re loaded!
(laughs) Yeah, the award comes with a prize of $2,000.
Did you have to use that money to attend the awards ceremony in Toronto?
Actually, between the publisher and the League my travel was covered.
Did you have to walk up on stage?
It was in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre. And yes, there was a stage of sorts.
And you had to get up and make a speech?
Yeah. More of an acknowledgement of who contributed to the book. We were also asked to do a short reading, I read a poem called “Fog”.
I love that poem. Reminds me of the five years I lived in Newfoundland. So what now?
Mostly recalibrating and starting to think about other projects. There’s a little bit of a calm that follows any larger project; I’m actually still in that phase right now, leaning into new ideas and reading.
You did a residency on Sointula Island while writing Otolith. Are you thinking about applying for another residency?
Absolutely. For me, having those large tracts of open time is really important. Especially in places that are aligned with what I’m trying to think deeply about.
To find out more about Emily’s book Otolith, visit Goose Lane’s website. Here is her poem, “Fog,” published in Otolith © 2017 by Emily Nilsen. Reproduced by permission of Goose Lane Editions.
Eight-headed fog, plate rattling
fog, dirt under the nails fog, fog
of unseen trees where the blind
follow creeks, fog fattened
by memory, flip-sided fog
and swimming on land fog
throat-bellied fog of the broken
hearted, night fog that slipknots
three moons to the dock
and knee-buckling fog with spittle
on its chin, fog rotting in the cupboards
and a shelf of pickled fog in jars, shaking
your limbs as you sleep fog, that curls tails
of foxes and wets moth wings to
uselessness, clique forming fog
of kitchen gossip, and thirsty for rain
fog that taps us instead, fog of the floating
house, unknown to undersea fog, fish milt
fog, slap-in-the-face fog, fog that smells
of a logger’s boot, untying its apron fog,
rhododendron fog, thick as algae bloom
fog, a pond of bulging frog eyes fog,
that drops poems in your lap and sinks
pebbles in your pocket, thick as gravy
flog, fog to grow old in, bearded
fog, running its hand through
a patch of thinning hair fog,
bacon fat fog, arteriosclerosis
fog, fog staggering half-cut
along the rocks, bottom of the bottle
fog, hooked to the disappearing
dragnet, fog adrift, a bundle
of yellowed love letters washed
to be read.