Stepping out of the commotion of a festival on Bloor Street West and into the tranquility of the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts in Toronto on Sunday afternoon, June 11, one feels the anticipation in the air. Toronto high school, college, and university students huddle and whisper, knees jiggling, fingers tapping, waiting for the ceremony to begin. The Kenneth G. Mills Foundation is hosting its inaugural Poetry Prize gala, showcasing the winners of the prizes, the runners-up, and their poems.
Throughout the city students have been invited to write about their urban experience of Toronto. Those gathering in the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre represent Leaside High School, Northern Secondary School, The Student School, Vaughan Road Academy; Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate, Humber College, Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, Weston Collegiate Institute; and York University.
The judges – playwright and actor Barry Brodie, Earth-Stage Actor Michael Abbott, and retired Toronto high school teacher and published poet Robert McAlpine – have been looking for originality and freshness of ideas, perspectives, or presentation. Owing to the quality of the entries, two first prizes will be awarded to students in the High School category.
Mr. McAlpine opens the afternoon by welcoming those who have turned out to support this new generation of poets. One by one the twelve students come up to the microphone on the stage and bravely read their poem. Their poetic expressions about Toronto include experiences of subway rides (crammed in with “the suits”), glass-and-metal towers, the “mosaic of cultures,” anti-Semitism, the sounds and smells of the city, and romance, written in the styles of poetic rhyme, free verse, slam poetry, and spontaneous poetry. Audience support is palpable, with oohs, laughter, and applause.
“A poem is prose dressed up for a ball.
A poem is the rhythmic garment that language wears.”
(Kenneth G. Mills)
Earth-Stage Actor Gregory Serdahl from New York treats the audience to two poems by Dr. Kenneth G. Mills, the founder of the foundation and a Renaissance man who had an extraordinary ability to speak in spontaneous, profound poetry without any form of preparation. Gregory shares “Radiate” and “Tell It as It IS” (the latter can be heard spoken by Dr. Mills on his CD The Tonal Garment of the Word, available from the store at www.kgmfoundation.org).
After a brief intermission, Steve Mack, President of the Kenneth G. Mills Foundation, notes that the recognition of outstanding achievement was a lifelong practice of Dr. Mills (“a poet-warrior who moves through the universe in and at the speed of light – right now!”). The foundation continues to support the inspired expression of artists in their pursuit of excellence.
The runners-up receive a volume of Kenneth Mills’s poems: Natan Aber-Krusner (“Bathroom Vandal”), Kernessa Brereton (“This City”), Tinson Chen (“Romance below the 6ix”), Jackson Donnelly (“Half & Half”), Iman Farah (“Our Bright Stars”), Roy Luz (“Commute”), Cassandra Mignardi (“A Girl Is a Gun”), Maherah Sadaf (“An Ethereal Dream”), and Lauren Sipkas-MacPherson (“Colours”).
The Kenneth G. Mills Foundation proudly presents the grand prizes of $1,000 to each of the following:
In the High School category:
Nicole Jeliazkov, Leaside High School, for “The Kingdom of Towers,” and
Charlie Sheldon, The Student School, for “The Streets of Toronto”
In the College and University category:
Yasmina Jaksic, York University, for “A Subway Ride”
The afternoon closes with a video recording of Dr. Kenneth Mills strolling through an Arizona garden with television anchorman Rolland G. Smith. In response to a question from Mr. Smith, Dr. Mills extemporaneously gives a poem about Nature.
Special thanks go to those who made the inaugural Kenneth G. Mills Poetry Prize possible: the judges; the organizing committee (Janet Butler, Ellen Mann, Robert McAlpine); the vocal coach (Lynn Woodman); the editors (Mary Joy Leaper, Angela Wingfield); the photographer (Glen Sawich); and the ticketing and sales persons (Katrine Geneau, Gwynne MacHattie, Soleil Petrunka, Valerie Webster).
(Yasmina Jaksic, York University, reads her prize-winning poem “A Subway Ride.” Photo: Glen Sawich)