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Former Abbotsford student named CBC Poetry Prize winner

Kyo Lee’s entry selected from more than 2,400 entries for $6,000 grand prize
Kyo Lee, formerly of Abbotsford, has been named the winner of this year’s CBC Poetry Prize. (Submitted photo)

A high school student who grew up in Abbotsford has been named the winner of this year’s CBC Poetry Prize.

Kyo Lee, who attended Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts (North Poplar) and now lives in Waterloo, Ont., was named the grand-prize winner from more than 2,400 entries for her poem lotus flower blooming into breasts.

Lee will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency and her work published on CBC Books. She is the youngest ever CBC Poetry Prize winner.

“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Winning the prize is not something that I ever imagined happening,” Lee said.

She said her poem speaks to her experience with love in the Korean language “and the continued effects of war, colonialism, and related personal and cultural history, despite being a generation away.”

“For me, this disconnect between mine and my culture’s understanding of love is heightened by my queerness, especially at its existence as a difficult and sometimes criminal status in the Korean society and language,” she said.

ALSO SEE: Abbotsford author’s short story makes longlist for CBC contest

“The present-day homophobia in Korea is also largely rooted in Western imperialism and the Christian dominance that occurred during and after the Korean war which further confused my understanding of what love in Korean is/can be.

“However, the poem is ultimately about growing out of these broken definitions of love and redefining it beyond language or history, into a personal one. I like to think that the poem documents my journey as I learn the softer parts of love.”

Jurors Joseph A. Dandurand, Catherine Graham and Tolu Oloruntoba said this about Lee’s poem:

“In lotus flower blooming into breasts, the speaker holds hope, love, conflict, desire, defiance, history and the present, violence and wistfulness and the ways humans fail each other, in a shimmering tension that does not collapse into sentimentality.

“Documentary in nature, the tercets that constitute this poem offer confrontational and speculative flourishes that flare like ‘burns blooming’ beside ponds ‘overflowing with hunger.’ The efficiency of each line and the balletic twinge of each successive stanza are effective vehicles for admirable feats of craft and reader transport.”

Four runners-up were also named, each receiving $1,000.

Lee’s literature has also been recognized or published by the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award, PRISM International, Nimrod International, University of Toronto, Ringling College, New York Times, and more.

Her winning poem can be viewed at (click on “CBC Literary Prizes).

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