Writing Contest for Secondary school students
In English and French (native speakers and English and French as a Second Language)
From 2003 to 2009
Lipograms are literary word games in which the writer intentionally avoids using one or more letters of the alphabet. In 1969, the great French writer Georges Perec wrote an entire novel, La Disparition, without using the letter “e.”
Blue Metropolis Foundation launched the Lipogram Contest in 2003 in high schools across Quebec, and more than 700 students entered this first year. The contest was held over seven years, and a total of nearly 4,000 students participated. The Blue Metropolis Lipogram Contest was open to anglophone and francophone secondary school students in Quebec, as well as to students of English and French as a second language in the province. Participants were asked to write a poem or a short text (5 to 10 lines), without using the letter “e.”
The Lipogram Contest was also part of the Foundation’s Teleliterature project – a series of online writing workshops led by well-known authors. That project was designed to enrich the educational and cultural life of students in remote regions; promote Quebec literature; stimulate students’ imagination with creative writing exercises; and carry out a unique pedagogical and literary project with the help of the Internet. Authors who have participated in the programme include J.R Carpenter, Kaie Kellough, Catherine Kidd, André Lemelin, Geneviève Letarte, Stanley Péan, and more.
Some Past Winners
2009 First Prize Winner
Heritage Regional High School
Teacher: Mary Eva
I didn’t want you to fall
If I could turn back and catch you, I would
Gravity was against you that day
And I can’t say how sorry I am
I’m a fool for dropping you
Hold on! I told you, Hold on!
But your hands slid out of my own
I think about it for most of my days
Now, I must hold on.
Though many of the submissions for the Blue Metropolis 2008-2009 Lipogram Contest were outstanding, Melissa Kesegi’s lipogram “Holding On” stood out from all the others. Wistful, yet urgent, Kesegi’s poem “Holding On” explores regret and loss and what they can teach us. Kesegi’s language is fluid and evocative. And Kesegi managed to do all this without using an “e”!
2008 First Prize Winner
Centennial Regional High School
Teacher: Judith Elson
And a crash and a smash and a big bad boom!
In four parts a man is born: of fibs and spirits,
Of vacant days brimming with dusty sky, of bold gut,
Of illicit thoughts. Vim and vigour: tools of a rival in this
Instant, and stop! With a gun in tow, you wait with
All that’s sworn to you, through will and birthright,
Lying low for a familiar burglar who’ll approach
Surfing a conduit of sin, lust, and viral cicadas
To pinch it all away in this hungry cosmos of night.
2007 First Prize Winner
Heritage Regional High School
Teacher: Mary Eva
A Kimono Woman
A kimono of bold motif assaults all frailty
Waning what subsists of this woman.
Cionch at waist, razor sharp,
Forbidding any human touch.
Saintly in motion
But with wings cut long ago
Crimson lips worn as a crown,
For honour a woman must show.
Colours vibrant and young, innards a tint of gray
But tradition worships, you must follow its way.
Among the striking qualities of this poem are the precision of its imagery, the rhythm of the language, the maturity of the voice, and the originality of the subject matter. It is also unique in its use of space: the shape of the poem reflects its subject matter, a geisha woman in a waist-cinching kimono. There is no mistaking the woman’s identity, though word ‘geisha’ is nowhere in the poem.
The shape of the poem might also resemble an hourglass, alluding to the theme of Time in the poem’s final line, where tradition and history ensnare the young woman as truly as does the belt at her waist.
Zoé’s maturity of voice is clear in her use of rhythm and rhyme; it complements but does not predict or overpower the poem. Phrases such as “razor sharp” paired with “crimson lips worn as a crown,” suggests the geisha’s vital self-sacrifice, while other imagery figures her as a caged bird with “wings cut long ago.” The woman seems to bear an artificial stiffness, her ‘innards a tint of gray’ while the garish colours of her costume and makeup create a carnival-esque false cheerfulness.
Finally, the economy of the language allows its imagery to be clearly glimpsed – there is no clutter in this poem, and every word contributes to the whole. Well done.
Many thanks to all the participants for participating over the past seven years, and thanks to Bell and le Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (DGFJ) for sponsoring this contest!