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Poet In Residence 2012

Dr. Priscila Uppal is a Toronto poet, fiction writer and York University professor. Among her publications are eight collections of poetry, most recently, Ontological Necessities (2006; shortlisted for the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize), Traumatology (2010), Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, U.K.), and Winter Sport: Poems; the critically-acclaimed novels The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002) and To Whom It May Concern (2009); and the study We Are What We Mourn: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy (2009). Her work has been published internationally and translated into Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Korean and Latvian.

She was the first-ever poet-in-residence at the CAN Fund Athlete House during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic games, as well as the Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament in 2011. Time Out London recently dubbed her “Canada’s coolest poet.”

Dr. Uppal's Winter Sport: Poems, a collection of over 50 poems written during the winter games is for sale in CAN Fund's boutique: 

Lost Move Syndrome  ~  By Priscila Uppal

a report filed to the wrong department
a divorce due to irreconcilable differences
a piece of string snipped between tin cans
a triple-blind experiment
a violent grudge
a smudged lifeline
a purse emptied into a wishing fountain
a dropped melody
a brain lottery
a single sock left in the dryer
a grey paint palette
a recipe without ingredients
an untraceable wire transfer
a loophole without a contract
a random power outage
a trio of subways headed to the same junction
a permanent disqualification
an altered birth certificate
a wipe of the chalkboard
an invalid password
an acrobatic hangover

terra incognito
terra firma
terra incognito


Javelin  ~  By Priscila Uppal


Like travellers who decide what plane to catch
by closing their eyes and dropping
a finger on a map,
these archers (or arm-adventurers)
hold fast to the credo:
the sky is the limit.


Clouds muffle
the embarrassed whimpers
of a god scanning his soles
for splinters.


This land is my land.
This land is your land.
This land is my land again.


Adaptation  ~  By Priscila Uppal

If I can’t endure, I’ll sprint.
If I can’t tumble, I’ll dive.
If I can’t sprint, I’ll endure.

If I can’t swim, I’ll cycle.
If I can’t dribble, I’ll tackle.
If I can’t endure, I’ll sprint.

If I can’t fence, I’ll skate.
If I can’t hurdle, I’ll curl.
If I can’t sprint, I’ll endure.

If I can’t row, I’ll throw.
If I can’t box, I’ll jump.
If I can’t endure, I’ll sprint.

If I can’t wrestle, I’ll bump.
If I can’t pitch, I’ll vault.
If I can’t sprint, I’ll endure.

If I can’t fly, I’ll sail.
If I can’t dance, I’ll shoot.
If I can’t endure, I’ll sprint.
If I can’t sprint, I’ll endure.


Advice to an Old Archer  ~  By Priscila Uppal

Just one last target to hit
in your lifetime—the cloaked man
in black, over your shoulder,
strangling your past.


Pilot  ~  By Priscila Uppal

Before boarding, I salute
my pilot, hunkered down
in the nose of the cockpit,
gauges and gears set for take-off.

The Captain maintains our vision;
I produce the precious fuel.
Drilling oxygen from my veins,
mining the ore of my bones,
until the pumps go dry.

For this flight,
we are the entertainment.
While your legs
get restless in your seats
anticipating the destination,
we have only your amazement
on our minds:

understanding the science of travel
is no antidote for its miraculous nature.

As we approach the runway,
pull your seatbelts on tight;
on this voyage, my pilot and I
must maintain peak speed.

If you’d like a mantra to repeat
while golden sands spin into view,
this one might do:

Steer us clear of severe weather.
Steer us into the cadence of landing.
Steer us safe and sound to the gate.


Definitions of a Hero  ~  By Priscila Uppal

The single quadriplegic father who raised
two children and a little hell.

The scientist who undaunted by
conflicting data pushes the boundaries
of space and time to pave the highway
of new life forms.

Because life is a multiple choice test,
one who lives by example.

A word frequently misused or overused.
A title hanging upon a blank photo awaiting development.
An itinerary of risk.

Once upon a time there lived a princess locked in a tower.
Instead of calling for a prince to mount his white stead, slay a dragon,
and undo a cursed spell, the princess dons a track suit,
teaches herself to fence, shoot an arrow, swim the channel
and transform the curse into a motto:
I did not wait to be saved. I saved myself.

Took Kit:
Life jackets.
Bone marrow.
Bear hugs.
Foster parents.
Medals of honour.

Dreamers with plans.


Super-Athlete  ~  By Priscila Uppal

The consistency of Emilie Heymans
The somersaults of Jennifer Abel
The sweep of Antoine Valois-Fortier
The twists of Meaghan Benfeito
The rip entry of Roseline Filion
The unassuming strength of Christine Girard
The parallel strokes of the Men’s and Women’s Eights
The tenacity of Brent Hayden
The golden fearlessness of Rosie MacLennan
The pacing of the Cycling Team Pursuit Team
The reach of Ryan Cochrane
The height of Derek Drouin
The start of Adam van Koeverden
The finish of Mark Oldershaw
The clinch of Carol Huynh
The breakthrough of Women’s Soccer
The attack of Tonya Verbeek
The endurance of Richard Weinberger
The acceleration of Mark de Jonge


Taekwon-Do: The Art of the Foot and the Hand  ~  By Priscila Uppal

Do create a canvas of your opponent.
Do use feet as paint brushes.
Do use hands as palette knives.
Do count points as natural rhythms.
Do spar in multiple media.
Do subscribe to the school of self-control.
Do spearfinger your subject.
Do grab the muse by her ankle.
Do thrust your will into the air.
Do scissor block the critics.
Do fix your tie.
Do roundhouse the exhibition.
Do spin kick to smash your sculpture to the ground.


The Bronze Age  ~  By Priscila Uppal
(in honour of the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team 2012 Olympic Bronze Medal)

Don’t be fooled by some of our surnames:
Chapman, Sesselman.
We are all woman and hear us score.

The arena McLeod with chants and cheers,
like ancient Zurrer warriors
we triple our Kyle-orific intake,
give our opponents the LeBlanc stare
fighting Gayles of adversity,
trapping rivals like flies
in Moscato nets, kicking nations
as vic-Tim K.O.s,
saying to all: Nault way are you
going to get the best of us.
Parker over there.

No one gets off Scott-free
as we charm the Stewarts of history
like exotic Filigno dancers.

Although we can’t all be Sinclair-voyant,
we can trust in logical Matheson.
Where there’s a Wilkinson there’s a way.
And this one’s prepped for the photo Booth.
Even if victory is captured by the slimmest Schmidt,
this achievement is Tancredi-ble:

The bronze age has begun
with this Julien in our crown.


Experiment  ~  By Priscila Uppal

At Hyde Park, you must divide your brain
into front lobe and back, left and right hemispheres:
weightlifting brushes up against tennis,
gymnastics fires neurons with equestrian
while the initiated attempt serve at volleyball island.
Each screen offers a quick study of the sport
downloaded into the mind.

We ask our guinea pigs to throw
healthy picnic baskets into bins on the way in
and fuel up on fish and chips and Heineken.

Roll out blankets for recovery.
Rorschach the clouds and stars.
Await further instructions.
Anticipate ground-breaking results.


Recipe for Gourmet Volleyball  ~  By Priscila Uppal

A perfect summer dish
for your indoor or outdoor entertaining.

Take fillets of tuna trapped in local nets
add a bit of pepper to warm up the palette,
& heat until oils sizzle in the pit.

Toss a few chicken wings on the barbie,
or, if in season, substitute a gator or two,
marinated in chizzy juice
& folded into a pancake.

Avoid deep dishes and large scoops.
Pair with a killer wine, rather than a six-pack.

Garnish with butter, nectar sauce.

Serve immediately to your lover,
Or, if you insist, husband or wife.


Confessions of a Fencer  ~  By Priscila Uppal


My favourite book
is indeed Don Quixote.
I will continue jousting
until my Knight of the Mirrors
unmasks my face.


I’ve slept and showered
dressed and disrobed
with my sabre at my side.


When I started the sport
my buttocks and thighs cramped
in uncharted areas.


After a tough bout
I can be found in the change room
playing connect-the-dots
with my paint-by-numbers


Sword therapy:
I’m épée; you’re épée.


On special occasions
I forgo fork and spoon
and serve platters
at the end of my point.


My foil follows me
like a proper shadow:
sturdy at my hip,
heeling at my feet,
as we rush forward
and attack the sun.


You had me at parry.


Specialized surgery:
I will disembowel you
before anesthesia


This is the way I envision limbo.
Lane after lane of masked apparitions
vying for a chance to storm
The Pearly Gates.


The Women in My Family are Boxers  ~  By Priscila Uppal


Hard quads & black eyes
to prove it. Father gave us

Each belt on our twelfth birthdays.
And a gold ring.
We toughed it out.
Then ate our cake.

Did I mention the women in my family
are all boxers?

And the years punch back.
While we search for a title
worth defending.


The Tri-Athlete Gives Three Short Interviews  ~  By Priscila Uppal

Let me not waste too much breath.
I have a long race ahead. But here is what I know of water:

it buoys the heart, refreshes the mind, but sometimes catches
you with your mouth open. It’s almost always cold at first.
Water will out-thirst us all.

Ostriches trussed by circles. We bump, bump,
try not to fluster or cluster, drying feathers in the sun.

I am animal and machine.
I am athlete and couch-potato.
I am fire and wind.

Faster birds mock me.

No more.
Not one more step
                       on one more road
                                                on one more track.

Who are all these people lining my pain and my fear?

They love you. They want you to keep going.

And I think, Yes, I will keep going, but the truth is
I don’t know why.

And my legs
             and my lungs
                          and my chest
                                       and my toes
                                                          hate me.

             But I have more spite.
             And no time to lose.


Defining Football  ~  By Priscila Uppal

Breakaway: Rolling out the green carpet

Cleats: Foot roots

Corner Kick: Playing all the angles

Dribbling: Football escort

Faking Injury: Crying wolf

Free Kick: No such thing as a free lunch

Header: Putting a mind to good use

Interference: Caught stealing cable

Off-side: False alarm

Penalty Shootout: The last brigade

Red Card: Ticket home

Soccer: Identity theft

Substitute: Position tune-up

Tackle: Stealing candy from a baby

Yellow Card: Ticket to ride the bench


Trampoline  ~  By Priscila Uppal

My coils creek
             & she’s propelled – body
a tight fighter bird –
             she flies up,
             she drops down
she flies up again;
             flipping, kicking
tucking, twisting
             she flies up,
             she drops down

My coils creek
             — please
       think twice,
       you’re hurting me

each time your tactile toes
             my belly. I cramp. I
push–there you go again

I am the one
       left dizzy
                          a carnival clown

stymied in my rectangular
prison (I cannot trap you)

       she flies up,
       she drops down

My bird dismounts from her perch,
       the crowd cheers,
       judges enter their scores

& I’m calm
(at least for the moment)
once more.


Ten Things To Do With Your Baby At a Sporting Event

~  By Priscila Uppal

1. Dress up said baby in patriotic one-zies to catch the attention of the jumbotron.

2. Offer up cheeks, foreheads, and toes to athletes and distinguished guests for good luck kisses.

3. Hold baby upside down to test wind speed.

4. Put “Need One Ticket” sign around neck to soften scalper’s prices.

5. Teach baby to say “Go Canada Go” in over a dozen languages.

6. Teach baby to swim or fence or tumble through the power of osmosis.

7. Use baby to jump cues from ticket pick-up to confection stands to the loo.

8. Train your baby to cry on demand to shake your opponent’s concentration (works particularly effectively at Archery, Tennis, Balance Beam and for Basketball Foul Shots).

9. Target teenagers to keep an eye on baby just before spit-up to encourage abstinence.

10. Throw baby up in the air when your team wins gold.


Basketball Diaries   ~  By Priscila Uppal

This court keeps me out of another one.

Unpicked for country or family,
I was born and passed around
to little purpose.

I thought against boards
strategized from sidelines
rested on benches.

One day, a homing pigeon
found me tossing my days
through nets. Invited me
to visit her nest.

There I trained to project and perch,
focus and fly.

To sing with my feet.

Now I choose to dribble
the majority of my life away.

I can’t imagine a better sentence.


A Rower’s Credo   ~  By Priscila Uppal

The gods must spend their days like this—
paddles in hand, single file, submitting to rhythm,
orchestrating the mechanisms of earth and sky.

Each stroke a village is sown,
a revolution rises and abates,
thousands of babies eek out first feeble cries,
while history books are violated by whole new lies.

The strength comes not from being,
but from water, whispering its cold, indifferent stories
that all end with the same moral: Go on.

Go on and on, lifting and pulling.
Go across the earth as often as you can.
Endless civilizations await to make, and break, and remold.
For each, a horizon.


Gymnastics Love Poem   ~  By Priscila Uppal

I can honestly say I’ve bent over backwards for you.
Executed front flips and twists and somersaults in your name.

I’ve tumbled my way into and out of corners.
I’ve kicked up storms and spun my wheels.

I’ve learned to balance my heart on my sleeve while
remaining flexible to all your judgments and opinions.

The art of loving is the art of vaulting through the air
without a safety net and landing firmly on your feet.

The art of loving is the art of iron crosses and crash mats
and, when you’ve built up your strength, a seizing of the rings.


Three Haiku   ~  By Priscila Uppal

Equestrian Love Haiku

I never once soothed
myself to sleep counting sheep.
You scaled all the gates.
  Fencing Love Haiku

Since medieval times
we’ve parried our vows. Time to
lift the bridal mask.
    Rhythmic Gymnastics Haiku

Roped into Hoopla.
Dancing the clubs. Belle of the
Ball. Earning ribbons.



Patience   ~  By Priscila Uppal

Spectators joke about how
the line-up that squiggles endlessly back
and forth resembles the digestive system
might look shorter on this end
but we’re just about to enter
the small intestines.

The American complains
no one should ever put The English in charge
of anything, while the Aussies talk
travel and poke fun at the Irish.
One woman has taken 10 flights in 7 days
to stand here, i-phone in hand and freckles leaping
off her face for one day of soccer
and one of men’s gymnastics.
Everyone is mad about tennis.

It’s a bad sign when they encourage you
to sit, a couple of Londoners tweet,
hand reaching across hand for free bottles
of water, miraculous in their own way,
but am informed were orange or apple juice
in the blessed land of before noon.

And I capture my captive audience,
offering up a sonnet and haiku to chase
boredom away, ‘POET’ emblazoned
on my shoulders—a nation of its own,
with lots of citizens but few fans.

Two hours. Three and a quarter.
Five hours for some poor sots.
It’s am embarrassment.
A cruel joke.
An abomination.
A media frenzy.

The English once ruled the world,
but they can’t do basic math?
Or hire enough security?

People have kids to pick-up
from trumpet lessons and daycare,
friends from out of town to meet
for tapas, pints and pints of beer
to consume.

I count my tickets against an order form,
gawking momentarily at the price,
then hide the evidence
inside my bag like stocks
Bill Gates would kill for.
And some would.

Frustration and bickering notwithstanding
no one has cued up longer
than you, our athletes.
No one knows more
than you the patience
required to endure
the most torturous wait.


Bumper Cars: A Wheelchair Rugby Poem  ~  By Priscila Uppal

You can barely contain yourself
strapped into your metal armour
eager for the surge of electricity
bass belting to rev engines.

Technically, one could opt
for a safer ride—stick to the edges
and manoeuver contentedly about
like driving school instructors
in empty parking lots.

But where’s the fun in that?
The whole point is acceleration and contact:
A crash course in chasing down opponents
and companions alike, jamming down
on brakes, then scraping by the worst
of the traffic jam and initiate
your own rush hour.

Your license revoked many times:
too many points violations,
you’ve got their number
as well as your own.

And you don’t mind at all
if witnesses clock radar speeds
and submit their statements
to the proper authorities.





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