Winnipeg Arts Council

Winnipeg Words

Winnipeg Words is a celebration of contemporary Winnipeg poetry. As a reflection on our city, its people, and neighbourhoods, the project is a recognition of the power of words to establish the meaning of place. Incorporating play and imagination into our everyday spaces makes visible things we may have forgotten or neglected to notice, giving us a new perspective on our city.

Winnipeg Words was created through Winnipeg's Public Art Program in collaboration with Di Brandt as a legacy of her tenure as Winnipeg’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Di Brandt is a passionate advocate for poetry. In her role as Poet Laureate, she endeavored to celebrate the work of other poets and to give poetry a place of public prominence.

This temporary project was first installed in 2020 on Winnipeg Transit and libraries around town.

*New for 2022 River City by Winnipeg Poet Laureate Duncan Mercredi in Air Canada Window Park!

Large black vinyl sticker on concrete with Duncan Mercredi's full poem River City.

River City by Duncan Mercredi in Air Canada Window Park. Photo by Andrew McLaren.

prairie hymn

what i want is the shape of the story of the blood
jolting seasonally to & from the heart underneath
the small gestures of our hands the words spoken
& unspoken between us i want the huge narrative
of the river the curved cry of the land i want the
straight blowing of birch leaves in strong wind
the whistling of prairie grass your lit face in the
distance coming to meet me your arms hot like
August prairie sky all around me

Di Brandt
From the 1990 collection  Agnes in the Sky (Turnstone Press).

Installed on the Charleswood Library.


A Short-Lived Visit

under a tarnished coin
of a full moon

your fragrance
is caught

in a gasp
of grey mist

it flees
like geese

at the perch
of the first cold

dots in the sky
fireworks in reverse

Shirley Camia
From the 2019 collection  Mercy (Turnstone Press).

Installed on the Harvey Smith Library.


where ceremonies go

fish nudge and crash
into my ceremonies

the wind licks them
carries away my ceremony-echo

ants use my sand ceremonies
to build their mazes

birds use my pebble ceremonies 
to strengthen their nests

boys pick up my flat ceremonies 
skip them across the river

girls take home my large ceremonies
paint them pink and purple and blue 

these ceremonies listen
these ceremonies remember 
these ceremonies speak for me

Rosanna Deerchild
From the 2008 poetry collection this is a small northern town (J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing). 

Installed on the Osborne Library.


Canto of Slinders*

nobody knew who slew
the parachute unfolden
the char perilous, the night
house nude of vellum

canto of slinders: soiled fish
of the sea, the long atlantic slalom

high as kits over the cap, we lip
the opposite of what we lean

the words you crossed out
now who you are
open your own two yes
to the dark dark

*Slinder (n): an error in language, such as mispronunciation, typo, or false definition.

Catherine Hunter
From the 2019 poetry collection  St. Boniface Elegies (Signature Editions).

Installed on the Windsor Park Library.



c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
où se logent les rêveurs
les ambitieux les silencieux

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
où campent les mauvais garçons
qui ont des choses à se reprocher

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
où jouent les amuseurs publics
loin du regard du conducteur

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
où se cachent les métaphores
de la vie quotidienne

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
qu’on retrouve les objets perdus
les bébés abandonnés

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
qu’on refoule ceux qui ont peu
les voix étouffées les bras liés

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
qu’on fomente les complots
les révolutions heureuses

c’est à l’arrière de l’autobus
qu’on a la paix pour s’embrasser

Charles Leblanc
From the 2021 poetry collection  allumettes (Éditions du Blé).


the back of the bus is
where the dreamers
the ambitious and the silent ones live

the back of the bus is
where the bad boys camp
with their shameful secrets

the back of the bus is
where the class clowns perform
far from the driver’s eyes

the back of the bus is
where the metaphors
of daily living hide

the back of the bus is
where lost items
and abandoned babies are found

the back of the bus is
where the have-nots are pushed
with their muffled voices and bound hands

the back of the bus is
where plots are hatched
and happy revolutions planned

the back of the bus is
where we can be left alone to kiss

Translated to English by Mark Stout

Installed on the St. Boniface Library.


Children of the Earth

i heard the message in the pines
i heard it travel through the leaves
it drifted across the land
on the sweet grass trail

it travelled across the cities from the east
and across the tall prairie grass
it rose to the snows of my youth
and across the barren lands

children stopped their play and listened
elders put their bibles down
dreaming of their childhood
mothers and fathers laid aside their
weakness and danced to the drum once more

i heard the message from the pines
the words travelled over the mountains
across the seas of foreign lands

the message spoke of pride, strength and unity
and the children of the earth rose up
and sang the message to the nation
as they led us out of the darkness

Duncan Mercredi
From the 1992 poetry collection  Dreams of the Wolf in the City (Pemmican Publishers).

Installed on the Transcona Library.



We rode around St. Vital
that summer on our banana bike
that seated five. Pavan always older
pedalled us to Sev for slurpees and popeye cigs
I held Pavan tight, Bimal seated behind me giggles
Navneet seated backwards with her skinny legs dangling
over the back tire and little Jagdeep perched on the handlebars.

We got caught by the police
the cop said  it’s unsafe
Silently we all thought of that word
We thought of erecting Gurdwara walls
with trap doors, monks in bathrooms
or parents praying for peace of mind
what did the cop know?

We waited for the police to turn the corner.
Five brown girls in perfect balance
with cigs hanging out the side of our mouths
we thought ourselves tough.

Sharanpal Ruprai
From the 2014 poetry collection  Seva (Frontenac House Poetry).

Installed on the Louis Riel Library.


On naming
after Audre Lorde

Trace new fingers over glossy pictures
and rename ourselves:
cirrus, mitochondria, metamorphosis,
the gaps between shoulders
where our faces do not peer out.

Audre says our magic is unwritten, so
we press desperate hands onto pages,
pretend sweats stains are story.

In the movies with the maids,
we reminded we loved
our lower place (stratus, maybe. Fog.)
In that Book of Hymns, proud Mary
is on her knees,
Jesus has a lace-front,
there are several dead animals.
In the February calendar we go over once,
the inventors of crossed roads and CCTV
and caller ID and the cataract laser-phaco probe
are all pictures in closed-mouth smiles.

Close your eyes and remember
us in the future. Audre says
we are not meant to survive
but so far, so good. Dead
at the hands of forgotten names
never echoing in the broken spaces
they have yelled themselves into –
all the pressed skirts they ruffled,
all the anniversaries we shout down with question marks:
where were we (the powerhouse of the cell)?
Picket signs gripped and Black bodies in the kitchen,
the story goes.

I am saying a thing that has already been said:
we howled ourselves out of the margins
and into illustrations,
reclaimed the cool bleached air.
Audre names us coal
and like hardness
We invented ourselves.
Traced back to translucent stories,
opaque in the dark, and even backwards
we matter.
Even in the remembered victories
of the also-forgotten, us
made twice-another.

We were there,
and still are,
and still screaming,
and this isn’t enough for anybody,
but is something, at least.

Chimwemwe Undi
From the 2017 poetry chapbook  The Habitual Be (in  New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Set (Nne), edited by Kwame Dawes, Akashic Books). 

Installed on the Millennium Library.



she wants to
open her arms
wide enough
stretch them out
like an elm's long branches
to catch
a thousand birds
and hold them close

she thinks
all the animals at the zoo
belong to her
knows them through
her thin tan skin
greets the lion
like an old friend
nods to the monkeys
like cousins

she knows 
how we all share
the same air

Katherena Vermette
From the 2012 poetry collection  North End Love Songs (J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing).

Installed on the St. John's Library.


In the Media:

Di Brandt, Shirley Camia, Rosanna Deerchild, Catherine Hunter, Charles Leblanc, Duncan Mercredi, Sharanpal Ruprai, Chimwemwe Undi, Katherena Vermette

Di Brandt was Winnipeg’s first Poet Laureate, serving for 2018 & 2019. Di is an internationally renowned, multiple award-winning poet, author, essayist and literary critic. She has published several volumes of poetry including her most recent, Glitter & fall: Laozi's Dao De Jing, Transinhalations (Turnstone Press 2018). Her work has won numerous awards, including the McNally Robinson Award for Manitoba Book of the Year, the CAA National Poetry Prize, and the Gabrielle Roy Prize for best book of literary criticism in Canada. Di has held research and writing positions at the Universities of Alberta, Manitoba, Windsor, Brandon and Winnipeg.

Shirley Camia is a Filipina-Canadian poet born and raised in Winnipeg. Her poetry collections include the award-winning Children Shouldn’t Use Knives (At Bay Press, 2017) and The Significance of Moths (Turnstone Press, 2015). "A Short-Lived Visit" is from her latest collection, Mercy (Turnstone Press, 2019).

Rosanna Deerchild is an award-winning author and veteran broadcaster. Her poetry collection this is a small northern town won the 2009 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Her second book, calling down the sky, is her mother’s residential school survivor story. She is co-founder and member of the Indigenous Writers Collective of Manitoba and has contributed to numerous Indigenous newspapers. She currently hosts the CBC Radio show, Unreserved, a radio space for Indigenous community, culture, and conversation. A Cree from O-Pipon-Na-Piwan Cree Nation at South Indian Lake in northern Manitoba, Rosanna now lives and works in her found home of the North End of Winnipeg.

Catherine Hunter is a poet and novelist who teaches creative writing at the University of Winnipeg. Her most recent collection of poems, St. Boniface Elegies, won the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry and was shortlisted for a High Plains Book Award and the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

Charles Leblanc - Né à Montréal en 1950, il vit à Saint-Boniface depuis 1978. Plusieurs emplois au cours des ans : chercheur en sciences économiques, barman et serveur, acteur professionnel, organisateur d’événements artistiques, travailleur industriel, traducteur et chargé de cours en traduction. Toujours actif dans le monde du théâtre, il a publié neuf livres de poésie. À venir : allumettes aux Éditions du Blé en 2021.

Charles Leblanc - Born in Montreal in 1950, he has lived in Saint-Boniface since 1978. Several jobs over the years: researcher in economics, barman, waiter, professional actor, arts events organizer, industrial worker, translator and translation lecturer. Still active as a theatre actor, he has published nine books of poetry. Next book: allumettes (Éditions du Blé) in 2021.

Duncan Mercredi is a Cree/Métis poet, writer and storyteller. A longtime resident of Winnipeg, he was born in Misipawistik (Grand Rapids) and grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories. His affinity for the wilderness and his sensitivity to the deep cultural prejudices of the broader culture inform his writing. He has published four poetry collections, including Spirit of the Wolf: Raise Your Voice and The Duke of Windsor: Wolf Sings the Blues. His work has appeared in countless anthologies and periodicals including Prairie Fire and CV2, including the special joint issue ndncountry, published in 2018. Duncan is Winnipeg’s Poet Laureate for 2020 and 2021.

Sharanpal Ruprai is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg. Dr. Ruprai's collection of poetry, Seva, was shortlisted for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and her second collection, Pressure Cooker Love Bomb, was shortlisted for multiple poetry awards across Canada and internationally. She was the 2019-2020 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program.

Chimwemwe Undi is a poet living and writing on Treaty One in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her work has appeared in Room Magazine, the Humber Literary Review, on CBC and BBC World, and at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, among others.

Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Métis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Her novel, The Break (House of Anansi) was a bestseller in Canada and won multiple awards, including the 2017 First Novel Award. Her second book of poetry, river woman (House of Anansi) and eighth children’s picture book, The Girl and The Wolf (Theytus) were both released last year. She is also the author of the picture book series, The Seven Teachings Stories (Highwater Press) and the graphic novel series, A Girl Called Echo (Highwater Press). And, along with a whole team of talented filmmakers, she co-wrote and co-directed the short doc, "this river" (NFB) which won the 2017 Canadian Screen Award for Best Short.

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