The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award
Judge: Jordan Abel
Jim Johnstone—First Prize
Identity as an Infinity Mirror
By translating hallucinations and fear of hallucinations into paintings,
I have been trying to cure my disease.
– Yayoi Kusama
Each body, an entrance
The first cut is a curse—
like the sleeve
of a wedding dress.
Jim Johnstone is a Toronto-based poet, editor, and critic. He is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently The Chemical Life (Véhicule Press, 2017), and Dog Ear (Véhicule Press, 2014). Currently, he curates the Anstruther Books imprint at Palimpsest Press, where he published The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry in 2018.
Michael Fraser—Second Prize
Your charcoal-black camera, or a
room once covered in cloth, like
Szymborska’s pen igniting graphite
on hewed treated pulp pages, or a
granular word’s crest before it rises
out the mouth’s moist tray.
Michael Fraser is published in numerous journals and anthologies. He’s in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 & 2018. He’s won various contests including: Freefall’s 2014 and 2015 Poetry Contests, the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, and Exile’s 2018 Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Competition. His latest book is To Greet Yourself Arriving (Tightrope Books, 2016).
Joanne Epp—Third Prize
In the dome car
We should have passed this way hours ago
with daylight enough to see the Qu’Appelle River
slip by, loop after loop—light enough to tell
the shape on the opposite ridge is a potash mine,
to tell that grass is green, cattle are black.
Instead, the crowd in the dome car watches
sunset flood the horizon with colour
while everything else grows dim.
Joanne Epp‘s poetry has appeared in Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, and Lemon Hound, among others. In 2017 she was second-place winner of The New Quarterly‘s Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest. She has published a chapbook, Crossings (2012) and a full-length poetry collection, Eigenheim (Turnstone Press, 2015). She lives in Winnipeg, where she is assistant organist at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church.
Cara Violini—Honourable Mention
step back, fire’s growing.
you hear me?
move those wooden instruments
pour water on the husk grass
fold up plastic chairs, clear out,
clear out, people, step
back, he said
when I raised my hand, asked for help, gave my opinion
an educated opinion, and he slapped my hand,
said slow down, said do I need a mentor
do I need a male in the room, step
Cara Violini is a graduate of UBC’s MFA program. She won several awards at UBC including the Penguin/Random House Hazlitt Award for fiction. Cara teaches undergraduate English and her short story, “The Embrace”, was published in FreeFall Magazine. She lives in Vancouver.
Judge: Lisa Moore
Kat Cameron—First Prize
Dancing the Requiem
The ballet is Mozart for a modern age, dancers marching in khaki fatigues, machine guns held in clenched fists; dancers dressed as Afghan women in full blue hijab, their faces covered with veils, mourning the dead. A requiem for the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, but also a prayer for peace. Zoe watches the troupe come offstage after rehearsal, their inward intense focus. Friendly but distant, living in their pack, a group of teenagers mostly, all with beautiful toned bodies and fanatical dedication. Like soldiers, their lives dedicated to a cause.
The chorus stands behind the stage arranged in giant open boxes, like grouping of vases in an IKEA display. On the monitor is the conductor, down in the music pit. In front of them, facing the audience, is Mozart, a Japanese dancer in a seventeenth-century white frock coat and breeches. His wig glitters with silver. His feet are fastened to the podium as if he is emerging from its stone base, a statue brought to life. He sways forward, almost level to the stage, then to the side, bending at impossible angles and then righting himself.
Kat Cameron is the author of Strange Labyrinth (Oolichan, 2015) and The Eater of Dreams (Thistledown, 2019). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in over fifty journals and anthologies in Canada and the United States, including The Antigonish Review, Descant, FreeFall, Grain, NonBinary Review, Prairie Fire, PRISM international, Room, and 40 Below: Volume 2.
Christopher Graham-Rombough—Second Prize
Norm’s resurrection is unceremonious. He comes downstairs just before breakfast and sits at the kitchen table wearing a plaid housecoat you gave him for Christmas fourteen years ago. Doesn’t say much, other than grumbling about there being no milk for his coffee. You’re happy to see him, though as far as delusions go, he’s not fooling anyone. In twenty-nine years together you never saw Norm eat breakfast in his housecoat, dead or alive.
He scarfs down a plate of ham and poached eggs on toast you swear smells delicious. You nibble the edges of a microwaved bran muffin that tastes like freezer burn. Norm seems younger. Gained back all the weight he lost in the hospital. His dark green eyes stare across the table, and you hear yourself ask out loud what’s bothering him. Your words linger in the air as he draws a thin smile, tight as scar tissue. He doesn’t answer. Each slow breath makes his nose whistle as he stands up and looks out the window, past the ringed laneway to the river bend.
Christopher Graham-Rombough has been published in Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, Gaspereau Review, and Cricket Magazine. Christopher and his wife live in Sackville, NB, and occupy the role of servants to a pair of small dogs named after Ewoks. After many years teaching, tutoring, and working with special needs students in the school system, as well as spinning songs as a wedding DJ, Christopher now write full time in a quiet little town on the Tantramar marsh.
Gabriel Castilloux Calderón—Third Prize
His reflection peers back at him, judging his choice for shade of lipstick. “Bitch.” He scowls back at it. His hair is short. Much shorter than he would like it to be. But when his mom’s boyfriend had grasped at his hair enough to hold him immobile with his locks enveloped in filthy fingers, screaming faggot into his face, he knew he couldn’t keep it like that. Unfortunately, the asshole made the decision for him and grasped his gutting knife from the table. Still bloody from the doe he had been butchering out back and run it through his hair. His mother had gasped in horror, but done nothing else. As he sat there under this man, gritting his teeth, refusing to cry. “There!” He yells, holding a mass of hair in his dirty hands. “Now you look like a man.” His beer addled breath piercing every word like a prison sentence as the hair tumbled from his hand, the wind taking it out of the unfinished bush cabin, away from this man, his hair knew better than he did. Knew better then to put up with this.
He shook his head, as if the motion could make the bad memories disappear. He rubbed more foundation under his blackened eye. More contour on his cheekbones. Ran his hand against his shaved head. Fierce. He walked downstairs, right in front of the hockey game on the television, looked at his mother’s boyfriend, smiled and gave him the finger as he walked out of the house. The asshole looked stunned for all of one minute. “Get your ass back here!” He couldn’t help it, he started running, grabbing his bike and speeding away, laughing at the top of his lungs, his mom’s boyfriend, huffing and puffing outside of his house. He felt free.
Gabriel Castilloux Calderón (they/them) is ayakwe (two spirit) Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Scottish and French Canadian. They currently thrive in Cree/Blackfoot/Salteaux/Nakota Sioux Treaty 6 territory (so called Edmonton) with their future spouse and service dog where they teach beadwork and share two spirit teachings with youth. Gabriel is actively involved in several different forms of traditional indigenous culture and ceremony, as a drummer, and a grass, jingle and buffalo dancer, and proudly celebrates an addiction free life. Gabriel is a first-time author of, “Andwànikàdjigan” in Love After the End and “Ishkode” is their second ever published short story.
Rebecca Morris—Honourable Mention
Body of Water
My favourite spot on the bottom of the pool is the drop-off. Halfway along the community centre’s outdoor pool, the shallow end starts to tilt, sliding into the chlorinated depths. Last summer, Heather and I would spend hours playing down there, holding our breaths and being mermaids. We’d swish our long hair through the water, arcing and twisting our lean bodies above the turquoise tiles. Ignoring the Band-Aids that drifted along the bottom, we chased away sharks, baked underwater cakes, helped each other hide from the land-dwellers up above. Once, I found a diamond earring and we played with it for days, taking turns being mermaid princesses.
This summer, I’ve been playing by myself. I gulp air and sink down to the bottom, emptying my lungs in a blinding cloud of bubbles. My dark hair waves gently past my goggles as I scull with my hands to stop my newly buoyant body from floating to the surface. I can hold my breath for almost three minutes. At the drop-off everything is muted and magical, a realm of silence where I’ve crowned myself the solitary mermaid queen.
Rebecca Morris is a Montreal writer. Her short story “Foreign Bodies” won the 2017 Malahat Review Open Season Award and was the Malahat‘s nominee for the 2018 Journey Prize. Her work has appeared in carte blanche, Hamilton Arts & Letters and the Antigonish Review and was long-listed for the 2018 Room Fiction Contest. She is currently working on a novel set in her hometown of Guelph, Ontario.
Creative Non-Fiction Contest
Judge: Myrna Kostash
dee Hobsbawn-Smith—First Prize
At six a.m., a hammer-blow on my door startles me from sleep. “Breakfast in ten minutes,” a low voice outside the building murmurs. Still dark outdoors. Somewhere not very far away, a coyote howls, and my skin prickles as I walk to the main house. In the kitchen, lights are on but the wood stove sits unlit, and the room is chilly. A blackboard mounted on an easel announces the meal: bread and butter, jam, hot multigrain cereal with milk and honey, red raspberry leaf tea.
Wiebo Ludwig sits at the head of the table, surrounded by his sons and daughters – almost a dozen, teenaged to mid-thirties. He points directly across from him at an empty chair as I survey the room. His wife, Mamie, rises repeatedly from her chair, keeping a close eye on her granddaughters as they set out the meal for the forty-three residents of the farm. The girls finally take seats at an adjoining table and Wiebo says a brief blessing. After a chorus of “Amen,” no one speaks. The brown bread is chewy, still warm, the butter sweet. The honey has traces of buckwheat in its amber depths. I pass on the hot cereal and let my tea go cold.
A retired chef and ex-restaurateur, dee Hobsbawn-Smith and her partner, the writer Dave Margoshes, live rurally west of Saskatoon, where she earned her MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and journalism has appeared in Canada, the US, and elsewhere. She is Poetry Editor of Grain magazine and food columnist for Grainews, has published seven books, and recently sent out her second poetry manuscript, Abundance, to find a publisher, hoping that along the way it would report on the best places to eat Indian food. “Wiebo’s Way” is part of her recently-completed essay collection, Bread & Water, an early version of which won 2nd prize in the 2014 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript contest. When she’s not writing, dee takes pleasure in running half-marathons, quilting, cooking, growing orchids and vegetables, watching movies, and betting small amounts of money on the ponies at the track. She has two wonderful adult sons. Dee has not yet learned to play her guitar and wonders if she ever will.
Kerry Ryan—Second Prize
Dia de los Muertos
I try a few stores, but I can’t find my Dad’s favourite brand of licorice all-sorts: Bassetts. I remember when I was a kid, and he’d pass them around, I’d always select the pink and blue jeweled gummies first – the least licorice-y of all the sorts. I’d let the sugar beads dissolve on my tongue until I was left with the smooth, chewy middle (colourless, when I took it out of my mouth to check), something faintly floral in the flavour when I finally crushed it between my teeth. Second choice were the thick, pastel-toned yellow and pink wheels of sugary coconut. I’d nibble away at the dry, icing-like coating and abandon the bitter black licorice plug in the centre. Maybe my Dad ate that; I can’t remember. It took me quite a few years of practice before I learned to love black licorice like the rest of my family.
I dither in the candy aisle at Safeway. I should make more of an effort to get the right ones, but I hate shopping errands – especially running from place to place in search of a single, small item. Besides, I’ve taken the bus and it’s cold out. I need to get home to make dinner. In the end, I grab the bag of house brand licorice all-sorts and head to the self-checkout feeling guilty. It doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly right, I tell myself. My Dad won’t mind. He’s dead.
Kerry Ryan has published two books of poetry, The Sleeping Life (The Muses’ Company, 2008) and Vs. (Anvil, 2010), a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada. She’s currently at work on a novel.
Scott Randall—Third Prize
Adult Lane Swim
When he pushes himself off the side of the pool, he pushes hard so he can glide out underwater five, six, seven metres into the twenty-five-metre lane, and bringing his arms down at his sides to segue from glide into breaststroke, he can imagine himself as if seen from above. Graceful and athletic, his frame symmetrical and his form controlled. He can imagine this, and so he does. Because better that than aging and declining and going to seed. Better that than thickening and slowing. Better that than forty-seven.
In the seventh city of his adult life, during his first few laps of the adult lane swim, the water in the medium lane at the Walter Baker Arena still feels somewhere between cool and cold, and because he tends to arrive early, the slow, medium, and fast lanes contain only a small handful of swimmers – diligent younger athletes and diligent older retirees who also come in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Later, the lanes may grow busier, but now – with only one or two swimmers to a lane – he can exert himself, and gradually, the cool-to-cold water grows cool-to-comfortable and then comfortable-to-nonexistent. Once he gets going, he can’t even tell the water is there, and swimming back and forth, he forgets swimming back and forth. His mind drifts. Such is the benefit of repetitive cardiovascular exercise: in addition to the increased physical wellness that comes with swimming and in addition to the smug satisfaction that comes with all forms of exercise, Scott our Protagonist loves to let his mind drift.
Scott Randall’s third short story collection, And to Say Hello, won the 2015 Ottawa Book Award for fiction and a gold medal for fiction in the 2015 US Independent Publishers Book Awards. He is currently finishing a novel, completing a UBC MFA, and working away on another short story collection.
Alison Frost—Honourable Mention
I considered cancelling. I thought about postponing to a more convenient time–when the rain had let up and the construction on the Lakeshore was done, when it felt easier to leave the kids. These were solid, rational excuses.
“You’d better not,” my mother warned me. “You don’t want to seem noncompliant.” I imagined her putting her mug of tea aside on the hardwood and clutching her housecoat closed at the neck, perched as she must have been awkwardly on the floor by the landline. I got defensive. I asked what compliance had to do with anything? I wasn’t on parole. I didn’t owe anybody anything. I had an illness, which just like diabetes or epilepsy required treatment at times. I had said this before and with great conviction, but as per usual, I didn’t believe a word. I felt cornered. I felt like I owed many people.
Alison Frost’s work has appeared in Joyland, The Capilano Review, Room and elsewhere. She won first place in Room’s Creative Non-Fiction contest, 2012 and was long-listed for Prism International’s 2018 contest. Alison also writes fiction, but mostly she commands a wobbly little ship of 4 young children and a cat named Percy. This piece is for her sister Heather.