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2017 Contests

The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award

Judge: George Murray

Tammy Armstrong—First Prize

Old Horses Make Whisper

With our pale minds leaning
toward the first few minutes
in the Year of the Horse

we watched last year slip away
through shed doors and little windows—
a dim-eyed groundling
escaping the lifting light.

And with its long-tailed leaving
it took a woman who stepped between two boats
and disappeared

it took foxes on trampolines
and bears walking upright

it took the children of Yakutia
snow-tramping to school
armed with hatchets and wolf fear.

Tammy Armstrong has published two novels and four books of poetry, most recently The Scare in the Crow and the upcoming chapbook, The Varying Hare (Frog Hollow Press). Her work has recently won the iYeats International Poetry Prize, Geist’s Postcard Story Contest, and has been short-listed for The Malahat Review‘s Open Season Awards, and The Fiddlehead‘s Ralph Gustafson Prize. In autumn 2018, she will be a Fellow at the International Writers’ and Translators’ House in Latvia. She currently lives in a lobster fishing village on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

Ben Ladouceur—Second Prize

The Green Carnation

…Fashion fades,

but also, fades are in.
My barber’s students want

to give each man on earth a killer
fade, to sort the men, to make men sort

of fade away. The pineapple plant’s
a bacteriophage

that hides poorly in the jungle corners
of Big Island, top-heavy,

kissing liplessly
the blackest sands. In Victorian England,

the gift of a pineapple
meant welcome, meant when

I say you may stay I
mean it, I’m not just being 

Victorian about it. 

Ben Ladouceur is the prose editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and a regular columnist for Open Book. His first collection of poems, Otter (Coach House Books), won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His second collection, “Mad Long Emotion,” will be coming out in 2019, also with Coach House Books. He has recently published poems in Poetry, CV2 and The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, and fiction in Maisonneuve, The Rusty Toque, and Prairie Fire.

Conyer Clayton—Third Prize

What you actually lost

I convince myself
death comes from the wind

I kill you
with my exhale
with the roughly chopped garlic

I dream of my mother
a baby gets measles

I put on the wrong album
you wreck your car

I see a darkness in my own eyes
a tumour starts to form

I focus on the bruised skin of an orange to protect myself
this isn’t unfamiliar

Conyer Clayton has two chapbooks: The Marshes (& co collective, 2017) and “For the Birds. For the Humans.” (battleaxe press, 2018). Her work has been published widely in Canada and the U.S., including The Maynard, In/Words, Bywords, Transom, and phafours press. In 2017, she won Arc’s Diana Brebner Prize. Find her on Facebook @ConyerClayton for updated news on her poetic endeavours and collaborations.

Patricia Robertson—Honourable Mention


And was it what you expected, this journey?

                (The petal with its cigarette burn at the heart)

Did you think you deserved more than the others?

                 (Those yellow shells on the beach. So many!)

Did you expect to arrive damageless at your destination?
Did you have a destination?

                 (The trees breathe in and out, the river, even the stones
                 breathe in and breathe out)

Born in the UK, Patricia Robertson grew up in British Columbia and received her MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Her first collection of fiction, City of Orphans, was shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes for Fiction, and her work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the National Magazine Awards. In 2015–16 she served as writer-in-residence at the Millennium Public Library. She now writes, edits, and teaches in Winnipeg.

Fiction Contest

Judge: Corey Redekop

Matthew Hollett—First Prize

Darkroom, Daydream

I saw them yesterday, hunkered at the edge of the lake. Canada geese, beaks tucked under their wings, feet nowhere to be seen. Feral pillows. This morning they’ve transformed into alarm clocks, all going off at once. Half-awake, I lie in bed and listen to their honking, to the heater’s slow tap, to rainwater dripping off the roof. The rain ended as I slept.

Red and yellow spaceships battle over every square inch of bedsheet. Aside from the bed, the lamp on its pink table, and my pack in the corner, there is just the window, wide open. Without lifting my head I watch chipmunks scurrying up and down tree trunks, sunlight glinting through broad branches that shift in the breeze. I can smell the damp pine needles carpeting the sides of the road. The geese’s brass section is a prelude to the rest of an orchestra: flutes tuning up across the creek, a flock of clarinets passing overhead, now and then a tambourine. I remember where I am. I wish I’d brought a tape recorder.

Matthew Hollett is a writer and visual artist in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador. His poetry manuscript, Optic Nerve, won the 2017 NLCU Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers. Matthew was awarded the Malahat Review’s 2017 Open Season Award for Creative Nonfiction, and was long-listed for the 2017 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize and 2016 CBC Poetry Prize. His work has been published most recently in Riddle Fence and subTerrain.

Eya Donald Greenland—Second Prize

The Bath Lottery

There’s a sound that the cold makes. It’s a hollow, brittle sound. Once you’ve heard it, you
know the meaning of that word, alone.

The door wasn’t locked when Olga tried it, first pulling and then pushing when she understood it opened inwards. Feeling resistance, she placed both hands against it and leaned forward. The hinges groaned; the door opened almost begrudgingly, not wide, but enough to admit a stocky woman wearing a man’s overcoat and boots.

It would have been dark in the building had it not been for the shafts of light that filtered through the windows: large factory windows covered with metal grates, located high enough on the walls that they existed just to let light in—shafts of light that pooled in large patches on the concrete floor.

Now Olga moves forward into the building, clutching a heavy shawl that covers her head and shoulders, peering into the dark corners, feeling her heart beating, conscious of her exhalations into the cold air, wary in case someone is there, watching her.

Eya Donald Greenland lives in Toronto, where she owns a small gallery devoted to the metal art of her late husband.  Eya attends the University of Toronto where she recently completed a Specialist degree in Italian.  She has written one book, entitled 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky.  Her interests include historical musicology, her book club, riding her motorcycle and studying piano. Eya has a prodigious memory and a singular talent for surrounding herself with highly accomplished, fascinating people, many of whom encouraged the writing of her short story.

Christine Miscoine—Third Prize


“I will always belong to you,” she said two hours after we first met. We met via blind date—she knew a friend who knew a friend I knew, these three friends were apparently sleeping together casually and found it titillating to play post-coitus matchmaker. My friend of the three, this guy from my previous job, knew I had been laid-off the week before and said he wanted to help me out. He sent me a text telling me to meet a hot girl at a café downtown on James Street North. The only other info: Tessa, 28, blonde/blue/130lbs/5’9/TEETH.

On January 6th at 7:34pm, I spotted her sitting pretty at a corner table. She was smiling aimlessly and toothily, a massive equine smile directed at thin air, at the possibility of me arriving—or so I thought at the time. I walked over.

“Tessa,” she said extending her arm.

“George,” I said, or must’ve said. I must’ve shaken her hand too, but I was too struck by her. Teeth yes, but beautiful.

Christine Miscoine’s work has appeared in various literary journals such as This Magazine, Lemon Hound, and The Puritan. In 2012, her story “Skin, Just” won first place in the Gloria Vanderbilt/Exile Editions CVC Short Fiction Contest. In 2014, her debut short story collection, Auxiliary Skins, won the ReLit Award for short fiction. That same year her debut novel, Carafola, was shortlisted for the Hamilton Literary Awards. Recently, a new story entitled “The Water” won 2nd Runner-up in PRISM International‘s inaugural Jacob Zilber Prize for short fiction. Christine is currently at work on both a novel and a short fiction collection.

Erin Pryce—Honourable Mention

The Unsolvable Problem

Micah’s shoes squeak on the polished laminate floors as he sprints through the hall. People yell his name close behind him, an urgency in their voices paired with frustration. Micah knows they are angry and he knows they want him to stop. He throws his hands over his ears and tears spill over his eyelids. He skids around a corner and crashes right into the waiting arms of the Principal. Micah screams and thrashes, trying desperately to get away.

“It’s okay, bud.” The Principal’s voice, at least, is calm without the same fed-up-with-your-shit kind of tone to it. His big arms wrap around Micah’s torso from behind in a restraining hold and Micah sinks to the floor in defeat. He doesn’t like how cold the floor is or how the light above them flickers. He can hear the Principal breathing hard right behind his ear and now the others have caught up to him and crowd around menacingly. Micah wails and begins to rock back and forth, as much as the arms around him will allow.

“Thanks, Jim,” a woman pants, glaring hard at Micah. “I don’t have a frickin’ clue what his issue is. He just bolted from the classroom.” The flickering light hurts Micah’s eyes and he turns his head slightly, trying to bury his face in the Principal’s chest.

Erin Pryce lives with her husband and three young daughters in Magrath, Alberta. She supports children who live with disabilities to find inclusion and success in a school setting. Erin draws inspiration for her writing from her life in southern Alberta and her family.

Creative Non-Fiction Contest

Judge: Betsy Warland

Jagtar Kuar Atwal—First Prize

Take Me Away

Today isn’t going to be like all the other mornings. Not just for me, but for the family as well. I can hear the silver spoons scraping the cereal bowls and my sisters’ voices drifting up the thirteen steps into my bedroom where I’m standing by the door trying to memorize their voices. I can’t sit with them like I have a thousand other mornings, munching on soggy cornflakes, while Mum spreads sweet honey on her warm toast. I don’t want to look my sisters in the eyes and pretend everything is normal.

I’m trying not to think about how it’s going to be for them when they realize what I’ve done. I just want today to end, until I can’t keep my eyes open for another minute so I can fall asleep and wake up tomorrow morning in a strange bed knowing it’s too late to turn back.

Jagtar Kuar Atwal‘s lives and writes in Cambridge, ON and has recently started painting, images that reflect her life experiences. She has been published in Room Magazine, The New Quarterly and a story soon to be released in “Love Me True Anthology.”

Suzanne Nussey—Second Prize

A Recent History of Fear in North America: A Memoir

My maternal grandmother has traveled from Ottawa to spell off her daughter, cooking, cleaning, looking after me and my brother. I am three weeks old.

This visit is the last time my mother will see her mother alive. In six months, Nana will die from septic shock after a botched gall bladder operation. Though my family makes the hard winter drive to say last goodbyes, my aunt, fearful Nana will guess the gravity of her illness, bars my mother from her bedside. Instead, my mother waits in the hallway, all the while rocking me in an old chair, an heirloom from her own grandmother. She will rock and weep until Nana dies.

I nap while my mother rests upstairs. Nana checks on me. The left side of my body has gone strangely blue. I do not stir. She shouts for my mother, lifting me out of a deep womb of slumber. My grandmother shakes me until my eyes open. She swings me in long, swooping arcs, calling my name loudly until I begin to wail.

Of course, this memory does not belong to me.

Suzanne Nussey works as a freelance writer and editor in Ottawa. She has developed and facilitated writing workshops for women living in local shelters, and she teaches workshops and coaches individuals in memoir writing.

Marion Agnew—Third Prize

Hours of Daylight

… This is a story of nights that are broken in hard-to-understand ways.

More than seventy years later, in the family home in Oklahoma, I’m sound asleep when footsteps and the creak of hardwood floors pull me toward wakefulness. I recognize the special squeak of the door to the hallway bathroom, near my parents’ bedroom across the landing. Water murmurs.

But I’m far away and drifting farther, drowsing.

Then I hear Dad’s voice saying something like “What?” and suddenly I’m alert. I hold my watch in the orange shaft of light slanting in from the streetlight. It’s 2:15. I struggle to orient myself. Right. I’m at my parents’ home, visiting.

Mom must be up. Why is she in the hallway bathroom instead of the small bathroom off the master bedroom? Yes, the hallway bathroom has a tub, and she prefers baths to showers, but it’s the middle of the night. She can’t be taking a bath…can she?

Dad’s voice is loud but I can’t distinguish his words through my closed bedroom door. Should I get up? To do what, exactly? I shiver.

Marion Agnew writes fiction and nonfiction; her essays have appeared in Best Canadian Essays and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This essay is part of a collection that recently received support from the Ontario Arts Council. She lives and writes in Shuniah, Ontario, in an office overlooking Lake Superior.

Robin K. Macdonald—Honourable Mention

Roadkill Heart

I don’t wake-up beside Earl in the low light of dusk thinking, I’m about to make my first kill. I wake-up warm beneath the heavy, homemade goose feather blanket and the heat of another body flanking mine. On this Saturday morning in February, six-months into our relationship, I’m wakened by the pressure of a full bladder, in a cabin with no plumbing or honey bucket. Beyond the den of our bed, the inside air is nearly as cold as outside. It feels like refrigerated sheet metal against the few inches of skin I expose in order to breathe. When I can no longer lie still, climbing out from under the blanket is like jumping into a northern lake. The trick is not to think.

While I quick-step across the frozen plywood to light a fire in the stove, a slight movement through an ice-cornered window catches my eye. Fifty metres away, beneath a willow shrub along the banks of the river, it’s as subtle as the mist of breath against a slate sky. Then the flock comes into view against branches and snow. Winter ptarmigans in near perfect camouflage.

Robin K. Macdonald‘s writing has appeared in literary journals across the country and long-listed for a CBC literary award.  Roadkill Heart is an excerpt from her memoir in progress, “Unsettled.”   Her work, both on and off the page, is focused on accessing/remembering knowledge and creating a way of life that honours the Earth and the feminine as sacred.  Robin lives in the Gatineau Hills of western Quebec, and is Indigenous to Ireland and Scotland.