The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award
Judge: Jennifer Still
Kim Dhillon—First Prize
I have been looking for you, seeker,
Sleeping there like a language long not spoken.
Like the child speakers learning a sleeping language,
Awakening, I hear a poet talking on the radio.
The poet on the radio says she speaks for Sikh women
Giving a voice to those where there was not.
Kim Dhillon is a writer and art theorist living on unceded Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ territories of Vancouver Island. Her current writing across essays, creative non-fiction, and poetry explores legacies of colonialism, ideas of homecoming, and the space between language and land. Her first book of art theory, forthcoming with Reaktion Press, examines language, power, and contemporary art.
David Janzen—Second Prize
Celia they trapped you—Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica
singular creature—sucked cells from your ear
and preserved them in a deep freeze colder
than any Pyrenees wind. Later—did you know you were
the last of your kind?—they found you lifeless crushed
by a tree made heavy with snow.
David Janzen writes poetry, non-fiction and philosophy. He is researcher and lecturer in Communication Arts at the University of Waterloo and lives in London, ON.
Sean Howard—Third Prize
poems for being
(mistaken from physics world)
- for being the first to land a spacecraft on a comet
science ed. – what the remote
learn to control. (empire: space
craft.) ever enough
power? lab: hammer
earth under the rose-
petal. the googled grail. dis-
covering light to be
water. omen, science as
Sean Howard is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Photographer’s Last Picture (Gaspereau Press, 2016) and Ghost Estates (Gaspereau, 2018). His poetry has been widely published in Canada and elsewhere, and featured in The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English (Tightrope Books, 2017). Sean is adjunct professor of political science at Cape Breton University, researching nuclear disarmament, and a columnist for The Cape Breton Spectator.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsaing—Honourable Mention
you can’t see me, it’s dark
When I was twenty
I was an Atheist,
a tidy armband
Now I don’t know what I don’t
believe in. After my father’s cremation
I did not believe
though I searched the face of every squirrel,
mushroom, newborn, and I thought I saw him there,
flitting in and out like a new wind.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of 10 books, including poetry, picture books, and fiction. Her book Status Update (2013) was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and her book Sweet Devilry (2011) won the Gerald Lampert Award. She has been widely anthologized in such collections as Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, Poet-to-Poet, and the Newborn Anthology. She currently teaches poetry through UBC’s optional residency MFA program.
Judge: Stephen Henighan
Donna Tranquada—First Prize
She looks like Sister Josephine standing on the riverbank, waving at me, urging
me to return to shore. My heart shivers despite the heat. The woman is small and
stout like Sister Josephine. She has her flat face and clipped brown hair. But it’s not
her. It is a different woman at the edge of a long green lawn that borders the river.
She calls out to me as I drift on my back in the water.
“Are you okay?” she cries, a small uptick of concern in her voice. I lift a hand
from the water and wave back. “Just fine,” I say. She walks along the shoreline as I
float past, strains her neck to keep me in sight, likely wondering why this woman
is alone in the river. She waves once more. “Well, it’s a good day for a swim. It’s so
hot!” she shouts. She rises on her tiptoes in the grass. Her heavy hips jiggle with the
“Hope the fish aren’t biting!”
The fish in this river don’t bite. The little water snakes scatter quickly. The ducks
are dull and timid. I point this out to Desmond every time we come to the river.
“It’s not like back home.”
Donna Tranquada lives in Toronto where she has worked as a journalist for CBC Radio for many years. Her short story Howler won the 2016 Penguin Random House Canada Student Award for Fiction at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and in 2017 her collection of linked short stories won the Marina Nemat Award for best final project in the program. One of those stories, Kites, was published last summer in Agnes & True.
Annette Althouse—Second Prize
The Death of Boredom
Man, this is lame. Now what’re we supposed to do? You’d think that fuckwad coroner coulda seen this coming. I mean, he’s the one who ordered the coffin from Yellowknife. It had to be special ordered on accounta it being square and all. The whole town trudged up here and what for?
The preacher, for once, has his flytrap shut and is looking as dumbstruck as the coroner.
“That Kabloonak sure is gutless,” Dash says. “Shoulda broke his legs when they went to bring him out.”
I nod but can’t quite stomach the thought of it. I mean, we’re buddies and all . . . were.
Annette Althouse moved to Yellowknife from Winnipeg in 1987 to begin her career as a reporter for News/North. During her travels she visited the remote Inuit community of Pelly Bay (Kugaaruk) and subsequently moved there. She married, raised her two children (Sienna and Zachary) and immersed herself in the people and the land for eight years while free-lancing for inflight magazines. She returned to Yellowknife in 1996 to start Tundra Transfer Ltd, a burgeoning business supplying coffee and bottled water locally and to remote communities.
Sara Mang—Third Prize
Once upon a time there were two military kids, Jules and Siobhan. I’m Jules.
Siobhan had a bunkbed with a built-in shelf where she kept the rocks and glass we collected—mostly Labradorite and shards of a school bus window that we came across one time. Her dad was deployed to Kosovo, or maybe Bosnia, and I was sleeping over at her house when her mom woke us up and took us outside in our pyjamas. We were wrapped in blankets so that the only thing touching the cold was our eyes. That night, the sky swirled green and blue; lights hovering and morphing. Those lights and their silence are bigger than anything you can say.
Sara Mang‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review, Carve, and other journals. She was a Banff Centre Artist in Residence for the 2019 spring program, and received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to attend the Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Sara was invited to attend the 2019 Governor General Literary Awards as an Emerging Literary Artist in Canada. She currently lives in Ottawa.
Genni Gunn—Honourable Mention
Each morning, Clara leaves her White Rock condo overlooking Semiahmoo Bay, and heads out for a run on the beach, her feet trudging through sand. When the tide is out, she cheats by running on the hard wet surface, dodging tidal pools. Today, the beach is deserted but for a jogger, a woman walking her dog and the man building a sandcastle nearly a half-mile out. There are no children nearby, and Clara wonders who the man is, and what exactly he’s doing.
For several days now, she has come across him building his structures half-way between the low tide line and shore. Today, she aims her run further out, to see what he’s building, and perhaps speak to him. As she approaches, he looks up, and she recognizes him from a recent newscast. He is the civil engineer who designed a highway bridge that recently collapsed, killing three people. Although lauded as brilliant, he has fallen from grace and is suddenly a pariah; everything he has accomplished so far is now being viewed through the lens of this error.
Genni Gunn’s eight books include novels, short fiction, poetry, and memoir. She has also written the libretto for the opera Alternate Visions, produced in Montreal in 2007, and has translated three collections of poetry from Italian. Her novel, Tracing Iris was made into a film, and her novel, Solitaria was long-listed for the Giller Prize 2011. She lives in Vancouver.
Creative Non-Fiction Contest
Judge: Carman Aguirre
Donna Besel—First Prize
The Bay Filly
I woke up at six, sat upright, and punched my sister in the shoulder. Val rolled away from me, pulling a sweat-soaked pillow over her face and ears. High above our bed, the morning sun burned through a small, open window. The August weather had stayed hot for weeks, never dipping below twenty degrees Celsius, even at night.
“Today’s the day! We’re going to get our horses.”
I poked the back of her legs. Val moaned. Last night, after a date with her cop boyfriend, she had come to bed around three a.m. Although she was only sixteen, she smelled like stale beer and home-rolled cigarettes.
We shared a double bed with our youngest sister Wendy. In the hot room, we all dressed the same – tee-shirts and underpants. Small for her age, Wendy often ended up at the foot of the mattress, curled into a fetal ball. She did not stir, despite my shout.
Donna Besel loves writing of all kinds and leads workshops for students of all ages. Her work has earned recognition from CBC Literary Awards, Great Canadian Literary Hunt, Canada Council for the Arts, Manitoba Arts Council, and Canada ReLit Awards. Her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man, captured fourth place spot on McNally Robinson Bookstore’s 2015 bestsellers list, and nominations for Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and Most Promising Manitoba Writer.
Joshua Levy—Second Prize
I was twenty-four, twenty-five, some foolish age like that. My hands were unnaturally soft from selling Dead Sea beauty products full-time at a kiosk in a mall. The job didn’t define me.
I liked the drive to work. I liked to aim the car at puddles and make them leap after a storm, I liked when the radio DJ’s song selection was inspired, and I especially liked when loose strands of Jade’s blonde hair lay on the passenger seat.
Jade was my small-town Ontario poet living away from home for the first time, and I was her big-city Jew. She visited her mom in her hometown so often that our relationship always felt long-distance. She was pretty but didn’t believe me. Compliments made her squirm. We broke up one, two, three times. I really don’t remember. It was probably more like five. Later, Jade gave birth to three babies and none of them was mine.
I was lucky back then. What I mean to say is that I was naive.
Joshua Levy writes in many genres (fiction, memoir, poetry, etc), and was last year’s CBC writer-in-residence. His work has been published in Malahat Review, the Puritan, Vallum, Maisonneuve, Vehicle Press, and Oxford University Press. He is a previous winner of the CNFC/Carte Blanche Nonfiction Prize, SLS Nonfiction Prize, and CBC/QWF Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the Vallum Poetry Chapbook Prize, CBC Nonfiction Prize, Barry Lopez Nonfiction Prize, and Montreal International Poetry Prize. Levy’s first full-length book of poetry, The Loudest Thing, was published by Mansfield Press at the end of 2019. He lives in Montreal.
Lina Lau—Third Prize
Spitting Out the Seeds
On my first date with Matthew, he rode his bike and we met at the closest intersection to my house, in front of a McDonalds. As we strolled up Roncesvalles, Matthew rolled his bike, first between us and then he steered it to his outside so our arms sometimes bumped. We sidestepped fruit stands and bus stops and Polish pastry shops. In the restaurant, we sat at the bar, at the corner, and our knees touched, my bare legs pressed against his jeans. I ordered the same beer as him, something dark and tart. When I walked to the bathroom, I adjusted my skirt and swung my hips, in case his eyes followed.
Matthew was a teacher. He was excited about his summer off, just a few weeks away. His summer days were filled with camping trips and early morning tennis games with his best friend Adam. They met 10 years ago in teacher’s college. Matthew told me how they brewed beers in Adam’s backyard. Last weekend they brewed their first batch, and named it Americana after the Neil Young album. I told Matthew I didn’t listen to Neil Young, but would download the album. I told him I liked his shirt. I told him to take home the leftover brisket.
I didn’t tell Matthew about my break-up the month before, or the texts that I saw, her phone number saved under a guy’s name. I didn’t tell him about the emails, the photo she sent of herself in a new red and white bra, and I didn’t tell him about the therapist I called, or my first appointment.
Lina Lau creative non-fiction has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, carte blanche, Little Fiction | Big Truths, Tiny Essays, and other publications, and was long-listed for the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review creative non-fiction contest. She lives in Toronto, Canada, and writes in between moments of parenting her two young daughters.
Jennifer Spruit—Honourable Mention
Out of Hand
When she allowed me to back her against the wall, her hands in my hair, her mouth a whisper, I thought pleasure was desire.
- Love is scarce.
I wear a scratchy wool skirt to my new job at a complex composed of linked buildings and multiple strata of pathways. My building is tall, but I work in the basement, without windows or reliable Wi-Fi. Here, underground, I con her, and this is how.
I’m unfeminine, wary, and willing to borrow, part of a larger pattern of replacing unease with control. I want to soften, but I’m not affectionate or open, so I tend towards the nefarious. First, I observe her, not as a mark, but in awe—European languages, gourmet dishes, bare feet, the entire office smitten.
Jennifer Spruit grew up in Lloydminster, AB/SK, alongside pump jacks, farm machinery, and an endless, sparkling winter sky. She studied Creative Writing at UBC and now lives on Vancouver Island with her family, where she enjoys playing music and paddling a blue canoe. Her work has appeared in Arc, The Antigonish Review, and Existere, among others. A Handbook for Beautiful People is her debut novel, and won the 2018 IPPY Bronze Medal for Popular Fiction.