2020 Contest Winners

Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Contest

Judged by Garry Thomas Morse

First Prize:

Darryl Whetter

Belliveau Cove, NS
"Angkor Wat"

a Hindu temple repurposed for Buddhism, recycled slave labour. all that lashed and barged stone before the phones.   the stooped necks. tenth-century slaves then sunburnt Western kids      angkor whatevs updating, whining and liking, Instapilgrims photobombing this excessively bombed country


a Hindu temple

repurposed for Buddhism, recycled

slave labour. all that lashed and barged stone

before the phones.   the stooped necks.

tenth-century slaves then sunburnt Western kids

     angkor whatevs

updating, whining and liking,

Instapilgrims photobombing

this excessively bombed country

Darryl Whetter is the author of four books of fiction and two poetry collections. His most recent book is the climate-crisis novel Our Sands, from Penguin Random House. A Canadian, he was the inaugural director of the first Creative Writing master’s degree in Singapore. His essays have been published by Routledge, The National Poetry Foundation (US), Oxford University PressPresses Sorbonne NouvelleThe Brooklyn Rail, etc. www.darrylwhetter.ca

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Second Prize:

Diana Hope Tegenkamp

Saskatoon, SK
"My father as rhythm in lakewater"

Already, my father has stopped steering the boat, carried by wind that blows across the lake, and entered a rhythm, blue bowl of sky and his cells, assembled in his body, an idea of love and majesty. His current coursing through silt, trout, yellow perch, mud, and algae, it hurts, yes, to watch him flash, ...


Already, my father has stopped steering the boat, carried by wind

that blows across the lake, and entered a rhythm, blue bowl of sky

and his cells, assembled in his body, an idea of love and majesty.

His current coursing through silt, trout, yellow perch,

mud, and algae, it hurts, yes, to watch him flash, from wire to wire,

branch to wave, my funny dreamer, as if he set out pulling

all the summer holidays and prairie winds and Boler camper behind him.

Diana Hope Tegenkamp is a Métis writer who lives and creates on Treaty 6 Territory, Homeland of the Métis.  Diana's poetry book, Arterial & Quarry, completed with Canada Council for the Arts and Saskatchewan Arts Board grants, will be published in Fall 2021 by Thistledown Press. Two poems from Arterial & Quarry were longlisted for the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize. Diana’s writing has appeared in CV2, Grain, Matrix, Queen Street Quarterly ReviewMoosehead AnthologySlingshot and Tessera.

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Third Prize:

Blair Trewartha

London, ON
"Four Sisters"

You see what you see and then you’re nothing but eyes running across the sand and a voice shouting into the back of your throat. A cell phone glued to your ear, you pillage your short term memory: address, street name, landmark. It’s not like the movies. They don’t know where you are and neither ...


You see what you see and then you’re nothing but eyes running

across the sand and a voice shouting into the back of your throat.

A cell phone glued to your ear, you pillage your short term memory:

address, street name, landmark. It’s not like the movies.

They don’t know where you are and neither do you.

Blair Trewartha is the author of two chapbooks: Break In (Cactus Press, 2010) and Porcupine Burning (Baseline Press, 2012), as well as a full-length collection of poetry, Easy Fix (Palimpsest Press, 2014), which was shortlisted for the 2015 ReLit award. His poem "Breach" received honourable mention in Arc's 2016 Poem of the Year contest. Currently residing in London, Ontario, he is currently completing his second full length collection. 

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Honourable Mention:

Tanis MacDonald

Waterloo, ON
"Tall, Grass, Girl"

She hears green beans stretching all night, lettuce leaves turning like kites, the tall girl asleep on the dirt, churning out electrolytes. * The river’s seam sewed to her sleeve: other water gathers, farther streams.


She hears green beans

stretching all night,

lettuce leaves

turning like kites,

the tall girl asleep

on the dirt,

churning out

electrolytes.

*

The river’s seam sewed

to her sleeve: other water

gathers, farther

streams.

Tanis MacDonald is a free-range literary animal. She is the author of a memoir in essays, Out of Line (Wolsak and Wynn 2018) and her most recent poetry book, Mobile (Book*hug 2019) was longlisted for the 2020 Toronto Book Award. She is co-editor (with Ariel Gordon and Rosanna Deerchild) of GUSH: menstrual manifestos for our times (Frontenac House 2018). She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, but is forever from the prairies.

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Fiction Contest

Judged by Casey Plett

First Prize:

Alexandra Mae Jones

Toronto, ON
"Conservation of Matter"

No one noticed at first when they started to disappear, because that was what was supposed to happen when a person killed themselves. It took a subway station full of people before it hit the headlines. People swearing up and down that one second, there was a rain-eyed woman in a long yellow jacket toppling ...

No one noticed at first when they started to disappear, because that was what was supposed to happen when a person killed themselves.

It took a subway station full of people before it hit the headlines. People swearing up and down that one second, there was a rain-eyed woman in a long yellow jacket toppling off of the platform in front of the train, and then there was nothing there but a flap of fabric, sucked under the train in a screech of brakes. They cleared the station. Searched for the body. Found only long shreds of yellow. The driver would’ve bet his life someone had jumped in front of the train. He’d seen her, he’d tell everyone the next few weeks. The whites of her eyes grabbing his through the subway windshield. There one second. Then gone.

“Absolutely nothing there,” he said when they interviewed him; the morning news, the evening news, the national news. “Emptiest eyes I’ve ever seen. Like she was a ghost before she even disappeared.”

Alexandra Mae Jones is a queer writer based in Toronto. Her short fiction has appeared in Third WednesdayFrond Literary, and Open Minds Quarterly, and is upcoming in EVENT. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph, and is a freelance reporter with CTVNews.ca. In 2022, her debut YA novel THE QUEEN OF JUNK ISLAND will be coming out with Annick Press. 

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Second Prize:

Gord Grisenthwaite

Kingsville, ON
"Sunshine Rainbow Peace Ranch"

So some time ago them dippy-hippies took over that dead settler’s shack. Old guy. Kept to himself. Called himself Harvey Blackwater. Poached deer sometimes. Stole a cow one time. One of Leon Jimmie’s. Leon drags a cop to Harvey’s squat. Leon says to that cop, “There. That cow’s mine.” Cop says, “How can you tell? ...

So some time ago them dippy-hippies took over that dead settler’s shack. Old guy. Kept to himself. Called himself Harvey Blackwater. Poached deer sometimes. Stole a cow one time. One of Leon Jimmie’s. Leon drags a cop to Harvey’s squat. Leon says to that cop, “There. That cow’s mine.”

Cop says, “How can you tell? Where’s your brand?”

That Harvey Blackwater says, “Nope . Ol’ Suzie here’s my cow. Bin takin care of her for sometime. She got no tag. No brand. No collar. Nothin to say she belonged somewheres else. Looked at the board in front the post office. No one lookin for a lost cow there, neither. Anyways, I give Suzie her name. I give her a warm place to sleep. Inside with me.

“I take her on a long walk two times a day. Morning, we walk down River. Look for jade and other valuables River gives us. And after supper every night we walk the bush. Little cooler then.

“Before bed I brush her out and sing her lullabies. Sometimes read her scriptures, too. We’re good, God fearing Christians, so Suzie belongs to me.”

That cop nods, says, “Harvey here makes good sense. He’s a good Christian, raising his cow to be a good Christian too. And Harvey here has the cow in his possession, on his land.”

Leon’s wife Eloise always tells him to breathe and think before talking out loud.

Originally from BC, Gord now lives in Kingsville, ON. He is Nłeʔkepmx, member of the Lytton First Nation, and has earned an MA in English Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Windsor (2020). His stories and poems appear in a number of publications and his first novel Home Waltz dropped in October, 2020.

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Third Prize:

Jasmine Sealy

Vancouver, BC
"Caves"

I notice it first in my dreams, the heavy silence. In my dreams we communicate in mute pantomime, our gestures exaggerated like characters in a silent film. You’re washing the ceiling, gesturing at the greasy handprints. “How did they get there?” your face seems to ask of me, your eyes bulging. Or maybe, “Are you ...

I notice it first in my dreams, the heavy silence. In my dreams we communicate in mute pantomime, our gestures exaggerated like characters in a silent film. You’re washing the ceiling, gesturing at the greasy handprints. “How did they get there?” your face seems to ask of me, your eyes bulging. Or maybe, “Are you just going to lie there or are you going to help me?” It’s hard to know for sure. Our dream-selves haven’t mastered the art of this wordless conversation. I wake feeling as though there is water trapped in my ears.

As if to compensate, my other dream senses are in overdrive, the smells heady, dizzying. Disinfectant, but also guava, the ocean, the dredges of coffee stale on the stovetop. We are in the little villa we rented that winter. The one with the bougainvillea bush that shed thorns all over the garden so that we walked across it on tiptoe, a minefield of green. It’s the winter I sold my first painting. I’m pregnant with the second baby. You are nesting, standing on one leg on the rattan chair, the sponge dripping bleach onto your face. This is the only way dream-you knows how to prepare, by getting rid of all evidence of what came before. In my dreams it feels as though you are always cleaning. I can’t finish a cracker without feeling the hard bristles of the broom at my heels, you sweeping up the crumbs faster than they can hit the floor.

Jasmine Sealy is a Barbadian-Canadian writer based in Vancouver, BC. Her work has been published in The New Quarterly, Adda Stories, Cosmonauts Avenue, GEIST and Room Magazine and has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize. She is the former Prose Editor at PRISM international. In 2020, she won the UBC/HarperCollins Best New Fiction Prize and her debut novel is forthcoming with HarperCollins in 2022.

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Honourable Mention:

Conor Kerr

Edmonton, AB
"The Bake Sale"

“Granny, shit sorry I’m late.” Daniel said as he sat down in the old red faded pink rocking chair that her late husband used to sit in. “I got caught up for a beer after class with Jesse and ended up coming straight here from the U.” He stood up as abruptly as he sat ...

“Granny, shit sorry I’m late.” Daniel said as he sat down in the old red faded pink rocking chair that her late husband used to sit in. “I got caught up for a beer after class with Jesse and ended up coming straight here from the U.” He stood up as abruptly as he sat down, walked over and grabbed a Pilsner out of the fridge. “You want a beer?” He asked her.

“Namoya, I have one going.” Granny replied and pointed with her lips to a plastic glass filled up with Clamato and beer.

“I’m not going to lie. One of the best things about Grandpa being dead is that the beer is cold now.” Her boy said.

“That was an old army thing. They never drank cold beer back in the day. He could never get used to it.”

“Just warm piss eh. You want to order food or head over to the pub? I think there might be a band playing tonight or something.”

“Let’s go to the pub. I’ve been sitting in here all day.”

Conor is a Métis/Ukrainian writer living in amiskwaciwâskahikan. He spends his time wrestling labradors, delivering moose meat, and teaching in the pimâcihisowin program at MacEwan University. His first books, a poetry collection An Explosion of Feathers and his short story collection Avenue of Champions will both be released in 2021.

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CREATIVE NON-FICTION CONTEST

Judged by Trisha Cull

First Prize:

Madonna Hamel

Val Marie, SK
"Hearth Day"

On April 22, 2020—a day dedicated to frolicking in the grass and dancing beneath the sky— I stuffed myself into a back closet instead. Between the mop and the broom, I built myself a little broadcast room. I hung a quilt for a curtain and turned a trestle table into a desk and began to ...

On April 22, 2020—a day dedicated to frolicking in the grass and dancing beneath the sky— I stuffed myself into a back closet instead. Between the mop and the broom, I built myself a little broadcast room. I hung a quilt for a curtain and turned a trestle table into a desk and began to read into my computer to a few dozen people.


“Beyond the attic cupboard at the top of the stairs,
I don't know where this quilt came from.
But it warmed me, on arrival, while the world, bent on survival,
turned a cold shoulder, and aroused in me the stranger's guilt.

Here we are, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and we earthlings,
instead of gathering around the fire, sit before our separate cyber-hearths,
forced to stay inside.
And so, left alone to our devices, how will we honour the Great Outside.
Will we create, sedate, improvise or just hide?”

Madonna Hamel's works/has worked as: performance artist and monologist; essayist and poet (Capilano Review, Fireweed, Room, Quill & Quire, Freelance, etc.) writer-broadcaster, radio-documentary maker (CBC); singer-songwriter and touring backup singer; book reviewer (CBC, Globe & MailSaskbooks.com, etc.), radio and newspaper columnist (This Day in Music History, Hump Day, Under_Score, More Than One Way Home, The Story Pool). Her music documentary She Moves Between Worlds won a World's Best Radio award. She lives in Val Marie, SK, gateway to Grasslands National Park, and is working on a novel based on her touring monologue "Mother's Apron".

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Second Prize:

Dale Greene

Edmonton, AB
"Erasers and Paper Airplanes"

The first man I loved was named Ethan, although he wasn’t a man when I met him. He was six years old, the same age as me; both of us born in the year of the dog, loyal, honest, and friendly. His mother and my mum were friends. She was the first friend Mum made ...

The first man I loved was named Ethan, although he wasn’t a man when I met him. He was six years old, the same age as me; both of us born in the year of the dog, loyal, honest, and friendly.

His mother and my mum were friends. She was the first friend Mum made after my father died. And now that I’ve lost a husband of my own, I understand the value of a soft hand that lifts your head up into the light, rubbing your back and encouraging you to take just one more breath.

There were seven kids in Ethan’s family and he fell somewhere in the middle of that teeming school of children. I was a middle child too, so we made a good match. Both of us grew up, ignored and found comfort in the idea that there was one other person who would notice if we were dead or alive.

Dale Greene is a self taught writer who has finished her first novel. Although she has a large collection of short stories, Erasers and Paper Airplanes is her first publication. She lives in Edmonton with her husband and her Labrador retriever.  

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Third Prize:

Shelley Pacholok

Kelowna, BC
"The Body Does Not Flee"

The night before, I check the weather forecast for the second time. The same—sunny, pre-solstice cool, no chance of rain. No reason to cancel. I search beneath a jumble of athletic wear in the drawer for my biking attire: padded spandex shorts, tattered sports bra, floral cycling jersey in cheery citrus colors. Cycling-friend Shelley repaired ...

The night before, I check the weather forecast for the second time. The same—sunny, pre-solstice cool, no chance of rain. No reason to cancel. I search beneath a jumble of athletic wear in the drawer for my biking attire: padded spandex shorts, tattered sports bra, floral cycling jersey in cheery citrus colors. Cycling-friend Shelley repaired the bra and the jersey. Stitched each of their two breasts back together where the doctors’ scissors had sliced. Through zipper, across breastbone and clavicle, down limp, sun-browned arms. She attached a fuchsia button to anchor the broken zipper on the jersey. That’s an add-on, she said. For pausing.

The clothes show no signs of the bloody torrent. In my mind, I see Shelley leaning into a soap-filled sink, kneading bra and jersey, knuckles rubbing blood from flowers, crimson foam creeping up her wrists. I imagine her at the machine, hands feeding fabric shards through a whirring needle, zig-zag stitches pulling ragged edges together. I see her at her desk, penning the poem she wrote in the card, then tucked into the pocket of the jersey.


This is a functional metaphor
I made for you—though not from scratch.
And you are doing most of the work
yourself: not quite perfect
not yet,
but so close! When you think of it—amazing.

Shelley Pacholok is the author of Into The Fire (University of Toronto Press) and holds a Ph.D. in Sociology. Her most recent work is forthcoming in the brain-injury anthology Impact (2021). She was the third-place winner in Prairie Fire’s 2020 Creative Non-Fiction contest, and placed second in the PRISM International 2019 Creative Non-Fiction Contest. She lives with her partner and two curious cats on Syilx Territory in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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Honourable Mention:

Laura Pratt

Toronto, ON
"Missing"

When Diana Athill’s mother delivered the letter in which Diana’s deserting fiancé Tony applied for release from their two-years-silent engagement, Diana’s body “went cold and limp in the bed at the image it suggested of what [she] had become in Tony’s memory.” She dropped the “horrible piece of paper and thought, Well, anyway, it’s over ...

When Diana Athill’s mother delivered the letter in which Diana’s deserting fiancé Tony applied for release from their two-years-silent engagement, Diana’s body “went cold and limp in the bed at the image it suggested of what [she] had become in Tony’s memory.” She dropped the “horrible piece of paper and thought, Well, anyway, it’s over now.”

But the final desolation, the author writes in Instead of a Letter, was to realize that it was not over at all. “The picture which came into my mind was of a long bridge suspended between two towers. One of the towers was knocked away, so surely the bridge must fall—but it did not. Senselessly, absurdly, it went on extending into space.”

So went my bridge, too, in the days and years since Chris’s tower came down. An endless road of missing, my eyes trained on its vanishing point, my ears tuned for every sound. In the mists, presumably, was Chris, beaming at students lucky enough to be learning his guitar. Ordering pizza, all-dressed, on Friday nights. Sleeping and laughing and playing. Living his life.

But I had not heard a word since he went home to Montreal and left me in Toronto on a train platform. My bridge went on and on.

Laura Pratt is a long-time journalist, writer and editor. She writes for Canadian magazines, and edits books. Her first memoir, The Fleeting Years, was published in 2004. Laura lives in Toronto with her kids and dogs. She’s a 2020 graduate of the University of King’s College’s creative nonfiction MFA and is working on "Heartbreak," her second book of creative non-fiction.

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Previous Winners

Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Contest

2019 – Kim Dhillon, Seeker

2018 – Jim Johnstone, Identity as an Infinity Mirror

2017 – Tammy Armstrong, Old Horses Make Whisper

2016 – Natalie Appleton, Annie Pootoogook

2015 – Jason Stefanik, Letter to Leonard Peltier

2014 – Harold Hoefle, A Loving Follow-Through

2013 – Owain Nicholson, Hunter (II)

2012 – Jennifer Still, Spiny Oakworm

2011 – Sue Goyette, Suite of Three Poems

2010 – Jacob McArthur Mooney, Unisphere at Midnight

2009 – Nora Gould, Some nights he breathed up all the air

2008 – Linda Frank, A Long Time Coming

2007 – Jane Munro, Master your hands and your feet, your words and your thoughts

2006 – Trisha Cull, Loose

2005 – M. Travis Lane, The Safety Net

2004 – Brenda Leifso, If I Meet You Again on This Old Road: Elegy for Grandpa

2003 – Catherine Greenwood, Astrolobe

2002 – Tanis MacDonald, Arise and Walk

2001 – Jeanette Lynes, Abacus Abalone Abandon

2000 – Margaret Christakos, Pumpkins, for Claire

1999 – Anne Simpson, Little Stories

1998 – Patricia Young, Overdose

1997 – Sylvia Legris, from discontinuous prayer