2021 Contest Winners

Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Contest

Judged by Duncan Mercredi

First Prize:

Allana Stuart

Ottawa, ON
"The End of the Line"

The End of the Line For Grandad as a little girl I watched you split fur from flesh knife blade sharpened on the beaver tail you kept in the freezer you sat with your stretching boards wool socks and work boots planted firmly on the floor greasy cap at a jaunty perch long-ashed cigarette dangling ...

The End of the Line

For Grandad

as a little girl I watched you
split fur from flesh
knife blade sharpened on the
beaver tail
you kept in the freezer

you sat with your stretching boards
wool socks and work boots
planted firmly on the floor
greasy cap at a jaunty perch
long-ashed cigarette
dangling from your lips

hard to believe the same fingers
that gave grandkids
peppermints from the
pocket of your plaid shirt
and fed peanuts to the chipmunk
perched on your shoulder
could pile up a heap of
bloody carcasses
on the snowbank
next to our plastic sleds

Allana Stuart is a writer of poetry and fiction and a former award-winning CBC Radio journalist. Originally from Thunder Bay, she spent several years in Northern BC and now lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children. Allana’s poetry has been published in Goat’s Milk Magazine, Orangepeel Magazine, deathcap magazine, and Minnow Literary Magazine. “The End of the Line” was previously longlisted for the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize.

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Second Prize:

Bola Opaleke

Winnipeg, MB
"YEARS OF THE BAYONETS, DAYS OF THE LOCUSTS "

YEARS OF THE BAYONETS, DAYS OF THE LOCUSTS Libyan deserts. August 1994. Remember this is the silence that grows on my palms: that when a child aspires to fly, he is left flooded in his own conniptions— his hunger caving in on him, year after year. Something in my ears must be left to waltz ...

YEARS OF THE BAYONETS, DAYS OF THE LOCUSTS

Libyan deserts.
August 1994.

Remember this is the silence that grows on my palms:

that when a child aspires to fly,
he is left flooded in his own conniptions—

his hunger caving in on him, year
after year. Something in my ears must be
left to waltz

to echoes, not songs. Because I am
a closed-door for whom existed only broken keys

rejected already by countless locks.

The chains on my tongue embank
a shoreline caricature of words
headed to the bottom of the ocean inside me.

Bola Opaleke is the author of chapbook Skeleton of a Ruined Song. Winner of 2020 Thomas Morton Prize in Poetry. Finalist in 2018 and 2021 CBC poetry contest. His poems have appeared in many poetry Journals around the world. He holds a degree in City Planning and lives in Winnipeg, MB. Bola is currently Arts Community Director with Winnipeg Arts Council Board of Directors.

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Third Prize:

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang

Kingston, ON
"Identity"

Identity My daughter wants to interview me for a project on racial identity. Make it dramatic, they want that. She pantomimes the teacher’s instructions to act out the dialogue: tortured looks aimed at the ground. All my stories feel so small. Her whole life I’ve been a monolith, a tiger, and now I’m back to ...

Identity

My daughter wants to interview me
for a project on racial identity. Make it dramatic,
they want that. She pantomimes
the teacher’s instructions to act out the dialogue:
tortured looks aimed at the ground.

All my stories feel so small.
Her whole life I’ve been a monolith,
a tiger, and now I’m back to the blunt
cut bangs and the sing-song

me Chinese me no dumb
that struck me dumb at the time,
mute in my mittens, strings dangling,
a snot-nosed

dark blot of a child. The stories I want to tell
her aren’t the ones she wants to hear–

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author ofStatus Update(2013), nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and the Gerald Lampert award winning Sweet Devilry(2011). Her new book, "Grappling Hook," is forthcoming with Palimpsest Press. She is the Poetry Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and the Creative Director of Poetry In Voice.

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Fiction Contest

Judged by Lisa Bird-Wilson

First Prize:

ViNa Nguyễn

Calgary, AB
"Our Glimmer in Your Persimmon Days"

Our Glimmer in Your Persimmon Days I was thirteen and in love. Other kids in my grade were already fingering one another, having sex after school, wearing tube tops and black bell bottoms like the Spice Girls, while I’d never been kissed. I took the advice of my friend, AJ, and kissed the back of ...

Our Glimmer in Your Persimmon Days

I was thirteen and in love. Other kids in my grade were already fingering one another, having sex after school, wearing tube tops and black bell bottoms like the Spice Girls, while I’d never been kissed. I took the advice of my friend, AJ, and kissed the back of my hand whenever I couldn’t sleep. He said that’s how you practice, so you don’t kiss like a dead fish your first time and turn the other person off. I didn’t want to turn anyone off. I just wanted someone to look at me adoringly with pushed out lips.

I’d taken to hanging out with a group of nerdy girls since AJ was visiting his grandpa in the Philippines for a month. These girls were talking about the most popular couple in our grade, how the boy’s cheekbones could cut you, how pale his skin but dark his lashes and irises. He had the kind of hot that was bred from immigrant-level humbleness—a confidence that was always grateful. Even AJ pretend-kissed him at night. I thought the boy was alright. Mixed kids always got exoticized.

A queer writer, songwriter, and substitute teacher, ViNa Nguyễn (she/they) writes about diasporic identity and resistance from Treaty 7 territory that has long been cared for by the Blackfoot Confederacy, Îyârhe Nakoda, and Tsúùtínà First Nations communities. She won Briarpatch’s 2020 Writing in the Margins Contest for creative nonfiction and longlisted for PRISM international’s 2021 Jacob Zilber Prize for short fiction. Check them out at writerfluid.com.

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Second Prize:

Zilla Jones

Winnipeg, MB
"When the Stars Begin to Fall"

When the Stars Begin to Fall Africville be the place that make my heart sing. I ain’t lived here in ‘bout twenty years, but it ain’t really changed none. Soon as I come round the south end of Bedford Basin, I sees it—Kildare’s Field, spotted with poppies, and Albermarle Street with the schoolhouse where I ...

When the Stars Begin to Fall

Africville be the place that make my heart sing. I ain’t lived here in ‘bout twenty years, but it ain’t really changed none. Soon as I come round the south end of Bedford Basin, I sees it—Kildare’s Field, spotted with poppies, and Albermarle Street with the schoolhouse where I usta sit, thinkin’ there be somethin’ out there for me sparklin’ even more than the sunlight on the waters of Halifax Harbour. And the church, always the church. See, when the ancestors got here, God had traveled with them through all the hardships and privations and He needed a place to put down roots. He been given a glorious one in Seaview Baptist Church. It don’ look like much from the outside, but inside on a Sunday mornin’, let me tell you, it be somethin’ else. The clappin’ and the praisin’ and the singin’—it be where I learns my trade, at the old rickety piano at the front. Like I say, the place that make my heart sing.

Africville be where the ancestors come when they get up to Canada from the States and find white folk here don’ want them any more than the Americans do. Almost nowhere left to go after they already come from Africa to the southern states to the northern states and then close to the top of the world. But they did find theyselves a green spot by the sea that it seem nobody else want. Would have been Mi’ maq land, I guess, but if the Mi’ kmaq sore, they never said, and we ain’t never hurt them. Matter of fact, lots of us, me included, has Mi’ kmaq blood. I know I ain’t been in Africville for a long time, but it still my home, and I almost lets out a chorus when I cross the railroad tracks.

Zilla Jones is an African-Canadian woman living on Treaty 1 territory (Winnipeg) who works as a writer, singer, mother, criminal defence lawyer and anti-racism educator. She has won first place in the Malahat Review Open Season fiction award, Prism International Jacob Zilber prize for fiction, FreeFall Magazine prose contest and the GritLit Festival short story competition, as well as placing as runner-up in The Puritan Austin Clarke fiction prize and Honourable Mention in the Room fiction prize. She has also been long-listed by the CBC short story prize, Craft Literary fiction competition and The New Quarterly fiction award, and short-listed by the Writers Union of Canada short prose contest, Fiddlehead Magazine fiction contest, Missouri Review Perkoff Prize, and Masters Review Anthology X. Her work appears in the Malahat Review, Prism International, Freefall, Prairie Fire and is forthcoming in the Fiddlehead, and is available online in the Puritan Review and Room. She has attended the Banff Emerging Writers Intensive and the Writers Union of Canada BIPOC Writers Connect conference and has completed mentorships with the Manitoba Writers Guild, Diaspora Dialogues and the ECW Press BIPOC publishing program. She has completed her first novel, “The World so Wide,” and is hopeful that it will soon find a home.

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Third Prize:

Justina Elias

Victoria, BC
"Every Night Like New Year's"

Every Night Like New Year’s Look, my father says, we’re twins, and the nurse laughs once, loudly, then blushes. Sorry, she says. You two are just too much. Right down to the boobs. He pokes his left one through his Corn and Apple Festival t-shirt and she pokes him in turn—arm, not boob—then sails out ...

Every Night Like New Year’s

Look, my father says, we’re twins, and the nurse laughs once, loudly, then blushes.
Sorry, she says. You two are just too much.
Right down to the boobs. He pokes his left one through his Corn and Apple Festival t-shirt and she pokes him in turn—arm, not boob—then sails out past the curtain.
You’re skinnier everywhere else though, I say. I look at his purple-splotched arms. From a certain angle, if you squint past the splotches and bloat, if you pay attention only to the bones and the yellow-grey skin, you could mistake him for one of the starving girls we’ve seen in other hospitals. He’s even hairless from the head down. A symptom, like the boobs.
Bitch, I add. He laughs, weakly.
So how many months now, like…eight?
Dad. Try six.
Buttons there threw me off, I guess.
“Buttons” is the name my father has given his umbilical hernia—and, by extension, my outie. The nurse laughed at that one, too. Later, on Facebook, he’ll recall her horsey laugh, her Marge Simpson makeup-gun lipstick, he’ll share the way, when he told her three weeks sober, she clapped a hand to her heart and said, Oh, here’s hoping…
I love the ambiguity, he said once she’d left the room. Here’s hoping I’m telling the truth? Here’s hoping I fuck off and die before I show up in here yet again?

Justina Elias was born and raised in Winnipeg, MB. Her work has appeared in The Malahat Review, Room MagazineSportliterate, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and currently works at Munro’s Books in Victoria, BC.

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CREATIVE NON-FICTION CONTEST

Judged by Donna Besel

First Prize:

Erin Gallagher-Cohoon

Lethbridge, AB
"Dads in Dust"

Dads in Dust I know these skin cells are dead, like you are, but they are still here. And you are not. I. “Half the beauty of the world would vanish with the absence of dust,” wrote British scientist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1898. (You vanished.) He meant it quite literally. (As do I.) Dust ...

Dads in Dust

I know these skin cells are dead, like you are, but they are still here. And you are not.

I.

“Half the beauty of the world would vanish with the absence of dust,” wrote British scientist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1898.

(You vanished.)

He meant it quite literally.

(As do I.)

Dust is one of the “small things,” one of the “despised things,” that is of “overwhelming importance.” It is because of dust that we have blue skies and oceans, sunrises and sunsets. Dust even, according to Wallace, helps make our world hospitable to human life. A key ingredient of condensation, dust helps form clouds and give us rain. While marvelling at this, Wallace also warned of the ways in which industrialization leads to the production of an excess of dust, and thus to more clouds and less sunshine. In other words, Wallace linked dust to climate change, although not, perhaps, in the way that we would today. “When this fact is thoroughly realized,” he optimistically stated, “we shall surely put a stop to such a reckless and wholly unnecessary production of injurious smoke and dust.” Then again, he also thought that we would manage to rid our streets of “disease-bearing dust” by replacing horses with “purely mechanical means of traction and conveyance.” In the end, manufacturing our way out of dust is not so easy. “You’re battling something,” writes media researcher Jay Owens, “so small as to be invisible which cannot be destroyed – only recirculated.”1

1 Jay Owens, “Clean Rooms,” Disturbances 3 (January 31, 2016), https://tinyletter.com/hautepop/letters/disturbances-3-clean-rooms.

Erin Gallagher-Cohoon (she/her) is a queerspawn writer, historian, and PhD candidate. In both her academic and creative work, she aims to knit together the research and analytical skills she developed in grad school with her lived experiences growing up on the Prairies in the late '90s and early 2000s as the daughter of gay Dads and a feminist mother.

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Second Prize:

Conor Kerr

Edmonton, AB
"When The Lights Go Out"

When The Lights Go Out I used to walk across the top of the High-Level Bridge, hundreds of feet above the North Saskatchewan River and dream about what launching myself off would look like. Granny told me a story once about her brother who did just that. But he got picked up by eagles just ...

When The Lights Go Out

I used to walk across the top of the High-Level Bridge, hundreds of feet above the North Saskatchewan River and dream about what launching myself off would look like. Granny told me a story once about her brother who did just that. But he got picked up by eagles just before he hit the ice, and they carried him back up and dropped him into the mess of wires that used to hang off the sides of the hunky-ass metal structure. Eventually, the fire department was able to get him down, and many, many, many years later, he died on the north side from a heart attack. Take that whatever way you want.

I tried to time those walks with the sunrise. Night, darkness, winter, all of it makes me very sad. I know myself and my tendencies for exaggerated sadness better now, not well but better. Back then, on those walks, I was still figuring it out. Sunrises helped. I'd stroll through the hole in the chain-link fence and out onto the bridge just as the dawn sky started to break like an egg across the river valley. I imagined it rained yolk down on the refineries off on the horizon. That the yellow liquid clogged up the flare stacks and sizzled over easy on the coal-black crude tanks. You'd need a giant eagle egg to crack dawn over a prairie.

Conor is a Metis/Ukrainian writer, educator and aspiring country singer. He is the author of four books, a poetry collection An Explosion of Feathers, a novel Avenue of Champions. He also has another novel, "Prairie Edge" coming out in the fall of 2023 and a poetry collection Old Gods coming out in the spring of 2023. Conor's writing has won The Fiddlehead's Ralph Gustafson Poetry Contest, The Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize, been published extensively through literary magazines across Turtle Island, and recently was longlisted for the CBC poetry prize. Conor is currently working on another novel "Duck Blind" and a non-fiction memoir. 

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Third Prize:

Shane Neilson

Cambridge, ON
"Let Us Be Honest With One Another: to the Child With Disability"

Let Us Be Honest With One Another: to the Child With Disability Red crayon. Daddy credit card. Remote control. Wavy flower. Sit mower. Snake. Bean chair. Medicine. Poop. Fairy tales are a standard means of instruction for children. But then there might not be anyone who is in your life to tell you such stories, ...

Let Us Be Honest With One Another: to the Child With Disability

Red crayon. Daddy credit card. Remote control.
Wavy flower. Sit mower. Snake.
Bean chair. Medicine. Poop.

Fairy tales are a standard means of instruction for children. But then there might not be anyone who is in your life to tell you such stories, meaning that your fairy tale might involve someone tucking you into bed at night, or perhaps someone who loves you, a form of privilege so rarely identified. Another strategy is required: let me tell you a fairy tale, the kind I’ve made up on the spot for all three of my children at night. From the outset, I declare that this little tale is for all those who are able to read it or to hear it. I write a fairy tale as personal dream, one in which you can save yourself. I write this tale after having suffered some as a child, but surely not the most of all; I write to you to acknowledge that you are there. In the writing that you see (or hear) before you, and in all other writing, you are not alone.

*

Barnacles. Cloud. Gate.
Weebles. Child Care and Learning Centre. Big Park.
Scary vacuum. Poppy. Sidewalk chalk.

My daughter Zee and I, years ago, used to sit in the bed and read long stories until she became old enough to read them to me. I pretended to fall asleep sitting up; she read to the end, impeccably, orderly. (As I recall, Bartholomew and the Oobleck is a long book.) As I sat on the bed, my eyes closed, did I ever think that things could be different?

Shane Neilson is a poet, physician, and scholar from New Brunswick who will publish You May Not Take the Sad and Angry Consolations  with Goose Lane Editions this Spring. He is currently working on a lyric memoir on lived experience of non-neurotypicality. Completed essays thus far cover being refused entry to hospitals, the diagnostic process for adults, and the impossibility of having one's inner life being reflected in photographic representations.

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Previous Winners

Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Contest

2020 – Darryl Whetter, Angkor Wat

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