Creative Non-Fiction Contest Deadline EXTENDED!

We’re pleased to tell you that the deadline for our Creative Non-Fiction Contest has been extended for another week. So if you haven’t already entered, here’s your chance! You have until November 28th 2014 to submit your best creative non-fiction writing.

And this year, we are excited we’ve increased the first-place prizes for our Creative Non-Fiction contest! The grand prize winner will now receive $2000 for first place, with $300 for first runner-up and $200 for second runner-up. This makes it the most highly awarded Creative Non-Fiction contest offered by a Canadian literary magazine.

Your entry fee also gets you a one-year subscription to PRISM or an extension of an existing subscription. And spread the word! Please tell other writers about our contests or share via social media. 

For information on the contest please click hereand to enter via Submittable, click right hereIf you have any questions, please contact promotions@prismmagazine.ca.

We’re looking forward to reading your work!

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Three Questions with Non-Fiction Judge Charles Demers: “Like speech released from gravity”

headshotcloseupPRISM‘s Creative Non-Fiction contest is well underway, with the November 21st deadline fast approaching. So we asked our judge Charles Demers a few questions about what he’s reading and what draws him to non-fiction…

What is the best piece of creative non-fiction that you’ve read recently? What about it captured your interest?

Three spring to mind—one is Andrew O’Hagan’s essay ‘Ghosting,’ published in the London Review of Books last March, about the unraveling of his position as Julian Assange’s ghostwriter. That one is just a case of an absolutely unbeatable story, full of world politics and hubris, human flaws and imperfection, written terrifically. Zadie Smith’s ‘Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,’ a piece in the New York Review of Books about climate change and the inevitability of—but ultimate impossibility of giving into—despair was not only elegant but happened to deal with probably the most important, pressing question on earth. And Rebecca Solnit’s rightly-celebrated essay ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ may just be a perfect combination of personal essay and political rhetoric: darkly funny, economical, profound. I’ll also, of course, read anything by George Bowering, whose sense of play I adore. 

As an author of both fiction, non-fiction and comedy, you’re accustomed to writing in different forms and genres. What draws you to creative non-fiction in particular, and what do you think are its difficulties and rewards?

What’s most fun for me about creative non-fiction is the way that it can function as a sort of stylized speech, on the page—I often like to read and write stuff that’s monological (which is an impossible-not-to-sound-like-a-pretentious-doofus word that I guess is still more graceful than saying “monologue-like”), and I find that non-fiction is the best form for this. I can’t exactly put my finger on it—but non-fiction overlaps more with stand-up and monologue, for me, and I love that about it. I love getting to read or, more rarely, write something that has all the energy of human speech, but released from the limits of actual speaking—to get to nail a sentence perfectly in a way that one so seldom gets to do in actual conversation, like speech released from gravity. Those are the rewards, I guess. The main difficulty is that, as with most things, the chances are always high that what you’re doing is shit—or at least starts out that way. I suppose a more specific peril of writing non-fiction is that there can be a great tendency for the author to explain the meaning of the text as part of the text, rather than letting it speak for itself, and so sealing it off and making it a museum piece.

Do you have any advice for writers entering PRISM’s creative non-fiction contest?

Mostly it all boils down to read a lot, write a lot. Read your sentences out loud. Write in your own voice and when you read somebody who’s doing something very differently from you, or that you feel like you can’t do, rather than being envious, try just to enjoy the fact that not everybody does the same stuff. That one is always hard for me to remember. And as you professionalize as a writer, taking on deadlines and everything, try never to lose the feeling of play and exhilaration that is supposed to come with writing. You’re not going to feel it all the time. But it shouldn’t ever be too remote.

PRISM international‘s Creative Non-Fiction contest is the most highly awarded non-fiction contest offered by a Canadian literary magazine, with a grand prize of $2,000. The contest deadline is November 21st 2014, so click here for more information. You can also enter online right here.

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Going Down Swinging: Poetry, dinosaurs and sex.

One of Australia’s oldest and strangest literary publishers, Going Down Swinging was conceived in 1979. It now produces print anthologies, audio recordings, multimedia publications, live events and a very busy website.

We’re happy to be able to team up with Going Down Swinging and introduce Australian writers to our PRISMers–and vice versa. We’ll be swapping articles and interviews once a month, so keep an eye out!

This month we have something for your ears: Jessica Alice performing her poem “I’ve Been Wondering ABout How Dinosaurs Had Sex”. Dinosaurs AND poetry are an excellent combination.

Jessica is co-director of the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. She’s poetry editor for Scum and has previously edited for Voiceworks, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow. Talk to her here, and listen to more of her poetry on Going Down Swinging‘s Soundcloud.

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Prompt: Transit Writing

Vancouver-TransLink-CNG21I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that my time on transit could be used better. Sure, I read and answer emails, but it’s not really a place that fosters my creative side. So today here’s a prompt that will make your commute more inspiring.

It’s a simple one that requires three things: a person, a place and a sentence, word or phrase. A person is easy to find on transit (generally you’ll find there is a surplus). Choose anybody and note the things that stand out-hair, clothes, accessories. Here’s your character. For place, you can randomly choose somewhere that you see out the window but I like to use a bus stop. And for the phrase, you can use anything you see or hear. I’ve used a line from advertisements (“Get a free iPad!”, “Donate today”, “For your safety please hold on”), something overheard (“well, then I rubbed my shirt in the grass”) or a line of music that is being blared from somebody’s headphones (though if you hear a line clearly enough, it makes for an annoying journey).

You’ve got your three ingredients… Now just free write, incorporating all of them. This is the really fun part: keep writing until it’s your stop.

Good writing and good travelling!

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Theatre: “Late Company” by Jordan Tannahill.”Sorrow is spun to healing right before our eyes”.

Daniel Doheny, Kerry Sandomirsky (front) and Katharine Venour. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Daniel Doheny, Kerry Sandomirsky (front) and Katharine Venour. Photo by Tim Matheson.

by Sasha Singer-Wilson

Late Company
By Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Katrina Dunn
Touchstone Theatre
The Cultch

Every so often you meet a play, (or read a book, or hear a song), that brings you to your knees. This is Late Company. Written by creative powerhouse Jordan Tannahill, the story is remarkably contemporary. As we reckon with the powerful tragedies of Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons and Jamie Hubley (whose 2011 suicide was the jumping off point for the play), we are forced to question our complacency regarding the young people in our communities and all that they face. How can we support the next generation? In programming Late Company as their season opener, Touchstone Theatre grants us the opportunity to engage with the transcendental power of storytelling. It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s funny and, slowly, sorrow is spun to healing right before our eyes.

Late Company explores restorative justice, cyber bullying, and the ever-changing complexities of parenthood in the 21st century. The parents of bullied son Joel, who has committed suicide a year earlier, have his teenage tormentor Curtis and his parents over for dinner. Tannahill writes profoundly compelling characters that live in the slippery grey-zone of believability. Late Company twists and turns with dexterous mastery—just when you think you know where things are going, the story lurches in another direction.

Touchstone’s Artistic Director Katrina Dunn helms this moving production and she commands a strong ensemble. The standout is Kerry Sandomirsky, who plays grieving mother Debora with equal parts ferocity and vulnerability. Her anguish is palpable. Even when she covers it up with sarcasm, her broken heart sits on the dinner table beside the wine and salad. As her husband and Joel’s politician father, Michael, Michael Kopsa is commanding and charismatic. Daniel Doheny brings awkwardness and heart to Curtis, and his final turn at the end of the play is sure to leave you breathless. As Curtis’ parents, Katharine Venour and Gerry Mackay embody empathy, shame and righteousness. At certain points it feels as though the actors are playing to a bigger space than we are in. Realism in an intimate venue like the Vancity Culture Lab begs for almost cinematic simplicity. Much is asked of the ensemble—they swing from faith, to doubt, to rage, to agony and back to faith again, and the performances are impressive.

Pam Johnson’s set has gorgeous attention to detail—Debora is a metalwork artist and her work decorates the space. Adrian Muir’s lighting design is exquisite one minute and somewhat heavy-handed the next. Similarly, Scott Zechner’s sound design is perceptive and moody, but over-the-top lighting shifts and sound cues during the emotionally charged climaxes of the play end up muddying the emotional intensity.

I commend Touchstone for bringing this important play to Vancouver, and have no doubt that Late Company will have life across the country for years to come. I encourage you to book your tickets quickly and if you have a teenager in your life, consider bringing them with you. Late Company is sure to crack open meaningful conversations that are difficult to have. Bring a tissue. You’re going to need it.

Late Company plays at Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch until November 30th. For tickets click here.

Sasha Singer-Wilson is a Vancouver based and Toronto bred writer, performer and producer. She makes theatrical things with the blood projects and literary things with these five minutes. She’s in her first year of the joint Creative Writing/Theatre MFA in Playwriting at UBC and has a serious crush on the mountains.

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A review of “Winter’s Skin”: “Two old friends trading necessary stories.”

wayman-winters_skin-coverby Robert Colman

Winter’s Skin
Tom Wayman
Oolichan Books, 2013 

Tom Wayman has had a long relationship on the page with Pablo Neruda. In his first collection of poems, Waiting for Wayman (1973), his poem “Influences” has him asking Neruda, his great poetic influence, to “Vanish. Vamos!” so that Wayman can get on with being himself, establishing his own voice.

Wayman has understandably revisited his connections to Neruda over the years. Even if Neruda wasn’t just a giant of the lyric poem, he is also a naturally political poet, just as Wayman is—as Wayman can’t help being, even in his love lyrics. For Wayman, the political is social, the two cannot be separated—and, in his opinion, nor should they.

Winter’s Skin is a response to poems, phrases and images in Neruda’s posthumous volume Winter Garden. The warmth and intimacy of the book makes me picture Wayman sitting down across the table from the Chilean master—two old friends trading necessary stories. And the poems here cover the necessary in full—a love lost, youthful revolt, political engagement, solitary reflection—all through the prism of winter’s hardness, its snows and rains.

Wayman is at his most memorable in longer narrative poems, such as “The Resistance” and “Umbrellas”—I’ve been carrying around several images from both poems in my mind since first reading the collection: in “Umbrellas, “herds of black umbrellas” crossing a university campus, other black umbrellas “drenched bats” (25) clinging to the wall of a cave; in “The Resistance”, “sipped hot coffee from cups / with a sugared rim” (21), and “strike placards covered by flapping plastic/ on which water beaded” (20). These last two examples give a sense of the tight rhythm Wayman maintains in these poems. And while both are more than two pages long, their energy never flags. Wayman gives himself the space in both to create complete communities, and the intimacies associated with each.

This isn’t to say that Wayman isn’t just as successful with more concise reflections—the opening poem, “Minutes”, as well as “Grouse”, “Flag” and “Wood” are stand-outs in this respect. It is understandable that “Minutes” starts the collection, with how it vividly connects the poet to the landscape. “I do not ask to be winter’s tongue:…” it begins:

…I ask only
to take the minutes

of the meeting between the season
and myself…

(15)

Only one or two poems in the collection failed to carry me. “Cartographic” tries too hard to be amusing. I understand the poet’s desire to include it as a break from the emotional heft of the collection, but it didn’t feel necessary. “Dust”, similarly, added little to the movement of the collection. It seemed that the emotion described in the poem was more aptly captured (if less directly) in other poems.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of winter landscapes by Jeremy Addington and Rod Currie. At their most effective, these images add to the poems with which they are juxtaposed. The best examples of this in the collection are probably the poems “Grouse”, “Beach”, “Flag” and “Breath”. The images directly opposite each add to the aura of the written word. One can’t help but pause to reflect on both the short, pithy poems but also the images offered on the page as an extension of those words.

The only quibble I had with the book was that there are several Neruda quotations included, and all but one are presented only in the original Spanish. I appreciate wanting to share the cadence of the original lines, but it would have been an added pleasure to read translations of the lines in a section of end notes.

What the collection captured for me most was the very difficulty of winter – how necessary it is to keep looking through its sadnesses and cold, wet memory to stay connected with the world. Better to chart the loss of love, the loss of youth, even our own weakness, than wallow in silence. As Wayman says in “Ridge”:

Only in our soiled,
hobbled, irrational glory
can we launch the audacious whirlwind necessary
to free ourselves…

(72)

Robert Colman is a Newmarket, Ontario-based writer and editor. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Little Empires (Quattro Books 2012) and The Delicate Line (Exile Editions 2008). He is currently pursuing his MFA through UBC’s Optional Residency program.

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Theatre: “Loon”, A Man/Moon Love Story

Photo by Andrew Phoenix

Photo by Andrew Phoenix

By Sarah Higgins

Loon
Created by The Wonderheads
The Cultch  

If the Wonderheads’ latest show Loon has a moral, it’s that love, though occasionally destructive, can cross all boundaries—including the atmosphere. Loon tells the story of a man who falls in love with the moon, and brings her home. The best part is that it does this wordlessly—all of the storytelling comes through movement, music, the radio, voicemail and some signage. This is The Wonderheads way. All of the shows of this physical theatre duo are performed, gracefully, with large, full-face masks. Kate Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix (together, The Wonderheads) immerse the audience in a simple story that transforms the mask and puppetry onstage into reality.

Loon is directed by Phoenix and performed by Braidwood, and her embodiment of the character of Francis is complete and engaging. She works through the mask with movement specific to the character—a gait halfway between child and old man, for example. Her timing with the various reveals throughout is spot on—half dance, half cartoon, all enchantment. Although there is a rigidity to the mask, which is made with a very specific and permanent expression, Braidwood makes it work. She changes how Francis’ expression is felt by the audience with how his body presents it to us. Her reactions are perhaps too consistently exaggerated, which lessens the impact of what is being reacted to and makes it hard to read the intent behind some of the movements, but when she hits the movement, as is often the case, there is no more Braidwood onstage. There’s only Francis.

The sound, designed by Braidwood, is just as immersive as the movement. Starting with the pre-show songs, nearly the entire show is scored with music or soundscape, both of which contextualize the story and translate Francis’ silences into meaning. And the set, designed by Phoenix, is simple but striking, particularly the suitcase containing all of Francis’ household items, which adds to the whimsy of the world onstage. The only set distraction is the window, which really more resembles a shower stall: curtain on shower rods, moon positioned like a showerhead. If the resemblance is intentional, it’s not made strongly enough to stand on its own—but it’s also not enough of a distraction to jar the audience out of the world, once the story gets going.

The other elements of how Francis’ story is told all work together to elicit emotional and audible responses from the audience. The mini puppetry is well done, minimizing the action onstage so we can see the big picture—like the camera, zooming out. The shrinking moon is heart-wrenching, and feels like it’s tightening around our hearts too.

Go see Loon, so the next time someone says “Reach for the moon” you can answer, “I saw a guy do that once. His name was Francis, and he loved her.”

Loon is playing at the Cultch, November 18th-23rd. Click here for tickets and information.

Sarah Higgins is into her second year of her Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts at UBC. She’s foremost a playwright, and has had work produced at both edges of the country—from Little Mountain Lion Productions in Vancouver to a recent show in the Halifax Fringe festival. This is her first foray into theatre reviews, and she is excited to work with the talented writers at PRISM international.

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