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

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

Photo by Andrew Phoenix

Photo by Andrew Phoenix

By Sarah Higgins

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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Prompt: Touch Down

ultimatetexturecollection2I’ve written prompts that have incorporated the senses: hearing, through music and lyrics, picture prompts for your eyes and taste, using a recipe. So I thought that it was time for a prompt that related to touch.

This is a prompt that can be used for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. You can use it to develop a character, or as a way into a memoir or autobiography piece. You’re going to tell the story of your/a life through texture and touch.

Think about five textures that are memorable for you. They can be anything at all: a teddy bear, a blanket, a tree, somebody’s hair… Whatever you want. Think about how these are tied to a memory, or to a specific time in your life. Then write a list of all the words that describe that texture. Consider how the memory and the tactility of touch can play against or with each other. Now try and write down your memory using this texture and the words you associate with it.

Good luck!


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A review of “Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page”: “She saw beyond.”

Doern artby Wanda Praamsma

Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page
Sandra Djwa
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012

Sandra Djwa’s Journey With No Maps gives a thorough, chronological look into the life of the much loved and celebrated Canadian poet P.K. Page. It’s a biography, to be sure, written by an academic who was close with Page and delved deep into the writer’s life. Djwa is unflinching in her attention to detail, her precision in handling a very full life. And Page is a personality one wants to get to know—a woman who pushed on with her poetry at a time (starting in the 1940s) when it wasn’t easy to be recognized as a female writer in Canada, and who went on to great success at home and abroad as both poet and painter.

Yet, it’s easy to wonder, what Page would think of such a biography, a linear telling of her life, from the minute details of her parents’ and grandparents’ lives, through her childhood years moving throughout Canada, and on to her adult life in Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria, and various points abroad with her husband, diplomat Arthur Irwin. Curiously, Djwa addresses this very issue of structure late in the book, how Page herself didn’t believe life was linear, nor could be told in a linear fashion. Page believed, as in Sufism, which she loved and explored throughout her life, that all time and events are simultaneous, and the creative process, too, bursts from the jumble of life.

“The process is not linear. And I can’t but feel you think it is,” Page wrote to Djwa as they discussed their differing perspectives of her life over email in early 2000. “Everything we read and experience is, of course, part of the compost heap that produces the flowers, the weeds. But there is another—and much larger—source, the collective unconscious to use Jung’s term; or to quote myself, that there are other dimensions to the mind beyond those we already recognize.”

Here is, indeed, the beauty of P.K. Page. She saw beyond. Of course, it comes through in her work, and throughout her life, she followed her own inner guide, not some formula prescribed by others. She published more than a dozen books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including journals of her time abroad and stories for children. Her turn toward visual art occurred for the most part while she was living in Brazil and Mexico in the 1950s and ’60s, Djwa explains. Page couldn’t find her way into her own language, English, because she was living surrounded by Portuguese and Spanish. Encouraged by others, she started drawing and painting, putting her poetry on hold, and her huge talent in this field emerged.

All of this is well detailed in the biography, and as Djwa explained to Page in their correspondence, much of the role of the biographer, at least in the beginning, is in the “mundane” task of putting together the facts of a life. Djwa definitely does her job in this respect, carefully noting dates and organizing the chapters by place and time. For the majority, the story is captivating—because Page is captivating. But, at times, the prose feels like a list of events strung together, or a gossip column, especially of political and cultural life in Ottawa, where Page lived for several years. In the end, the story of her life does pull through, if in a very academic fashion, and the reader, especially this young woman at the onset of her poetic life, feels she has indeed taken a journey with an exceptional writer and learned much about Page’s inner and outer selves. It is a wonderful account of the making of a creative life.

The question that lingers is one of form – the structure of the storytelling. What is a biography, and how should and can these important books be written to fully engage a variety of readers? Certainly, a biography is not a book of poetry. But should a biography of a poet – and one of such varied structures herself – read like an ordinary, chronological story? That’s a discussion Page may have enjoyed.

Wanda Praamsma’s first book, a long poem called a thin line between, was published by BookThug in fall 2014. Her poetry has appeared in Ottawater, 17 seconds and Feathertale, and she’s currently working on an MFA in creative writing through the University of British Columbia. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.

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Theatre: The implants, robots, dance, song, sex and sci-fi of “Broken Sex Doll”

Photo by Bettina Strauss

Photo by Bettina Strauss

By Sarah Higgins

Broken Sex Doll
Written and directed by Andy Thompson
The Cultch and Virtual Stage (Vancouver) 
The Cultch’s York Theatre

Once you come to the energetic ending of Virtual Stage Vancouver’s Broken Sex Doll, you realize that the title misled you. The sex doll is fine, it’s the world around her that’s broken. Under the direction of Andy Thompson (writer/producer) and Anton Lipovetsky (music), the show explores this broken world that resembles our own and seeks redemption for it. And amidst song, dance and wit, they find it.

Set in 2136, the futuristic world of Broken Sex Doll is effectively communicated through song and technology. Acknowledging straight off the influence of Aldous Huxley’s “feelie” movies from Brave New World, Thompson takes that and other sci-fi and pop culture references and deftly builds them into a believable and engaging setting for what is, essentially, a love story. Lipovetsky’s well-crafted songs strengthen this world. Technologically, projections (designed by Corwin Ferguson) are used to explain and then enhance the world, and the comedy, onstage. The lighting (Jeff Harrison) and sound (Brian Linds) work well together in maintaining and supporting the show’s aesthetic.

The cast is consistently strong, and leading man Benjamin Elliott is captivating. His balance of comedy and pathos in his portrayal of Daryl is unfailingly engaging. The ensemble, particularly the women (Alex Gullason, Adriana Simone Ravalli and Ranae Miller) are hilarious and assured. The comedy (the humour) itself is hard-hitting, impressively sustained for the entire two hours. Even repeated jokes pay off each time—especially Daryl’s inability to swear. The comedy also plays on musical theatre tropes and traditions to hilarious effect. Like the pathetic fallacy (phallus-y?) of the digital rain that is projected while Daryl sings his sad song and asks the passing umbrellas, “Who the fu…. am I?”; or the musical joke of the film-noir soundtrack that runs under the villain/hero encounter in Act II. The humour also plays off the theatricality (just watch for the tape measure gun).

Broken Sex Doll brilliantly and seamlessly integrates dance (choreographed by The Contingency Plan) into how they tell this story. Through movement, the actors become part of the world-building: as a vehicle, as a faceless crowd, as robots. The show also nods to cinema through slow-motion movements.

The moral of this story is familiar—that love is one way to fix a broken world. The comedy pushes the show into satire when it’s revealed that (spoiler alert), this time it’s robots teaching humans how to love. The comedy does fall short of satire in one key moment, however—the sexual assault scene. The gender roles are reversed, but the humour in the scene rests too heavily on the reality of the assault to allow the comedy to alter it in a thought-provoking way. There is a satirical story here, it just needs to be pushed farther. You know. Broken.

Implants, robots, dance, song and sex and sci-fi, all wrapped up with a hysterical, satirical bow. There’s a reason why The Cultch brought this show back for another run, so go see Broken Sex Doll. It’s fu…in’ awesome.

Broken Sex Doll runs at The Cultch’s York Theatre, Nov 12-22. Click here for tickets and more 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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The Al Purdy Show: A Thank You!

We’d like to thank all those who attended the Al Purdy Show at the Vancouver Writer’s Festival—the Waterfront Theatre had a full house! It was a very enjoyable afternoon featuring wonderful poetry and wonderful poets, including Ken Babstockour Poetry contest judgeGeorge Bowering, Michael CrummeyAislinn Hunter, Sina Queyras, Fred Wah and many more.

We’re delighted to tell you that the silent auction raised over $6,000 for the A-Frame Association—the effort dedicated to restoring Purdy’s house and encouraging a new generation of Canadian writers.

PRISM international was a sponsor of the event, publishing four excerpts from We Go Far Back in Timea new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy. You can read all the posts in the same place here. We also provided the performing poets with some trendy tote bags… And look how happy they are with them!

 Daniel Zomparelli, 'Poetry is Dead' founder

Daniel Zomparelli, ‘Poetry is Dead’ founder

Billeh Nickerson, past PRISM editor

Billeh Nickerson, past PRISM editor

Fred Wah, Canadian Poet Laureate

Fred Wah, Canadian Poet Laureate

Aislinn Hunter, author and past MFA of UBC's Creative Writing Program

Aislinn Hunter, author and past MFA of UBC’s Creative Writing Program



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