PRISM 52:4 Summer 2014, the Fiction and Poetry Contest Issue

524_storePRISM 52:4 has launched! It features the winners of PRISM’s 2014 Fiction Contest, judged by Joseph Boyden. “This is How I Remember You,” the fiction grand prize winner and debut publication for Cathy Kozak, looks at what happens when the past and present collide after an unexpected phone call. Kathy Friedman’s “Bad Things,” the contest’s runner-up, explores mortality and sexuality, with a stop-off at Rambo roleplaying.

The issue’s fiction also includes new work by Journey Prize nominee Trevor Corkum, who writes about the apocalypse from the perspective of a call centre employee, and Julie Paul, who takes take a witty look at neighbours, parenthood, and backyard critters in “Squirrel People.” “Squirrel People” will also be included in her forthcoming story collection, The Pull of the Moon (Brindle & Glass, September 30th, 2014).

Issue 52.4 also features an abundance of poetry: twenty-four poems by eighteen different poets, led by Jordan Mounteer’s PRISM 2014 Poetry Contest winning poem, “Mt. Misen.” The diverse content in the poems takes us from a Chinese copper mine (“Monywa Copper Mines,” Elise Marcella Godfrey) to a milk-drenched highway (“Milk,” David L. White), to a muffin-laden hospital cafeteria (“In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias,” Susan Elmslie). The poetry also travels in terms of the diversity of its writers, from Canadians both well known (Kate Braid, Susan Gillis) and up-and-coming (Jess Knowles, Vincent McGillivray), to a suite of Tennessee-connected poets specially gathered together by Issue 52.4 poetry editor, and former Tennessee resident, Zach Mattheson. Melissa Tyndall, Sienna Finney and Leslie Angel show us that the Volunteer State is flush with poetry talent.

On the nonfiction side, Jessamyn Hope’s personal essay “The Reverse” centres around a diving practice in 1980s Quebec, while Janice McCachen’s “La Fille à Bicyclette” retells the story of a prisoner and a bicycle during the Second World War. Pick up your copy today to check out these great pieces!

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(Don’t) Judge a Book by its Cover?

One of the best things I read this week was an article on – an excerpt from Peter Medelsund‘s newly released book CoverMendelsund is an associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf books, and has designed hundreds of book jacket covers, from classic authors to contemporary ones.

In Cover, a monograph of some of his work, Mendelsund writes about what a book jacket can do, especially in a world which is increasingly digital.

Here’s an excerpt (of the excerpt) of Peter Mendelsund’s Cover

What is a book cover?

A skin. A membrane. A safeguard. The book jacket protects the boards of a book from scuffing and sun damage. However, for most books (trade and mass-market books), the jacket is no longer needed as a protective outer layer. These books’ boards are cheap, durable, and undersigned (around the turn of the 20th century, the decorative aspects of the book’s covering transferred from the binding to the jacket itself). If, for the majority of books, the jacket no longer serves a protective function, it still shields the subcutaneous narrative metaphorically. As we spend more of our reading time in digital, disembodied, notional environments where texts lack differentiation and may easily leach into one another unconstrained, covers (and physical books in general) remain part of an anxious cultural effort to corral and contain the boundless. The cover is a skin, here, in the sense that it provides a book with a unique face, and in so doing, it helps establish a text’s unique identity. The cover thus holds (in the sense of constrains) and restricts (in the sense of tethers) the text.

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Courtesy of George Baier IV

A frame. The text requires a context. A text also requires some kind of preamble, a throat clearing, an entryway, an antechamber. Jackets are the visual equivalent to the foreword, or to a front door. The jacket is a paratextual neutral ground between text and world.

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Interesting, right? Read the full article here for more of Mendelsund’s thoughts, and for the excellent book cover examples he includes.

It got me thinking about book jackets in general, and I found a great resource in The Book Cover Archive, which lives up to its name with a vast array of covers.

Here’s just a few that made me want to get under their attractive jackets…

The Crow’s Vow, by Susan Briscoe. Jacket designed by David Drummond.

The Storm, by Margriet De Moor. Jacket designed by Barbara de Wilde.

Laughter in the Dark, by Vladimir Nabokov. Jacket designed by David Eggers.

And for a current list of eye-catching covers, made a list of their favourite book covers of 2014.

And if you think that covers shouldn’t make you judge a book (and in most cases they shouldn’t), or if you just want a laugh, then here are some less-than-effective jackets…


Time Ninja, by Andy Schoepp. Jacket designed by Rob Heinsman.


A Passion for Donkeys, Dr. Elisabeth D. Svendsen.



Anybody Can Be Cool… But Awesome Takes Practice, by Lorraine Peterson.

Use your judgement, readers!

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Prompt: Rule Breakers

prompt signWhat would you never do? I’ve always been a rule-follower so this list is fairly long for me. Some of the things I would never do are fairly ordinary, like jaywalking (I don’t want to get run over) or stepping on the grass (just leave the grass alone) to much larger issues, like robbery at gunpoint.

So today’s prompt is one that you can use for yourself, for a character, or just to spark some new writing. Make a list of twenty things you would never do. They can be small or big—try and mix it up because this will create a more interesting insight, and try and think of things that are not as common, that are particular to you or your character.

Then choose three of these and begin a story or a poem in which you or your character does these things. You can combine these into one story or poem or play them out in different scenarios—it’s up to you.

Good luck!

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Review: “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power” by Jimmy Carter

call-to-action-9781476773957_lgReviewed by Rosemary Anderson

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power
Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster, 2014 

A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter, is a profoundly compelling argument for women worldwide to be given the same rights as men. As a former president of the United States, and an ongoing major force in the global struggle for women’s rights, Carter informs this book with his unique global knowledge and insight.

Carter was raised on a farm in rural Georgia, his home a safe haven in the midst of a roiling sea of prejudice. Rachel Clark, an African-American cotton-picker who worked on the family farm, was his childhood hero. “She and I were bonded in many ways,” he writes, “as she taught me how to fish, how to recognize trees, birds, and flowers, and how I should relate to God and to other people. Rachel was famous for picking more cotton and shaking and stacking more peanuts than anyone else, man or woman… I would work beside her… I was not aware of distinctions among people based on race or sex in those early and innocent days of my life.”

While still a youth, he was startled by the obvious racial and gender prejudices that permeated people’s conversations and behaviour. He noticed that people would misappropriate passages from the Bible to justify their personal prejudices. This was so contrary to his upbringing and beliefs, that eradicating gender and racial prejudice became a major part of his life’s work and was a significant factor in his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

In A Call to Action, Carter clearly demonstrates how, at times, influential members of each of the world’s major faiths twist the words of their Holy Books to propagate prejudice, especially against women. “The relegation of women to an inferior or circumscribed status by many religious leaders is one of the primary reasons for the promotion and perpetuation of sexual abuse,” he writes. Even surpassing economic disparity, he says, “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare” (his italics).

Importantly, the focus of Carter’s criticism is the misogynistic practices themselves – genital mutilation, for example — and not the faiths within which such practices may occur. In fact, he gives numerous examples of his own deep friendships and inspiring encounters with many people in many faiths. The problem, he maintains, is not what the religions themselves teach but, rather, is the misinterpretations that some have attached to the teachings. With respect to Christianity, for example, he says, “There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times.” Yet the Catholic Church, for one, refuses to ordain women to the priesthood on the basis that “women are equal but different” – the very argument used for generations to defend the American practice of slavery.

No major religion and no nation is exempt from Carter’s scrutiny. He provides close-ups of abuse in countries rich and poor, but the book is no mere litany of abuses, as he also offers a list of suggestions to help individual readers to make a difference and describes numerous actions he and others have taken to help overcome the issues, including founding the highly influential human rights organization known as the Carter Center.

A Call to Action is a must-read for anyone who cares even a little about justice for humanity. A timely and impassioned plea for women’s rights, it is replete with inspiring, motivating and quotable quotes as well as practical ways for each one of us – whatever our gender, race or status – to become a better agent of change.

Rosemary Anderson is an award-winning writer who has twice been a finalist for Western Magazine Awards. Her work has been published in Trek Magazine, The Tyee, PRISM Online, and The Vancouver Sun, and has been anthologised in North America and East Africa. She has also produced several radio shows, including four radio dramas broadcast on CiTR. Visit her website at

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PRISM international nominations for the Western Magazine Awards

wmaflogo2010The Western Magazine Awards Foundation has announced the finalists for the 2014Western Magazine Awards… and PRISM international is delighted to have three nominations!

And we’re happy to congratulate our nominated contributors…

Jennifer Manuel’s short story “Urchin” has been nominated in the ‘Fiction’ category. “Urchins” was published in PRISM 51.2, the Food and Drink Issue. You can even read an excerpt from “Urchins” right here! And if that whets your appetite, you can order a copy of 51.2 to read on…

Sarah de Leeuw has been nominated not once, but twice, in the ‘Human Experience’ category and as a British Columbia and Yukon nominee in the ‘Gold Award Winners’ category. Sarah’s piece “Soft Shouldered” was published in PRISM 52.1 and you can read an excerpt here.

We’d also like to congratulate Rosemary Anderson, PRISM‘s Copy Editor and member of the Prose Editorial Board, on her nomination. Rosemary is nominated in the ‘New Writer’ category for her piece “The Useful Citizen”, which appeared in Trek, UBC’s Alumni Magazine.

The winners will be announced and presented at the WMAF Gala on Friday, September 26th, 2014 at the Renaissance Harbourside Hotel in downtown Vancouver.


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Help the Medicine Go Down

Image from

Image from

Just about everybody gets a bit nosy when they’re in somebody’s home. Where you live can reveal a whole other side to you—and often makes an impression. One thing that a nosy visitor might do (I’ve heard) is take a peek into the bathroom medicine cabinet, because it can be a very interesting and revealing place.

I’m not condoning snooping, and you may decide to lock away your hair products and painkillers after this, but don’t do it yet! Because you’ll need it for today’s prompt. And don’t worry, it doesn’t involve infiltrating anybody’s home.

Go to your own medicine cabinet and take a look. Try and note everything that’s there, and how it’s arranged, messily or with military precision. You can use this prompt for whatever form you like, but try and look at it as impersonally as you can.

Then sit down and think about what impression you got from it, whether it’s of the person, the family, or the circumstances and events that might have contributed to it. Objects can tell a story, whether it’s a brush with hair in it, or a rusty razorblade, or Disney Band-Aids.

This is great way of creating and building a character without even having to describe them, and it can also be an interesting way of writing personal non-fiction.

Get writing! Good luck!

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Review: “How does a single blade of grass thank the sun?” by Doretta Lau

Doretta LauHow does a single blade of grass thank the sun?
Doretta Lau
2014, Nightwood Editions

Review by Keri Korteling

This slim volume of stories, a dozen in all, punches well above its weight. Literally. In stories as quick and sharp as a lightweight bout, Doretta Lau feints and dances, giving us a range of smart, urban, Asian Canadian characters on the cusp of big decisions.

Lau’s stories are as quick as a jab. In sentences as tight and plain as truth can be, Lau distils her characters’ essential quandaries. There is pathos and the pang of recognition like when eight-year-old Clementine Wong wonders why “trying to be blonde hurt so much.”

But there’s no frost in this collection, as Lau writes her characters with warmth and sympathy. Her characters came of age in the ‘90s. They listen to Velvet Underground and Destroyer; they see films by Wong Kar Wai; they attend art openings and indie band nights. They read Murakami. They smoke and drink and look for deep connections that are often missed connections. But they act on their own intelligence.

The touchstones of art and humour are at play in “Two-Part Invention,” when a young woman acts on her grandmother’s admonitions to find a good man to date. She goes straight to her books to research the exact perfect match for herself, and eventually travels across time zones to share the perfect burger with the legendarily reclusive, long-dead pianist, Glenn Gould. Their dialogue has all of the hesitations and uncertainties of a first date. “I still want to connect to him as a person, rather than as an iconic figure.”

In “ReRun” an ex-reality TV star named Candy abandons her post-rehab marriage to a septuagenarian half-way down the aisle. After her runaway bride routine, her mom marries the intended groom. An overdue tax bill forces Candy to begin work at a catering company where she comes face to face with real tragedy for the first time. Candy says, “I’ve had a lot of practice pretending to be sad, but I’ve never experienced real tragedy. I’m off script. I don’t know what to do.” As with many of the characters in the collection, Candy’s first step is the most difficult one.

The collection is at its best in the revealing dialogue of stories like “Robot by the River,” in which a seldom-employed young woman named Julia befriends her neighbour, Oliver, after his girlfriend leaves. He teaches her to play guitar while she confronts her complicated feelings about the future of her long-distance romance will continue. She serves him loose-leaf tea and he tells her that his ex is “afraid to drink tea, especially if it’s made with loose leaves and they get stuck to the bottom of the cup. She’s not big on knowing the future.”

The short format carries the danger of abrupt endings, and “Left and Leaving,” is an example where the story feels rushed as if it must hurry through the powerful sadness of its subject – how violence against women has so many victims and so few survivors.

The title story in the collection, short-listed for the Journey prize, is a stand out, carrying the reader along on an evening with the “dragoons,” five teen friends who’ve taken back the slurs hurled against their parents and grandparents and called themselves The Chairman, Riceboy, Suzie Wrong, the Yellow Peril and the Sick Man of Asia. In ten pages, these “slanty-eyed teenage disappointments” mock their second-tier education as well as the intelligence of the slowest kids at school; school each other on the relative merits of Hong Kong directors Johnnie To and John Woo in truly virtuoso dialogue and embark on a startling cultural re-education project. But the heart of the story is the tender subject of awkward teenage love.

The collection was long listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the richest prize for a collection of short stories. But don’t just take their word for it. This is a sharp, engaging read.

Follow Keri Kortelling on Twitter, @kerik.

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