Need more time? No problem! Fiction & Poetry Contest Deadlines DOUBLE EXTENDED!

PRISM_MagsCan_400x400_extendedFrantic that you missed our extended deadline for the Fiction and Poetry Contests? Have no fear, the double extended deadline is here! Okay, cheesy, but your winning short story or poem won’t be! The new double extended deadline is February 1st! We’re excited to give you a little more time to send us your best short stories and poems for our amazing judges, Lee Maracle and Kayla Czaga.

The prizes this year total a whopping $5000 collectively! That’s $1500 for first place, $600 for first runner-up, and $400 for second runner-up in either category. Your entry fee also gets you a one-year subscription to PRISM or an extension of an existing subscription.

All ready to go? Click here to submit via Submittable. Need some more time, but want to check out our contest guidelines? Click here for more details.

Want to know what our judges are looking for? Here’s an interview with Poetry Contest Judge Kayla Czaga on Pageantry and Poetry.

We’re looking forward to see more of your short stories and poems over the next seven days! And if you’ve already submitted, we have an additional poem and story option that’s only $5!

Happy writing!

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Yellow is the Day: “Chinkstar” by Jon Chan Simpson

Jon Chan Simpson514s4eLHHEL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_
Coach House Books, 2015

Review by Clara Kumagai

Run is a Chinese-Scottish seventeen-year-old in Red Deer, Alberta, and he’s not particularly fond of his older brother. They clash, fight, and wrestle, and Run wonders how their Chinese mother and Scottish father produced such different children. This is classical fraternal fare. But Run’s brother is all about the fresh flavour of Asian fusion—and not with rice, but rap: “I’m King Kwong and I’m fuckin here to stay / You ain’t never ever heard this flow— / Black was the night, but Yellow is the day.” (12)

Run’s brother is King Kwong, aka the Great Ape, aka Emperor Yellow Flow, aka Swag Sapien, aka Chink King. (“Ahem,” says a police officer when reciting this last moniker, ‘Chinese-Person’ King.” [37]) Whatever alias he may go by, King Kwong is Red Deer’s god of Asian rap—aka nip-hop, aka chi-rhyme, aka rice-rap, aka chinksta.

Kwong goes missing mere days before his big-break gig in Vancouver, but Run assumes it’s “Car trouble. Ho trouble. Too much shine-mush. Who knows.” (9) But when Kwong doesn’t resurface and Run’s mother is hospitalized after being shot with a golden bullet, Run finds himself in the midst of a gang war between the Apes (Kwong’s disciples) and the Necks. (Short for, yes, rednecks.) And so a chaotic, action-packed thriller begins. Run and his best bro Ali set out to find Kwong amidst brutal rednecks, mutinous Apes, inexplicable feds and a violent love interest.

Ostensibly a hip-hop mystery, with the brawls, getaways and face-offs that come with it, Run’s contemporary story is punctuated by the story of his semi-mythical grandfather (“I shall tell you the tale of your grandfather, A-Gung, Grand Pimp of the East, Celestial Don and Supreme Bawse of Old Cathay…” [58]). As the novel progresses, his journey and Run’s converge; not in place or time, but rather in the search for their own truth. And it’s truth Chinkstar is after. The pace is quick but occasionally uneven, and unlike a classic thriller, there is no aha! moment when all those jagged pieces come together to form a bigger picture. While the final scene is full of imagery and Run’s epiphany of his truth, I was left wanting the answer to the mystery itself.

Simpson’s prose echoes the spit of rap lyrics: fast, clever, deft-tongued and breathless. The opening pages of Chinkstar made me long for an accompanying album, but by its close I realized that it wasn’t necessary; the exuberance and sheer glee in language was its own soundtrack. Even the slang revolves around Asian-ness—faces are blank as the backs of mah-jong tiles, bros are “slants” rather than “homes.” Excerpts of the Tao are translated into the chinksta flow:

A brave and passionate mof will kill or be killed.
A brave and calm mof will always preserve life.
Of these two who is the punkass and who the bawse?
Some things are not favoured by heaven. Fuck knows why.

Erykah Badu sang that hip-hop is bigger than religion, but it’s true that Simpson’s Chinese-Canadians co-opt the hip-hop culture of African-Americans, and that the line between rewriting and overwriting is hard to balance upon. At times, the dialogue could be a stereotypical depiction of black gangsta style, with Asian references substituted in (in?)appropriate places. It’s important to note the substitutions—there’s no misuse of n-words here. In the opening pages of the novel, King Kwong’s philosophy is laid out plainly:

You know they sayin that it’s a white man’s world and that rap be black music,
but like a fine oolong I be here to infuse it
full of that Asian flavour, I take my Cris with green tea
This ain’t no year of the Ape, it’s a dynasty!

It’s a bold acknowledgement, but Simpson so thoroughly translates the world through this vernacular that it’s as brash and in-your-face as the rap itself. And Simpson is not unaware of the tension of cultures; it all neatly converges in one of my favourite scenes in the novel, when Run and Ali are skulking about a strip mall and are accosted by two of Kwong’s fanboys, with “dirty blond cornrows and skinnies tucked into jordans.”

“Dude, that’s his brother, no maybe. What up slants? …True
fact: your brother’s like deified. Yellow jesus, f’real.”
“Got them saviour-type beats, man, walk-on-water type flow and all a that.”
“True,” said the other.
“Mad true,” confirmed the one.

The exchange is elevated to new heights of embarrassment when Ali asks one, “Are you wearing makeup?”

My eyes got wide when I saw what he was pointing at: the baby-banana tint was unmistakable, suddenly contrasting with the bone-white of his neck.
“Yo, slants, man,” said the other, “I said you put too much.”

Run cracks up at this but it’s an uncomfortable moment; yellowface generally is. These misguided white guys want to appear Asian out of sheer fandom, and while they spectacularly fail, it’s an interestingly reversed scene in a world where white skin is coveted.

Simpson works in these reversals and retellings throughout the novel, creating a place where the Asians are not only powerful but badass, where a fierce language and way of storytelling has been forged. As the retold Tao says, “The chinksta like water will overcome.” (57)

From County Galway, Ireland, Clara Kumagai now lives and writes in Vancouver. Her writing has appeared in Room, Megaphone, Inis Magazine and is forthcoming in EVENT. She is currently a MFA student in the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program, where she is completing a children’s novel. For occasionally interesting tweets, follow @clarakiyoko.

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Finding the Courage to Breathe: A Review of Cliff Cardinal’s “Huff”

Cliff Cardinal in “Huff”

Review by Sasha Singer-Wilson

Written and performed by Cliff Cardinal

Directed by Karin Randoja
The Firehall Arts Centre and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
A Native Earth Performing Arts Production

Breath is at the center of Huff. In the face of devastation, can we find the courage to breathe? We first meet Wind, the lovable antihero, with a bag duct taped around his head, in the midst of a hotel suicide attempt. Each breath he takes is a struggle, and in watching, I am aware of my breath, holding it one moment, and breathing a deep sigh of relief the next. This happens throughout the 70-minute one-man tour de force, the audience reflecting or balancing the breath patterns, the life force, of Wind.

Huff is vital theatre. It’s messy and wrenching, daring the audience to go to almost unbearable places. It begs us to see what we’d rather turn away from, making us laugh one moment and sucker punching us in the gut the next. Cree writer and performer Cliff Cardinal, son of beloved Canadian film and television actor Tantoo Cardinal and a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, originally developed the play at Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival. Huff is the recipient of the 2012 Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation and is in the middle of a cross-country tour with stops coming up in North York, Quebec City, Montreal, Manitowaning, Kelowna and Victoria.

The story centres on Wind and his younger brother Huff, struggling to cope after their mother’s suicide. Caught in a cycle of solvent abuse, incest, neglect, violence, and a reserve education system that is failing them, Wind and Huff bring mischievous charm and unsettling normalcy to their horror-filled lives. Cardinal shape shifts into the people and elements that comprise Wind’s life and how he’s ended up where he is. He plays a dozen characters ranging from Wind’s loving grandmother, to the unpredictable Trickster, to the goofy family dog. A vibrant and likeable performer, Cardinal deftly switches from character to character with barely a breath in between.

Skilled director/dramaturge Karin Randoja does an excellent job with this imaginatively structured play, continually keeping the audience rooted in a unified world despite the dexterous changes from scene to scene. Cardinal and Randoja don’t shy away from the brutality that’s inherent to this story, but just when we feel it might be too much to bear they toss in a moment of levity, with a comedic talking skunk or an entertaining video game that comes to life. The immersive moments of the play, (for example, when a woman in the first row uses her teeth to remove the duct tape from around Wind’s wrists), playfully invites the audience into the fold of the story, entreating us to be brave and not keep it at arm’s length.

Jackie Chau’s set and costumes marry the mythological and harsh realism of Wind’s existence, reflecting both the elements of magical realism and stark authenticity. Michelle Ramsay’s haunting lighting design evoke the visceral locations—from the abandoned motel where Wind and Huff find refuge to the dingy basement in their father’s house.

Breath sustains us all—no matter where we’re from, who our parents are, or what we’re coping with. Breath connects us to our natural world—animals breathe, the forests breathe, our oceans breathe. When the lights fade at the end of Huff, an audible slow release of breath can be heard moving through the audience. We take a moment before we raise our hands in applause, Wind’s story heavy in the air, thick in our lungs. It stays with me, asking for my attention and for my empathy, through the day following the performance, challenging my facility to write. When I am finally able to do so, I start simply with this:

Please see Huff. Bring a trusted friend, an open heart, and Kleenex.

Huff is on at the Firehall Arts Centre until February 6th. For tickets and more information, please visit

Sasha Singer-Wilson is a Vancouver based and Toronto bred theatre artist and writer. She makes theatrical things with immersive theatre company the blood projects and tiny literary things with these five minutes. Sasha is an Associate Producer of Brave New Play Rites and is an MFA candidate in Playwriting at The University of British Columbia.

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“Let’s Just Say There Is a Fire”: A Review of “Regeneration Machine” by Joe Denham

Review by Amber McMillan

Regeneration Machine
Joe DenhamRegeneration_Machine-COVER.indd
Nightwood Editions, 2015

Joe Denham is a fisherman and carpenter living on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, and Regeneration Machine is his third book of poetry. Denham is not a poet churning out books every year or two—these are books that take time, and it shows. Regeneration Machine is a 100-stanza elegy-letter to his friend Nevin Sample, a young man who inexplicably held up a credit union, fled the police, and then shot himself.

Instead of tackling the question of why, Denham tries a new angle: he talks to his friend, 20 years later, about the parts of life Sample has missed, about marriage, work and children. Denham offers these affections, to us and to Sample, as examples of why life turns out to be better than death, stubbornly insisting that carrying-on is worth it, promising that despair becomes wonder again, then gratitude. Denham uses the things he’s learned—and in perhaps one of the most moving sentiments—explains to his dead friend the details of what he now has against what his friend has forgone, not least of all, to know a life, to have been loved, as he puts it, “Of Being Adult In the New and In EveryWhichWay Sweetfucked Millennium”: (17)

And that’s what you’re missing, old friend. It’s that simple.
Sure, we’re deluded and distasteful in our hubris and entitlement,
but the love of a good woman, and children, and a home
raised with one’s own hands. I can tell you beauty is a constant,
like pi, and light (31)

Denham adds social/political confoundment and ruminates on certainty and fear—in the Socratic sense, posing rather than telling—and wrestles the problem of making meaning out of randomness by narrowing the scope to dissect practical problems of living each day, as we do, with the threat of our own death. In these ways, Regeneration Machine advances many of the problems and themes of his second collection, Windstorm (2009), and contains much of what we’ve come to expect from him as a poet—unblinking examinations of grief, regret and vulnerability—and perhaps most of all, with no cards up his sleeve, a referential, pragmatic language that speaks directly to his subject. On the other side of love, Denham writes:

Fukishima’s melting cores breached
containment; there’s cesium-137 in the rain and therefore the
lettuce, milk, fish; I don’t know what I’ll say when they ask us
two decades from now why we didn’t at least pull stakes and run

And earlier from Windstorm:

the sickly water

I feed my son and daughter worsening daily as does
all that’s left of this world with which they must learn
now to make do (sadness, through and through) adrift
as they are, as we are, without bearing, without ballast

There are several important repetitions in Denham’s work, but one that struck me in this book in particular is the image of a child holding a fish out of water; brought to bear is the annihilation of what is good, the naïveté of an unwitting villain, and the kind of killing that begins from love. Poet Lyn Hejinian once wrote, “however pleasurable its effects, closure is a fiction, one of the amenities that falsehood and fantasy provide,” and Regeneration Machine seems to stare that truth in the face. Denham is a fierce talent, among the countries finest lyric poets, and he’s only getting better. Continuing to take apart plaguing themes of earlier work, Regeneration Machine is a sane and sober love letter that after twenty years finally says goodbye to a friend. It’s burning Nevin Sample’s fishing boat and setting it out to sea.

Amber McMillan is the author of We Can’t Ever Do This Again (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015). Her poems have appeared in ArcContemporary Verse 2, and subTerrain among other journals across North America.

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And the winners of the 2015 Creative Non-fiction Contest are…

We know that you’ve been waiting with bated breath, so we’ll end the suspense. Here are the winners of PRISM international’s 2015 Creative Non-Fiction contest, as chosen by judge Russell Wangersky.

Grand prize: “Ghostly Transmissions from John D. Rockefeller” by Danny Jacobs
1st Runner-Up:“Reconstructing” by Liza Porter
2nd Runner-Up:“How to Give a Passive-Aggressive Handjob” by Victoria Young

About the judging process, Russell Wangersky said, “I should say that all of the pieces I read gave me something: a magic turn of phrase, a thrum of description, a sense of awe at structure buried cleverly in art. But still, in the end I had to pick the three best pieces.”

About the winning pieces, Russell said, “Two of the pieces—winner ‘Ghostly Transmissions from John D. Rockefeller’ and first runner-up ‘Reconstructing’—have a delightful structural dissonance. Both involve the complicated interweaving of separate storylines into a cohesive structure, and that warp and weft makes them more than the sum of their parts. Second runner-up “How to Give a Passive Aggressive Handjob” has a more traditional structure, but a grasp of tone that is hard to achieve: self-deprecating without being self-pitying, a style that lets the reader understand the author can step out of the experience and observe the writer’s own life with a kind of clarity.”

You can read the rest of Russell’s essay, along with the three winning pieces, in our Spring issue 54.3. Congratulations to the winners!

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Announcing PRISM’s 2015 Creative Non-fiction Short List

We announced our longlist on Thursday, and we’re narrowing it down… So here it is: PRISM international‘s Creative Non-fiction Contest short list for 2015! Only eight stories out of nearly 200 made the list.

Here is the complete list (in no particular order):

“Comfort Zone” by Matthew Hollett
“Chinchillas” by Marcia Walker
“Reconstructing” by Liza Porter
“Orange, Duck, Limousine” by Carol Matthews
“How to Give a Passive-Aggressive Handjob” by Victoria Young
“The Thunder of Galloping Horses” by Angela Rebrec
“Evidence of Disease” by Elizabeth Ross
“Ghostly Transmissions from John D. Rockefeller” by Danny Jacobs.

We will be announcing the winner and two runners-up as selected by contest judge Russell Wangersky on Wednesday, February 3rd. Congratulations to all the writers who made our long and short lists!

And if you haven’t submitted yet to our Short Fiction and Poetry Contests, the deadline is tonight at midnight PT! Click here for more details or to submit. 

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Where Are They Now?: Previous Contest Winners After Winning PRISM Contests

With three full days left to submit to our Short Fiction and Poetry Contests, you might need an extra push to finish up your entries. PRISM international has been fortunate enough to publish many emerging and established writers through our contests, as well as our regular submissions. We’ve compiled a list of some notable achievements of our a few of past winners, a kind of “where are they now?” 

Ready to submit or need more details about our contests? Click here.

Short Fiction Contest Winners


Kate Cayley

Last year’s Short Fiction Contest winner Kate Cayley had a big year: she won first place in our contest, won the 2015 Trillium Award for her book How You Were Born, and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. You can read an excerpt from here story here.

The 2012 Short Fiction winner Josie Sigler was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her winning story “Ms.Pacman” and published her book The Galaxie and Other Rides with Livingston Press.

Eliza Robertson won the 2010 Short Fiction Contest for her story “Roadnotes”. She attended University of East Anglia, where she received the 2011 Man Booker Scholarship. In 2013, her story “We Walked On Water” co-won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Her first collection of short stories, Wallflowers, was shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award, the Danuta Gleed Short Story Prize Prize, the East Anglia Book Award, and selected as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. In 2015, she was named by Joseph Boyden as one of five emerging writers for the Writers’ Trust Five x Five program.

Poetry Contest Winners


Phoebe Wang

2015 Poetry Contest Winner Phoebe Wang is no stranger to the CanLit scene. Her work has appeared in Arc PoetryCanadian Literature, CV2, DescantGrainMalahat ReviewRicepaper Magazine, THIS Magazine and Diaspora Dialogues’ TOK 6: Writing the New Toronto anthology. In an interview with Poetry Editor Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Wang discussed how “[p]artially thanks to the Prism prize, a few editors have shown interest in” the manuscript she’s working on, titled Admission Requirements.

Jordan Mounteer, winner of the 2014 Poetry Contest, was a finalist for The Malahat Review’s 2015 Open Season Award in Poetry. His work has appeared in Lemon HoundThe Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Arc, Grain, Prairie Fire, and The Antigonish Review.

Deanna Young won PRISM’s 2013 Poetry Contest and published her third book of poetry, House Dreams, in 2014 with Brick Books. House Dreams was a finalist for the 2015 Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Archibald Lampman Award and the City of Ottawa Book Awards.

Creative Non-fiction Contest Winners


JonArno Lawson

In 2012, JonArno Lawson won first place in PRISM’s Creative Non-fiction Contest for his essay “Horse Camp” and in 2013 his book Down at the Bottom of the Box was mentioned by CBC as one of the “Five Must-Read Books” for 2013.

Madeline Sonik won PRISM international’s 2009 Creative Non-fiction Contest and answered some questions here about how the contest helped her writing.

Russell Wangersky won PRISM international’s 2003 and 2004 Creative Non-fiction Contest and has since published four books. He’s a four-time National Magazine Award winner, been longlisted and shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and in 2009, Burning Down the House won the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction. He was PRISM international’s 2015 Creative Non-fiction judge.


There’s still time to submit to our Short Fiction and Poetry Contests, so send us your best work by February 1st, midnight PT!

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