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from The Purtian: The Benefits of Entering a Writing Contest

The Puritan Senior Editors


For every literary magazine, a prize. Our lit culture’s thick with them. Whether you’re an ardent submitter, see them as a necessary evil to keep literary ships afloat, or you love to hate them, writing contests can often feel more common than the periodicals they support.

Here at The Puritan, we’ve got our own—The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence (yes, intentionally long-titled)—and it’s in its fifth successful year. However, we like to think of ‘The Morton’ as slightly more appealing than many other honours from many other magazines—even those that grant a bit more money.

That’s because we see The Morton writing contest as a real writer’s prize. Sure, we give away $1,000 cash to each winner in the fields of fiction and poetry. We toast each work with publication in our journal and at our annual fete, Black Friday (a must-see, if you’re near Toronto). And we’ve enlisted the assistance of established literary voices to help select the winners—previous judges have included Margaret Atwood, Zsuzsi Gartner, Miriam Toews, and Ian Williams. And this year we’ve got the amazingly talented Jan Zwicky (poetry) and Rawi Hage (fiction) at the helm.

But our writing contest is especially suited to writers because, at the core, every writer is a rabid, omnivorous, and compulsive reader. So each winner gets a prize package of books, generously donated from a growing list of stalwart Canadian presses, that grants a small library to a few lucky people. This year, the package is bigger than ever: we’re giving $1,750 worth of books to each winner, donated from the following rock-steady presses (now breathe in deep and try to say the entire list with one breath):

Anvil Press, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Biblioasis, BookThug, Breakwater Books, Brick Books, Caitlin Press, Chaudiere Books, Coach House Books, Coteau Books, Douglas & McIntyre, Dundurn Press, ECW Press, Freehand Books, Goose Lane Editions / icehouse poetry, Guernica Editions, House of Anansi, Inanna Publications, Invisible Publishing, Mansfield Press, Mawenzi House, McClelland & Stewart, Metatron, New Star Books, Nightwood Editions, NeWest Press, Palimpsest Press, Pedlar Press, The Porcupine’s Quill, Quattro Books, Signature Editions, Thistledown Press, Tightrope Books, Vehicule Press, and Wolsak and Wynn!

For international or American winners (yes, the writing competition is open to anyone, anywhere) this is an irreplaceable dose of titles that rarely crosses our borders. For all winners, it’s a fantastic snapshot of a year in Canadian literary publishing. And, besides helping The Puritan keep chugging along (we don’t get paid around here—this is a true-blue labour of love), the small $15 donation fee also helps us keep strengthening ties to the web-like family of Canadian cultural producers, who could never succeed or continue alone.

But don’t trust our word alone; we’ve also got a few ringing endorsements from our past winners.

For Daniel Scott Tysdal, our 2014 fiction contest winner, the Morton Prize “was an ideal way for me to get this new work out there and signal this fresh direction … it also came with a shelf of incredible books that will keep me busy and inspired for years.”

For Laurie D Graham, our 2014 poetry contest winner, the best thing was all about feeling recognition from our guest judge, Margaret Atwood. “The craziest thing about … winning the Thomas Morton Prize is knowing Margaret Atwood had not just read the poem, but had penned a few words in response to it. That’s one thing prizes do for you as a writer: they lend outside legitimacy to this work you do alone, at your desk, for no wage, in a society where wage is everything and vocation nearly incomprehensible. People who don’t know about the world of poetry (and even people who do) hear the words ‘prize’ and ‘Margaret Atwood,’ and it now makes a little more sense that I choose to hang out at my desk and not draw wages for this many hours (years!) at a stretch, arranging words on a page.”

For Mark Sampson, winner of the 2013 poetry contest, “winning the Thomas Morton writing contest kicked off a year-long period of incredible good fortune for my career. Indeed, I had more work accepted for publication in the six months following my winning the poetry contest than in the previous six years. I’ll always associate the beginning of this fruitful period with The Puritan and its recognition of my work.”

Our inaugural short story competition winner Nate Pillman “stumbled upon The Puritan by accident.” He writes: “I grew up in the U.S., in a town of 500 in central Iowa—and I when I finally got around to wanting to be a writer, I knew nothing about the publishing world, let alone the Canadian publishing world. A Duotrope search, filtered through subcategories like dark and humorous and absurd, brought me to The Puritan. After scrolling through the website, I liked what I saw. It seemed honest, down-to-earth, and a little badass—all things I felt my story embodied …” And upon winning, he wasn’t shy about sharing his jubilation. “I hoisted my arms above my head. Then I started throwing some vulgar language around—in a celebratory way … The books I received as part of the Morton Prize had a more lasting effect. I was, and continue to be, impressed with the writing Canadian presses publish.”

As for the nitty-gritty, winners will be announced at our annual Black Friday celebration and year-in-review party in Toronto, Ontario on Friday, November 25. Next year’s award will open for submissions in early 2017 and will feature even more awesome prizes, another set of sweet judges, and even more love.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the sheer mass of contests out there, be a real puritan (ha, not really, they were horrible). But submit to a prize specifically designed for writers, and help us commemorate the undying memory of Thomas Morton. (May he rest in peace.)

If I Say the Words

by Deborah A. Miranda

I read the reports, the interviews with parents and children and lovers left behind. I read the texts scrabbled out from hiding places, pleas for rescue, call 911. My skin pricks and shivers as if someone is touching me, but I am alone. I tear up at random times, can’t bear to go out in public, see the world going on as if nothing happened, as if — because it didn’t happen here  — it is still safe in a bubble of denial. My wife and I pause as we pass each other going from one room to the other, lean our bodies together. We say we are sad. Shorthand for burned to the ground. But I haven’t cried. When I try to write, I can’t. I am full of the rough material that make up words — emotion, nightmare, fear, grief — but the words themselves refuse to be born: If I say the words, say the names, I admit that it really happened. They — Mercedez, Franky, Akyra, Eddie, Angel, all of them in their glorious brown queer radiant bodies — really died, and they died in terror and agony, chased like animals by a man wielding an assault rifle with the nickname “Black Mamba,” a weapon never meant to hunt anything but human beings, which means it is a hate machine, created to shoot hatred from one person into the soft body of another. If I say the words, if I try to corral the facts and tame them with language, I’ve already muted their screams, their whispered prayers, their frantic texts to a beloved mami or daddy who cannot save their child and feels each cell in their body implode at the injustice. If I say the words that attempt to respond to an act for which there is no sane response, what would those words be? I think of the mother who was there with her son; think, how lucky she was. She was able to do what so many parents not there wish they had been able to do: step in front of her child, face the shooter with her mother’s eyes, and shield her heart of hearts with the same body that gave birth to that boy. That’s it. That’s what I see, over and over again, that is what I cannot speak, what terrifies me with a power beyond steel transformed into anger: how blessed she was, and is, how she was there, dancing, because she already knew that choosing love would save her son’s life; knew that love, with its dance of blood and shattered bones, love with its twin red shoes named pain and sacrifice, is the only commandment that matters. Love: by any means necessary.

[first posted on the author’s blog]

Deborah A. Miranda is the author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award and Gold Medalist from Independent Publishers), as well as three poetry collections, Indian Cartography, The Zen of La Llorona, and Raised By Humans. She is co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two-Spirit Literature. Miranda is a mixed-blood woman with Indigenous, Mexican and European ancestry; she is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of California. As John Lucian Smith Jr. Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, Deborah teaches Creative Writing (poetry and memoir), composition, and literature. A wife, mother and grandmother, Deborah lives with her wife in the Shenandoah Valley of southwestern Virginia.

Last posted June 16, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.

What I’m Reading Now… by Barbara Duffey

The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky (Graywolf, 2016): I have to second Lia Purpura’s recommendation here. When I was in graduate school, Eavan Boland was visiting, and she looked at some of my poems—she told me that more of my poems needed what she called “a vulnerable speaker,” and she was right, and that’s exactly what Lisicky does so well. He wonders, at one point, whether people will still want to read his work after he ends his relationship with a famous writer. I don’t think he has anything to worry about, but I think that admission is brave—it’s one of the better, because more vulnerable, memoirs of the writing life that I’ve read. It weaves more narrative threads together, though—the death of a close friend, the death of his relationship, an environmental narrative, and a study of Joni Mitchell’s work and presence.


The Birds of Opulence, Chrystal Wilkinson (UP of Kentucky, 2016): An intergenerational, matriarchal family saga set in Opulence, Kentucky, spanning 1962-1995. I read the title two ways: This book is about the women (“birds”) of the town of Opulence, but birds also serve as narrative touchstones or omens—the women read the birds in their environment as we read the stories of these women. The language is lush and inviting; I’d like to tell you more, but I’m only in the second chapter. The speaker narrates her own birth, though, so I’m already intrigued by the way it conveys the magic of storytelling. Wilkinson runs Wild Fig Books & Coffee, too—a great activist-friendly independent bookstore in Lexington.


Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, M.T. Anderson (Candlewick Press, 2015): A nonfictional account for young adults of Shostakovich’s composition of the Leningrad Symphony as the Nazis invaded. With pictures! Anderson writes suspense in YA-friendly sentences (sentences where the actors and actions are clear, and close to each other) better than almost anyone.


By My Precise Haircut, Cheryl Clarke (The Word Works, 2016): Clarke is a black lesbian feminist poet whose work is an intoxicating mix of lyricism and 21st-century cultural awareness and activism. Her “Elegy on 12 Years a Slave” sets the scene:

Only screener.

Buy ticket and medium popcorn quick

from ticket-tenderer and her smartphone

in this pit of a strip mall matinee.

The prosody is great, the consonance of the t’s in “ticket-tenderer…smartphone / …pit” and assonance of the short i’s in “in this pit…strip…matinee,” lending lyrical texture to the speaker’s experience. She recounts this experience in context; even as she celebrates the slaves’ “[d]ogged survival,” she reminds us that their descendants “still must endure Dred Scott, Reconstruction, Black / Codes, peonage, Jim Crow, lynch law, Plessy, segregation, / integration, stop and frisk”—even as we lull ourselves with our smartphone caches of music and entertainment and social connection, institutionalized racism endures. But even as it does, Clarke’s voice celebrates sex and cultural production and the music in language. She speaks a life-affirming beauty of language in the face of these injustices.


House of Sugar, House of Stone, Emily Pérez (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2016): This book is part of the Mountain West Poetry Series, which I love, perhaps because I’ve spent much of my life in the region. I’ve only begun the first poems, but they set down an incantatory rhythm to invite the reader into a fairy tale landscape that’s scary and fantastical and mysterious. Pérez already enacts that vulnerability Eavan Boland looks for in poetic speakers—the last line of “Each Day I Open the Door to Damage” is “My cells storm your little rooms[.]”

What I’m Reading Now… by Valerie Wetlaufer

I always like to have multiple books going at once. After I finished my PhD, I took a break from serious reading, and let myself not read for a bit. I’m finally getting back into reading a bunch and reading widely, in different genres. I’m usually always at least reading some poetry and a novel, and recently I’ve been getting into graphic novels as well.

Right now I’m reading Tremolo by Kelly Hansen Maher, a heartbreakingly beautiful book of poetry from Tinderbox Editions about miscarriage and motherhood full of grief and rage that utterly resists sentimentality. I keep rereading this book as I’m writing a review of it, and I can’t get enough.

I’m also reading Rilke Shake, a clever volume of poetry by Angélica Freita translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan, a funny whirlwind of playful language. I love the energy of the book and the unexpected that keeps popping up.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks during my commute to the school where I work as an adjunct, and on my book tour, driving from reading to reading. On my way home from Bloomington, Indiana, I finished listening to Redefining Realness written and read by Janet Mock. The book has been on my list since it first came out, but I was bowled over by how lyrical and insightful it was. Highly recommended, especially as an audio. Hearing Mock’s lovely voice really enhanced the story.

I just finished reading Ordinary Affect by Kathleen Stewart, because I’m working on writing my third book, Bloom & Scruple, and it’s all about everyday life and those strange and lovely affective moments that Stewart examines in a series of brief vignettes combining storytelling, close ethnographic detail, and critical analysis.

Fresh in my mailbox is The Border of Paradise, the first novel by Esmé Weijun Wang, which I’m very excited to read. I’ve enjoyed Esmé’s writing online for awhile, and her novel is much-anticipated. I’ve just started it, but I’m already deep into the story. It follows David Nowak, a Polish immigrant in postwar Brooklyn and his wife Daisy, a young Taiwanese woman, with whom he flees to Northern California. The book is creepy and epic and beautiful all at once, one of those novels I never want to end as much as I can’t wait to discover what happens.

Finally, I’m reading Through the Woods, a collection of graphic stories by Emily Carroll. It’s creepy and disturbing and delightful. A must-read if you’re a fan of graphic storytelling. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about storytelling, how I’m essentially a storyteller, even when all the reader gets is a flash of image; a feeling. I’ve been exploring new ways of telling stories, so reading graphic novels and contemplating translating image into poetry has been a lot of fun. I love the process of writing a new book, where I just sort of try to accumulate ideas, information, wisps of inspiration. It’s this piling on of creative nourishment, an artistic buffet, so I’m reveling in reading all kinds of things right now, and remembering what it’s like to fall in love with language, something I had to relearn after the PhD process narrowed my focus for awhile. I’m so glad to be back in love.

Vintage DB 79: Michael Kontopoulos’ “Water Rites,” DB 16


Today, enjoy one of DB’s more unusual contributions in the form of Michael Kontopoulos’ artwork, and accompanying essay, entitled “Water Rites.” “Water Rites” was selected as this week’s vintage pick from our 2012 issue, DB 16, where it originally appeared as part of a special “Speculative” folio about the current state of the world and humanity. For the full experience, be sure to watch the video above, as well as read Kontopoulos’ thought-provoking essay that thins the borders between science fiction and reality.

“Consider the hydrology of our planet: Earth boasts 1.34 billion cubic kilometers of water. 96% of that water is salty and undrinkable. 70% of the remaining fresh water is frozen in ice-caps. Most of the remainder is only available as moisture or is hidden in aquifers too deep for humans to reach. Ultimately, less than 1% of the water on Earth is potable and available for human use.”

Michael Kontopolous is a Boston-based designer, artist and researcher with ten years of experience in art, communication and data-driven design. He has exhibited solo and collaborative projects in galleries, festivals and conferences in the U.S., Asia and Europe, including the Santa Monica GLOW Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the TED conference, and LACE Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. He was also the winner of a 2010 Rhizome Commission for Emerging Artists, sponsored by the New Museum of New York. For his full bio and to check out more of his work, you can visit his website at

Click here to read the “Water Rites” essay and above to view the video

What I’m Reading Now… by Emily Pettit

BABETTE by Sara Deniz Akant (Rescue Press)

path this down. we entered with
the stepping. the very sec
that did our eyes to waking.

There is a developed rhythmic intelligence at work in these poems and each and every word asks you to work with it. With verve and spirit BABETTE is inventive, evocative, melodic, and full of feeling.

OOSH BOOSH by Shannon Burns (Atlanta 421)

You know you’re breaking my heart, Kelly?

 I know you’re waiting in the hot car.

 I know you’re thinking of an old outfit.

 Reading the poems in OOSH BOOSH is likely to result in many a heart whoosh, in many a brain whoosh. It is a bright and brilliant book of poems.

OTHER PEOPLE’S COMFORT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT by Morgan Parker (Switchback Books)

We carry what is shocking and heavy in blood.
Music seems brighter: the sky the sky.

With fortitude, with attention, with insight, with compassion, with empathy, with humor, and vulnerability— these poems’ explorations of— identity, patterns of behavior, confession, documentation, the beautiful, the ugly, culture, politics, narrative, systems and more—are vivid and moving.

INCORRECT MERCIFUL IMPULSES by Camille Rankine (Copper Canyon Press)

Is that honesty?
In all your photographs your mouth
reminds me of my mouth, and everything
happens without me. I have been othered away

The poems in INCORRECT MERCIFUL IMPULSES work through ideas and questions with great care, with great grace, with a great sense of curiosity, with bewilderment, with striking intelligence and beauty.

POETRY COMICS by Bianca Stone (Pleiades Press)

There is the clear image
of someone beside you who looks just like you
but can get bluebottle flies to land on her finger.
This is the optic nerve
in endless reflections of your friends.

 Bianca Stone’s graphic genius coupled with her genius for language portraiture have come together in this beautiful compilation of poetry comics. With ode, with elegy, with energy, with elegance – these poetry comics embolden and inspire.

Vintage DB 78: Russell Brakefield’s “Machine for Making Ropes,” DB 14

The star of this Throwback Thursday’s vintage feature is poet Russell Brakefield with his piece, “Machine for Making Ropes,” a darkly speculative poem from DB 14, 2011. Its speaker gives us a set of instuctions, but also supplies his/her own thoughts and experiences– almost as though providing readers an example– for completing the poem’s macabre directions.

“Write machine for making ropes.
Then write machine for tying knots.
Then write machine for writing letters to those I leave behind.”

Russell Brakefield has worked as a writer, a musician, an educator and an editor. He has taught poetry and writing in public K-12 school settings and at a college level. He currently teaches writing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and works as managing editor for Canarium Books. He’s available for readings, as long as you provide the oysters. To learn more about his music and writing, take a look at his website:

Click here to enjoy “Machine for Making Ropes”