Home > Poetry > “Wake” by Michelle Poirier Brown Wins the Earle Birney Prize for Poetry

PRISM international is proud to announce the winner of the 2019 Earle Birney Poetry Prize is Michelle Poirier Brown for her poem “Wake” published in issue 57.1: DREAMS, available now!

Earle Birney established UBC’s MFA program in Creative Writing in 1965–the first university program in Canada. The Earle Birney Prize for Poetry, awarded annually and worth $500, is PRISM‘s only in-house prize. A very special thanks to Mme. Justice Wailan Low for her generous and ongoing support.


By Michelle Poirier Brown

You dream me still. Racialized, de-racialized, de-colonized. You ask if I have or use a
“pre-colonial mind.” You suggest edits to my biography, tell me my stated identity
doesn’t exist, and that you know this because you are getting a phd in Indigenous lit.
You ask me flat out if I’m queer, if you can tick off another box on the grant application.

You dream we are friends, and I become someone you get to say you met for tea in the
village. You dream we are friends, and you tell me you’ve taken oranges to the tent city
because, of course, that is something I would want to know.

In your dreams, I am often too much, more often not enough. Because of your dreams,
you find me repellent, take a prurient interest in my childhood. Your dreams make it
hard for me to wake up. I dream I am drowning. I have this dream while I’m awake.

I remember the time we met on the phone, your rude awakening when I showed up at
your door. I was still asleep. I checked my shoes to make sure they were clean. As if that
had to be the problem.

There was the year you told me it would be best if I chose a different week to rent a
cabin, that my daughters were two children too many. You stood beside me on the river
bank as I watched the children float by in inner tubes, one of mine vibrant with
excitement, the other grinning with fear. I think you dreamed I would never tell.

The grief from that one dreamed me for a long while.

The past is a dream that streams around me, my voice rising through it like bubbles void
of vibration, their only sound an almost inaudible pop when they reach the surface.
What you cannot see of me fills my lungs.

Always I am waking. I turn up in strange clothes, new words in my mouth, people I no
longer know smile as if I remember. I look for others, also awake. Mostly go home alone.

Always I am swimming, cold and asleep, upstream. Bear dips a paw into the stream,
flips me breathless against the sky. Wake, he says. Wake.

Michelle Poirier Brown is a Cree Métis poet and photographer from Manitoba, currently living in Lekwungen territory (Victoria, BC). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in CV2, Grain, and the anthologies Dis(s)ent and Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds. She appears regularly in performance at The Flame.