Vallum Poem of the Week: “Bathing at Peaks of Otter” by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee

Vallum POTW 2018 Donna J. Gelagotis Lee photo Final

Bathing at Peaks of Otter 

As we speak, a sentence falls on itself
—I know how to save it,
but why? Our sense of timing

pulses like a cat’s, and the rodents
stay away. I am macabre, too.
Yes, we were young.

Yes, we bathed in a mountain lake.
Was the spring that clear? Then,
we counted a hundred stars,

and the forest hid the eyes
of animals looking to eat.
The world was still, fit, as though

time had its hand far up a tree
while we looked and admired
the pines so large, the mountain ridges

foreboding. And when we peered
into the valley, the blue vista
spilled forward like a memory

unfolding. Have you, too, held it?
There will be nothing else like it,
nothing else to compensate for.

Donna J. Gelagotis Lee is the author of On the Altar of Greece, winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award and recipient of a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category. Her poetry has appeared in journals internationally, including The Dalhousie Review, Descant, Existere – Journal of Arts and Literature, The Massachusetts Review, and Vallum. Her website is www.donnajgelagotislee.com.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum
 magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Magician’s Girl” by Alexis Marie

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The Magician’s Girl

from “The Carnival”

The night is our carnival.
I recognize your practiced hands,
your kind of breed,
the way fear is
intoxicating to you.

You imagine me levitating,
locked in your glass box,
my skin glittering.

You’ve brought me here
to test my reflexes.
We stand on the ledge
of a high-rise,
cars swarm the streets below
like toys on a circuit.
I don’t tremble.

The sky is our stage, we take our places in this balancing act,
you exhibit me to the night,
I’m unwrapped under neon.

Voyeur lights wink at us,
we hang on, bracing each other
for the plummet.

 

Alexis Marie earned her Master’s in Creative Writing from Oxford University in 2011. Her poetry has been published in a variety of journals and anthologies including The Oxonian Review, Asia Literary Review, Vallum, and Poetry is Dead. She lives and writes in Vancouver, Canada.

 

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Table Must Always Be Clean Before Bed” by Julie Paul

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The Table Must Always Be Clean Before Bed

A pair of scissors on the table is bad fortune
Shoes or elbows on the table is bad manners
Beer bottles on the table is a bad hangover
Cat on the table is a bad cat

Crossed knives or bellows
At the table mean a bad argument
Sitting on the table tempts fate
Crossed forks at the table mean bad rumour
Dropped cutlery means a visitor
(potentially bad)

But what of crumbs and grains of rice,
And magazines and papers and crayons?
What of candles and napkins,
A toy airplane and a game of cards?

If singing at the table can make you poor,
And sleeping on it can make you unlucky, then
What about just a head, resting? What about humming instead?
What about an open book?
What about a party hat?
What about chewing gum, fingers,
The future
The past
The straight flush
The Hanged Man
The hope that tomorrow will be a better day?
How clean must this table be?

 

Julie Paul’s debut poetry collection, The Rules of the Kingdom (MQUP, 2017) was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and is shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She is the author of two short fiction collections, The Jealousy Bone (Emdash, 2008) and The Pull of the Moon (Brindle & Glass, 2014). The Pull of the Moon was awarded both an IPPY award and the Victoria Book Prize and was named a Top 100 Book in The Globe and Mail. Her essay “It Not Only Rises, It Shines,” won the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Award from The New Quarterly and her story “The Expansion” won The Rusty Toque’s 2016 Chapbook Award. She lives in Victoria BC, where, in addition to writing, she works as a Registered Massage Therapist.

 

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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He Didn’t Even Remember Her Being There: A Conversation with Marcela Huerta

Interview by Tess Liem

Tropico (Metatron 2017) is Marcela Huerta’s debut collection of poetry. Her book is a distinct exploration of elegy, memorial, political exile, and family history. Among other things, Tess Liem talked to Marcela about putting a first book together, dark humour and writing through grief.

Tropico-Marcela-Huerta

Tess Liem: Would you talk about how you started writing Tropico?

Marcela Huerta: It was actually while I was in a book club that I had with Jay Ritchie and Alex Manley and my best friend Kate Ramsden when I started writing a few pieces. Earlier that year (this was last year that I started writing the book) in the summer I had gone to an event and this author, who had a similar background as my parents, said that she felt like she could only engage with writing that was coming post-dealing-with-your-emotions and your trauma, instead of being in the midst of it. And I disagree so heartily.

I’ve always been so interested in trauma and writing about trauma so I remember hearing that, feeling disillusioned and thinking, when will I ever write about this if I agree with her, I don’t know when that time will come. And in disagreeing with her, I started to write more. At the book club I mentioned wanting to be in a writing workshop that Jay had talked about and he very kindly emailed me about it. So I sent him some stuff. I had seven pieces that I had been working on and originally, I had wanted to do a book of essays but I think a lot of the writing I was doing at that time was coming from a place of grief and working through grief so that became more my focus.

TL: In Tropico there are prose poems and lineated poems and one way to read them is the prose as narrative or mini-short stories, while the verse is working through those stories, reflecting on events. The way the forms relate is more complicated than that, but in the verse, there’s more “I” speaking and lots of body. This dynamic between forms is a unique part of Tropico. I’m interested in how you see them working together.

MH: The prose pieces were the first pieces I wrote and those were kind of written at a time that I was very much trying to deal with grief, grief that was very delayed. When my dad passed away I was like, I’m doing fine. I just kept working and said, This is all OK. Then a year later I had a brutal winter of loneliness and missing him, so that kind of coincided with this writing. Then Jay just kept asking to see more and gently pushing me and it was definitely something that I needed. I finished 33 pages or something like that and then worked to making it longer over the next few months and slowly started experimenting more. I started working on more of the lineated poetry and the writing through feelings, writing through memories, and focusing less on the experience of collecting a history. Because for me it was so much about telling—or I guess asking—how do you tell these stories that are so dependent on oral histories when the people that are telling those stories are suffering, either suffering from PTSD or they just can’t engage with it anymore? You kind of collect those little bits and pieces over the course of your life and you just have to put together a story that’s mostly yours and may or may not be what actually happened. It’s more your reflection of how you see the people that matter to you.

TL: There is also the direct address, writing to “you,” which has all sorts of effects for thinking about memory and history. It also creates a distinct voice so I’m wondering how you think about this choice to write in second person?

MH: It comes from two places. The first book that I read as a teenager that really jump-started this kind of anger and made me want to write was Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao;  and in my high school, everything that we were studying–there was actually not a single writer of colour. So I remember reading that book and feeling so mad. Also, it was like it was speaking to me and I could really relate to the way Diaz uses the second person. Junot was the main person who, when I started writing, I was inspired by as a teenager.

In terms of this particular work, it felt so important to me because he [my father] is both there and not there. In that sense, the second person is like a letter and is also like a conversation and that felt like something that really needed to be in the book. Then the second person just kind of built itself into Tropico in a way that it became every piece in the book, except for the one that’s from my mom’s point of view about the earthquake (“Terremoto”). To me it felt like it was a necessary part of telling the story because so much of it is me trying to engage with my own grief and engage with a grief that is so ongoing with someone who is gone but for whom I still have a lot of questions.

Sometimes it also feels like it’s a confrontation. That’s also a big part of the book for me. Confronting all these concepts and ideas that I have about memory and my culture and my history, about my parents’ history. I feel like the second person does so much for that. It expresses so much gentleness, but also it can express so much anger and frustration.

TL: The use of the second person also seems particularly related to being second generation and how we hear, retell, and remember our parents’ stories.

MH: And a lot of the story and the history of my parents has been told to me not by them because often they’re incapable of doing that. So you get this––I would have my sister tell me a story, and to me, [writing Tropico] was kind of like trying to confirm with them, this is a thing that happened to you, is it not?

TL: And processing family stories, having them re-told to you, asking for confirmation, all of these aspects of recounting your family history, as you get older, they can change how you remember those stories.

MH: Memory is such a troubling and difficult thing to engage with. I wanted to play with how you can take these family stories and they can be completely shattered in a second by someone telling you, oh that happened to your cousin, it didn’t happen to your sister, and all of a sudden, all those images are gone. They’re suddenly no longer a part of an image of yourself and of the family life that you’ve created.

I tried to engage with that a lot with the pieces that were from secondhand knowledge, so for example, “The Man Without A Face,” the one on the plane, I remember my dad telling me about his plane ride from Chile and he completely left out the fact that his daughter was on the plane with him. I remember having this conversation with my [half] sister about it and she explained all of that to me, about her experience, which was that her mom had died and she had been with our grandmother because our dad had been in hiding and then all of a sudden they told her she was going to Canada and they were all going and that she was going to go first with my dad but nobody really explained that to her. She hadn’t seen him in several months and then she was just right next to him. To me this was such a revelation. When I heard this story, in such a completely different way, is when I realized he could only engage with one part of his experience, he could suddenly not be a father. He was a man who was leaving his entire life behind. He didn’t even remember her being there.

TL: This relates to a striking image at the end of “There is still time to ask questions,” a piece I kept returning to. You write, “I can’t really imagine much from these photos they’re so badly taken.” For me, this became an emblematic image for the book. Memories become a kind of act of imagination because what you have is so damaged and hard to see.

MH: Exactly, it’s so blurry and there were so many things like that where I had had a version of the story and I had related to it so much and that had been my story. You know when you’re a kid and you’re like, my mom did this and my dad did this, and then to all of a sudden have those things shifted and to see the humanity in my parents more, see their flaws.

marcela

Marcela Huerta, author of Tropico

TL: I wanted to ask about laughing and humour too. In “El Chacotero,” which starts, “Here is one of your funny stories,” and also in the poem before it, “Sad,” in which you talk about your mother, and laughing so that people know that it’s a joke. Would you talk about humour in Tropico?

MH: Engaging with my parents and the cultural jokiness that is very emblematic of Chileans, at least the ones in my life, is really interesting to me because I spent most of my childhood and most of my young adulthood wanting to be a comedy screenwriter. I remember I used to feel like I was so funny and it just–since my dad passed away–I remember I had this moment in my life where I was on the bus (he had had cancer and was in remission) and I was on the bus back from Toronto and I found out that he was going into palliative care and that was the moment where I felt like, well I am no longer funny.

I still watch so many comedies, I still read comedy and yet, it made me reflect on my own parents in this way that I never had to before, where for the first time I really felt what they were masking, and nothing was funny anymore. Everything that used to be, like everything that I would get some semblance of dark humour out of, it was suddenly so brutal and painful. I feel like I’ve always also–I have this from my mom, where I really try to make people comfortable through humour, and you know you spend so much time trying to make male bosses comfortable, teachers comfortable, and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. It took a lot of my lightness away. But I feel like that lightness has been replaced with a more honest lightness, more of an engagement with how I’m really feeling and there can still be humour in that.

TL: Well it’s really well done, especially in “El Chacotero” because it opens with “Here is one of your funny stories,” and it ends with weeping, or rather weeping and laughter, and that’s ok.

ML: And it is really interesting to see, as an adult, these stories, and all of the pain that those stories are masking, and to break through it and see what’s underneath, especially with “El Chacotero.” As an adult I find it so difficult to reflect on my dad’s childhood because it was abusive and the only stories that he could tell about his childhood were these ridiculous stories that were so strange and so funny because he couldn’t go beyond that. Because if he did, it revealed too much pain. Every once in a while, you see a crack in that and you see, in the history that your parents have, or that people that you love have, you kind of see that slip, and you realize there’s so much more underneath there that you’re not able to bring to the surface.

This interview was originally published in the digital edition of Vallum Issue 15:1 “Memory and Loss.” 

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Stressed” by Susan Ioannou

SusanIoannou

Stressed

It isn’t a whale
gulping you whole into its darkness,
but each precise piranha
ripping its toothful of flesh from your bones
that reddens the current
and shocks you upright at 3:00 a.m.
in a bed a-shiver with nerves.

It isn’t the shrapnel of worry
or disappointments or fright
razoring into your chest,
but the force field of day after day
magnetizing their mini-weights
until they thonk together and strike
—that massive wrecking ball:
a stroke, a breakdown, a heart attack.

It isn’t the first, or the only
—why among thousands in the mirror’s
rearview, one particular blur
happens to hurtle you into the smash-up.
It is—remember?—that tiny bug you brushed off
that creeps out from the shadows and bristles
the giant-millipede nightmare.

Toronto writer Susan Ioannou has varied her work from literary essays and short stories, to novels for young people, but her first love has always been poetry. Her best collections include Clarity Between Clouds (Goose Lane Editions), Where the Light Waits (Ekstasis Editions), Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth (Your Scrivener Press), Coming Home: An Old Love Story (Leaf Press), and Looking for Light (Hidden Brook Press). A full Literary CV and more detail about her writing life is online at http://www.susanioannou.ca/

 

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum
 magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “For Phyllis Munday, Mountaineer (1894-1990)” by Susan McCaslin

 

Susan McCaslin photo.jpg

Phyllis_Munday_Pic 5652

For Phyllis Munday, Mountaineer (1894-1990)

You call me from the intricacies of words
into microcenters of ice, frozen ledges,
crampons clamped to mountains’ makings,

you, who knows the allure of goddess peaks,
moving among them without delusions of conquest,
brace-kneed in snowshoes, confident as a lynx,

breathing into your muscled body,
ditching your skirt under a bush, hiking
in bloomers that catch on twigs, salal,

with a 32-kilogram pack hoisted on your back,
ropes looped and taut, you ascend the peak—
Mt. Robson, highest in the Rockies.

I’m with you, first woman, caution-killer.
In your fearlessness my fears dissolve
until we approach Mt. Waddington.

It is summer and snowdrops, but this time
the mountain will open to us, this mystery
moulded in rock and ice will open her arms.

This time, we shall rise to her sweep and poise
since there is nothing that good knots,
guts, and luck can’t win over in time.

 

Susan McCaslin, an established Canadian poet, has published fifteen volumes of poetry, including her most recent, Into the Open: Poems New and Selected (Inanna, Sept. 2017). Her Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011) was short-listed for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (BC Poetry Book Prize) and first-place winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award. Susan resides in Fort Langley, BC, where she initiated the Han Shan Poetry Project as part of a successful campaign to protect an endangered rainforest along the Fraser River. www.susanmccaslin.ca

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Rescue” by j tate barlow

Photo on 2018-04-24 at 4.32 PM

Rescue 

Hope is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
— Emily Dickinson

A spell of fresh hells has you
composing
nothing.

Muse flown, focus flailed and you—reluctant
to rip the bandaid off—attending to broken
news,

concocted truth, cannot look away til now,
to notice how molten light out there
muffles

particulars, bevels harshness. Needle-clusters—
your fingers remember untender
prickling—

become wooly skeins illumined, trailing from spruce
branchlets, side-sweeping your window,
swimming

buoyant through 5 o’clock’s chill like the familiar
poem you read online. You carry these
heartening

sighs
downhill to the lake where synchrony’s in full
cry—skein of wild geese—featherstitches pleasuring dusk.


j tate barlow
’s poetry can be found in The Fieldstone Review, The Dalhousie Review, Vallum Contemporary Poetry, and The New Quarterly. Poet, mother, composer, she lives uphill from a great lake.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum
 magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Oahu” by Maureen Korp

miki.sylviashow


Oahu

seeing something there
a glint, quick light rippling
in the tide
half a heartbeat closer
dark, silvered triggerfish
back and forth . . .
back and forth

ships and planes and submarines
reconnaissance, surveillance—coastal
helicopters, back and forth, back and
forth . . .
in the tide, the triggerfish

in the boxes up the hill
all the numbers
all the bones, all that they could find
thrown upon the beaches
by the tides
back and forth, back and . . .
forth . . . nothing ever ends

 

Maureen Korp is a military brat, the daughter of an American soldier.  She grew up in faraway places, including Okinawa, Hokkaido, Oklahoma, Texas, and Germany.  Home today is Ottawa.  She is an independent scholar, curator, critic, and lecturer, and has taught at universities in the United States, Canada, Romania, and Pakistan.  Korp is the author of three books, 16 exhibition catalogues, more than 125 articles.  Her poems have appeared in a number of Canadian poetry journals, including, Antigonish Review, Arc, Canadian Forum, Cross-Writer’s Quarterly, Matrix, Quarry, Queen’s Quarterly, and Vallum.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Xenia, Because We Must Welcome” by Taylor Micks

taylormicks

 

Xenia, Because We Must Welcome

You are planting milkweed with a garden spade,
a heart that buries itself and I’m hatching plans.
A watering can loafs in my stoop like a plant itself,
invited to feed and record inner strength mournfully
with unsparing gulps. Enough of enough is enough.
The bushes wince with the banquet’s summons
and a bowl of cicadas cusses. This is about waving
aloe fronds—the ache of juvensecence, the friends
slathered in myrrh, how in dreams of mine their dance
surrounds me like a profferring of pineapples—
tart, barbed vertigo roses—an intervailing welcome
to something cocooned in life, held perfect on anarchic
wings, a spoor to be sought toward my only flower.

Taylor Micks is from Columbus, Ohio and is completing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign. His poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and are forthcoming or recently published in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, The Dunes Review, Modern Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Redivider, VallumThe Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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Featured Review: Erin Robinsong’s Rag Cosmology. Review by Alan Reed.

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“a poem of objects that live by magic”: Erin Robinsong’s Rag Cosmology (Toronto, ON: BookThug, 2017, $18.00, 104 pages). Review by Alan Reed. 

Rag Cosmology is a meditation on the ecological in personal terms, or the personal in ecological terms. Or it is the work of blurring the distinction between those two statements, presenting the two as mutually imbricated perspectives opening onto a world where the distinction simply does not matter.

The collection opens with leaves falling from a tree, “when the green leaves / have gone back”: the decay of the leaves becomes a reflection on death, their falling and mulching a funerary process, the changing of their colour the words for an unnamed anxiety, which becomes a metaphor that grounds the affective state in an understanding of a broader ecological process.

I would say that this movement between the personal and the ecological, from one to the other and then back again, is emblematic of the work Robinsong is doing with these poems. And with each shift from the one domain to the other she brings something across the distinction between them, knitting the two together in a way where each can offer insight into the working of the other.

Alongside this, or perhaps running beneath it, there are occasional poems in what I would describe as an almost pastoral mode. These are poems about Cortes Island, where Robinsong is from, and her early life experience there. They are about oysters and rocks from a creek, bottled to preserve their lustre, “the knowledge that is around / wrapped in mountains emitting clarity.” They are memories, of a childhood and of growing up with the wild around her. In my reading, these poems are the heart of the collection.

That the scenes they convey are remembered is important. They are past, they are absent, and there is something painful about that absence—“2007 marked the end / I left my home, and could not return / (oh for my bright black sky).” In their absence, however, a trace of them persists. It is a seed unfolding slowly, subtly through these poems: it is the possibility of the ecological perspective the poems work from, and also how personal the ecological is in them. It is, in a sense, the magic animating them:

“What shall I do with my information I’m an animal in an animal in an animal I’m a poem of objects that live by magic I’m every idea I ever had, I’ll just stay here as a person. I have a photographic mouth.”

If Robinsong was a girl who grew up with the wild around her, then in this reading she has become a woman with the wild inside her. And not just inside of her but spilling out of her. She writes: “I was 20, I was a polyrhythmic / rug rat noticing there is nothing that isn’t / moving.” In this I would say there is a sensibility learned in her childhood that has persisted alongside her memory of Cortes Island.

In these poems this sensibility is brought face to face with the contemporary world. From this perspective, Robinsong is able to articulate a subjective space for herself—“Chemist programmer waste management prodigy / structural analyst shamanic kinetic engineer / I’m not. My open palms disorganized dreams / wild chemicals.”

What it is possible to do in this space makes up the greater part of the collection, too much to address here. I want to touch on how she returns to the theme of death. Late in the collection is an elegy to a lost friend. It is bracketed by a pair of meditations on dying. The first is brief – “I read somewhere that we think of death as a taking away of life / but that actually – you die into life”; the second, the poem entitled “Mon. Aft,” unfolds more convolutely and at greater length. It reads, in part: “you accompany / yourself / to what / vast appoint. / without your / face all about / a bond with / the universe / going to / cosmic smith- / ereens.”

Similar to how she treats leaves going to mulch in the beginning of the collection, Robinsong is here concerned with how an understanding of ecological processes can deepen the meaning of personal experience. The ecological perspectives Rag Cosmology grounds itself in offers a way to understand the personal within the context of the broader life processes we cannot but be part of. Reading it offers a way to more richly imagine the natural world and better understand our place within it.

Alan Reed is the author of a collection of poems, For Love of the City (BuschekBooks, 2006), and a novel, Isobel & Emile (Coach House Books, 2010). His short work has appeared in dANDelion, The Coming Envelope, Lemon Hound, and Papirmass. He lives in Montreal.

This review was published in issue 14:2 Lies and Duplicity.” To see more from this issue, please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

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