Vallum Poem of the Week: “A Short Deliberation” by Janet Baker

Janet Baker img


a short deliberation on being a creative person
……………………and the relative unimportance of things

glossary: important, as in needs attention, could wait
………………Important, as in needs attention now
………………unimportant, as in never has and never will need attention

there are twenty-four hours in a day, at least a few of which are normally spent sleeping therefore spent in a non-productive state and some of which are spent in a non-productive state due to eating, both of which could be classified as Important so therefore productive, and the problem is the fact that time is limited, we will never have enough of it and if you only have time to do the Important things, according to your own personal classification system, notwithstanding exterior pressures that cannot be ignored or there will undoubtedly be dire consequences, the problem is, if you only do the Important things and leave all the important “needs attention but could wait things” they will pile up and drive you crazy and it’s not as if anyone else will do them because they don’t really care about your personal classification system or what you perceive as important because they don’t understand, as in stop wasting your time and get on with what’s Important, and if the truth be known what you perceive as important may not be at all important, but if it’s on your list and doesn’t get done and things pile up you will become stressed and miserable and overwhelmed and ineffective and it’s not that easy to let something go if it’s on your to-do list because you’re the one who put it there which means it’s important according to your scale of importance, and it means you’re going to spend time on it and it may be that it’s not important or Important and it may even be unimportant and most people can agree somewhat on what’s Important but the reality is the Important things seem to take longer and longer to deal with as you get older and there’s less and less time for the important things that are piling up and you will be on overload if you can’t limit them and that’s when you have to have a good talk with yourself which usually isn’t too effective because old habits die hard and we all have our quirks and we need to be tolerant of other people’s quirks and if they appear to be wasting time they might be, but can’t help themselves and if you are a writer you can write about your quirks and you can write about the distinct possibility that some of the things you spend time on may be unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and it’s impossible to explain what you do anyway because any concept of time spent to achieve results is completely irrelevant in any creative endeavour, and therefore could be seen in some quarters as unimportant, so your only hope is to eat your veggies and try to get enough sleep to keep yourself from becoming a zombie and try to do everything, and write about it in such a moving and effective manner as to make it Important

Janet Baker is a visual artist living in Mississauga, Ontario. In 2010, her first published poem was included in Walk Myself Home: an anthology to end violence against women. Her personal essay “Story” is included in the anthology How To Expect What You’re Not Expecting (TouchWood Editions, 2013).

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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “San Fran Fiasco” by Jeramy Dodds

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San Fran Fiasco

The first blast of a bell
is cast to catch our attention.
Everyone looks the same
direction, but they’re looking
the wrong way, that ring’s
a ricochet, as if someone,
a great uncle perhaps, has
mimicked your gait and timbre,
bathed in your Drakkar Noir,
and tortured your dog into talking.
So, in a fit of tit for tat when you
get in late from your fateful date
it chomps your throat out.

Earlier, Angie, your neighbour
who insists she keeps seeing
your dead sister, had joined you
at that joint downshore; her eyes
were the glass of abandoned
aquariums. Eating her out
of house and home in back
of your Fiat, your sister rapped
on the pane, “I’ve been camped
in the belfry all along,” she said,
so as to relieve your suspicions,
“and they’re not glass
they’re Pyrex.”


Jeramy Dodds‘ first collection, Crabwise to the Hounds, won the Trillium Award and was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize. His translation of The Poetic Edda appeared in 2014.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “1302” by Gordon Massman


Ooh this bed’s hard, this bed’s soft, this porridge’s hot,

this porridge’s cold—well aren’t you a prissy little prima-

donna, presbyterian princess, egomaniac; eat your

porridge and go to sleep you big baby, I’m not your

domestic, gourmet cook, or mattress maker, and I

don’t care how lukewarm your bathwater is; I’ve

got my own demons, like multiple sclerosis, you

and your sensitivities; I should backhand you in the

face; Miss Perfection; besides I know you’re hymen-

less beneath that gingham dress, and shooting crack

at Cinderella’s, so don’t give me that crap about

scratchy blankets or dilapidated chairs; I’m kick-

ing butt for you at The Crackerjack for lousy tips

and you’re Miss Fuantleroy of Barracuda Street;

well, this is chez Sprats, Mother Hubbard, and you’

re, young lady, getting your ass to school, then

college, then I don’t give a rat’s what you do, I’

ll be dead to the nub, and damned if I’ll see my

only girl knocked up, drugged out, panhandling,

& conning idiots six months from now on Vul-

ture Boulevard. Give us this day, yea though I

walk, rock and my redeemer, pray you boob, hum-

ble your head in this Babylonia, this abattoir of

unforgiving deadliness, shame your butterfly ass-

tattoo with vinegar, rise through Baptismal water

new, imprinted with The Fear you postpubescent

carnal caricature, God eats fools like pinenuts.

Sweetie, Cleopatra of the Floridian blaze, leggy

topless beach-nude, Mama demands her strands

strip into you, the creole palms of her Pontche-

train hands, her cream of wheat soothe, her dou-

ble strip of pearls fusing one-by-one, like swal-

lowed light bulbs, Baby please, Mama’s poured

amber maple into you, and molasses, and cane;

I offer you Thessalonians, quartz agate, scarab

mayonnaise, sorrow portraits, Sophie Mae’s

Chiang Mai bamboo fan, boa constrictor slippers,

and Grandpa Pompadou’s molars-into-dice;

Abide by the rat’s tooth of family talismans, child;

stallion of youth’s no match for their sobriety;

clasp and see, oh darling, clasp and see; your al-

ready melting bones fill bowls with golden broth.


Gordon Massman splits his time between Medford, Massachusetts, and Frenchboro, Maine, an island off the coast. Gordon Massman: The Essential Numbers, 1991-2008 was published in 2009 by Tarpaulin Sky Press.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Fig Leaves” by Leland James

L0038401 2 photographs of bodybuilder and professor Desbonnet Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Bodybuilder Professor Desbonnet, front and back views, demonstrating the importance of physical exercise in training the body. Photograph 1908 La Culture Physique Published: - Printed: 1st December 1908 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Fig Leaves

In our doing and undoing,
in our designs,

the nakedness
we try to hide:

the corpse beneath the sheet
laid out upon a stainless table.

Plainly there, plainly.
But we go on

in our intricate designs.

The clink of glasses,
a swirl of opulence
upon a porcelain plate,

the tasteful tie and jacket,
understated, elegant.

Oh yes.

The anesthetizing doctor
saying, “Well at least
he felt no pain,

or very little.”

And in a minute turning

the hours come and go
to find us old and disillusioned,

still longing for the clink of glasses.
Wanting more.

………….Or if we dare—

oh if we dare
to set aside our wantonness,
to cede the corpse upon the table

and hear, once more,
the voice that sent us scurrying

to hide our nakedness,
might these plumes of dissipation
in surrender

fall away?


(With tribute to the poetry of T.S. Eliot)

Leland James, nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Poetry Prize, is the author of three books of poetry. He has been published in over fifty journals and magazines worldwide, including  The South Carolina ReviewThe Spoon River Poetry Review New Millennium Writings, and The London Magazine. He has won numerous international poetry competitions.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Decommissioned Planes” by Laura Matwichuk



Decommissioned Planes

It’s not easy to pull the track blinds,
look for cedar waxwings or passenger jets
through dad’s cheapo binoculars,
check the furnace filters, pilot light,
as engines rumble overhead.
Decommissioned planes in long-term storage
in the Mojave are obsolete yet invincible.
Because of the dry climate,
they don’t rust, parts are recycled
or sold to foreign nations,
to keep other planes in the air.
You examine aerial photographs,
satellite images, painterly trails
of hydraulic fluid soaking into sand.
When the Emergency Broadcast System
says This is only a test, you leave the TV on
because you’ve gotten used to the sound.
You keep waiting for the heat to come on,
for the regular broadcast to resume,
for a new sensation to quicken inside you
like the sight of that fleet of ghost planes
lifted from the desert, reanimated,
hovering over your house as if everything is fine.


Laura Matwichuk’s writing has appeared in CV2, EVENT, Poetry is Dead, Riddle Fence and The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and she was a finalist for the 2013 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Born in Winnipeg, she now lives in Vancouver.

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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Things She Is Afraid to Do in Amsterdam” Jennifer Footman

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Things She Is Afraid to Do in Amsterdam

She cannot enter a coffee shop.
No way could she swim
into dark caverns of leafy decor
where people nibble cakes
and cookies, smoke and drink coffee.

If she smoked a joint she could forget herself,
abandon control and reject the diamond in the carbon.
As a writer she has been rejected enough already.
Too many times her courage has been thrown back,
back into her face.
If chances must be taken, they should be for great concepts
for big pots and leads that count.

She cannot spend $40.00
on an Indonesian rice table meal.
She paints starving Biafrans
into a picture where they give
a life for a grain of rice,
a breath for a crust of fish.
All the same, she eyes for these sumptuous spreads
of thick food where fat tourists guzzle
making sure they get their money’s worth.

There is a man across the bar
in the hotel. He is about seventy
and English. She cannot
force herself to speak to this single
male. No way. He could think
she’s propositioning
him, he could think she wants more
than he’s prepared to give,
he could think her whore.

Better to sit alone
alone and wish for courage,
pray for the ability to stand up
and say “Hi, how are you?
Are you enjoying Amsterdam?”
But no, she is quadriplegic
in this cell, this damned cell.

She admits her cowardly stripe
right down the centre of her back.
Chicken, she just can’t pass the mustard
or cross the damned road.


Originally from India, Jennifer Footman spent most of her life in Edinburgh and is a graduate of that university, coming to Canada in 1979. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in most Canadian literary magazines and many US and UK ones. She lives with cedars and raccoons in Caledon.

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

Featured Review: What is Not a Thing: A review of THE ROAD IN IS NOT THE SAME ROAD OUT by Karen Solie. A Review by David Swartz.



What is Not a Thing: A review of THE ROAD IN IS NOT THE SAME ROAD OUT by Karen Solie
(Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press, Toronto 2015, $19.95 , 112 pages)
Review by David Swartz

Karen Solie’s way of approaching the reality of concrete things (and names) in The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out is to compare them to people. A thing is not a person. “People don’t stand in for each other the way things do” (“Museum of the thing”). Rather, Solie speculates:

A pail is thing. So is
the water it carries. A painting
hangs like a hat on a nail.

Judgement, perception, death are things
in themselves, they’re not nothing,
though they don’t, as things, appear.

Solie reimagines the value of existential certainty in light of her analysis of thingness. Evident in her title is an adamant refusal to become entangled by an originary intent. Truth is not a direct journey, rather, an unexpected passage. Questions never get answered. While remaining unflinchingly personal, devoid of any kind of rigorous philosophical method, Solie’s poems, unsurprisingly, reveal depth of vision. The themes are loosely laidout, wide-ranging: “the road in is not the same road out” alludes to an unexpected harvest of circulatory wanderings.

As philosopher, Solie provides us with everyday common sense suggestions: “Time is short,” and “Pedestrians, obey your signals.” Then, quite suddenly, things open to larger meanings. Unexpected metaphors loom at every turn (“a doorknob / came off in my hand like a bad prosthetic”).

After leaping into a poem, Solie takes short punctuated steps, keeping the reader wanting. She’s passionate and attentive to detail, and committed to the subject of her poem, herself, her hands writing the book, our hands picking up the book to read it

Solie deliberately brings in local imagery, colour, rhetorical questions, juxtaposing on one occasion Epicurus’ notion of injustice with the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf by the Toronto Maples Leafs. She wants to know if these are things too. Certainly they are. But once again, “people don’t stand in for each other.” A person is not a thing.

In Solie’s book, multiple ideas walk hand in hand, thoughts merge with questions, visions are born out of local descriptions and impressions. Solie’s tone is, at times, whimsically philosophical, autobiographical, impressionistic. Life is a vision to the visionary. There are many things to behold. What is the sense of these things? What is behind them? What is a thing? Solie contemplates such questions in her poems bravely.

“We are all locals now,” writes Solie. “A thing is what it is called.” To identify a thing by its name makes all of us relatives in the world of words. And yet, in a world such as Solie’s, where everything is full of metonymic significance, and where “the air is thick with personal messaging,” a thing can be what it is called, so long as the “Sad storm of objects becoming things” excludes living beings. “No thing / can survive such boredom.” In her philosophical and especially terse poem “Fables of the Reconstruction,” Solie writes: “Should a single being vanish into / what is not, so all things may vanish, as is written.” We get a sense of the kinship between thingness and nothingness. In many instances, Solie alludes to the paradoxical relationship between these two seemingly opposite poles of existence. Thankfully, her poetry does not get stuck in the mud of philosophy. Like a true artist, Solie is content to juxtapose things, names and ideas, simply to see what will happen.

Solie writes in broken-down digestible sentences (“the unknown is where we played”), and pregnant fragments (“Eternal life belongs to those who live in the present”). In her poem “the Living Option,” she maintains that 80 VALLUM the questioning method of philosophy perpetuates doubt. The only reason one doubts something is because one cannot see it. “If you can’t see it, / it’s philosophy. A game between us / and the nature of things.” Nevertheless, the place and existence of things remains steeped in mystery. “One doubt hides another.” Questions never get answered.

Solie will take another path: “he sensed in her an imminent change in direction.” She begins with self-consciousness, asserting herself through selfquestioning: “Still you … We were here once, hand in hand.” By now she is working on two fronts, addressing both herself and her reader: “What we share, though, transcends / ownership …” Aware of her rhetorical prowess and not wishing to direct herself or her reader through questioning alone, Solie indirectly suggests that poetry must rise above philosophical questioning, since “Neither question nor assertion makes sense / when truth is a tone of voice.” In The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out, Solie proudly reaffirms poetry’s ability to take on the great questions of epistemology and existentialism, by turning to the ongoing relationship between human beings and the nature of things themselves.


David Swartz is a Canadian writer, editor and visual artist. He has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto and is currently studying painting at the Faculdade de Belas Artes at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. Check out his website:


This review was published in issue 12:2 “Humour.” To see more from this issue, please visit Vallum‘s website here:

Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Phantom Bus” by Rhona McAdam

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Phantom Bus

Now that its existence has been questioned
it no longer comes.
Two of us rode it, another
has seen it pass
but it has lost its place
on the guide to services.

It roams imaginary maps
with its phantom driver
routes of its own devising
shining its lights
into towns and villages
beyond the brightly-coloured borders
of its world.

Some dark evening in winter
not too long from now,
you’ll be unloading your car
of its no-name cargo
when you’ll glimpse
the last passengers boarding:
postmistress, cobbler,
and finally, the village butcher
smoothing his hair,
stepping up with his change.


Rhona McAdam‘s poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US and England since the 1980s. Her most recent book is nonfiction, Digging the City (RMB, 2012) and her sixth full-length poetry collection, Ex-ville, was published by Oolichan in Fall 2014. She lives in Victoria.

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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “A Family” by Nyla Matuk



A Family

A crevasse is surmounted
on another winter afternoon;
quartzite, schist, gneiss

brooding again like a garrison,
exalting the great range
surrounding us. Persisting,

a cleft deepens, sun glitters
on ice, and shale undulates,
layered and obvious.

A few miles below, wild inquiry leans
into a majestic set; the deepest lake
is an enigma among these blue structures,

shimmering, beaching an old galosh,
a rusted fish hook, a tyre
of real rubber dredged in dulse.

A Baedeker’s finely drawn, fold-out panorama
diminishes our own—years through a hard
lens, the gimlet eye original.

Three of us form a pyramid and a fourth
is hoisted; a traverse of the rising
ridge ahead is attempted, cutting through

gully, rib, fang. Sunset’s long years
play a film undersea. Now our particularity
is beholden to a familiar angle.
We’ll recognize everyone, at long last.


(This poem originally appeared in Vallum 12:1 “Surrender” with the title “Family Heirlooms”)

Nyla Matuk’s first full-length collection is Sumptuary Laws (2012). Her poems have appeared in, or are forthcoming in, The Walrus, Hazlitt, Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012, Maisonneuve, New Poetries VI (Carcanet Press, 2015) and PN Review, among others. She was twice a finalist for the Walrus Poetry Prize and Sumptuary Laws was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for a best first book of poetry in Canada.

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

5 miscellaneous poems




Escape into this unfoiled plan

There is a possible flight possibly

Not yet arrested


And the redness of a wrong choice

Can smother you

but the plan, the plan…


It is there like a loon on a lake

The great coming and going of the eagle

The going away of hate


How did we find each other?

the odds are astronomical





Yesterday I followed myself out of the room

But I did not look for marks

Or signs that I had been present in

The previous room


The walking is so circular

I like the silence of my inner rays

And there is so much smudge and effortlessness

And despair


In those downtown streets

They are too painful

It is too painful to follow the crowd

People hurt you just by looking




When did I become an addict

So sparse my touch but the drink

Is stronger than complete ivresse

And the French is a toss of the head

A spit on the ground, a lighting

Of a cigarette


But your subtle perfume is for foxes

To follow, or other subtler animals

I live by your code


And even when the window seems shut

It is never quite shut, not all the way,

Mon amour




‘Me and you’

I know that is improper grammar

But it is what I mean to say

‘You and me’


Not ‘you and I’

My language can feel sharp claws

Hidden claws

Invisible claws


And the words like jumpin’

Into the frying pan, stirred and shaken

My mind finds you all over

And over again


Like the sweetness of sugar


(Which is also frowned upon)




You are like the wish headed somewhere

Conquering the isles of time

Scattered here and there, tied up

By knots


Knots of eternity

Because all time joins and secures

It is our dim light that makes

It an enemy


And the thoughts of you still come

Longer than is possible

Because all we have is endlessness

And will it still count as seconds

When we are older, uglier and eventually dead?



Image result for claude monet 


 (c) Eleni Zisimatos, 2016



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