Vallum Poem of the Week: “Ballad of the Gambler’s Shadow” by Sebastien Wen


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Poet Sebastien Wen


Sebastien Wen – Ballad of the Gambler’s Shadow


Ballad of the Gambler’s Shadow

New York, 1971

In my version of a beautiful lie, my kind of reality
we lock ourselves up in some dim-lit nowhere hut
strapped to the Yukon and just make love like it’s
hard labour, ’til out bodies are honey and raw

and in the evenings we play each other’s guts out
like mind-knives doing a death-waltz in this thickness
of the black. No limit, PLO, Open Face Chinese,
Fantasy Land, Chess, Backgammon, Rummy,
we let language drip into game theory
and then stick our tongues deep in our gifts

Sometimes in the mornings you blare hot blues
on the steel harp while the sun smokes and rises hard
over the teeth of the freezing mountains
your notes twist and twitch in the wind and I watch
your neck like I’d watch the player on my left
checking out the hand the dealer gave him
on the short-stack

That’s what my beautiful lie looks like

Only problem is
I don’t you know who are
I doubt you’d even wanna move to the Yukon
you’d probably be all bitch n’ moan
about the mosquitoes and the grey food

You ask me
“Why would you ever want to leave New York anyway?”

and I admit to you that I’m just too soft for the city.
cardshark who can’t swim. I beg myself to find
the land and slip my shade. Why’d I even tell you?
Why’d I try? Why’d I even ask
if you’d come with me?


Sebastien Wen is a nineteen year old poet and spoken word artist based out of Vancouver. He is UBC’s 2013 slam champion. He was a member of the 2013 Calgary slam team. He has featured as a performer in numerous Canadian festivals. He studies Honours English Literature at UBC.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “LO QUE MI PADRE QUIERE REALMENTE DE MÍ” by Eduardo Chirinos (Translated by G. J. Racz)


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Video by Eduardo Chirinos



Anoche tuve un sueño. Acompañaba a mi padre
por un camino de tierra. Los dos íbamos a caballo
y apenas cruzábamos palabras. A lo lejos se veía
la sombra de unos sauces, las luces de un pueblo
desconocido y remoto. De pronto, mi padre detuvo
su caballo y preguntó si yo sabía a dónde íbamos.
Le contesté que no. Entonces vamos bien, me dijo.


Los caballos del sueño sabían de memoria
el recorrido. Era cuestión de abandonar las
riendas, de dejarse llevar. Eso me causaba un
poco de aprensión, incluso un poco de miedo.
Mi padre, en cambio, parecía muy tranquilo.
Pensé, parece tranquilo porque está muerto.


Aquí es donde vivo, dijo como si me quitara
una venda. Fue muy poco lo que vi. Sólo un
páramo de piedras, remolinos de arenisca,
huesos de caballos amarillos. ¿Qué te parece?
No supe qué decir. Tenía sed y me dolía un
poco la garganta. Es un lugar hermoso, dijo,
pero a veces me gustaría regresar. ¿Por qué
no regresas, entonces?, pregunté. Porque es
más fácil que tú vengas me dijo. Y desapareció.




Last night I had a dream. I was travelling with my father
over a dirt road. The two of us were on horseback and we
barely said a word to each other. Off in the distance you could
see the shadow of some willow trees and lights from a strange
and far-away town. Suddenly, my father stopped his
horse and asked if I knew where we were heading. I told
him no. Then we’re going in the right direction, he said.


Horses in dreams always know the way by
heart, so it was simply a matter of loosing the
reins and letting ourselves be led. This caused
me not a little apprehension and even a little fear.
My father, in contrast, seemed very calm.
He seems calm, I thought, because he’s dead.


This is where I live, he said, as if taking a blindfold
from my eyes. I could see very little there, only a
rocky plain, sandstone whirls and the yellow bones
of horses. What do you think? he asked. I didn’t
know what to tell him. I was thirsty and my
throat hurt a bit. Beautiful place, he said, but
I feel like going home sometimes. Why don’t
you, then? I asked. Because it’s easier for you
to come to me, he said, and disappeared.

(Translated by G. J. Racz)

Poet Eduardo Chirinos

Eduardo Chirinos (Lima, Perú 1960) is the author of numerous books of poetry as well as volumes of academic criticism, essays, translations, children’s books, and occasional pieces. His most recent poetry titles in Spanish include Abecedario del agua (2000), Breve historia de la música (2001, winner of the inaugural Casa de América Prize for Latin American Poetry), Escrito en Missoula (2003), No tengo ruiseñores en el dedo (2006), Humo de incendios lejanos (2009), Catorce formas de melancolía (2010), Mientras el lobo está (2010, winner of the XII Generation of ’27 Poetry Prize), and 35 lecciones de biología (y tres crónicas dicácticas) (2013). An anthology of his work was translated into English: Reasons for Writing Poetry (London: Salt Publishing, 2011). The University of Montana Press has published the English version of Escritoen Missoula (Written in Missoula, 2011), Open Letter (Rochester, New York) published the English translation of Humo de incendios lejanos (The Smoke of Distant Fires, 2012), Diálogos Books the English translation of Mientras el loboestá (While the Wolf Is Around, 2014), and Díaz Grey the English translation of Treinta y cinco lecciones de biología (Thirty-Five Zoology Lessons, 2015).

After completing his doctorate at Rutgers University, Chirinos held posts at Binghamton University and the University of Pennsylvania before moving on to the University of Montana, where he is now professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.


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Featured Review: A Modest Master: A Review of Ricardo Sternberg’s SOME DANCE. Review by Zachariah Wells.


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A Modest Master: A Review of Ricardo Sternberg’s SOME DANCE
(Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. $16.95, 82 pages)
Review by Zachariah Wells

Ricardo Sternberg opens his fourth poetry collection with a poem titled, “An Invocation of Sorts,” a nod to the Homeric epic. As the title suggests, Sternberg’s appeal to the muse isn’t wholly in earnest. Before the poem’s end, he says: “as for theme, leave it to me / to come up with something / that while not highfalutin, // carries a whiff of the sublime.”

Writing recently in The National Post, Michael Lista asserted that “Ricardo Sternberg is one of the absolute best poets in this country,” a statement that Sternberg’s fastidious and yet winkingly modest poems would insist that we qualify. I would argue that Sternberg is a master of a certain sort of poem: a delightful poem of conversational semi-formal aplomb that is charmingly witty, gently self-deprecating, and disarmingly poignant.

In “Mule,” a poem from Bamboo Church, Sternberg’s previous collection, he lets us know that he is not aiming at grandeur: “You were forewarned / and have no right // to ask this mule / to be what it is not. / This is no poem for you.” Sternberg has a sneaky way of smuggling covert cargo into his verse. A word that often recurs in Sternberg poems is “meandering;” and meander is what these poems do, beautifully. It is telling that the two best pieces in Some Dance, “No Love Lost” and “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis,” are about writer’s block and procrastination. Sternberg has not been prolific—his books have appeared in 1990, 1996, 2003 and 2014. But the poems themselves are reminders that productivity, that totem god of late capitalism, is overrated, and that idleness can be the arena of art.

If Some Dance has a muse, it is not Calliope, the muse of epic, but Mnemosyne, the personification of memory and mother of all muses. Rosemary Sullivan has called Sternberg “a poet of memory,” and this has never been truer than in his latest book. Personal recall is a stock prop of lyric verse. But Sternberg does more to complicate recall than most poets.

The first fourteen poems comprise a faux-epic sequence whose protagonist, in moments of reflection, “scrambl[es] events from his life / with fiction and the TV soaps.” Throughout the collection, we encounter various failures and inventions of memory, and in “Manual,” the penultimate poem and another ars poetica, “the word engine starts / again at the very start: / to stutter its way towards truth / or lies and be, at the end, / unable to tell them apart.”

If this kind of stuttering is not the stuff of Great Poetry, it is, in the hands of an astute craftsman like Sternberg, the matter of very good minor poetry, which is rarer than it ought to be. If you let Some Dance spin you across its polished parquetry, you won’t be sorry.


Zachariah Wells ( is a contributing editor for Canadian Notes & Queries. His most recent book is Career Limiting Moves: Interviews, Rejoinders, Essays, Reviews.


This review was published in issue 11:2 “Speed.” To see more from this issue, please visit Vallum‘s website here:

Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Magician Wove” by Cassidy McFadzean


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Poet Cassidy McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean – The Magician Wove


The Magician Wove

I found a wise     and weird creature
seated in a tall,      secluded tower,
a spire overlooking     vast seas and fields,
working in silence      her solitary task.
She toiled through       threadbare nights,
her finger’s tired      twill weaving
droplets of red       dye into filament,
her blood into fibre,        body into thread.
This magician wove     the warp and weft,
transformed ply into        pictures divine,
her tapestry spoke        unspeakable words,
spun into cotton    like clouds onto sky.
Who is this servant,      ever spinning twine
stringing sentences,        speech into time?

answer: poet

Cassidy McFadzean is the author of Hacker Packer (McClelland & Stewart 2015). She has been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize, the Walrus Poetry Prize, and won second place in the 2014 Short Grain Contest. McFadzean lives in Regina and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Jumbo Elegy” by Jacob Scheier


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Poet Jacob Scheier


Jacob Scheier – Jumbo Elegy



Jumbo Elegy

“Paralysed force, gesture without motion;”
—The Hollow Men

The cement elephant plays chicken
with a train, forever up ahead. With painted eyes
he stares down the ghost
of that locomotive. Makes it vanish.
The town’s barren tracks like casket handles
holding nothing’s ceaseless progress. Jumbo,
the world’s most beloved behemoth,
still as a golem. Insides stuffed
with sky. Real hide
on the Upper West Side. Tusks
at Tufts U. Heart
left in Ithaca. His likeness
watches like a sentinel
over the Giant Tiger,
Walmart, Canadian Tire,
2 methadone clinics, 3 Timmies
and the charred remains
of a schoolhouse photographed by Google
the day it burned, turned
to a virtual eternal flame.
Some say Jumbo was a martyr,
charged the train to save young Tom Thumb.
But Fred says suicide,
and he’s not the only one. Sally
will just let you know
what everyone knows, but won’t say.
Jumbo was worth more dead.
It was convenient, is all,
when you consider Barnum
knew a lot of taxidermists. George reports
the tusks pushed up like daisies
through Jumbo’s brain. Candice claims
the train had the effect of a good poem.
Took his head right off,
so it rolled like a deposed despot
from a guillotine. This, his gift
to the good citizens of St. Thomas,
in place of what’s been lost:
the trains, the Sterling Truck plant
and Ford factory, the jobs and the jobs
and the jobs. There are no angels
in Ontario, says the once great slave,
only a beast paralyzed, waiting
for the 8:20 to London,
arriving any minute now.


Jacob Scheier is an award winning poet, journalist and essayist. He is the author of the poetry collections Letter from Brooklyn  (ECW Press, 2013) and More to Keep us Warm  (ECW Press, 2013), which won the 2008 Governor General’s Award His poems been published in magazines across North America and aired on CBC radio. His poem “Jumbo Elegy,” published inVallum, was recently nominated for a National Magazine Award. He is also co-winner of a 2009 New York Independent Media Alliance award for best feature article: “The Anti-Bloomberg: Can I Get an Amen?: Co-written with John Tarelton: The Indypendent 14 August 2009.  Jacob is the author of the nonfiction ebook My Never Ending Acid Trip published by The Toronto Star (2013), a frequent contributor to Toronto’s NOW Magazine. His most recent work of nonfiction is the personal essay, “The Rabbi” recently published in Brick . This past spring, Jacob was the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Pierre Berton House Writer-in-Residence in Dawson City, Yukon. This fall he will be an MFA candidate in creative non-fiction at Ohio State University.


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


Blast from the Past: Shakespeare

Hippolyta: ‘Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.

Theseus: More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

Hippolyta: but all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images,
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.

William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Lid” by Priscilla Atkins


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Poet Priscilla Atkins

Priscilla Atkins – Lid



White, two-story.
A pine tree.
Yew bushes.

Berries that are poisonous.

Lift up the roof:
didn’t everyone grow up in a house like this?

Be careful of red berries.
And deadly nightshade’s blue flowers.

Don’t climb the birch tree.
It has fragile branches.

Don’t climb the Norwegian pine—it’s so tall.


Priscilla Atkins lives in Michigan, near the lake of that name. Her collection The Cafe of Our Departure is available from Sibling Rivalry Press.


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


Vallum Poem of the Week: “Bedlam” by Lea Harper


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Lea Harper

Lea Harper – BEDLAM



You chose a drowsing wilderness
sundrunk chalice of lakes

three years winding down a verdant path
now you double back

the city an explosion of images

Sign behind a dumpster:  Holocaust Memorials
in an alley between church and boutique,
Caprice du Marie and The Redeemer.

The Passion plays out in a dim theatre
over a grail of popcorn.
Bodies emerge from the interior
stunned, vermicular,
daylight stabbing their eyes.

What do you know of sacrifice
beyond your own tortured ambitions?

You worked your way through thousands of plots
to find your father’s grave.

The earth is exhausted.

At the cross of St. George and Bloor
a mass pilgrimage to the station.

Go back to your untroubled woods.
The dragon rumbles underfoot,
sewer grates steam.


Lea Harper is an award-winning poet and Juno-nominated songwriter, the author of All That Saves Us and Shadow Crossing (Black Moss Press). She has released four recordings including Lake of Many Winds, a spoken word CD with soundscapes — a tribute to Kennisis Lake, her permanent residence since 2001. She is currently working with the Jazz-poetry ensemble: Alchemy. The string bass and percussion heard on Bedlam is provided by Craig Patterson.


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


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