Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Irrelevant Age” by Dane Swan


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Dane Swan, poet, at a reading.

Dane Swan – The Irrelevant Age

The Irrelevant Age

In a world of hover-cars and space tourism
our last literary imprint
shall be                        the emoticon –
elementary students
learning the difference
between colon open parentheses
and colon close parentheses.

Yeats, Shakespeare, Frost
still around
…works of this generation’s authors

Academics shall blame
Google Books ® for our generation’s demise
(the answer remains the same).

The answer remains the same
(k)no(w) matter how many times
you multiply zero.

The irrelevant age.

Lingo nonsensical.
Great works temporary.
Pivotal art lost on crashed hard drives,
degrading digital formats
as the floppy disk gives way
to the newest.

Generations later
the current technology
remains what it is
seconds after purchase:

an antique door stop.
Its treasures permanently locked

The Bermuda born, Jamaican heritage, and Toronto based Dane Swan is a past Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto. Dane has also been short listed for the Monica Ladell Award. His first book, “Bending the Continuum,” (Guernica Editions, 2011) was a mid-summer recommended read by Open Book Toronto. Dane’s second book, “A Mingus Lullaby,” (Guernica Editions) which is in resonance with, and inspired by the life and music of Charles Mingus, is slated for a Fall 2015 launch.

Mr. Swan’s poetry has been taught in schools and has been published in France, the UK, Bahamas, and Canada. His spoken-word work can be found in solo projects and collaborations available on CD, vinyl and MP3. He has read alongside numerous literary luminaries including Goran Sumic, Priscila Uppal, Giana Patriarca, and spoken-word stars including Shayne Koyczan, Dwayne Morgan, and Lillian Allen.

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

Featured Review: Dani Couture’s YAW. Review by Jenna Bulter.


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A Review of Dani Couture’s YAW
(Toronto, ON: Mansfield Press, 2014. $17.00, 64 pages)
Review by Jenna Butler

Yaw is a fascinating collection—part general examination into the grieving process, part specific homage to one disappeared person—that demands multiple readings. It’s a deceptively slim book: you can read it in one sitting. It’s in rereading, however, that one catches the careful nuances of these fast-paced poems.

“Hail Mary” gets the collection off to a terrific start, the strong first-person lines setting a decisive tone for the exploration of personal grief that is to follow: “I am both the unanswered phone and the caller untethered. / I am the turned back to the Hail Mary pass / in the last seconds of the final quarter.” The gorgeousness of this book lies in its curt lines, the way they swing on exact details that nail the poems perfectly into place: “A body propelled / through molared window. / We all have places to go.”

Couture at her best is a master of capturing the larger event—death, a storm, an argument, a troubled relationship—and pinning it into place with a handful of brilliantly selected words. Each of her poems is an exercise in simultaneous speaking and listening, turned inward to the event, while also speaking to the outer world. This is evident in the poem “F-scale, Ohio.” Here the storm is both real, and a metaphor for grief: “How / in 74, the sky turned its face toward us, bowed / down, and blew the town out like a wish.” Couture’s words offer the gut-punch of grief precisely observed, and the reader buckles: “The heart / is a small, chambered abattoir until it’s not.”

What is arguably the strongest poem in the book comes early and sets the bar high. “Fact Check,” a list poem, internalizes the police procedure following a death and plays it out again through the way in which one turns facts over and over again in memory. “did he tell you he loved you?” it begins. “did he refuse to give you back your key?” What starts as a review of an apparently complicated relationship slides sideways into an unexpected death and the many ways of managing absence: “did you drink morning rye from a cold coffee mug?” … “did you hold water in your mouth but not swallow?” The curt questions are destabilizing, mimicking the way we self-interrogate following an accident or a death, questioning whether something truly happened the way we remember it. This is the courtroom cross-examination writ small, the minutiae leading up to a death that afterwards form the only map for finding our way back out. “did you lose your taste for sleep?” Couture wants to know. “do the dead walk in your dreams? / do they call you? / do the dead still call you? / Thank you for your time.”

The few failings in this collection are easily forgiven in light of the overall excellence of the book. These minor poetic slip-ups include Couture’s tendency to rhyme too closely, or to play too often with approximate repeated sounds (“The curve of the cumulus, slant of swampish sidelight, the strain / of weeds alongside the route, familiar but not familial”). Sometimes Couture slips into repetition that dulls the lines: “we slept heavy, / draped across one another—a litter, / leg-tangled, sleeping” and “Hump shouldering south before / coming back round, the cancelled / spring hunt pushes one kind / of hunger farther south.” This is puzzling, since Couture is normally adept at saying only what needs to be said. Still, these issues are minor when compared to the usual decisiveness and precision of her language.

Yaw is a gorgeous read, slim but challenging, demanding a close eye and
frequent rereading. Couture looks into the heart of grief and captures
clearly whatever stares back, “The moments we catch ourselves reflected
in paned glass, / avoid the eyes of what’s missing. What never made
it back.”


Jenna Butler is the author of four books: On the Grizzly Trail, Seldom Seen Road, Wells, and Aphelion. She teaches creative writing at Red Deer College and lives with three resident moose and a den of coyotes on a small organic farm in Alberta’s north country.


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: “Thrift” by Anthony Labriola


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Poet Anthony Labriola

Anthony Labriola – Thrift


Thrift, thrift. Will’s word for speed, acceleration,
        tempo of betrayal, the time it takes

to hasten ambition, poison your brother,
        marry his widow, speed up accession.

Thrift is the itchy finger on the trigger,
        split-second timing of do or die, blink

of an assassin’s eye—thrifty shutter speed
        in the quick ending of a hasty beginning.


Anthony Labriola’s work has appeared in The Canadian Forum, PRISM international, Vallum: Contemporary Poetry, Stone Voices, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Passion: Poetry, and selected to appear in Panacea Literary Review. His poetry collections include: The Rigged Universe (Shanti Arts Publishing), Sun Dogs (Battered Suitcase Press), Invisible Mending (Anaphora Literary Press) and The Blessing of the Bikes & Other Life-Cycles (Anaphora Literary Press), for which he received a Work in Progress Grant from the Toronto Arts Council in 2014. His published prose works include: Devouring the Artist (a novella), The Pros & Cons of Dragon-Slaying (short stories) and Poor Love & Other Stories (short fiction), published by Anaphora Literary Press. He lives in Toronto and teaches Life Writing and College English at Seneca College.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Bök’s Christian Tongue” by Christine Walde


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Poet Christine Walde

Christine Walde – Bök’s Christian Tongue


Bök’s Christian Tongue

laps the black milk of Kali
aloft soft licks of math maps
silk as the clasp of the asp
kisses the clit mast ballast
katabatic as Kafka
at kitsch alps of a kelp sea
to battle the bleak kasbah
till alas at last a speck
as cleft as a moth’s kill mask
slips kaboom past foible splats
as peaks of sheath faith falls slack
to the sick feasts of left slaps
that tickles the sloth to pass
the kite to the koala
as fast as his poems kick
ass loathe of fake kismet shit
split at sick seams of lisp spit
to loom afloat coma beat
as soothe a kook komodo
to face the seat of kalpa
to speak to fable Kama
as i lies back to take a
lit tip flick attack of bliss
that stop makes me shake with o
the spell of a spaceless place
the blast of a batik lace
stealth as a koi thief as he
laps the black milk of Kali


Christine Walde is a poet and librarian living in Victoria, BC. She has been published in print and online journals in both Canada and the US, including Branch, Carousel, The Fiddlehead, LemonhoundThe Malahat Review, Plath Profiles,The Rusty Toque, and Vallum, among others. In 2011, Baseline Press published The Black Car, a chapbook based on her work with Sylvia Plath’s archive. More recently, in 2014, her digital chapbook Noise and Silence was selected by Poetry is Dead editor Daniel Zomparelli as part of 16 Pages. Her last novel, Burning From The Inside, was nominated for a 2014 ReLit Award.


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Searle’s Chinese Room Problem” by Daniel Cowper


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Daniel Cowper




Dark-winged cedars are flocking
by the lakeside: goffered
with oar-feathers of sun;

over the water like cormorants
sunning their wings. Sick of walking
this loop with me, you’d stayed home. Overhead
the crisscrossed limbs are tangled, locking

together. Wind flowing through
this weir of plashed branches stirs
the boughs, and bark rubbing against bark
whistles and chitters like a grove of birds.

Where the branches chafe, their wooled grooves
(rawed Tyee-pink) chirp and keen until grosbeaks
and siskins answer, mistaking
the cedar’s twitters and squeaks

for birdsong. And maybe we’ve made
the same mistake. Maybe we’re
no more alike than the songbirds
and the cedar weir.


Daniel Cowper is a poet and writer from an island off the coast of British Columbia. His poetry has appeared in various literary publications, including Prairie Fire, the Literary Review of Canada, the Dalhousie Review, and Contemporary Verse 2. He is currently working on a poem sequence called ‘Winter Devotional’, and a novel about a love triangle tentatively entitled ‘Owl, Heron, Wren’.


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


Boethius wrote about the Wheel of Fortune and how it’s not wise to build a house on the edge of a cliff for one never knows what turn his or her fortune will take. We know very little in life, but what we do know is that things change. One minute someone is in the depths of despair, another is sick. Then there is a sudden turn of the wheel and one is moving upwards again. So it has been proven throughout time.

Being happy is difficult today. But as the ancients said, happiness is the goal of life. Being in love is also difficult, with its attending insecurity, shyness and, I guess, madness (also as the ancients would say). But if there is a spark and hope for happiness then life becomes meaningful. And as long as the Wheel does not come down too quickly, for it is inevitable that it will come down at some point, we can enjoy our brief moments of joy. And especially, love.

Blast From the Past: Dante

“While I was in this condition, the desire to write some poetry came to me, so I wrote this sonnet which begins: ‘All my thoughts’.

All my thoughts are telling me of Love;
they have in them such great diversity
that one thought makes me welcome all his power,
another thinks Love’s power is insane,
another makes me hope and brings delight,
another moves me oftentimes to tears.
Only in begging pity all agree,
and tremble as they do with fearful heart.
Now I know not from which to take my cue;
I want to speak but know not what to say.
Thus do I wander in a maze of Love!
And if I want to harmonize these thoughts,
to do so I must call upon my foe,
by asking Lady Pity for defence.”

Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova.    b. 1265

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Erin Foley Just Cleaned her Kitchen (including the elements on the stove and the oven) and her bathroom. Tomorrow, the floors, living room and bedroom. Spring cleaning, one step at a time.” By Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang


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Sarah Tsiang




This morning a rock flew
through our window. My daughter
crying in the bedroom,
a man reached through the broken
glass and turned the lock.

I don’t know if it was my steps
or her cries, small and shattered,
that frightened him. He left
the door hanging, March wind
blowing through the kitchen.

All morning I swept glass,
the window frame rained
shards with every pass
of my broom.
My place has never been so clean.

That evening, my daughter
is in bed, the new window firmly in place.
Still, I’m finding glass under the fridge,
and in the dog’s dish.

No matter how much I sweep,
there it is: the window,
the rock, my daughter’s broken
cry. Small scattered stars.


Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of the poetry books Status Update (2013), which was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and the Gerald Lampert award winning Sweet Devilry (2011). She is also the author of several children’s books,  including picture books such as A Flock of Shoes, the non-fiction Warriors and Wailers, and the YA novel Breathing Fire.  Sarah’s work been published and translated internationally, as well as named to the OLA Best Bets for Children 2010, Best Books for Kids & Teens from 2011 to 2014, and the Toronto Public Library’s First and Best Book List (2012). She is also the editor of two poetry collections, Desperately Seeking Susans  (2013), and the forthcoming Tag: Canadian Poets at Play.


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

Caught in stereotypes…

Image result for saint

It is often the case that people get caught in stereotypes and set modes of thinking. Without an ability to shake up the conventional, there can be no creativity. Children are masters at the ‘surprise’ mode of being, which is lost when people join forces to field a singular cause. There are many points of view, many ways of being and different cultural norms. We cannot become convinced of the ‘propriety’ of a certain way when half of us are hypocrites on some level. Purely virtuous people may exist, but are they without the sin of scorning those who do not imitate their ways? It is so in every profession, and we poets are not exempt. In fact, some of us may be worse, since our ‘calling’ professes to deal with the spirit, or the esoteric on some level. And there is a level of more truthfulness in a redneck who helps out someone in trouble than in a highbrow who writes a ‘good poem.’ /ez

The Right Thing
by Theodore Roethke
Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will-
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots!-Body and soul are one!
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Featured Review: Down the rabbit hole: Subverting the urban world METROPANTHEON


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Down the rabbit hole: Subverting the urban world METROPANTHEON
Steven Artelle (Winnipeg, MB: Signature Editions, 2014, $14.95, 88 pp)
Review by Francesca Bianco

In thinking about Steven Artelle’s Metropantheon, a debut collection of poetry that seeks to unsettle the sometimes droid-like existence of urban life, another piece of creative work leaps to mind. The 1998 documentary, “The Cruise,” delves into the problematic nature of the New York City’s grid plan, with social commentator Speed Levitch at the helm. In his estimation, the blueprint of Manhattan emanates from our weaknesses: the puritan system of ninety-degree angles is homogenizing in a city where there is no homogenization available. As Levitch walks down a back street, he declares that, “[In New York] there is only total cacophony, a total flowing of human ethnicities and tribes and beings and gradations of awareness and consciousness.” With the same measured and polemic wit as Levitch, Steven Artelle’s Metropantheon tags over and deconstructs the urban space and elevates the city, in this case Toronto, to mythic proportions. The exposed streets and hidden alleyways are rewritten to erase the monotony of daily living to shift towards a reflection of our most embellished, hallucinatory fantasies. For a slim volume of poetry, Metropantheon contains so many implications and allusions we could come to regard it nestled comfortably in between the foreboding vibrations of Yeats’ “Second Coming” and the caffeinated exaltations of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” However, Metropantheon celebrates rather than gives caution to what the future holds.

In an online interview with rob mclennan about his poetry, Steven Artelle reveals that his writing “always circles back to the nature of cities, encounters with divinity in a secular environment, wrestling with individual identity in a collective culture.” Metropantheon, for, instance, is a space where Artelle has “tried to overwrite the secular experience of cities in western culture by inventing an urban mythology, rituals, supernatural interventions.” In Metropantheon, the poet channels the grit and grime of a dystopic city through graffitichild; a being who grapples with his / her relationship to the collective culture of the city space. graffitichild is a mythic personality on the urban periphery, a kind of trickster god who is at once a creator and a destroyer, a giver and a negator, who misleads and is misled. To make this work, Artelle corrals language suited to the chaos and density of the urban: portmanteau words (“gladhands”, “nightchurch”, “heartjawed”) gospel-like repetition (O blessed infidelity / O candles collapsed into swans), and erratic, staccatoed rhythms. The “lines and cracks of every sidewalk” become Artelle’s source for creativity. Something like love, like art, is happening “somewhere behind the drywall” and it “smells like a manifesto.” In Metropantheon the new and revolutionary mythology slouches out from behind the concrete curtains.

In the ancient world, a pantheon is a space dedicated to the gods. Roman consul and noted historian, Cassius Dio, remarked that Rome’s Pantheon, because of its vaulted roof, “resembles the heavens.” If Artelle’s collection is like the Pantheon’s portico, then graffitichild is the oculus: the structure’s central opening and a feat and wonder of human effort and ingenuity. However, in Metropantheon the bones of the city are not as dependable as one might think. The city, as rendered in the poem “heat”, is “constructed with slabs of fat / the whole thing slathered together / and wobbling under the eyeless mortar of the sun.” Beings either emerge above the city’s surface or are submerged. In this case, graffitichild states simply: “I am an outline” and at the margins of the speaker’s own sense of identity and relationship to the “splintered skyline.”

Interestingly, one of the strongest poems in the collection carries with it the most substantial emotional infrastructure. It is a break from the turbo-charged, dense imagery injected with Artelle’s mythic imagination. The poem, “the evidence of windows” begins concretely by placing us at “hinton north and wellington” in Toronto amongst “bikes and uncertain traffic” and then shifts to become an existential lament on love:

……….and it was your name over and over that afternoon and so it was
……………maybe you as I eavesdropped and maybe missed my calling
……….until the part about how we make the wrong decisions and
……………live with it or not in the acoustic dark and the part about love

It is an accessible piece redolent of the fluctuating doubt and melancholy we feel in relationships and in loss. It is a poem “about you and me unable to lean out.”

Artelle’s overarching project is less about narrative, less about understanding what exactly happens to, say, graffitichild than it is about refashioning language itself. The burning core of Metropantheon lies in the attempt to deconstruct and rebuild a pantheon of reinvigorated, resonant mode of expression fit for the gods. It should be noted that stamina is required in reading Metropantheon in the same way it is harnessed when slogging between subway, tram, and office building. In “half-skinned rabbit”, however, the speaker reminds us that we “stretch [our] hand into whatever new glove this is.” The reader follows a similar path to familiarity as they move through the collection. Metropantheon becomes our city, our experience, our new glove that molds, breathes, and expands to our daily elation and struggle.


Francesca Bianco is a writer and farm gal living in snowy northern British Columbia. She intends to complete a Masters in Journalism at UBC next fall.


This review was published in issue 12:1 “Surrender.” To see more from this issue, please visit Vallum‘s website here:


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