Event Recap: Argo Summerfest Readings

Recap by Rosie Long Decter

There was barely space for readers to make their way to the front of the room at Argo Bookshop’s Summerfest Readings earlier this month. The narrow shop was lined with chairs, and by the time the evening started, nearly every seat was filled.

Curated by Ilona Martonfi, the readings began at eight and packed nine writers into the space of an hour. Robert Winters read first, his steady voice and stark poems invoking far-off battlefields, as he spoke of “heavy metal cracking old roadways like dry egg shells.” Following Winters was the curator herself, whose calm reading included a particularly captivating folk tale about a refugee girl. David Gates completed the first third of the night with meditations on change, place, and nature: “my questions, asked or not, are in the stones,” he recited.


Mike Di Sclafani

Breaking with the poetry of the first three readers, Kitty Hoffman read a piece of prose about prose itself. Her reading was a poignant ode to intellectual investigation, chronicling her desire from a young age to spend her days thinking and writing, to “dance with the old rabbis” – as well as her understanding that this “special world of meaning” was reserved for men. After Kitty, singer-songwriter Mike Di Sclafani brought his guitar up to the front. Sclafani performed original songs straight out of the folk tradition, with a drawling voice and heartfelt lyrics.


Catherine Chandler

Maria Caltabiano steered the evening back to poetry with a charming piece about the “poet’s companion,” and Jim Olwell after her brought to vivid life a “cafe for old men.” Catherine Chandler read from a series of poems for her mom, depicting a bittersweet scene of a mother wrapping a ribbon around a child’s curls. Chandler’s light, rhythmic voice paired with her clear language made her a standout. Her final poem, “Votiv,” invoked the ambiguities of faith and grief, describing a woman wandering through St. Joseph’s Oratory after the Sandy Hook shootings, testing her “limits of belief.”


Robert Martin Evans

After Chandler, the evening closed out with a final reading from Robert Martin Evans, who left the night on a wistful note with his delicate imagery: “I know you that way / an airplane passing like an arrow,” he read. Swift as an arrow, Argo’s Summerfest Readings concluded as smoothly as they started – a sweet sampling of Montreal talent on a late summer night.

For upcoming Argo events, check out their website.

Find Ilona Martonfi in Vallum 11:1 here.

Find Robert Martin Evans in Vallum 13:1 here.

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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.


Vallum Poem of the Week: “Devil’s Punchbowl, Manitoba” by Megan Alford

Megan Alford_Photo1.jpg


Devil’s Punchbowl, Manitoba

visitors mind their cigarettes,
cigars, and pipe ashes
all is crushed before discarding

beside a depression in the
earth holding water from
somewhere so deep

it knows the language of
the hognose snakes,
and prairie skinks

with whom it can talk about
dying, musings roll of a
forked tongue, embedded
in an orange jaw


Winner of the Lily’s Pond Poetry Prize, Megan Alford’s first poetry chapbook, Piggyfish, is now available from Island Verse Editions. She grew up in Prince Edward Island and graduated from Concordia University’s Creative Writing Program where she was shortlisted for the Irving Layton Award in both poetry and fiction. Other publications include Cirque Literary Journal, Encore Literary Magazine, Dying Dahlia Review, Matrix Magazine, Poetry Breakfast, Soliloquies Anthology, Room, and Vallum. A musician and songwriter, she is currently recording her first full length album. She lives in Vancouver.
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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Featured Interview: Malek Yalaoui and Dona La Luna of SistersInMotion

Interview by Rosie Long Decter

In September 2016, I went to see a friend perform at a poetry night in Outremont. The event was at Jardins Cra-Terre; I’d never been before, and found myself wandering outside for a while thinking I was in the wrong place. When I finally arrived, I found a clearing lined with benches, where a full audience sat watching the stage with care. Throughout the evening, the crowd cheered on and lifted up the performers, all women of colour, and in a break between sets, friends gathered to eat dinner in the open air. More than just a welcome reprieve from white-male dominated arts scenes, the night felt like an entirely different kind of literary event; the warmth was infectious.

In the two years since that first event, SistersInMotion (SiM) has become a fixture in Montreal, continuing their performance nights and expanding into workshops. This summer they’ve held a series of workshops, concluding this weekend with When Trauma Speaks The Bones, led by Kai Cheng Thom. I spoke with SiM’s founders, Malek Yalaoui and Dona La Luna, about that first event, the relationship between art and community, and how SiM continues to build its sisterhood.


Malek Yalaoui at the first SiM night in 2016. Photo by Võ Thiên Việt.

Rosie Long Decter (RLD): Can you tell me a bit about the origins of SistersInMotion? How did this organization come together?

Malek Yalaoui (MY): Dona and I met at another writing workshop for racialized women and girls called Unravelling in Rhymes in – I wanna say – 2015/16. Anytime women and femmes of colour gather I feel like it’s just so magic. So [I] came out of Unravelling in Rhymes wanting to do a show.

I actually have a background in spoken word and specifically slam poetry, competitive poetry. And what I found competing again and again is that women and, in particular, women of colour were being judged quite harshly. You know, you do a poem and the audience gives you a score from 1 to 10 and, depending on how well you do, there’s all sorts of travel and career opportunities that open up. So on one side there was really harsh judging and high standards and then on the other hand I would see cute white guys get up there and mention feminism once or twice and nines and tens would be given out.

That was really disheartening for me – the idea behind slam poetry really is poetry of the people, it’s supposed to be more accessible, more equal. And yet we found that all of the biases that play up in larger society – you can’t keep them out of slam. So I’ve had this desire for a long time to do a show where the stage would be closed to the work of women of colour, so that the audience wouldn’t get a chance to let their unconscious, implicit bias play out and would be forced to reckon with the work on its own terms.

When I went to Unravelling in Rhymes, that idea came back. And at the same time Dona had contacted me – she was organizing a poetry show on a beautiful piece of urban farmland in Outremont and asked if I’d like to perform. My response was yes, I would, and by the way would you like to perform in the show I’m trying to organize! We realized this should really be the same show.

Continue reading

Featured Chapbook: Bhanu Kapil’s “entre-Ban”.

Excerpt from entre-Ban
(Vallum Chapbook Series, No. 22)

57 Deletions [Mutations] for Ban [4]:

1. My father was 57 years old when he died, in a hospice in Northwick Park, on a February morning so long ago that I still loved my son’s father with an unearthly bitterness that was assuaged by the slightest deviation from our sexual norms.

2. Colonial force that shows up in the present as too much space, too many fragments, theories of prebiotic conditioning or excellence that bring into proximity the two “static mirrors.” Yes, I met Joan Retallack once, on the outskirts of Detroit. She was wearing a blue coat. Was it her? It was a glimpse. Was I there?

3. “At the beginning of my life I traveled a lot. I kept making trips. I was restless. But since I have my temple, the visitors come to see me.” Mahmoud Darwish, who came from: “there.” “One day,” he writes, “I will be what I want to be.” Alongside Ban, I read poetry that names something I can’t get to, in the writing that, though I learn it by heart, is not inclusive. In fact, I realize that even my handwriting causes other people pain.

4. Something yellow next to the glass. A raised boundary of earth. Ban has left her house and run. Through the streets to get here. A mere ten minutes away. Where the rain has begun to fall lightly, like icy sugar, through the branches and leaves. And it’s here that Ban lies down, neglected, but also alert, grasping something, the changing light, like a vine. Or an antique rose. Descending, she’s also tasting. Out slips her lime green tongue. This, for example, is the wet, silky, tamper-proof smell of smoke that Ban has carried into the forest. In the folds and creases of her creamy skin, her dangerous expression and her uniform, which is pink and white in summer, and maroon come Autumn, Winter and the beginning part of Spring.

5. In the break between classes, I saw a dark green mesh, 18 x 18, crouching down in the greenhouse by the rosemary plant, just to breathe it in, the atmosphere of fragrant herbs, a reprieve from the corridor, the weirdly progressive yet racist colleagues in the Department of Creative Writing. Crouching like that, I recalled the Tschumi-grid. It’s 3 x 3. Can this be my lemon tree/fig tree grid for Ban? “Is everything okay?” Worked on promotion dossier. Once home, did not go outside. Am re-learning the milky writing, the terribly open writing I learned in the U.S. but which nevertheless affirmed the increment, the part of being here that was a trap. That kept me in my place. That opened its mouth then closed it. Throat, neck. Wrist, ankle. Purse, coin. Register, fate. Dog, owl.

6. Even as a very young child, I recall the desire, or the image really, of my own neck in the mouth of a tiger, a lion or bear. To some extent, I wanted that. I wanted to feel the inside of my body as much as the outside where the wings and talons retracted then unfurled. I wanted to walk away from my family into the outer belt, the sparkling hills. “You look like Shiva,” said my mother when I came back from a deeper form of play, my hair matted and my dress torn. Should I include these memories, germinal, endocrine, angular, sooty, in Ban? Should I write about the red dirt road, the muddy white horse, the sun? The rough arcs, the slowness of patterned activity? Or should I describe, more formally, succinctly: my experiences with extremely violent, persistent, and imaginative men?

7. We lay down next to the green and silver water, eye level to the sparks and drops spat out and up where the waves hit the dirt of the beach. Why is a fluid, starred image ordinary in photography but unacceptable in literature? Centralize the grid with its blocky, geometric rose. Enlarge the photograph. Paste the photograph with honey and oil, then linen, a piece of white material like cotton, but lighter, torn into strips. Is there a part of you that believes you will never be loved?

8. Ban is like that pallid, flame-headed mermaid in some sense, the one who arced up and out of her own pyre. The one who leaped into the Ganges and was carried downstream by the pink dolphins. Received at the delta by new animals, a whale, this body drifts, propped on the back of wetness, to a sleek, an open space like a gazing bowl or glass, mid-ocean, where the lightning collects in a caul of residual plastics and pulpy bulbs of kelp. What is a mermaid? The great silence speaks to a violence that is sexual, historical, because look at her thighs. Her mutation is never to open, never to replicate, never to bleed. Nevertheless, for the purpose of these notes, I’d like to focus on a specific betrayal. Shoals, electrolytes. Helper beings. No, I am trying to write about a rape.

9. The novel’s experiment is an experiment with emptiness, with the fear of empty spaces. Of the two arrangements, I understood that the first was akin to labyrinths, alphabets, the desire to let whatever wanted to come to the surface come to the surface, and that the second was like a bulb, a glass bulb, crushed underfoot, a boot, upon the street. Which novel would appeal more to tall men with meaty legs? The men are all called Ranjit, their surnames all begin with S and they all live in Chicago. They are off-duty security and/or IT professionals who have just discovered Tinder. You exchange phone numbers. They say: “Can you take a taxi down?” Hastily, you scribble: “Take Lakeshore to the 57th Street exit.” Is there something wrong with your brain?

10. A frosted pink hand.


Bhanu Kapil teaches Interdisciplinary Studies and Core Classes in Contemplative Education ad Diversity for Naropa University, and Creative Writing as part of Godard College’s MFA (Port Townsend campus). She is currently rewriting [emptying] her fifth book, Ban en Banlieue (Nighboat Books, 2016).

To purchase or learn more about this chapbook, please click here.

This excerpt was also published in issue 14:2. 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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Raga” by Sascha Aurora Akhtar




I have misplaced the memory
of you morning stars,
a journey that began with one
becomes two & multiples.

Herons are born, flamingos are born
tapirs are born & born
we are, displaced
on this planet, cupping
water in our hands to wash
these many faces growing
wildly outside the hot-house

where the prize orchids
are tended.


SASCHA AURORA AKHTAR is a trans-race, multi-dimensional, sub rosa poeto/story-bot. She was patented in Pakistan. Had upgrades in pre- 9/11 U.S.A. Was released onto shelves in the U.K. Her roboto-poetics have been widely anthologised and translated into Armenian, Portuguese, Galician, Russian, Dutch and Polish. Anthologies include Cathecism: Poems for Pussy Riot (2012) and the second Out of Everywhere (Reality Street, 2015). She has also been part of other poetry protests – Against Rape (Peony Moon, 2014), Solidarity Park Poetry – Poems for the Turkish resistance which she was the Editor and Founder of (Ed. 2013). Her second poetry collection 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman UK, 2016), follows on from The Grimoire of Grimalkin (SALT UK, 2007), which was called a “Contemporary masterpiece”.  Her fiction has appeared in BlazeVox, Tears In The Fence & Storgy. Women:Poetry:Migration, an anthology (Theenk Books: Edited by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa) was published in 2018 with poems from A Year In Clouds. Sascha has performed internationally at festivals such as the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam, Avantgarde Festival, Hamburg and Southbank Centre’s MELTDOWN festival, London curated by Yoko Ono.

She has a book of translations of pioneering feminist fiction writer Hijjab Imtiaz coming out later this year on Oxford University Press, an Art/object book of poems with drawings on ZimZalla entitled Only Dying Sparkles and is awaiting news of a pamphlet to be published possibly this year too. She also works as a freelance editor and Healer/ Wellness Facilitator using therapeutic meditation practices.


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

 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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Event Recap: Art Lounge Readings with Becca Schuh, Natasha Young & More

Recap by Rosie Long Decter

Summer often starts to lose steam around mid-July, but the back of Art Lounge filled up easily last Thursday for a jam-packed night of readings. The six writers who took the stage treated the crowd to a range of forms and voices, tied together by host Anya Leibovitch.

Becca Schuh, a New York-based writer and editorial director at Triangle House, began the night with an excerpt from her upcoming novel. The passage centred on Schuh’s art student protagonist and her relationships with various men on campus; in one scene, she flirts with a professor at a party, in another, she hooks up with a fraternity bro. Schuh read with enthusiasm, conveying the confidence and confusion that come with campus power dynamics and liking a guy who kind of sucks.


Natasha Young

Up next was Natasha Young, who also read an excerpt from her upcoming book, Static Flux, which is coming out via Metatron this fall. Young began in a similar place as Schuh – with a young artist, this time a writer, heading to a party – but her narrator approached the evening with skepticism and detachment, not excitement. Young’s calming voice and fluid language gave the sense that the story was happening around the narrator, not to her. The passage poked fun at the pretentious art scene without letting its narrator off the hook; when someone at the party asks her what she writes, her response is both joke and admission: “nothing.”


Andrea Bridgeman

Third reader Andrea Bridgeman apologized as she took the mic, because she was about to read a “summer bummer” (which, as someone who hates the heat, is my kind of summer content). Her short story, “Summer Camp Boy Band,” was definitely a bit of a bummer, but in the sweetest of ways. Undermining the trope of the life-changing camp story, Bridgeman’s piece was quiet and deliberate, softly outlining the days and desires of each idiosyncratic pre-teen. Pausing occasionally to turn a page, Bridgeman described with care the candy the girls ate, their secret spots on the campground, and the way they began to notice themselves and each other, the images hanging together in the summer air.

Poet Diana Hamilton read next. Her poem, “Persuasive Essay for Sex Ed,” was written from the perspective of a student in a sex ed class contemplating desire and consent while her teacher talks about how to get out of having sex. Funny, incisive, and heartbreaking, the piece explored the ways in which the burden of consent is consistently and harmfully placed on women. Hamilton’s matter of fact reading voice allowed the poem’s playfulness and sense of humour to come across, while making sure the commentary hit just as hard.


Rebecca Fishbein

Rebecca Fishbein – also from New York – picked up where Hamilton left off, reading a personal essay about her own relationship to sex, and wanting – or, mostly, not wanting – to have it. Fishbein recounted tales of bad sex in a wry voice – several times referring to the voice inside her vagina – encouraging the audience to laugh at and interrogate these experiences. The amusing stories doubled as an analysis of how and why women often end up having sex not because they want to, but because they feel like they should.

The final reader was local writer Anna Leventhal, who read a short story from her 2014 collection Sweet Affliction. The wonderfully titled “Frenching the Eagle,” in which a facilitator lectures a group of women on the importance of elegance, was perfect for reading aloud; Leventhal became the facilitator as she lectured the audience, forcing us to wait through the pauses in a countdown that you could skim over on the page. Her voice sped up as the story developed and the tone darkened – eventually it became clear that these women weren’t in a yoga class or on some kind of retreat, as I had first assumed. They were heading to prison. By the time the story finished, my whole body was tense, my mind reeling from our facilitator’s plight, her call to elegance.

In a night with so many readings, the different pieces easily could’ve been lost in the shuffle, but instead the styles and subjects all seemed to enrich one another. At the end of the evening, I left Art Lounge with several new worlds of women occupying my mind, the various voices talking loudly amongst themselves on my walk home.

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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “St Cybi’s Well, Llangybni, N. Wales” by Gill McEvoy


St. Cybi’s Well, Llangybni, N. Wales

A rusted gate, a marshy hollow with a stone,
cows fretting under a siege of summer flies –
this was the place we’d come so far to find?

We only knew this saint had been
‘sixth century, living here reputedly.’
– Saints wouldn’t live beside a public road? –

was your suggestion, so we braved hot breath
of cattle on our backs, the mud, the scratchy hedge,
fought the brambles’ grappling hooks,

stumbled on a hidden gate, briared like
Sleeping Beauty’s den, pushed through
to startling quiet –

a roofless building housed the well,
hugging close a pool of sky.
We dipped a cup as pilgrims do,

when from a niche beside the well
a yellow wagtail flew;
our plunging shadows fell like hawks

on tiny fledglings huddle in a nest.
We went outside to let the wagtail hen
fly back, and as she did the brightest gleam

of gold lit up the silent pool.


Gill McEvoy lives in Devon, South West UK. She has published very widely in the UK and Ireland, and has always been delighted to have poems accepted for Vallum. She has been totally dedicated to writing since her husband’s death in 1991, although she had been writing for many years before then. She was fortunate enough to survive a diagnosis of late-stage Ovarian Cancer in 2000; her collection “The Plucking Shed” (Cinnamon Press, 2010) features poems arising from that time. Her other publications (no longer in print) include: “Uncertain Days” (Happenstance Press, 2006); “A Sampler” (Happenstance Press, 2008); “Rise” (Cinnamon Press 2013); and “The First Telling” (2014), which won the 2015 Michael Marks Award. Her interests are the natural world, particularly birds, plants and trees; dance; and world literature. She has taught classes in World Literature, and in Creative Writing. She is a Hawthornden Fellow.


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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Featured Review: Gillian Sze’s “Panicle.” Review by Adèle Barclay.

Panicle by Gillian Sze, ECW Press


Gillian Sze’s PANICLE
(Toronto, ON: ECW Press, 2017, $18.95, 90 pages)
Review by Adèle Barclay


“Panicle” is a term from plant morphology—it refers to a branched cluster of flowers. With this in mind, Gillian Sze’s fifth full-length poetry collection Panicle announces the poet’s ever-developing relationship with form. With dynamic curiosity, the poet exhibits a studied yet sly engagement with lyric, prose poetry, ekphrasis, sonnets, and long poems.

Sze is deliberate but not constrained when it comes to her poetry—there’s savvy consideration in her voice. She knows formal rules and literary history well, but she also knows the poetic container is human-made and fallible, and that’s what is more interesting. “Calligraphy,” the inaugural poem of the collection, elucidates this self-awareness: “To write heart in our language takes only four strokes, but so much depends on the first mark. […] In calligraphy, if a stroke falters, you must begin the word all over again.” Rather than crumple under this pressure, Sze allows the poem to embody the drive towards perfection while still opening up:

At least here at my desk I can start again and write:
This is how the beginning sounds. This is my heart. Look.
At least there is that.

Initially this proclamation of “at least” seems like a resigned gesture, but through repetition, it becomes clearly generative. The speaker unblinkingly instructs us to look at the initial stroke of a character and at her heart, and the poem tasked with opening a collection flourishes while carrying the weight of its potential undoing.

Panicle is a conversational collection. Sze often constructs the poems out of quotations and ideas from modernist poetry and letters, art history, contemporary art exhibits, filmmakers. The collection is an active museum. Sze’s voice emerges distinct despite the cacophony of references because the poet deftly balances multiple currents of dialogue. Like any good interlocutor, Sze knows when to hold threads of discussion taut and when to let them loose.

For example, “Sound No 2” deploys an epigraph from German film director Werner Schroeter: “Cinema could be as intelligent and could transport as much message and image and idea as it can with sound.” Sze juxtaposes this meditation on the potency of sound in cinema with poetry’s own powerful ability to zoom in. The quotation provides a jumping off point that Sze adapts for her own project. She writes: “These are things I want to show you, like the empty pause that encircles desire. Or how Klimt knew that a woman bends her neck that far for a kiss only if she really wants it. I want to show you how quiet it gets when you’re in the company of someone who no longer loves you.” This poetic conjuring of heartbreaking silence resounds. The poem enacts an encircling desire—the wish to speak to an addressee about the broiling intense meanings embedded in familiar images and sounds:

But more than anything, I want to show you something smaller: how the smell of winter at night has the same crisp scent as the sound of the word biscuit, the touch of velum in your mouth

The desire to communicate is so strong it engenders synesthesia. Intimate meaning transcends distinct sensory categories. Perhaps this is what the speaker wants to show us—the beyondness of sense in poetry.


Panicle is deeply engaged with visual art—classic and contemporary. What’s refreshing about Sze’s ekphrasis is that her awe isn’t weighed down by self-effacement. Her ekphrastic poems are full of inquisition and astonishment—“This is the hand that reaches for God. / This is where you look up”—but they don’t bemoan language’s inadequacy in the face of visual representation. The poet does not surrender power to the visual realm; instead, she creates poetry playfully and defiantly in tandem with the art world. For example, “Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 01/06/11” begins:

In the nineteenth century, the romantics ran out of words. They began titling their paintings by the same name. On one wall of the museum hangs La mort de Cléopâtre. Beside it: La mort de Cléopâtre—and beside that: La mort de Cléopâtre.

Words didn’t fail the romantics—the romantics failed with words, but the poet arrives to pick up the slack: “Along the wall, Cleopatra dies, again and again, in French and Flemish.” So much of the collection is concerned with the mechanics of looking—art, film, photography. But it’s poetry that allows Sze to invert the traditional gaze. In “Proof,” the speaker articulates a desire past the camera’s own fields of vision: “There is a way I would like you always to see me when you put your camera down.” Here the speaker sees the seeing and seizes the authority between the two onlookers: “I carry a pair of suns in my head. Take a look: I want you to go blind. I want something in me to do irreparable, irreversible in you.” The poet craves the looking as well as the connection that underpins the two observers.

Sze’s explorations of perception in Panicle are also investigations into how observing connects us to stories and each other. The collection wanders through the halls of high art, not as a way to designate itself as erudite, but as a method of interrogating what visions have come before and enabling poetry to find new ways to see.

Adèle Barlcay‘s writing has appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Puritan, PRISM, The Pinch, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2016 Lit POP Award for Poetry and the 2016 The Walrus‘ Readers’ Choice Poetry Prize. Her debut poetry collection If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood, 2016) wont the 2017 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. She is the Interviews Editor at The Rusty Toque, the Critic-in-Residence for Canadian Women In Literary Arts, and an editor at Rahlia’s Ghost Press.

This review was published in issue 15:1 Memory & Loss. 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!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes


Vallum Poem of the Week: “American Harpy” by Cassidy McFadzean


American Harpy

We found a frozen river bass discarded
on the banks of the Mississippi,

its insides bruised pink, stiffened
eyes empty as gaping lips.

It was a Saturday,
Saint Valentine’s Day.

A bald eagle skimmed the water
and caught a fish in its claws.

We watched this.
The bird flew over us, stirring wind

when it dropped the thing,
scales slipping from polished talons.

Was it an accident? Was this malice?
Our neighbour Bob, who summers in Canada,

is a card-carrying member of the NRA.
A local historian of sorts, he conducts

the church choir’s lovely organ strains.
Says he recalls when the KKK

ran the only bridge across the river in Dubuque.
Isn’t that insane?—

rows of white sheets
hanging from clotheslines of neoclassical homes,

next to drying boxer briefs.
—It was the 90s.

At night, we walked past a window illuminated:
the house of the president of the university.

Bodies gathered around a dinner table,
pouring wine, discussing policies,

and we recalled students marching to the house’s entryway
when an artist placed a hooded figure

in the Old Capitol’s walkway.
If I came bearing bones, an ill-thought effigy

would I be let into the president’s foyer?
The snowbanks outside glinted with ice,

a hill so sleek with crystals
it could carry me into the river.

Inside the library, in a Heartland State,
a dozen birds-of-prey appeared

in the window behind the stage
as a man read to us his poetry.

Should art rouse us? Should it placate?
What if the eagle wasn’t bald?

It was an American Harpy:
black feathers, black beak,

the most powerful talons of any species,
its cry restricted to one screech.

It was a new emblem for this country,
A fiercer image of freedom we could follow

along the water of Mississippi
to Ferguson, to Missouri.

Cassidy McFadzean was born in Regina, earned an MFA from the University of Iowa, and currently lives in Toronto. She is the author of Hacker Packer (M&S 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.


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 Interview: Brian Henderson

Brian Henderson is a poet based in Ontario. His poem “The Incommensurate /” was the runner-up for the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017. With the deadline for this year’s Vallum Award for Poetry quickly approaching, we caught up with Brian to discuss his process and the role of poetry in today’s world. 

You were the second-prize winner of the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017 for your poem “The Incommensurate /.” How did you feel when you found out the news?

BH 2017

I was surprised more than anything, and then of course delighted. What are the odds? I’d never submitted to a journal’s prize before, maybe since there are now so many of them. What would winning mean? What does winning anything mean? Who cares for more than a few minutes? Well, here I am with a small smile on my face.

I submitted for 2 reasons: I respect Vallum (you know, having appeared once before in your pages;) and especially what you folks are up to with your outreach program — and I noticed that Nicole Brossard was to be the judge, a poet for whom I have the greatest respect and who has a an eye for, and a great ability with, the glitches of language.

Tell me a little bit about “The Incommensurate /.” What ideas or thoughts generated the poem? What was your process of writing it?

There’s a fletching or two of Zeno’s arrow in the piece, a fletching of non-arrival in how language always approaches but never arrives, or the celebration of that as a continuous unfolding happening which is its own arrival. We are quite desperate to know and to have answers such that we miss what we don’t already have in mind. We run on assumptions. I’m interested in what’s on the tip of the tongue (speaking of the glitches of language), the surprise of the vanishing point. How much of our identity is a vanishing point! And it’s looking back at us–which is a weird experience for sure.

These variations of who we might be is echoed in the lines concerning love and the house — to which I’ve added another phrase (for the book coming out from Brick next year) such that it now reads:

Let’s assume love is the name of the 10000 year old spear point found in 1970 not far from where I live with my wife in a house built for someone else in 1997 on glacial outwash that tried on the disguise of a farm in 1854

And here time starts to become the driver of performance. And it is not necessarily sequential. Here meaning is innate in every thing. And so who’s place is it, really?

Every few years the old argument that “poetry is dead” will resurface, but despite the claims that poetry is irrelevant, people continue to read it and write it. What do you think is the role of poetry in the contemporary world? 

Wow. OK, a big question. To which I have no real answer. Well, there’s Auden, isn’t there? And then there’s the gigantic production of poetry — hundreds of books a year in Canada alone. But I’d have to say that there is no one role. I myself have a penchant for ostranenie, that term of Viktor Schklovsky’s championing a poetry that attempts to unsettle. And on the other hand I’m drawn to an art of meditation and of trance which unsettles by quite different means. OK, so maybe that’s it. Bewilderment. A poetry on the other side of telling, a poetry to dehabituate, to get us beside ourselves in some fashion, where words might open the sleeves of their hearts so that we might be able to see some possible ways forward for some real transformation. I say some, some — I’m so entrenched. It’s something I personally have to work on every day. We can’t fall into despair. But maybe occasionally, in exasperation, we might have some fun with cynicism. Ha. Ha ha ha.

And finally, what are you reading right now? Which poets or works have been exciting to you recently?


So reading. Yes. Lots of reading. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario (Really? Yep, really –well OK not reading exactly, but exploring — and what reading is not?); The Handbook of Contemporary Animism; What A Plant Knows; Pieces of Light.

Oh yeah, and poetry: Loved exploring Quantum Typography and Broken Light by Gary Barwin. Exciting visual poetry that opens Kabbalahistic synapses. And from the UK, another prolific poet: Rupert Loydell, especially Love Songs for an Echo and The Man Who Has Everything, who is “well situated to sabotage understanding” with masterfully collaged work. Finally, and surprisingly after all this time I’m only now discovering Yves Bonnefoy. I’ve just got The Anchor’s Long Chain translated by Beverley Bie Brahic.

Brian Henderson is a GG finalist and the author of 11 books of poetry including The Alphamiricon, a deck of visual poem cards now online. His latest is [OR] from Talonbooks. Unidentified Poetic Object is forthcoming from Brick in 2019. He is a co-editor of the Laurier Poetry Series.

You can read Brian’s poem “The Incommensurate /,” which was the runner-up for the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017, in Vallum Issue 15:1 “Memory and Loss.” 

Don’t forget to submit to the Vallum Award for Poetry 2018!
First place receive $750 and publication in the upcoming issue of Vallum. 
Our judge this year is Griffin Poetry Prize winner Liz Howard
Deadline: July 15th 2018 
For more information and to enter online today, visit our website