Vallum Poem of the Week: "Unbearable Paradise" by Jennifer Cave

Unbearable Paradise

self was a song
almost coming to mind
in beginning
to be able
to sing it

walking through
dark forest
light breaking canopy
until a clearing

alone yet not feeling so
the context of the journey
a mystery
in the absence of remembering

no word for forgetting
a need
to advance
to find more

another clearing
another forest
another

Jennifer Cave lives in White Rock, British Columbia. She was born in Vancouver in 1966. She has published poems in issues 7:1 and 15:1 of Vallum Magazine.

Jennifer Cave can be found on Facebook here.

To view other content published in this issue, 15:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: "Husk" by Emily Mercurio


Husk

A night rain beats the windows,
pushes a tree to the ground.
I am writing you a poem
on curls of garlic paper.

The poem rasps, odorous,
a minced head pressed
by the side of a knife.
It rains and rains in my kitchen.

Heavy drops collect on the ceiling,
skitter down the walls, splash the stove.
The hot oil cracks, splashes back.
The burner flashes blue in the breeze.

The oven’s black chamber
fills with rain. The door leaks.
An acid water, it could dissolve knives,
given enough time.

The garlic husks float on the flood,
white sails with narrow veins.
The smell never fades. Underwater
the ink melts, clouds itself away.

Emily Rosello Mercurio teaches creative writing and academic composition at Cornell University (M.F.A, 2018). She has served as an Assistant Editor for EPOCH and as the Literary Editor for Rushlight. Her work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Puerto del Sol, Vallum, and other journals. She is a 2017 winner of the Bermuda Triangle Prize.

To view other content published in this issue, 15:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: "Stick" by George Sipos

Stick

And in the end, or almost, to be abroad alone,
by unknown ways, in the gathering night,
with a stick.
—Samuel Beckett

Like that, which even now
you cling to,
phrases of old songs, old jokes
you once thought unseemly
whose punch lines tether you now
in the dispersing night
to that which …

Or the tap tap
of words, the clink
of everything discarded
like blue tanks of oxygen among rocks,
so much breath lost on the descent.
But breath still
all the same

Or these green beans
your hand knows even now
to slice into three,
days of the week a blunt knife
dividing day in no particular order
from night—each one thing
from every other

There were birds once
among the rocks, or on a road,
their black wings,
each its round eye, each
its beak
like that


something sharp
you knew you wouldn’t forget, years ago

and didn’t,
then


George Sipos is a retired arts administrator, former bookseller and one time teacher living on Salt Spring Island. He has published two volumes of poetry, both from Goose Lane Editions, and a prose memoir called The Geography of Arrival from Gaspereau Press. This last book was a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize for creative non-fiction in 2011. For a number of years he was a caregiver for his elderly mother, who eventually died at age 95 after some years of progressive dementia. “Stick” arises from this experience. 

To view other content published in this issue, 15:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Current” by Kevin Irie

Current

The sludge-slow flow of a runaway current
opens a path we can’t continue, tugs
at what no hand can pull along.

It’s how even water loses memory,
travels a direction it cannot find,
a body let loose of its own skin
to separate itself from what it belongs to—
depth, surface,
flow,
source.

Keep going,
it says, without a word

as it takes the plunge to free what was form
into no shape it knew
it could be.

Kevin Irie has published poetry in Canada, the States, Australia, and England. His poems have been broadcast on CBC Radio and have been translated into Spanish, French, and Japanese. His book, Viewing Tom Thomson: A Minority Report (Frontenac House) was a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award as well as the Toronto Book Award. He lives in Toronto.

To view other content published in this issue, 15:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Numbers Less Than Zero” by Canisia Lubrin

Numbers Less Than Zero

My father has said few things I remember. Our laughter emptied into
some stormed volt, my head: a menagerie for every Icarus returned
bearing the gift of empty hands and repentance. I imagine the cocking
noise of scalpels falling into metal cans. Thing is: asking for miracles
when the miracle feels like theft. The man never gave what the man
never gave and never mind the logic, the circles it must make. I’ll make
of logic whatever. I’ll make of logic the sky and its mute thunder. I’ll
make the days as my father made the garden. The gardener tending
the vast spaces from headstone to headstone, ringing the Sunday bell.
My father was cloud, was rain, swapping places with the street parking,
encircling the dunes. I remember things but not what my father said.
He said two years. He said cancer. The way death makes sense of
nothing, not even the scattered planes. I remember nothing my father
has said. He’s spoken and I don’t know when to call the priests for their
token of last rites. Unless you want them, mama. I know what you’ve
been that is better, mama. How you were drawn from the farrow by men
in vests begging your bones return the DDT to its caloric laboratory. I
remember the story of us living where the storm lays down its fret, the
former lives of shadows dragging our names through us, our unmake
intoning at the bazaar. I think of nothing my father has said. Think of
us: evergreens, shaking our things, raising drink, raising the unchecked
amen! from the dead.

Canisia Lubrin writes, edits, and teaches. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally, including translations into Spanish and Italian, and forthcoming in German and French. Lubrin’s writing has been nominated for the Toronto Book Award, bp Nichol, Raymond Souster, Journey Prize, Gerald Lampert, Pat Lowther, and others. Her poetry debut, Voodoo Hypothesis (Buckrider Books, 2017) was named a CBC Best Book, and her second poetry book is The Dyzgraphxst (McClelland & Stewart, 2020). 2019 Writer-In-Residence at Queen’s University and poetry faculty for Banff Centre’s 2019 Emerging Writers Intensive, Lubrin holds an MFA from the University of Guelph.

To view other content published in this issue, 15:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Leaning Over” by Zach Pearl

Leaning Over

Leaning over a bridge in Bickford Park,
larks and ermine burgle the Serviceberry.

The chains we lug about keep me upright;
it’s not falling I fear but the wilderness below.

We slow down to swallow sound, rustling leaves
and swaying grass—shielding Spring ciphers.

Somewhere in the underbrush of seasons past
loom answers to questions left rotting, while

wandering regrets wrench the roots of the sumac.
Some thing utters your name from beyond the bush.

Perhaps it’s only puddles underfoot, gasping…
You say, “I wanted to be weirder than I was, you know.”

I think, “Congratulations.” But can’t deliver the word.
At first sight, you were curiosity. At first shudder, a drug.

I half-smile, clenching the links of imaginary chains,
choking on inertia—your honesty subverts me.

Zach Pearl is a writer, designer, researcher and occasional curator, living between Toronto and Coboconk, Ontario. His poetry has appeared in multiple issues of Vallum Magazine, and he’s the winner of the 2018 Vallum Chapbook Award for his manuscript, Ladybird Bug Boy. His speculative writing on art and technology has previously appeared in Art & Education (e-flux/Artforum), Peripheral Review, and various exhibition catalogues. In 2013, Zach co-founded KAPSULA Press, and for three years he served as Art Director and Managing Editor of KAPSULA Magazine—an interactive digital monthly for experimental arts writing. He currently teaches graphic design and interactive media at OCAD University and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Waterloo, where his research focuses on fictocriticism as cybernetic literature.

To view other content published in this issue, 14:2, 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! Visit our website for details.

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


Forbidden

Invisible, the mesh
where each is held
within our tiny square of breath
and wire-sliced
if flesh would press
too far, too hard

forgetting, in that moment
deep within another’s eyes
when darkness opens
into a bright pool of air,
and radiant, both surface
trembling—do we dare?

but reeling back
stare at the glinting barbs
isolating each, and cringe
behind the stinging
lines too sharp to cross

till silence
whites out even dreaming
ever two embrace.

Susan Ioannou has published stories, literary essays, novels for young people, and several poetry collections, in recent years including Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth (Your Scrivener Press), Coming Home: An Old Love Story (Leaf Press), Looking for Light (Hidden Brook Press), and For the Love of Lazaros and The Dance Between: Poems About Women (both from Opal Editions). Her full Literary CV is online at http://www3.sympatico.ca/susanio/sioancv.html

To view other content published in this issue, 16:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Featured Review: “Nearly Terminal” by Eleni Zisimatos (reviewed by Bill Neumire)

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(Montreal, QC: DC Books, 2019, $18.95, 100 pages)

Review by Bill Neumire

Vallum’s very own Eleni Zisimatos’ first full-length poetry collection, Nearly Terminal, is out from DC Books, and its bold terminality surfaces in many ways throughout this powerfully staccato collection: the book is full of phrases that begin but are ended abruptly; a central personal relationship for the speaker has ended; and an existential ceasing is also at stake from the very opening epigraph, which warns that “[t]he death of human consciousness is white.” Zisimatos, who was short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch, Irving Layton, and Santa Fe Writers’ Awards, presents her language like tire tracks in snow: white space abounds in this fragmentary diction of abstraction. The speaker characterizes her own voice in a Stevens-like moment: “in the mind a voice / that is not a voice.” The effect is defamiliarization, especially in how to classify the poems, which seem at first glance Eastern in form, but on closer inspection, are very broadly erasure-like and existential. Nearly Terminal employs a distancing from “wild meaning” via frequent lack of punctuation or titles, such that all of the poems become one continuous set of tracks through the dominating snow of the pages. Brevity is central here as each poem is, at most, fourteen lines (and few words make up each line). These, taken separately, are hints at events, at presence. This form makes sense with the poet’s idea of her own process, as Zisimatos has said,

I will not call what I do a “practice,” although the Zen idea of living in the moment has, indeed, been called a practice. I do not schedule when I write. I can honestly say that I live from one moment to the next and have difficulty planning ahead for more than one or two days. As such, the writing that I do comes furiously in sporadic moments, and I can write fifty pages in two days.

The three sections of Nearly Terminal hinge on the missingness that erasure poetry revels in. The book begins with two epigraphs, this second one from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Isaiah, 59:10:

Let us grope along the wall like the blind,
Let us grope like those who have no eyes;
We stumble at midday as in the twilight,
Among the vigorous people we are like the dead.

There is a meta commentary at work throughout these pages to aid the reader as the haiku-like clusters are described by the speaker as “words decentering / releasing // the feel of the animal.” Yes, the feeling is of tracking an animal in winter, of reading “[t]he words of a smart director // involved in a crime.” In another moment, the text is “turned over, beaten / Giving up / The textual.” The short lines make for numerous line break opportunities, and the poet takes full advantage of multiplying possible meanings (to give up the textual, or to give up and use the textual as a vehicle for giving up?) with each turn to a new line. So, what does it mean to give up the textual? Partly it is to become visual, and thus the snow-blind landscape takes on more significance. It is also to become that mind voice without a voice. Like tire marks, the poems, taken individually, only give you a sense of direction and speed. But they add up, not to a full, conventional narrative, but certainly to a tonal sense of loss, of yearning:

With the tire marks fading
The presence of it, yes
It did occur, when, why
It moves like fumes

Narrative and traditional form and pattern seem near dead already in contemporary poetry, but nonetheless, an anti-narrative, anti-pattern is the stance of this speaker who claims a prideful, celebratory identity in the following lines:

And there is us, the fragments
Who have destroyed the Pattern
The glory of the invincible
The rockets firing

The speaker is not the much-attacked confessional I, but at the heart of these abstract tire tracks, there is a motor, a generator, an individual who has suffered personal loss, whose “longing / unmasks itself.” The relationship to narrative and pattern is like the speaker’s relationship to the other that has spurned her, who has left her

Torn by ravens
Illuminations of
A past that
The future rotten
A failure
Movement of streetcars
To move

Into and out of
Cold

Present indication that is

Suspended.

The three sections of the book perform their snow-blind spell to connect the personal life to the larger Life that touches everyone: “My life / This life / Your life.” The role of desire, of failed love and memory is strong, and this despair is always sewn to whiteness: “There is so much despair // Such white.” The speaker continues with this brilliant lament:

You want me to sing, dance
It is not just age
I used to be happy, once
It was then
Like then becomes the altar
To worship to

Then most often becomes the “altar / to worship to” when relationships are at an end, and all relationships end with death. Terminal is, for one thing, an expression of diagnosis, of disease. From the beginning, this is a book of the end: “Knowledge of whom, it all began / With the end.” It is a book of last breaths wherein “Every day is marked // For termination.” The collection, in some ways, has no beginning, no poem titles, and as for endings, “There is no ending sir / just the melody.” This is a book of haiku that aren’t haiku, stories that don’t end, sonnets sliced vertically in half, empty pages that remain largely empty, a book declaring against

Wild meaning
That noose
Declares you must
Know
Everything.

Too much, too much

Walking
Talking

No

It comes to you

This madness.

This honed, roaming madness is Nearly Terminal’s alternative to wild meaning, a new meaning that does not commerce with beginnings and endings, but rather is only interested in “The free sound of your being / That which you will one day not / Hear any more.” Even as it ends with language, it really ends with resonant echoes, echoes which take an overtly hopeful turn in the last few pages, reminding us that giving up is only a “false solution” which crumbles compared to

Certain truth: Love
The looking inwards, outwards

Creating bonds, the
Will that
and

this love, this trust, still
possible

Yes, inward and outward is poetry’s domain, and poetry like this is a sign that those saving, necessary bonds between us are still possible.

Bill Neumire‘s first book, Estrus, was a semi-finalist for the 42 Miles Press Award, and recent poems have appeared in The Harvard Review Online and Beloit Poetry Journal. He reviews contemporary poetry for Scout, Vallum, and Verdad, where he serves as a poetry editor.

To see more from issue 16:2, 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!

Vallum Poem of the Week: “You Learn to Change, Then You Learn to Change How You Change” by Jay Ritchie

https://tabbyculture.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-in-cvs

You Learn To Change, Then You Learn To Change How You Change

I don’t want to live
I want to live
In a state of constant ecstasy
Yes yes I do
I am afraid of being hurt
& I love to know intimate details
About different cities
I’ll never tell
What I learned through hard effort
Music
Music

Activates my banal surroundings
How little progress made in my offices
Threading an invisible needle with the mute
Braid of my affection for you
You who know what beauty is, you are
A beautiful person every day
& there’s an insurrectionary pin on your bag, look at you
Look at me, I close an ad for ad-blocking software
& abandon my fascination with postmodernism
Knowing the pattern of my interest
Rabbit hole at the end of a rabbit hole

Here I am at the bottom of poetry
Looking out over persona’s sundered edge
& um would it bother you
If I laid down & just gave up, whatever it is
I am doing, gave up completely?
Today the future is where I breathe in
The need for a private language to talk to you
Beyond anything I can articulate
Moody at the dinner table but
Sometimes when I rent a car & drive
Through the woods I experience tranquility

Jay Ritchie is the author of the poetry collection Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie (Coach House Books, 2017). He is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he has won the Skolfield/Goeckel Award for Poetry as well as the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award for Fiction. In 2019, his play Viola, co-written with Henrika Larochelle, was selected for production by the Newmarket National Ten-minute Play Festival. His work has appeared in Powder Keg, The PuritanSporkGlitterMOB, on CBC Radio, and been performed at the Phi Centre by Camille Poliquin of electronic duo Milk & Bone. Follow him online @jaywritchie.

To view other content published in this issue, 16:1, 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! Visit our website for details.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Time’s Thought” by Fanny Howe


The action is done in a dream. Who did what? The closed book, the feet
asleep.

Proof that you lived is that you kept notebooks.



Are you collecting material for dreams, she asked the audience.

None of them remembered collecting or dreaming.
Nothing specific, that is.

For a book, no.

They lay down that night not looking for a real thing but for a way back.
A dream broke time apart.

You’re allowed to fear the coming hallucinations, she added.

You met me at the subway
where tracks led east to
North Station and on
up to Cape Ann.

We were almost romantic
Not knotted but erect
side by side passively waiting
for an apocalyptic collision to rupture

the grave tension between wholly conscious
ontological thinking
and the steel pebbling motion of tracks
sparked into action by a fiery touch.

We smiled our way forward perfectly even.

To be described as a note that separates from a song and blows away.

When you are down to nothing more to call on

OR you can say I walked Manhattan from sundown to dawn.
So I have traveled the world.

I walked by foot all over dungeons to see a film starring friends—
Americans.
The ceiling collapsed from heavy rain and artificial colors condensed
along the
sidewalk.


One puddle looked just like the world-marble.

Time had thinned for gravity and a speeding apple
Since time was lightweight and invisible.

Manifest, unbelievable.

A faraway land
And a hotel I never visited
In a ghost-book half-erased

You could tell I was in love with a non-entity.
This was the hardest part assigned to me.
During my brief tenure I loved loving best
One who didn’t exist.

In the early days, it was the opposite.
Nature (all of it)
Did exist and loved itself.
Clouds doted on the sea, amorousness

Was in the air returning every wave and sigh.
The squirrels told the oak
To shake its acorns down
For the poor dirt to eat.

 

Fanny Howe has written many books of poetry and prose. Her
most recent was The Needle’s Eye (Graywolf Press). She has won many
awards and was a finalist for the International Man Booker award in
2015.

To view other content published in this issue, 16:1, 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! Visit our website for details.