Vallum Poem of the Week: “18. Octane” by Michael Quilty


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18. Octane

I am running on glass.
Carafes and flutes are overturned.
The ditch follows every curve,
every camber is a spine going up, and out.

I am running on wood, lumber.
This is where all of my weight
belongs—atop fences, facades,
within torn down barns.

Taberna. Could I give up women and men
for anything that “hums”? The flexing
of their tongues is tireless,
smooth, a sound I cannot evade.

Prisión. How many convicts escape,
bear witness, and find a way?
What spanning of captivity will make a promise
that only a reptile can slither from?
I am running on scales and rawhide,
fur coats? Fine me a more lenient skin,
a predator whose ethic doesn’t vary
or limp.

I am running on fumes. There is nothing
more to pretend, I have gone too far,
any attraction that I see
will only get lost in a search for fuel.

Irun, Spain


Michael Quilty‘s work has been published in several North American journals and one anthology (“Best Canadian Poetry 2013”, Tightrope Books). His author selfie, taken long before the smartphone was invented, was recently updated by his niece. He lives near the water tower in Midland, Ontario.


The world is turning at odd rates, the skies are warring. There is so much trouble in sight that it is hard to engage with the fast-approaching holiday season and the coming new year. How can we celebrate when others are in such deep distress? The message of the holiday season is, predominantly, one of hope. It is the hope that things will get better that we all embrace. Without hope, there is only darkness.

The darkness of past and present leads everyone to question the meaning of life. There are decisions that one made that affected the course of their lives. There are directions that one opted for without really considering the future in their mind’s eye before making their decisions. And of course there are paths that one took blindly, trusting in the happiness of the moment. But things change and people rarely stay the same over long periods of time.

The vision of the madman. William Blake foresaw futures and universes, wrote about heaven and hell, innocence and experience. There are esoteric things that only madness can teach someone, and the purpose of life becomes clear to those who have had visions and the taste of other-worldliness. The inner journey of the soul is not undertaken by many. Sublime truths are laughed at in favour of small-minded religious precepts. True religious faith is not in books, or the boring book of the mind, but in the heart. And when the heart is misguided, love is undertaken for all the wrong reasons. Marriages fail because the superficial workings of the mind and the surface meanings of life are greater than the madness of true love.

To consider everything a meaningless joke, to be cynical, to look nowhere but at oneself, to find meaning nowhere except in money and success, to be horrified by tragedy for a few minutes, to move on in perpetual exchange with mindless matter— this is the world today. It doesn’t matter how it’s sugar-coated, or rationalized. The truth is that happiness eludes us. But if we can find that small space of inner faith, we can start to hope. True love has all but been erased from humanity in favour of ‘love.’ The true poem is available only to its intended reader. There are things that don’t work, there is right and wrong— notions so distorted, so black and white, that it is frightening.

Finding truth and true love are the modern heroic quests. Hope will follow. But you will not find truth in the open market. William Blake understood this. /ez

Image result for william blake paintings

Featured Review: Before Thought Thinks: A Review of Ron Silliman’s REVELATOR. Review by David Swartz.


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Before Thought Thinks: A Review of Ron Silliman’s REVELATOR
(Toronto, ON: BookThug, 2013. $17.00, 80 pages)
Review by David Swartz

To read Ron Silliman’s Revelator (2013) is to unleash a 200-mile-an-hour wind through the eye of a needle. Above all, Silliman teaches us how not to stay still, why we ought to rethink our normative views of termination, of the sentence-ing act itself, and of its relationship to reality. Revelator is a living breathing poetry machine, fuelled by the poet’s memory, and a passionate commitment to formal inventiveness; at once natural, whimsical, brilliant, and humane.

Throughout Revelator, Silliman uses five-word lines, a form borrowed from the final section of Louis Zukofsky’s poem, “A.” Clearly, Silliman views Zukofsky as his immediate predecessor and perhaps mentor. His own book reveals a vision of infinite enjambment, and takes a leap of faith in the direction of what the author calls “the new sentence” technique. According to Silliman, “the new sentence is the first prose technique to identify the signifier (even that of the blank space) as the locus of literary meaning.” The main effect of “the new sentence” is that “each sentence plays with the preceding and following sentence.” In Silliman’s hands, this idea is taken to its logical conclusion, allowing the active subject of the poem to remain perpetually in the present moment.

Seemingly composed of one sentence only, Revelator’s multiple caesuras turn words themselves into sentences, which are then juxtaposed with other word sentences, causing surprise. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the words are not intentionally linked up by logic or argument. According to Silliman, the magic is in the “blank space[s], between words or sentences.” Silliman uses caesuras and enjambments to create such spaces, and to help his spiralling song lift itself off the ground. Something different at every turn. It could be the middle of the night or the break of day. Watch out for the narrow tunnels!

As Silliman loosens his hand, words tumble forth in playful combinations. Silliman plays with words in the same way a painter might play with paint and colour. He allows us to see how language does things on its own. The poet’s role is to allow this to happen. To play curator to one’s own voices. Language does not allow for random permutations, the more reckless the abandon, the more meaningful and thoroughly poetic the outcome.

Silliman’s ceaseless stream of words seems silly. He sets us straight at the outset concerning his true intentions: “Words torn, unseen, unseemly, scene.” The author’s admission of being “unseemly” is particularly illuminating. Silliman’s “unseemliness” is a way of “seeing,” a way of making a “scene.” It many cases Silliman sounds silly as a result of his mixed-up propositional logic, in conjunction with his run-on sentence from here to nowhere. Ultimately, the poet’s vision merges with an invisible, ostensibly “randomized” presentation that gives way to a close interweaving of logical and illogical elements. Words “torn” from other places become one united thing bound together by “the binding” stitched into the body of the book:

………………………………..each page would blow wild
………………………………..but for the binding stitched
………………………………..deep into the notebook’s spine

The organic nature of the notebook is a reminder that its living essence is the living man.

On another occasion Silliman writes:

………………………………..Eternity in the present only
………………………………..I shut my eyes, inhale,
………………………………..deeply to hear five speakers’
………………………………..simultaneous yatter, squirrels up high

Here the poet alludes to the metaphysical foundation of his poetic vision—to his one and his many—to the multiplicity of voices in his hands, and ultimately, to the five words spoken at the same time as a line of poetry, as a projection of thought before thinking.

………………………………..there’s an art
……………………………… it intuited before thought

The slender body of Silliman’s poem adds to the ease with which it can be read and digested. Its lack of traditional subject matter and narrative, along with its exuberant and wide-ranging trajectory of ideas and ramblings, liberates the reader from being forced to follow a simpleminded train of thought. What Silliman has discovered is that the meaning of the train ride is not about ever reaching the final destination, but the experience of movement itself.

Revelator is about the power of awakening the visionary self-conception of “I-amb that Iamb,” echoing God’s declaration of His unnameable name. Only in this case, it is the poem itself declaring its sovereignty and unity over its multiplicity of disjointed voices. The word Revelator is a reference to Saint John the Revelator, the presumed writer of Revelations. The cover photograph depicts Silliman in 1978 reading his poetry aloud on Market Street by the Bank of America in San Francisco. This is the place where street preachers would address the teeming city crowds with prophecies of doom and gloom, salvation and redemption: “Change your ways, O ye people of the marketplace, the Kingdom of God is near!” Like John the Revelator, Silliman points the way to salvation through “the new sentence,” towards an end of our bondage to traditional language narratives, teleologies, and sentence usages.

Silliman’s iambic syllables dream his poem into being. His five word lines, engendered and inspired by the tangential illogic of “the new sentence” reveal a powerful source of raw energy. The magic of the book is that it seems to never end or begin. Afterwards, words merge, our notions of direction, time, and space are suspended. Most of all, ours ideas about the nature of the sentence are transformed.

Echoing Michelangelo, Silliman argues that the poem he is writing already contains itself, and needs only to be voiced:

………………………………..said to contain its own
………………………………..sculpture thwarts choice—to voice
………………………………..vowels languidly moist lips purse
………………………………..their part—there’s an art
……………………………… it intuited before thought thinks

In an interview with Silliman, arranged by BookThug, Silliman says: “The poems are telling me where to go rather than the other way around.” Indeed, while Silliman’s poem, like the human experience, “seeks fate through narrative causation,” we find such markers both everywhere and nowhere.

………………………………..What narrative cut asunder, short
………………………………..of a proper end, but
………………………………..ends themselves aren’t proper, fixed
………………………………..image (the camera always lies!)

Having grown into its own, Revelator refuses to go the way of all flesh. A living thing not only defies logic, but all forms of terminative fixation. There is, at least according to Silliman’s poetic philosophy, no end to the living sentence. The way things grow involves constant change. Revelator itself, the author maintains, is only 1 out of 360 sections of a larger unfinished work called “Universe.”

Silliman’s juxtapositions of puns surprise us, without confusing us; we know we are out of time, and that the author is gluing together seemingly random fragments of meaning, combined together to achieve one larger projective meaning.

Poetry is as much about form as it is about subject, e.g., philosophy, love, inspiration, or any number of things. Form not only crystallizes ideas, but also gives birth to thought. In order to reform our thoughts we must liberate them from their self-contented propositional logic, and look for “teleological justification” in what is right in front of us (“Eternity in the present only”).

Revelator is a sculpture, a river, a tonic, an inspiration; an invitation to a fantastical inner world where spectacles of seemingly silly speech reveal the boundless possibilities of poetic language. Ron the Revelator reveals the word made flesh as a living breathing poetry machine. Expect an unexpected turn anywhere. If life is a sentence (however short or long), “scream for // that which is unnameable” and “balk // at any configuration,” but above all else, don’t stop writing!


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


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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Cailloux Incisés” by Nicole Brossard (translated by Robert Majzels and Erín Moure)


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Cailloux Incisés

certains mots dit-on ne reviennent jamais
comme avant se poser sur la langue
pour se fondre en nous atune

souvent je parle court
à d’autres endroits c’est tri et replis d’images
petits outils qui font une évasion
vois-tu d’autres blessures
un autre signal d’horizon a new world
vois-tu la page blanche dans le feuillage de juillet
te manque-t-il la nuit un peu de silence
maintenant que la terre n’est plus très tendre et touche
à de vieux orages, te manque-t-il
un verbe d’avalanche une conversation sur écoute

Incised Stones

they say some words never return
as before to rest on the tongue
to melt in us à l’unisson

often I speak short
other times it’s images filed and folded
small tools that forge an escape
do you see other wounds
another signal of horizon un monde nouveau
do you see the blank page in July foliage
at night do you long for a little silence
now that earth is no longer very tender and touches
on old storms, do you miss
a verb in avalanche a conversation tapped

(Translated by Robert Majzels and Erín Moure)


Born in Montréal. Poet, novelist and essayist, twice Governor General winner for her poetry, Nicole Brossard has published more than forty books since 1965. Many among those books have been translated into English: Mauve Desert, Lovhers, The Blue Books, Museum of Bone and Water, Notebook of roses and civilization (trans. by Erin Moure and Robert Majzels, Shortlisted for the Griffin international poetry prize 2008), Fences in Breathing (novel) and Selections : the poetry of Nicole Brossard, University of California Press, 2009. She has cofounded and codirected the avant-garde literary magazine La Barre du Jour (1965-1975), has codirected the film Some American Feminists (1976) and coedited the well acclaimed Anthologie de la poésie des femmes au Québec, first published in 1991 then in 2003. She has also won le Grand Prix de Poésie du Festival international de Trois-Rivières in 1989 and in 1999. In 1991, she was attributed le Prix Athanase-David (the highest literary recognition in Québec). She is a member of l’Académie des lettres du Québec. She won the W.O. Mitchell 2003 Prize and the Canadian Council of Arts Molson Prize in 2006. Her work has influenced a whole generation and has been translated widely into English and Spanish and is also available in German, Italian, Japanese, Slovenian, Romanian, Catalan, Portuguese and Norwegian. In 2010, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 2013 chevalière de l’Ordre national du Québec. In 2013, she received le Prix international de littérature francophone Benjamin Fondane. Her most recent book translated into English are White Piano and Ardour (to come out fall 2015). Nicole Brossard lives in Montréal.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Hypatia/Divided” by Lorraine Schein


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Lorraine SCHEIN


That torn day—

philosopher and philosopher’s daughter.

Breasts and bones
burning in the blood Library.

Her body, a red wick.


Library of morning light,
noon heat.
Volumes of rainbows.
Scrolls of sun-showers.

Murder on the cross-altar.

Brain unscrolling from head.

Body of knowledge.
Dark matter.

from white-socket cities,
her eyes.

Sun, a yellow ellipsis—
gleams in the astrolabia.

This equation
scraped flesh raw
with sharp shells.

Male maenads.

Stripped-white bones of stars.
Her body, a red library,
spattered spine.


Random signals from
Alexandria’s neutron star.

persecuted galaxies.

Her rend-parts scattered
in city streets.
Random as stars.

Cities are red-memory
and dream rem-

The Furies—
light-years away.

Their red
will arrive.

Lorraine Schein is a New York writer. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle, New Letters, Hotel Amerika, Nonbinary Review, and Evil Girlfriend Media, and the anthologies Gigantic Worlds, Drawn to Marvel, and Wreckage of Reason.  Her poetry book, The Futurist’s Mistress, is available from She used to work at Marvel Comics and is now working on a graphic novel.


1st PRIZE: $750 

“Girl Gives Birth to Thunder”

2nd PRIZE: $250

“It Was a Golden Age of Monsters”


“The Outsider”


“They Were There”

“Finding the Field with No Roads”
Winning poems will appear in Vallum 13:1 “OPEN CALL”

Thank you to everyone who entered this year’s contest – there were so many wonderful poems to choose from! Also, a huge thank you to Stephanie Bolster, for judging this year’s Vallum Award for Poetry!

To view the full list of current and past contest winners, please visit our website HERE!

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Waterwheel” by Elana Wolff


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A wet man loves the sea he’s knelt in,
how the salt enlists his skin
and lingers till he bathes and dresses
rinses his mouth out with water.
It’s 1999 again
and nature-clouds, the Sound, the slough—
submitting liminal signals.
I know not what they say exactly,
only that I am parched.
Rain colliding
leaves against the window: autumn blotto.
The pummelling of trees so freely
leaves me tipsy too.
An image comes to mind—a yard and rails,
an empty bench. A cantilever bridge
and rainy river—the voice I hear announce
its name revives me.
I have a new life, it’s the same life,
the same name, it’s a cognate—
as in firmament:
from which the seas were taken.

Elana Wolff‘s poems have appeared in Canada and internationally. She has published four collections of poetry with Guernica Editions, including You Speak to Me in Trees, awarded the F. G. Bressani Prize for Poetry, and Startled Night, nominated for the ReLit Poetry Award. She is also the author of Implicate Me, a collection of short essays on poems by contemporary Toronto-area poets, and co-editor, with Julie Roorda, of Poet to Poet: Poems written to poets and the stories that inspired them. A bilingual edition of Elana’s selected poems, Helleborus & Alchémille (Éditions du Noroît, 2013; translated by Stéphanie Roesler), was awarded the 2014 John Glassco Translation Prize. Elana has taught English for Academic Purposes at York University in Toronto and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently divides her professional time between writing, editing, and designing and facilitating therapeutic community art courses. The collaborative first-ever translation from the Hebrew of Poems and Songs of Love by Georg Mordechai Langer—part of a G.M. Langer/Franz Kafka flipside book, A Hunger Artist and Other Stories (translated by Thor Polson)—is her latest release. Published by Guernica Editions in 2014, it is now in its second printing.

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

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Notes Towards Nine Pietas” by Moez Surani


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Notes Towards Nine Pietas

Two large, smooth, featureless mounds of marble. Graceful and
abstracted shapes. Ideal, cool, conveying intensity, proximity despite
their gap, immutability and a transcendent serenity.

Two standard fluorescent tube lights. Christ is pink. Mary is an
unreal blue.

Sheet metal in a an enclosed space that is smooth and shining and
spotlit with so much wattage that looking at is unbearable and you
have to squint and turn away.

Flaking coal or shale.

The biggest living fruit tree available. Spread across the arms of the
lowest branches, a disconsolate and somewhat deflated rubber fish.

Planks of wood balanced precariously together without any nails.
The stigmata are holes. It can collapse once a day—clattering over
the floor—and is rebuilt each morning.

A fountain. Mary is a wide curl of wave. Christ is a jet of corroborating water.

Two empty and intersecting clues on a huge crossword. Black and white.
Numbers in the corners.

A huge pool with an anguished diving board. Many fish inside the pool.
So many lights and shards of glass on the pool floor and suspended in
the water that the fish swim in torment, danger and ecstasy.

Moez Surani’s poetry has been published internationally, including in Harper’s Magazine, The Awl, The Walrus, Best Canadian Poetry 2013 and Best Canadian Poetry 2014. He is the author of two poetry collections: Reticent Bodies and Floating Life. His third poetry book, عملية Operación Opération Operation 动 Oперация, will be published in fall, 2016.

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

Featured Review: THE POETIC EDDA. Translated by Jeramy Dodds. Review by Eleni Zisimatos.


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THE POETIC EDDA. Translated by Jeramy Dodds
(Toronto, ON: Coach House Books, 2014, $23.95, 280 pages)

Review by Eleni Zisimatos

This translation of Old Norse and Icelandic poems by Jeramy Dodds is an exceptional work of Canadian poetic achievement. The book is divided into three sections: “Mythological Poems,” “Heroic Poems,” and “Poems Not in The Codex Regius,” all of which have their own impetus and flavour. The first section is lighter, more playful; replete with sayings and advice from the old, wise ones. “Heroic Poems” is more involved and deals more with heroes and heroines, deeds, mishaps, and destinies. The last section follows along the lines of “Heroic Poems,” where we encounter strong imagery like: “‘Dan and Damp have costly halls, / more lavish lands than you; / they know how to sail, how to make / a sword bite, run the red from a wound.’”

This book brings to light the background for the Tolkien myths, brings to the forefront Viking legends—the Norse mythology we often don’t realize we are engaged with when we read about Valkyries, the undead, and magic lore. The original Icelandic poems were written by Christian scribes in Iceland around the thirteenth century, which undoubtedly were influenced by the struggle between Pagan and Christian beliefs. Kings and Queens abound throughout the volume, as do witches and magic, and the all-important ash tree, Yggdrasil. The text jumps to attention with passages like:

………………………….‘His teeth flash when he sees
………………………….his sword, or when he eyes Bodvild’s
………………………….ring. His stare is as sharp as a shiny
………………………….serpent’s. I say slice his sinews
………………………….and set him near Saevarstadir.’

There are numerous translations such as this one throughout the three sections—all lending freedom to the imagination and bringing us back in time to our own imagined mythology of these wild people.

If I was pressed to find a weakness in the book, I would say that there is sometimes (not often) a break between high and low language. For instance, a passage such as: “Whoever can rear heirs as astonishing / As those Gjuki sired would be happy. / Their courage will live on in every land / wherever people hear it,” is largely formal and contrasts with the more colloquial “‘Shut up, Freyja, I know you / all too well, you’re not flawless—you’ve been the bitch of every / Elf and Aesir on the benches here.’” But to be fair, there are differences in the style of the two texts (located in two different sections), and I could only judge properly if I read the poems in the original Icelandic.

I was also somewhat bothered by the opening epigraph that was not translated (I am a great fan of epigraphs). To make up for this minor oversight, Jeramy Dodds included an exhaustive and impressive “Annotated Index of Names” at the end of the book, an undertaking which I know from experience can drive a writer to distraction.

The Poetic Edda is a brilliant book—playful and imaginative. The language flows crisply and effortlessly in the hands of Dodds, and is accessible to both young and old readers. This translation is akin to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, and is a notable addition to Canadian writing and translation.


Eleni Zisimatos is co-Editor-in-Chief of Vallum Magazine. She lives in Montreal.


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

Vallum Award for Poetry 2015 Shortlist!

“Structural Dead Load”

“Unreal Spring”

“Artifact: The Levellois Point”

“They Were There”

“Finding the Field with No Roads”

“Kitchen Scissors”

“Slack Sapling”

“Reservoir Effects”

“Cezanne’s Geological Practice”


“Gold Mountain Miniature”

“It Was a Golden Age of Monsters”

“The Outsider”

“Girl Gives Birth to Thunder”

“In the Hum”

“Examining Life’s Sharp Angles”

“Requiem for a Death in Passing”

“The Chinese Garden”


“Flesh and Blood”

“Zero Gravity”

“My Two Cedars”

Thank you to everyone who entered this year’s contest.
The winners and honorable mentions will be announced one week from today.
Winning poems will appear in issue 13:1 “Open Call.”

To see previous contest winners, click HERE!


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