Vallum: Contemporary Poetry

Vallum 2019 Year in Review: Part One

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2019 was an exciting year for Vallum!

We launched Vallum: Contemporary Poetry issues 16:1 and 16:2, and published two new chapbooks: Finding Places to Make Places by Alexei Perry Cox , winner of the 2019 Vallum Chapbook Award, and Swelles by Sina Queyras. Read about our new chapbooks here.

Ellen Chang-Richardson won the 2019 Award for Poetry with “Grotto,” while Conor Mc Donnell received second place with “Participation and passive views (Twin Peaks in under two minutes).” Honourable mention went to Sam Kaspar for “eau de stripper.”

We also hosted two pop-up shops, at Le Cagibi, attended press fairs in New York City, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, and hosted outreach workshops with new facilitators and organizers.

To commemorate Vallum’s busy and successful year, we asked this year’s contributors to share their thoughts on the books they read in 2019 and what’s in store for the year ahead.

Here’s what some of the writers published in Vallum Issue 16:1, 16:2, chapbook authors and 2019 contest winners said:

Alexei Perry Cox

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? 

They came out at the tale end of 2018, at the same time, but I kept living with Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk and Theory this year. I guess they were both really informing my hope to write two books at once, ones that spoke differently but registered equally meaningfully and that’s what I’ve been working on. Doyali Islam’s heft really killed me. I think that Islam’s bifurcated form resonates with me as I work on tipping the scales of balance and inbalance in my own work. 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
Canisia Lubrin Dyzgraphxst
Megan Fernandes Good Boys

Best writerly advice:
This was not “writerly advice” but something fully taken out of context from Tess Liem’s recent collection Obits that now I fully apply to maybe all that I do:

Let yourself be swayed         One way or the other

…… I might only add to it “And the other” just for good measure.

Alexei Perry Cox is the author of the poetry collection Under Her and short fiction collection To Utter a Life’s Sentence. Her work has appeared in various iterations in The Puritan, carte blanche, CV2, Hart House Review, Vallum, Makhzin, Matrix, Cosmonauts Avenue, Rusted Radishes, Journal Safar, The Beijinger, Lemonhound and elsewhere. She has two wondrous young ones named Isla and Ilham. Read her chapbook, Finding Places to Make Places here.


Adèle Barclay 

What was your favourite poetry book published this year?
The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy and Lima Limón by Natalie Scenters Zapico are both brilliant, scathing works that feel like necessary flares in these absurd and violent times.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
Debuts from Lauren Turner, The Only Card in a Deck of Knives, and Kyla Jamieson, Body Count

Best writerly advice 
Oh gosh, I have no writerly advice these days. I recommending reading aloud the poems that move you until they become part of your body. 

Adèle Barclay’s writing has appeared in The Pinch, The Fiddlehead,
glitterMOB, The Puritan, PRISM, and elsewhere. Her debut collection, If
I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You won the 2017 Dorothy Livesay
Poetry Prize. Her second collection, Renaissance Normcore, was published by Nightwood Editions in fall 2019. Read her poem, “Obviously a Shitty Dream” in Issue 16:1.


Kevin Irie

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? 

Luckily, Vallum is asking for a “discovery,” thus relieving me of having to choose a favourite book from poets I was already familiar with previously. There were superb collections from poets whose work I knew—Doyali Islam, Karen Solie, Moez Surani, Kaie Kellough, Fiona Tinwei Lam, and Souvankham Thammavongsa—but discovery implies the unfamiliar and there is one book I discovered. REMITTING (Baseline Press) by Nisa Malli is, technically, only a chapbook, but what a chapbook! Bracing, vivid and with a candour to match—”I was a bad worker/ of my own body”REMITTING seethes with an urgent energy, a strong poetic voice and masterfully uplifting poetic craft even as she records “days when my body trips me just to make me lie /down.” But then, that’s part of the power of poetry, isn’t it?

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  

day/break by Gwen Benaway. For Vallum last year, I cited Holy Wild as the best poetry book of 2018 and so look forward to this one. Gifted, graceful and gutsy, Benaway has a poetic voice and clarity that is truly a gift for the reader.

Long Division by Gil McElroy: a poet who is inventive, intelligent, experimental, and exciting in his use of language–and also, so far, unjustly under the radar despite 20 years of achievement.

Pineapple Express by Evelyn Lau. Trauma, her last collection, was intensely poignant and personal, but Lau has explored different poetic routes for decades now, incisively and with élan, and her ongoing poetic evolution is always something to look forward to with much anticipation.   

Junebat by John Elizabeth Stintzi. If you read the chapbook The Machete Tourist, then you know Stintzi is fresh, insightful, candid, conversational and utterly convincing. It made you want more—and now, here it is.

Roguelike by Mathew Henderson. The Lease, Henderson’s first book, was much celebrated, including a rave review in The New York Times, and now his second arrives after 8 years, apparently focusing more on his personal life than his working life, but the sensitivity, empathy and awareness displayed in that first book makes this a definite collection to read.   

Burning Province by Michael Prior. Prior has displayed his talent in elegant poems that reveal intelligence and grace as he writes about race, generations and injustice in a style that is both measured yet aggrieved, a delicate balance indeed. Though this is only his second book, he has poetically accomplished so much already. 

Field Notes for the Self by Randy Lundy. This will be the fourth collection from a poet who is simultaneously sombre and celebratory, stoic in the face of life yet singing of the natural world around him, a rare and wondrous working portrayed in poetry.   

Best writerly advice:
Read other contemporary poets, let them inspire you, and point you in ways you might not have otherwise considered. And buy their books, since someone should, and support starts with you!

Kevin Irie was a finalist for The Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award and The Toronto Book Award for Viewing Tom Thomson, A Minority Report (Frontenac House). Work from his current project, The Tantramar Re-Vision, was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. He lives in Toronto. Read his poem “Night Fear” Issue 16:1.


Shanan Kurtz

What was your favourite poetry book published this year? 
Usually late to the party, I started reading Maggie Nelson this year and especially loved Something Bright, Then Holes and Bluets.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
Make It Scream, Make It Burn, essays by Leslie Jamison; To Fix the Image in Memory, the art publication on Vija Celmins. And I’d love to track down a copy of Actual Air by David Berman, although I fear that ship may have sailed.

Best writerly advice
Hmmm consistency of practice is good but finding something that tears you open emotionally can be… quicker.

Shanan Kurtz is a visual artist, graphic designer, and semi-secret writer of poetry and non-fiction. She lives in Collingwood, Ontario and was recently a finalist for Vallum’s poetry prize. This is her first publication. Read her poem “Grasp” in Issue 16:1


MA|DE

What was your favourite poetry book published this year?
This year, we enjoyed Sanna Wani’s The Pink of the Seams from Penrose Press. We also spent a lot of time with Jim Johnstone’s anthology The Next Wave from Palimpsest Press, which came out in 2018 but it felt like a chance to catch up on everything we’d missed over the last several years.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
In fiction, we, like everyone else, are planning to read Ian William’s Reproduction from Penguin Random House. We’ll also be reading Maria Meindl’s debut novel The Work, which is just coming out with Stonehouse Publishing. In poetry, we’d like to read Tanis Franco’s Moon Healing Escalation from Gap Riot Press. In comics, we’re looking forward to The Cursed Hermit by Kris Bertin & Alexander Forbes and Weeding, the debut graphic novel of Geneviève Lebleu, both from Conundrum Press. 

Best writerly advice. 
To make your poetry interesting, read things that are not poetry. To make your poetry good, read things that are poetry. 

MA|DE is a collaborative writing partnership between Mark Laliberte,
interdisciplinary artist and author of Asemantic Asymmetry (Anstruther
2017) and Jade Wallace, author of Rituals of Parsing (Anstruther 2018). MA|DE’s poetry has appeared in PRISM, Poetry Is Dead, and Rat’s Ass Review and is forthcoming in Trinity Review. Their debut chapbook, Test Centre, will be published in spring 2019 by ZED Press. Read more at: ma-de.ca.


Eric Schmaltz

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? With the many offerings that 2019 had for poetry, I cannot narrow this down to a single book, but I will mention a few: Are the Rivers in Your Poems Real by Moez Surani, Perfact by Nicole Raziya Fong, and Presence Detection System by Nora Collen Fulton were all standout full-length collections.

What’s on your reading list for 2020? 
My reading list for 2020 thus far includes Nishga by Jordan Abel and OO: Typewriter Poems by Dani Spinosa. 

Best writerly advice. 
Think of the long stretches. 

Eric Schmaltz is the writer of Surfaces (2018). His creative work has
appeared in periodicals such as Arc Poetry, The Berkeley Poetry Review,
The Capilano Review, Jacket2, and the edited collection Avant Canada: Poets, Prophets, Revolutionaries (2019). His work has also been featured in galleries in Canada and the United States. Eric is currently a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in English at the University of Pennsylvania. Read his poem “Credit” in Issue 16:1.


Sonnet L’Abbé


What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
I can never answer this with just one title. I’ve been teaching Stevie Howell’s I Left Nothing Inside On Purpose and Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound Is a World to creative writing students and have been thrilled to read both books so closely. D.A. Lockhart’s Devil In The Woods and Kayla Czaga’s Dunk Tank also were favourite reads this year.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  I want to reread all the Toni Morrison. Interested in Jordan Abel’s new memoir, NISHGA, when it comes out. 

Best writerly advice. 
This is advice I didn’t need so much when I was younger, but that I need more and more now. Notice what situations take you away from speaking freely and which situations encourage you to say what’s on your mind. Do everything you can to keep your connection to your body and feeling, and keep precious your ability to voice what’s true for you, even if those around you won’t want to hear it, even if it might cost you. Practice being honest with yourself, and that integrity will be the backbone of your writing.

Sonnet L’Abbé teaches at Vancouver Island University, an openaccess
institution. Her chapbook, Anima Canadensis, won the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Prize. “CXLVII” is from her next collection, Sonnet’s Shakespeare, which will be out with McClelland and Stewart in August 2019. Read Sonnet L’Abbé’s poem “CXLVII” in Issue 16:1


Ilona Martonfi

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? 
Hold by Victoria LeBlanc

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
Rooms by Louise Dupre, translated by Karen Isabel Ocana, and Nearly Terminal by Eleni Zisimatos. 

Best writerly advice. 
Write and read everyday. Take notes. Write a journal. Start a poem.

Ilona Martonfi’s latest collection is The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications,
2015). Salt Bride (Inanna Publications, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna Publications, 2020). Artistic Director of The Yellow Door
and Visual Arts Centre Reading Series. Argo Bookshop Readings. QWF
2010 Community Award. Read her poem “Pupa” in Issue 16:1


Jami Macarty

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? 
It’s a tie between: A Tomb for Anatole by Stéphane Mallarmé and Columbarium by Susan Stewart

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
The ouevre of Norma Cole, an American poet, visual artist, translator, and curator.  

Best writerly advice.
If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. 

Jami Macarty has authored three chapbooks of poetry: Instinctive Acts (Nomados Literary Publishers, 2018), Mind of Spring, winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award (No.22, Vallum Chapbook Series, 2017), and Landscape of The Wait (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She teaches at Simon Fraser University and edits the online poetry journal The Maynard. https://jamimacarty. com/. Read her poem, “Who The Strummer” in 16:1


Michael Mirolla

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
The Perfect Archive (Paul Lisson)

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
Rereading all of James Joyce’s works (Dubliners, Portrait, Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake).

Best writerly advice:
No better advice than that given by Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Michael Mirolla’s publications include three Bressani Prize winners: the novel Berlin; the poetry collection The House on 14th Avenue; the short story collection, Lessons in Relationship Dyads. His “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence” appeared in The Journey Prize Anthology; “The Sand Flea” was a Pushcart nominee. Michael lives in Hamilton. Read his poem “Id-entity” in Issue 16:2.


Domenico Capilongo

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
There are so many but here are two of my favourites of the year, breth th treez uv lunaria: selektid rare n nu pomes n drawings, 1957–2019 By bill bissett and heft by Doyali Islam

What’s on your reading list for 2020? 
I’m looking forward to reading Canticles II: mmxix’ by George Elliott Clarke and For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe by Gary Barwin and so many others.

Best writerly advice.
Write often. Write fast. Use a notebook. Go for a walk. Resist falling in to the internet.

Domenico Capilongo is a highschool creative writing teacher and Karate instructor. His first books of poetry, I thought elvis was italian,
hold the note, send, and his short fiction collection, Subtitles, almost
won several awards. He has a new manuscript based on the song, “Salt
Peanuts” and some poems about the birth of words in the 1970s. Read his poem “Aspartame Noun” in Issue 16:2


Leah Callen

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?  Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  I’m excited to read Lisa Richter’s forthcoming book from Frontenac House (title yet unreleased) and Portia White: A Portrait in Words by George Elliott Clarke.

Best writerly advice. To me, the best poems surprise the reader with their freshness. I feel there is such pressure to fit into the latest artistic fashion and that only creates stale work. Poets, please resist that impulse and honour your own unique voice — shock and surprise us (and the system) with your ingenuity.

Leah Callen is an emerging poet and playwright who graduated withan MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria in 2015. Her poems have appeared in The Malahat Review and Barren Magazine. “Fallout” was longlisted last year for the Vallum Award for Poetry. Read her poem “Fallout” in Issue 16:1


Look out for more Year in Review responses from poets featured in Vallum coming next month!

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