Sparkling firework new year 2020

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:

Annick MacAskill 

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? 
This is the kind of question writers dread! It’s practically impossible to narrow it down, but if I had to choose, I’d go with Fiona Benson’s Vertigo & Ghost (Vintage, 2019). Reading it was like taking a bucket of ice water in the face (in a good way). 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
For 2020, I’m looking forward to reading Eduardo C. Corral’s sophomore collection, Guillotine, which is due out in the summer with Graywolf. Another priority is Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche, which came out this year with Faber & Faber. 

Best writerly advice.
All writers have dry spells. When you don’t feel like writing, read and read and read. Eventually, the desire to write will return.  

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Annick MacAskill is the author of
 No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award, and named a knife fork book 2018 pick. A second collection will be published by Gaspereau in the spring of 2020. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad, with recent publications in the Humber Literary ReviewBest Canadian Poetry 2019PrismThe Stinging FlyThe Puritan, and Arc. Read her review of ADAGIO FOR THE HORIZON by Laurelyn Whitt in Issue 16:1

Chinua Ezenwa Ohaeto

DSC_0200 (1)

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
The favourite book (Chapbook) I discovered this year is Mannequin in the Nude by Logan February.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
The book on my reading list for 2020 is On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.
Best writerly advice:
My best writerly is the same as my father’s: ‘…put your feelings down…’

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (@ChinuaEzenwa) is from Owerri-Nkworji in Nkwerre, Imo state, Nigeria and grew up between Germany and Nigeria.
Some of his works have appeared in Lunaris Review, AFREADA, Rush Magazine, Kalahari Review, Palette, Knicknackery, Praxis magazine, Bakwa Magazine, Strange Horizons, One, Ake Review, Crannóg Magazine, and elsewhere. Read his poem “I find it Hard Beginning a Poem Sometimes” in Issue 16:2.

Carolyn Marie Souaid

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? IMG_1566
Bluets, Maggie Nelson (2009)

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
I want to reread all of Louise Glück, beginning with Averno (2006)

Best writerly advice:
Rediscover the joy of making something. Paint, dance, collage, use a camera. Cross-pollinate.

Carolyn Marie Souaid is the Montreal-based author of seven poetry books and the acclaimed novel,
Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik (2017). She has performed at festivals and literary events in Canada and abroad, and her work has been featured on CBC Radio. Read her poem “The Inadequacy of the Present” in Issue 16:2

Lou VaniScan_20191130

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year? The Collected Poems by Sara Teasdale.

What’s on your reading list for 2020? Any God Will Do by Virginia Konchan and The Only Card in a Deck of Knives by Lauren Turner.

Best writerly advice: Try not to discard, destroy or jettison a first draft of a poem as it may contain your initial thoughts, impulses, intuitions and ideas. These firsts may shape a most sincere and profound work. It seems rare that a first thought is an afterthought.

Lou Vani is an actor from Montreal and enjoys writing poetry. He has appeared in films, television programs and on stage. This is the second occasion Vallum has published his work. Read his poem “Yes I can Recall the Ivy” in Issue 16:2

Christina Shah Christina Shah-min

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
Hands down, Turning Left to the Ladies, by Kate Braid. It’s not new, and I’d been meaning to read it for ages, but I finally sat down with it. Kate beautifully articulates the ups and downs women experience working in industrial environments– there’s the ever-present danger, the sense of accomplishment, the guys who love you, and the ones who scare you. It’s a wild ride.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
A number of books on work poetry– namely, Tom Wayman’s The Order in Which We Do Things. and Stanley’s Girl by Susan Eisenberg. Also, (my former teacher) Fiona Tinwei Lam’s Odes & Laments, and of course, my friend Daniela Elza’s the broken boat, which will be coming out in April.

Best writerly advice:
Stay true to what it is you’re passionate about and let that drive your creative process. Keep knocking on doors. If you apply yourself over time, you’ll be surprised at your results (I learned this in sales first). Live dangerously and steal time.

Christina Shah was born in Ottawa, lives in Vancouver, and works in
heavy industry. Her poetry has appeared in qarrtsiluni and spring, with
work forthcoming in The Fiddlehead. She recently completed her first full-length manuscript, if: prey, then: huntress. On hot days, you’ll find her at a good swimming hole. Read her poem “Dig in” in Issue 16:2

Kate Felix kate headshot

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

I thought I Can Hear You, Can You Hear Me? by Nolan Natasha (Invisible Publishing) was superb. I admire his ability to weave whole stories from a yarn of small details. The way he interprets the moments of ordinary life (Blue Jays games, road trips, the leavings of a campfire) are intimate and nuanced and the language, although beautiful, is never isolating.  He writes in a voice one might recognize as their own. 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  

Right now, I am reading On Second Thought by Priscila Uppal (Mansfield Press).  It is a devastating window into one woman’s journey though her own mortality but it is written with moments of such tenderness and levity that it is often difficult to know how to feel while reading it. Either way it is drawing me in.  

I am looking forward to reading Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry, edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme (Arsenal Pulp Press) which I feel is an important collection for so many reasons.  

Also on my list is Vivek Shraya’s debut collection of poetry, Even This Page is White.  It came out in 2016, but I just finished reading her book I’m Afraid of Men and admired how she hit every page with a literal hand slap of raw and unapologetic prose. I am hoping for more of that with her poetry and suspect I will not be disappointed. 

Best writerly advice:
I like to listen to the music I think could be my subject or protagonist’s theme song while I am writing.  It helps me to stop thinking like me and lets me crawl into another mind completely.

Kate Felix (She/Her) is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Room Magazine, Litro, and the Pacific Review, among others. She won the Wilda Hearne Prize for Flash Fiction and has been shortlisted for several other writing prizes. Her small daughter describes her as being “like a rainbow but with one stripe made of darkness.” Find her online at or @kitty_flash on twitter.

Leland JamesLeland James 2016 Hi Res color - Copy

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

Actually, this is a rediscovery, but it’s been so long since I read it (over fifty years) I think it counts as a discovery: Understanding Poetry, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. This book takes us back to the roots of poetry, be it formal or free verse. It elucidates a concept and then illustrates with commentary, annot snippets of poems as many books do, entire poems. 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  

A History of Modern Poetry, Modernism and After, a book I’ve been promising myself to tackle. Also, I plan to reread: The Anxiety of Influence, A Theory of Poetry, Harold Bloom. Bloom walks a fine line I wish to revisit between originality and the desire to be original, the latter being in my view the source of much of the bad poetry we find in many journals today.

Best writerly advice:
As my suggested readings may indicate: I think the disease of much of poetry just now is the desire to be unique, to break ground, to distinguish one from the past. I don’t think that’s where you start. As Goethe said, “Do not all the achievements of a poet’s predecessors and contemporaries belong to him? Why should he shrink from picking flowers where he finds them?” My suggested books, I being a poet who publishes worldwide in both formal and free verse—not an easy trick these days—encourage young poets (if you’ve done the math you know just how old I am) to take the advice of C.S. Lewis: “[N]o man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring tuppence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original [.]” 

Now, to the day to day: crack your knuckles, find poetry in your fingers. Write what your Muse tells you, and how. Screw advice. It’s you and the page. Do it, and let the chips fall.

Leland James is the author of several poetry collections, children’s books in verse, and a book on poetry craft. He has published poems in journals and magazines worldwide including The Lyric, Rattle, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and The London Magazine. He has won or received honors in numerous international poetry competitions, has been featured in American Life in Poetry, and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. www.lelandjamespoet. Read his poem “Nemeses” in Issue 16:2

Conor Mc Donnell conor_mc_donnell

What was your favorite book of poetry you discovered this year?
My favourite book(s) of poetry this year were anthologies as I always learn so much from the variety of voices included:

Top of the pile was The Next Wave, edited by Jim Johnstone (recommended to me by absolutely everyone). Poetry in Medicine: An anthology of poems about doctors patients illnesses and healing – edited by Michael Salcman (recommended to me by Al Moritz). Technicians of the Sacreda range of poetries from Africa America Asia Europe and Oceania – edited by Jerome Rothenberg (recommended by Nick Cave)

**For my own personal unearthing of a forgotten gem … Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James, you can read the amazing introduction essay here

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  

My early reading list for 2020: 

Democratically Applied Machine by the awesome Robert Colman

What to wear when surviving a lion attack by the fiercesome Paola Ferrante

Resisting Canada: An anthology of poetry – edited by Nyla Matuk

K-Punk: the collected and unpublished writings of Mark Fisher

It gets me home, this curving track – Ian Penman

Underland: a deep time journey – Robert Macfarlane 

Stilt Jack by John Thompson  

10 minutes 38 seconds by Elif Shafak

Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval

Best writerly advice:

My writing advice? What the hell do I know about anything? 

But the best advice I received was read and read and read some more. What I would add to that is read widely read passionately and read with critical judgement. When I do sit down to write I put on the soundtrack to Only Lovers Left Alive and write as a starving 1,000 year-old vampire.


Conor Mc Donnell is a physician and poet. He has published two chapbooks in Canada, The Book of Retaliations (Anstruther Press), and, Safe Spaces (Frog Hollow Press). In 2018, he received Honourable Mention for The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize and is shortlisted for RawArtReview’s  2019 Charles Bukowski Poetry Prize. His writing has featured in The FiddleHeadJAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)In ParenthesesScrivener CreativeReview, 580SpltLipCarouselbirdburiedpress online, and many others. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two dogs and is currently writing/rewriting/completing/shredding his first full poetry manuscript.

Louella Lesterunnamed

What was your favorite book of poetry you discovered this year?
I really enjoyed It’s a Big Deal by Dina Del Bucchia. 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
I look forward to reading Mobile by Tanis MacDonald  & Five Wives by Joan Thomas. And of course a bunch of others—the list is endless.

Best writerly advice:

My best writerly advice is to just let it flow when doing a first draft. I have a tendency to revise a lot as I write a first draft, but since I let that go a bit I feel my writing has improved.

Louella Lester writes fiction, CNF, and poetry in Winnipeg. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire, Lemon Hound, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Antigonish Review, CBC News Manitoba Online, and in the anthology Gush: menstrual manifestos for our times (Frontenac House, 2018). Read her poem “Taking Off” in Issue 16:1

Evan JEvan J pic

What was your favorite book of poetry you discovered this year?
None. I read fiction.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  


Best writerly advice:
Move mentally and residentially away from the urban tech ruckus.

Living in the remote town of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Evan Jspends the winters writing poems. In 2016, he founded and directed the Slackline Creative Arts Series in Toronto. In 2017, he released the chapbook Urchin. In 2018, he won the Vallum Award for Poetry. In 2019, he almost won the subTerrain Lush Triumphant Award for Poetry. Learn more at Read his poem “Bloor-Yonge” in Issue 16:1.

Leslie Timmins 0

What was your favorite book of poetry you discovered this year?
The Mean Game by John Wall Barger

What’s on your reading list for 2020?
Winter Morning Walks by Ted Kooser. Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds. How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog by Anthony McGowan, and Time is Tight by Booker T.  (memoir of Booker T. and the MGs).

Best writerly advice:
“Why, to write down the stuff
and people of every day,
must poems be dressed up in gold,
in old and fearful stone?”

Pablo Neruda

Leslie Timmins is a poet, editor, and activist whose work has been
shortlisted for the Montréal International Poetry Prize, among other
honours. Her poetry collection,
Every Shameless Ray (Inanna, 2018), traces
a fine disorder of possibility through the Canadian wilderness, European
art, grave illness, true love and false. See
Read her poem “Mercy” in Issue 16:2

Deborah Bacharachunnamed

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
Oh, that’s a hard one because I wrote reviews for 20 books. I think Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminksy was the most astounding book of poetry I read this year.

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
Danger Days by Catherine Pierce, Hinge by Molly Spencer, Rise Wildly by Tina Kelley, Somewhere Between Sweet and Grief by Donna Vorreyer, Foxlogic, Fireweed by Jennifer Sweeney, and Prime Meridian by Connie Post.

Best writerly advice:
Don’t let perfect get in the way of getting started. Give yourself permission to write something bad.

Deborah Bacharach is the author of After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Irish Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Poet Lore, among many others. She is an editor, teacher, and tutor in Seattle. Find out more about
her at Read her poem “Valentine’s Day With Teenager” in Issue 16:2

Alex Manley 

What was your favourite book of poetry you discovered this year?
All Day I Dream About Sirens – Domenica Martinello

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

This book is such a wonderful expression of what’s possible in a themed poetry collection — Martinello weaves all the little threads of sirens and mermaids in our culture together into a vibrant tapestry that finds space for Disney movies and the Odyssey, the Starbucks logo and the last surviving sea-silk seamstress — and the closer you look, the more you’ll find. She’s a rare poet who delights in wordplay in a way that feels exciting and crackling with intellect, not simply to show off or to induce dad-joke-like groans in the reader. 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?  
A bunch of books that came out this year that I haven’t gotten around to yet! 

The Topeka School – Ben Lerner

Resisting Canada: An Anthology of New Poetry – edited by Nyla Matuk

Exquisite Mariposa – Fiona Duncan 

The Crying Book – Heather Christle

Best writerly advice:
Find a nice, comfortable place that’s well-lit, where no one will talk to you — and (most importantly) one that doesn’t have any internet. 

Alex Manley is a Montreal-based writer whose work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, The Puritan, carte blanche, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day feature, among others, and whose debut poetry collection, We Are All Just Animals & Plants, was published by Metatron Press in 2016. Read his Poem “Commitment” in Issue 16:2