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Vallum year in review

To put it lightly, 2020 was a year of changes. We have all had to learn to adapt to this new way of living, yet despite physical isolation, we at Vallum feel so lucky to have been able to connect with you through the digital sphere. Thank you for helping us continue to share the art of poetry — we are truly humbled by the support of our community and send our sincere wishes of health and happiness to you and your loved ones for this year to come. 

Despite the many challenges and uncertainties of this year, we managed to launch Vallum: Contemporary Poetry issues 17:1 and 17:2, and publish four chapbooks: The Bannisters by Paul Muldoon, A Tilt in the Wondering by Nicole Brossard (re-release), It Was Treaty / It Was Me by Matthew James Weigel (1st Place in the 2020 Vallum Chapbook Award) and DC Poems by Joe Neubert (2nd Place in the 2020 Vallum Chapbook Award). Read about our new chapbooks here.

Judy Barlow won the 2020 Award for Poetry with “Walking Into East-end Toronto 2020” while Mary Trafford received second place with “Border crossings.” Honourable mentions went to Josh Feit with “Linger Factor,” Esther Johnson with “we lost ahmaud,” and Michael Trussler with “As Unnoticed as Possible.”

We also participated in virtual press fairs Word on the Street (Toronto) and Expozine (Montreal), and hosted outreach workshops with new facilitators and organizers

To reflect on the year, we asked this year’s contributors to share their thoughts on the books they read in 2020 and what’s in store for the year ahead.

Here’s what some of the writers published in our latest issues had to say:

Archana Sridhar

0_SridharPic_ColourFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Cluster by Souvankham Thammavongsa

What’s on your 2021 reading list?
Luster by Raven Leilani and Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Best Writerly Advice
Always carry a notebook or a piece of paper and a pen – in case inspiration strikes in a meeting or on a walk or even at family dinner… I am always surprised when a poem comes, and reminded of the importance to make space to welcome it.



Roxanna Bennett

RoxannaBennettFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Side Effects May Include Strangers by Dominik Parisien (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020) is a collection that means the world to me. It’s an intimate and insightful examination of pain written with exquisite vulnerability.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?   
Poetry-wise, I am super stoked for Khashayar Mohammadi’s Me, You, Then Snow (Gordon Hill, 2021) and for Kevin Heslop’s the correct fury of your why is a mountain (Gordon Hill Press, 2021). 

In terms of cultivating mindfulness in challenging times, I highly recommend these books to all beings:
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Avery, 2018) Daniel Goleman, Richard J. Davidson,
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying (Penguin Press, 2018) by Michael Pollan,
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (Riverhead Books, 2009) by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala, 2007) by Pema Chödrön, 
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation (Simon and Schuster, 2017) by Robert Wright. 

I also recommend reading nothing to develop a relationship with inner silence.

Best Writerly Advice
You don’t need advice, writerly or otherwise, you already know exactly what to do and have everything you need inside of you. 

Ellen Chang-Richardson

0 Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
When it comes to poetry, I’ve been on a chapbook and lit mag kick this year. A few of my favourites chaps from 2020 are:
Bait & Switch by Claire Farley (Anstruther Press)
ENTROPY by Ashley Hynd (Gap Riot Press)
Manifest by Terese Mason Pierre (Gap Riot Press)
Concealed Weapons Animal Survivors by natalie hanna (above/ground press)
Shadow Black by Naima Yael Tokunow (Frontier Poetry)

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
A mix of poetry and prose – I want to read more short stories in 2021 but for poetry:
Sprawl: the time it took us to forget by Manahil Bandukwala x Conyer Clayton (Collusion Books)
Side Effects May Include Strangers by Dominik Parisien
Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg
Comma by Jennifer Still

Best Writerly Advice. 
Listen to the spaces and record that.


Mary Trafford

Mary Trafford for VallumFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
I discovered Tell Them It Was Mozart by Angeline Schellenberg (Brick Books, 2016). Schellenberg weaves an honest, courageous narrative about raising two young sons, both on the autism spectrum. The book pulls you along in ways good fiction can, but with the emotional impact and intricate use of language often best expressed through poetry. Schellenberg’s writing is very powerful, personal and grounded. 

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I will continue reading non-fiction, fiction and poetry by and about Black and Indigenous peoples, and peoples of colour, and people with disabilities. Currently, I’m reading Ibram X. Kendi’s excellent book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books, 2016). In 2021, I plan to read:
— Michael Eric Dyson’s new book Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America (St. Martins Press, 2020).
— Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy.
— Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act (Indigenous Relations Press, 2018).
Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann (Beacon Press, 2020).
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart: 2019)

Best Writerly Advice.
I am not the best person to give “writerly advice!” But if I must answer, I’d say this:

  • Follow your heart
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Read, read, read, especially works by marginalized peoples – they’re significantly underrepresented in the literary canon, and in popular literature and mainstream publishing.
  • Take writing workshop(s).
  • Find a supportive writers’ group and/or mentor.
  • Keep writing and sending out your stuff. Rejections are paving stones toward getting your writing out. Your writing is important, even if it doesn’t seem so in the moment. Just ask Emily Dickinson!


Josh Feit

0Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Victoria Chang’s Obit. Ruminating on loss, Chang presents a series of philosophical thought experiments in plainspoken metaphors.

Mostly, she uses the traditional newspaper obituary format (both in form and tone) to write breathtaking poems about the death of optimism, logic, home, and other things that suddenly vanish when a loved one dies. She accents the obituary poems with tankas (my new favorite form), tiny five-line poems that loom large.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
Non-fiction is the ticket. I’m looking for a good history of 20th Century Egypt with Nasser and Nasserism at the heart of it. Does this book exist? Recommendations please. Otherwise, Donald Shoup’s “Parking and the City,” the follow-up to his urban planning classic, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Best Writerly Advice.
Read multiple books at the same time and pay attention to the ways they intersect.


A. Garnett Weiss

unnamedFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year 
So difficult to choose just one.
Trailer Park Elegy by Cornelia Hoogland
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo

What’s on your reading list for 2021? 
Poetry: Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough
Other:  Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld  (I need a laugh.)

Best Writerly Advice
—    Allow some slack.
—    Not give in to pandemic fatigue, fear and frustration but recognize creativity in these times may need a more nurturing, nourishing, restorative approach than be driven by ‘Eureka!-I’ve-nailed -it‘ ambition.
—    Look beyond the written word and try a different art form—e.g., music, collage, or drawing.


Mary Gilliland

unnamed-6Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
I have been modest far too long. My award-winning chapbook The Ruined Walled Castle Garden was published in September 2020, and huzzah’d in the fall catalog as a new SPD Recommends by Small Press Distributors. After reaching the finals in many contests, one of my manuscripts won the honor of being typeset! with a spine, between covers. Despite covid, I’ve signed quite a few copies, and I’ve discovered a book different from the poems in manuscript. My eyes are fresh. I’m with my audience. I discover the words, the page, the resonance of the poems’ layers, their sequencing. I am grateful for the many readers’ compliments that have lighted my view.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
Virgil’s Georgics. I loved Greece and steeped myself in its poets ancient and contemporary. Perhaps because of history and the greater odor of conquest, I scorned Rome. But a friend recently sent a new translation of the Georgics, which seems to be a collocation of weather, diseases, joys and tasks, worship and governance—by the poet Dante chose as guide. Living with Covid, we want fresh air. And yet who can freely be a part of nature? In the U.S., that is a racialized question. I’m curious about Virgil’s account of a world that’s passed away and what it will illuminate. Who is accounted for, who missing? How is the ruler perceived? How do deities function?   

Best Writerly Advice. 
Emotions are manifestations of energy. When feeling deep despair, grief, or anxiety,  locate and release the energy that the emotion holds. Without clinging to the emotion itself, use the energy available for the transformative work of poetry. The energy can help move you quickly through a poem that’s been dying on the page under your revisions. I did not seek this phenomenon but it’s happened more than once. Sound, voice, is energy. An emotion is one shape that energy can take. A poem is another.


Joe Neubert

Joe_NeubertFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon, Richard Wright. 

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
The outside world. Going to used book stores and lending libraries and touching things that strangers have touched and feeling like that’s a safe thing to do and taking those books home and reading them. And kids’ books, really colorful and fun kids books wildly illustrated and streaming with the riotous joy of being alive and a sincere fascination with the miracles in everything. 

Best Writerly Advice
Just, y’know, be a decent human being. Reduce suffering in this world. If you think you can do that with words, do it with words, because my goodness this species has got some healing to do.


Stuart McKay

unnamed-1Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Over the summer, I popped in to a great new bookstore in Inglewood, here in Calgary, called The Next Page. On impulse, I picked up a massive volume of the Morrocan poet Abdellatif Laabi, In Praise of Defeat. It is tremendous poetry, and provides a good history of that fascinating country.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I plan to read more art history, more Canadian history, some Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and if I can find a good edition, John Ruskin. I always make a point of picking up work by my fellow Canadian poets.

Best Writerly Advice
A change of scene always helps me regain my focus, and renews my spirit. During the summer, I renovated my home studio. It is cleaner, bigger, and has more light. Also, I was fortunate enough to get away for a little while. I spent time in British Columbia, and saw parts of Alberta I hadn’t seen in a long time. Writing by the ocean and in the mountains feels wonderful!


Kate Braid

Kate_Print(7)Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
My favourite book of poetry this year was [hacha] from Unincorporated Territory by Craig Santos Perez (Omnidawn Publishing, Oakland, California 2917). A stunning book that covers environment, history and many other issues by an Indigenous writer from Guam. Though it was closely followed by another American writer, Reginald Dwayne Betts and Felon, poems about his experience as an African American who spent several years of his youth in jail for a minor crime.

What on your reading list for 2021?
On my list for 2021 is to go back and re-read some of the oldie-goldies: T.S.Eliot, Ted Hughes, Rilke, PK Page. It seems somehow appropriate to honour my elders in these crazy days.

Best Writerly Advice 
Best writerly advice? Just write! Though I know that’s a heck of a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve found it really hard to concentrate in Covid times so my new resolution is to declare at least one work day a week: make no appointments, not even a coffee date, no chores. Just follow what the Muse dictates! (And if she’s quiet, just read.)


Kieran Egan

unnamed-2Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Bernard O’Donoghue,  Farmer’s Cross. Faber, 2011.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
Whatever Alice Oswald writes next, and her new book Nobody and a re-reading of her magnificent Memorial, and Falling Awake.

Best Writerly Advice. 
As someone new to the business of writing poetry, I think it’s important to not get too caught up in the ‘business’ of poetry. It seems too easy, for me at any rate, to become involved with groups (in these days, around the world), and discover new writers, become involved even in a small scale administration, etc. and find time for actually writing poetry diminishes. So write first, explore the ‘business’ after.


Jade Wallace

author photoFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Favourite: a word of dreadful exclusions! What I will say is that I was delighted by Wolsak & Wynn’s fall poetry lineup under their Buckrider Books imprint; I read Rasiqra Revulva’s studiously playful oceanic animal poems in Cephalopography 2.0 and Lauren Turner’s deadly serious metropolitan human poems in The Only Card in a Deck of Knives back to back. They’re nothing alike, but both completely exceptional at what they do.

What’s on your reading list for 2021? 
As the Reviews Editor for CAROUSEL, I have a whole stack of copies I’m thrilled about to peruse, including Maria Meindl’s The Work (Stonehouse Publishing), Tyler Pennock’s Bones (Brick Books), and Sue Goyette’s Anthesis: A Memoir (Gaspereau Press) —after which I would love to be reading a set of traditional review pitches and experimental review submissions about these and other books (hint, hint).

Best Writerly Advice.
What works for me is just putting in time, as often as I can. Some days it’s only five minutes of daydreaming about a story in progress, or sending off a submission email, or reading something thought-provoking, but the point is to keep words that shimmer, words written with joy, words for their own impractical sake, ever-present.


Rob Winger

6-2Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
All of my choices for 2020 might be more essay than poetry. Just Us by Claudia Rankine knocked my socks off, especially as a sort of sequel to Citizen (2014); and it felt like necessary reading this past year. Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, a 2012 book of exceptional essays on poetry, is dazzling and rich and makes me have to take a breather after every single section. Same goes for two more titles to which I’m arriving way too late: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) and Bluets (2009), both movingly smart, genre-bending books.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
So many titles come to mind! But the debut collection by Bardia Sinaee, Intruder, might top my list for poetry. We’ve all been waiting for years now for Bardia’s first book to arrive. It’s bound to be quite something.

Also on my radar is a follow-up to what might be the best book on sports that I’ve ever read, The Utility of Boredom: baseball essays, by Peterborough short fiction writer Andrew Forbes. His new title, The Only Way Is The Steady Way meditates, in part, on one of my favourite-ever players, Ichiro Suzuki; I’ve got no doubt this book will be just as good as the one that preceded it.

I’m also planning to reread poet Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Giller-winning fiction debut, How To Pronounce Knife, my favourite book of 2020. It’s going to be worth rereading every year forevermore, I bet.

And, finally, I’m stoked to check out new books by my fellow poets on the 2021 spring list at M&S, all of which sound stellar: sulphurtongue by Rebecca Salazar; Letters in a Bruised Cosmos by Liz Howard; and All Black Everything by Shane Book. 

Best Writerly Advice. 
Adrienne Rich in 1984: “Begin with the material. Pick up again the long struggle against lofty and privileged abstraction.”


Look out for Part 2 of our Year in Review

We have more wonderful suggestions and advice from our contributors on it’s way! We’ll be featuring a second part to Vallum’s Year in Review on our blog soon. We appreciate all of the writers who participated. 

172coverYou can find the creative works of the poets featured in this edition of our Year in Review in Vallum Issues 17:1 and 17:2.

And be sure to check out our Poem of the Week archive to look back at some of our favourite poems this year.