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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:

Aisha Hamid

ssip92-01-01Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar. As a student of poetry, I found the deconstruction of form refreshing; it opened up endless possibilities for me.  

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar, Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed, Are you Enjoying? by Mira Sethi, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha.

Best Writerly Advice. 
Notice the ordinary and the everyday – that’s where poetry is. And read books by womxn of color.

Jessica Bebenek

6-3Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
A new favourite book I discovered this year was Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, a book of ancient Sumarian poetry translated by Diane Wolkstein. I’ve loved mythology and folktales since I was a child and these poems celebrating Inanna, a maiden/mother/crone goddess, feel timeless and full of wisdom for us still. My favourite image is of Inanna planting a tree and packing down the earth with her bare feet… and it only gets more sensual from there.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I usually read a lot of new poetry that comes out, but this year I want to read more classics, those works that stand the test of time. I just treated myself to a book order including poetry by Jack Spicer, W.B. Yeats, and Robert Duncan. Time to get spooky with the dudes. I’ve also collected some books around religion in pre-history, especially in ancient Britain, as an attempt to learn more about my ancestral practices as a witch.

Best Writerly Advice
My best advice is to just sit down and do the thing. I’ll often end up thinking about my writing practice and what I should do rather than actually writing, which gets me nowhere but anxious. I’ve also rediscovered the importance of being supported by an artistic/spiritual/intellectual community. I’ve been a part of Ariana Reines’ Invisible College since March and it’s opened so many doors for me. I’m also being mentored by Reines individually which has helped me be more productive in working on my poetry collection — deadlines and someone’s caring eyes on your work is so essential!


Cherie Clark

clark author fotoFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Favorite book? Well, she was a discovery and a re-discovery. I’d been a fan of Jorie Graham – off and on – for some time. Admiring those outsized collections – not the usual 7” x 9” book, but more like 7-1/2 x 10 – and those long lines, those frisky enjambments. But her new collection Runaway really captured my attention with just the right blend of musicality and difficulty. It will be a book not readily read and shelved.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I’d like to revisit some writers I’d only read lightly before. Maybe back to earlier Jorie Graham. Or try my hand at a deeper look into John Ashbury. And read more Henri Cole, whom I believe will be an acquired taste, if his new collection Blizzard is any indication.

Best Writerly Advice?
Writers are the worst people to give advice, and the worst to take advice! Nothing is writing but writing. Not thinking about writing, talking about writing, reading about writing. If I had to offer anything, I’d have to say it is the heaven and hell of a real marriage. Only time and commitment can nurture that kind of love.


Brennan Sprague

IMG_6283Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year?
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, Guidebooks for the Dead by Cynthia Cruz, Obit by Victoria Chang, Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro, Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
Excited to read Marina Tsvetaeva, Clarice Lispector, The Changing Light At Sandover by James Merrill, The Essential Mystics, Poets, Saints and Sages by Richard Hooper

Best Writerly Advice
Not quite ready to start giving advice I don’t  think, would just say follow & trust your obsessions!


Conor Mc Donnell

unnamedFavorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Belfast Confetti by Ciaran Carson (1989). The title refers to the rocks and debris thrown by protesters during the many riots and clashes with soldiers in the city, and the book is a fascinating mix of lyric poetry describing some pretty frightening encounters interspersed with prose pieces/poems that explore the history of Belfast and the evolution of language from old Celtic to modern English through slang and local-speak and how these were drafted into the vernacular of the city

What’s on your reading list for 2021? 
Too much to mention and besides I hadn’t heard of Ciaran Carson at the start of 2020 so let’s see what happens; mind you, there’s a Nancy Collins Swamp Thing Omnibus I’ve been coveting for a few months now …

Best Writerly Advice
Go for a walk.


Greg Santos

unnamed-3Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
It’s hard to choose one. So I’ll list some poetry books that moved me or that resonated with me in the last year:
—  The Doctor Will Fix It by Bunkong Tuon
—  A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok
—  The Eleventh Hour by Carolyn Marie Souaid
—  The Fire Eater by Jose Hernandez Diaz
—  Heart of Goodness by Carolyne Van Der Meer
—  Hell Light Flesh by Klara du Plessis
—  It’s not a book of poetry but the short story collection, How to Pronounce Knife, was written by poet Souvankham Thammavongsa

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
—  Shared Universe by Paul Vermeersch
—  The Only Card in a Deck of Knives by Lauren Turner
—  Nautilus and Bone by Lisa Richter
—  Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat
—  I received Be Holding by Ross Gay for Christmas from my wife

Best Writerly Advice. 
Read. Reread. Write. Rewrite. Lather, rinse, and repeat.


Marguerite Doyle

Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
My favourite book of poetry this year is an Irish Anthology from The Ireland Chair of Poetry called Hold Open the Door and the poems are written by contemporary poets in celebration of their mentors, living or not living who most inspire them. (One of my poems appears in it, so I’m biased, but the book is really good).

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I don’t have a reading list. I look online mostly, and I love second-hand bookshops where I can be surprised by a random find. Just now I’m re-reading Anna Akhmatova’s Poem Without a Hero which is a masquerade set on New Year’s Eve. To me it seems quite modern for these times which are so surreal just now.

Best Writerly Advice
Keep the poems that don’t work. Put them away for a while and rework them. Waste nothing.


Bob T. Bright

unnamed-4Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Piece of Cake by Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh in terms of writing by poets, and Ed Luker’s ‘Other Life’ (Broken Sleep Books) as a book of poems. It is a joy. 

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
I have a veritable tsundoku to get through, so to enumerate what it consisted of would take up the whole of this edition, but includes Norman Fischer’s Experience, Sean Bonney’s Letters against the Firmament and Henry Corbin’s Alone with the Alone, which latter, alone, would have, had it been a library book, cost me infinitely more in fines than buying it rather than taking it out – on loan. 

Best Writerly Advice
The best writerly advice i can give is the advice that I should give myself; namely, that you can never be better as a writer than you are already, so ignore your self criticism and write.


Michael Quilty

unnamed-1Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
—  Body Count – Kyla Jamieson 

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
A couple of these were released last year but haven’t got to them yet.
—  Wicked Enchantment – selected poems by Wanda Coleman
—  The Fool – Jessie Jones
—  Me, You, Then Snow – Khashayar Mohammadi
—  Because The Sun – Sarah Burgoyne

Best Writerly Advice
Keep at it.


Frances Boyle

JWM_3864Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Among my many favourites was I Know Something You Don’t Know by Amy LeBlanc. I’m a sucker for fairy tales and transformations, and LeBlanc’s poems weave these elements into real women’s lives. Several discoveries from chapbook presses included Gap Riot Press titles Entropy by Ashley Hynd and Two Birds, All Moon by Alexus Erin, and Rock Salt by Olive Andrews from Baseline Press (who also published my friend Natalie Hanna’s wonderful Infinite Redress). Calgary’s Blasted Tree creates small pieces of literary art, including Kyle Flemmer’s Purple Rain (a broadside with petals) and Crystal and Clay by Sophie Anne Edwards (a photo booklet of “durational ecopoems”).

(Another) plug for a friend: I’ve long read and loved Deborah-Anne Tunney’s poems based on Hitchcock films but the discovery and joy was how amazingly they coalesced as a rich collection, “A Different Wolf”, that situates Hitchcock’s particular male gaze alongside a feminist take on growing up in the latter part of the 20th century.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
Poetry books include Sarah Venart’s I am the Big Heart, Laura K. McRae’s Were There Gazelle, Randy Lundy’s Field Notes for the Self, Lisa Richter’s Nautilus and Bone, and the latest batch of chapbooks from The Alfred Gustav Press (Pearl Pirie, Al Rempel, Tom Wayman and Connie Braun).

On my fiction list:  Catherine Hernandez’s Crosshairs and Aislinn Hunter’s The Certainties. Non-fiction: Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and James Nestor’s Breath.

Best Writerly Advice.
The best advice I heard was in an interview with Stephanie Roberts, who said “Treat praise and criticism the same.”


John Barton

6-5Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Carolyn Forché, In the Lateness of the World. New York: Penguin, 2020.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
Phil Hall, Niagara & Government, St. John’s: Pedlar, 2020.

Best Writerly Advice
Take the long view: the final version of the poem you’re writing may be far different and far better than what you conceive of it to be today.


Kelly Norah Drukker

6-6Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Two collections that have really stayed with me are Falling Awake by Alice Oswald, and Sôhkêyihta: The Poetry of Sky Dancer Louise Bernice Halfe, edited by David Gaertner

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
So many things! But to start, a mixture of poetry and prose: 
—  Sadiqa de Meijer’s The Outer Wards
—  Jane Munro’s Glass Float
—  Lisa Richter’s Nautilus and Bone
—  Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat
—  Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other 
—  Sara Baume’s handiwork

Best Writerly Advice. 
Stay with an image, if it comes to you. If the right words do not attach themselves to it right away, give it time. Flesh it out. Take the time to find out what is trying to break through. You might have to cycle through some old words and phrases, first, until the new ones can come in and take their place.


Richard Sanger

unnamed-5Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Favourite reading this year: Bluestone, James Lasdun’s new and selected from 2015, allowed me to get  caught up (to some extent) with this wonderfully exacting poet’s work.   I enjoyed his use of dialogue in the sequence entitled “Water Sessions” and just want more.   But my most memorable experiences were words as song:  a line from Chandler Davis’s beautiful lyric “Let Go Of the Day” (“when did we last hear the whippoorwill?”) echoed through my head for the first half of the year until a very insistent whippoorwill disturbed my bucolic evenings in May; the brilliant feminine rhymes of poet-novelist Steven Heighton’s debut album The Devil’s Share that control and leaven his rage with wit.

What’s on your reading list for 2021?
On my list for 2021: some Hölderlin, perhaps some new Durs Grünbein and, mostly, poems that are unpredictable, compelling and alive—I just don’t know who will write them yet.  


Ashley-Elizabeth Best


Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
Obit by Victoria Chang 

What’s on your reading list for 2021?  
Unmeaningable by Roxanna Bennett and Soft Science by Franny Choi

Best writerly advice.
Listen and keep listening.



Mike Trussler

DSC_0121Favorite Book of Poetry Discovered this Year
The collection—new to me—that has meant the most to me this year is Jim Johnstone’s The Chemical Life (2017). I hadn’t read his work before and am entirely amazed. Pure invention, and perfect clarity living alongside a beguiling opacity. These poems come from a place most people haven’t even imagined glimpsing, let alone lingering there long enough to write poems. I don’t know of any other poet who manages to be so utterly unpredictable from line to line. And then you say, yup, that’s exactly what needs to be said. 

What’s on your reading list for 2021? 
I’ve been meaning to read Erín Moure’s The Elements and Susan Stewart’s The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making  +  Jorie Graham’s new Runaway.

Best Writerly Advice
Get a Polaroid camera and find subject matter that suits the small photos the machine makes. Good shots manifest something of non-verbal lyric form. Watch their images come into view as the print develops, going from nothingness to a fully intact miniature in only a few minutes. Try to write a poem that works like that.


Make sure you didn’t miss Part One of our Year in Review

We got so many wonderful contributions from our writers this year that we had to split our annual Year in Review post into two parts! Find our 2020 Year in Review: Part 1 here!


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.