Vallum Featured Interview: Bill Bissett


Thoughts by bill bissett; interviewed by Dave Eso

dave eso: In a battle for the right to take YOU to prom, who would win your arm: the sun or the moon? How so?

bill bissett: in a battul 2 take me 2 th prom probableet h moon wud def have wun 2 take me 2 th prom 4 a long time now mor latelee it wud b th sun winning that battul tho in most liklihood i wudint b going 2 th prom as a metaphor tho sure fr sure n now mor th sun thn th moon literalee ium mor uv a day prson thn i usd 2 b tho as in pomes 4 yoshi who can xplain th sun th moon n th stars who can xplain th rain

de: How does approaching a canvas feel different from approaching a page?

bb: how it is 4 me approaching a canvas can b veree diffrent thn approaching a page mostlee its th prolong ing nuans wuns yr in from th start tho th word approach yu reelee dew approach th canvas mostlee standing up n walking 2ward th canvas n with a painting thn its way mor physikal th whol bodee veree oftn n th arm th wide long stroke sumtines veree mor physikul n colour way mor colour 2 approach is a leep in2 th void sames with writing along similar jumping pathwayze similar n diffrent as gertrude stein sd evreething is th same n evreething is diffrent with writing yu reelee ar deeling with th sircutree uv grammar uv langwage simlariteez ar words ar originalee piktographik each lettr is n yu feel th pickshurs thru them as yu write paintings start with th line or th pickshur first veree oftn tho not alwayze thr is no alwayze n yu feel th charaktr uv th caligraphee aftr or during n its sew much th start up with paintings its mostlee th whol bodee involvd with writing its th brain th arms with th typing n remembring 2 try 2 hold yr bellee in sumtimes whil yu write neithr is like swimming or peeling carrots tho painting is mor like swimming n writing is mor like peeling carrots how yu approach th void th abyss jumping in2 it yr heart is in yr mouth veree oftn wher its most effektiv as yu want 2 take deep breths whil dewing as both writing n painting ar connketing with yr breething yes

de: We know from the nfb documentary, very precisely, what your feelings were about your job at the VPL. Could you comment on some other jobs you’ve held over the decades and what those meant, made you feel, think, be, etc?

bb: my first job was at a gas staysyun in halifax pumping gas dewing lube n grees jobs evreething gettin th car up n goin undr my second job was at bligh radio on quinpool road also in halifax nova scotia selling records callas was huge classikul demos in th bank room elsvis was huge as well diane oxner was a co-workr wundrful singr also barbara byrne who latr brillyantlee playd mozarts mothr in law in amadeus that great film they wer both wundrful as was our boss mrs bligh i wud go on th radio n b a young prson who lovd klassikul mewsik n alternatelee a young huge fan uv countree n or rock thats whn i bcame also a huge fan uv billbord n varietee magazeens n still 2 ths day need 2 know th grosses n puzzul ovr what they meen whn i arrivd in vancouvr i shelvd books at th vancouvr publik libraree wch was thn on burrard st at robson thn off n on tutoring n running errands putting packages in strategik places delivreez n whn i was part uv a yung familee hous painting with lance farrell on laddrs n evreething lerning 2 dew th most inside part uv th trim on th windows b4 th closr parts uv th trim n in thos yeers being kidnappd n forsd 2 pick beens in a plantaysyun in mexico also circa that ditch digging 4 a whil in van

my first writr in resdiens job was at western u in london ontario n thn writr in libraree in woodstock ontario n from much erleer i bcame a volunteer in th art world helping 2 put up art shows n in 62 i startid blewointmentpress wch continued til 80 sew manee books sew much planning sew much collating all thees jobs n mor involvd working sew much with my hands yes n sum agilitee tho not as much as dansing wch was my first ambishyun but aftr 2 yeers uv operaysyuns 12 ops on my bellee i wud b not great at lifting or jumpinbg sew i bgan 2 want 2 write n paint n that way cud still feel th line moov thru space wch 4 me was veree thrilling latelee i was writr in residens at guelph u that was 08-09 n thn 10-13 at workman arts heer in toronto iuv lovd all thees jobs they all enrich each othr sew much whats next i dont know xcellent

de: What keeps you busy these days?

bb: thees dayze ium bizee with working on my nu book uv poetree n soon will b proof reeding th galleez uv my recent book 2 b releesd in spring 13 from talonbooks calld hungree throat a lot uv th writing in it its my second novel ths time a novel in meditaysyun is text uv vokal work play with mewsik uv pete dako on recentlee releesd cd pete dako n me have dun calld nothing will hurt wch will have a follow up cd calld as well hungree throat next yeer agen pete dako musician composr n arrangr n myself word n delivree thats us words n mewsik pete dako is amayzing

what els dewing nu paintings wch i show at th secret handshake art galleree heer in toronto n prepping nu texts n guides 4 th upcumming poetree workshop finding our voices nu n usd at workman arts also in toronto wher ium th poet in residens ther workman arts is a companee devotid 2 all th arts 4 membrs who have xperiensd brushes with addicksyun n or mental health issews who alredee ar artists n have xperiensd interrupsyuns or want 2 bcum artists

th secret handshake 4 wch ium tresurer was foundid n creatid by jordan stone it is a peer support group th onlee wun probablee uv its kind aneewher run 4 n by peopul with schizophrenia run by its membrs its amayzing as well n involvs a lot uv lerning n unlerning

also i try 2 go swimming twice a week n meditate evree morning n dew tai chi also evree morning all thees aktiviteez help 2 keep proaktiv in as manee wayze as possibul

also dewing reedings n having sumtimes travelling art shows with reedings as recentlee happend in victoria at th superior n th well ther n in ottawa last wintr

i put postrs up all ovr qween west n bloor street stretching from ossington 2 bathurst book stores n art gallereez n at camh 4 events at th secret handshake sew all thats great 4 walking n 4 outreech last sunday uv evree month at leest is reeding nite at th secret handshake galleree club hous

de: A friend and I started up an investigation the other night and we hope you’ll help. We came up with 11 ways to go crazy / and only 6 ways to go sane. This troubled us. I’m pretty sure we covered all bases in the first category. Do you have any strategies for sanity you could add? As it stands, our ways to go crazy are: LOVE, drugs, trauma, disease, travel, isolation, sleep deprivation, insects, paranoia, broken-shoelace syndrome (one more trivial problem tips the balance and breaks the mental back) and faustism/hopeless quests. Ways to go sane: Hold the Line, Ride the Wave, Community, Meditation, exercise and stop making lists.

bb: binaree definishsyuns ar veree binaree n veree trikee that is onlee 2 sidid abstrakt nouns ar in opposit relaysyunship with aneething n ar ms n mr leeding alwayze seems 2 me up down gud bad crazee or in sane n sane duz insane meen inside sane in out i dew undrstand what yu ar saying tho as well as wanting 2 deekonstrukt what yu ar saying i work in th mental health field n i find altho not dfensiv abt thees binaree abstraksyuns they ar not as kleer as they cud seem 2 b i like yr list 4 losing it is what i wud call crazee tho also what is losing it it mite b a way uv finding that is thrilling or reelee innovativ sirtinlee i wud rank isolaysyuin as hi up in that list as a caws thats me tho whn we dew aneething hurtful 2 othrs it reelee is losing kontrol uv wuns self n bcumming embrogliatid in diffrent n multipul strands uv kodependenseez but evn manee normativ peopul get lost n unfound in thos mayze n mayzeeness its th i know what yr saying respnses that can b troubling yes

i wud put meditaysyun in th list fr sure uv what can help us bcum less obsessiv or paranoid or controlling or wanting 2 b controlld whatevr it is meditaysyun can help us not xpekt othrs 2 pleez us or us b sew pleezing as a goal 2 us its all nuances uv kours also tai chi helps restore innr balansing n swimming n othr forms uv xercise i wud say yes its th practise uv working on playing with innr balansing that liberates us from self sabotage or sabotage on othrs as well or th sabotage uv th self thr reelee is no sanitee as long as thr is kontrolling or fighting or jelousee or envee n meditaysyun n xercise dew n can bring us 2 ourselvs wher we can let go living a few dayze at a time in th countree or mor thn a few dayze at a time can also bring what they usd 2 call pees uv mind i find n if yr a writr write n if yr a paintr paint thats my add ons or ammendments with yr xcellent lists that in manee wayze thr may not b as manee diffrenses btween in sane n sane as peopul in general wud like 2 think dew our politikul leedrs around th world bhave sanelee hmmmm

de: Who were your artistic mentors? Have you mentored younger artists? If yes, what was that experience like? Can the creation of art be learned? MA programs in creative writing are springing up all over, most recently in Saskatoon, but many poets think there is no point in trying to learn the craft. What are your thoughts?

bb: mentor mentora my first mentor was my mothr who was reeding rachael carsons th silent spring n my mothr xplaind 2 me our human specees was ruining th erth evelyn who was brillyant nurs 4 me with tubes running in n out uv me n in th oxygen tent i desisid 2 write n paint that oxygen tent def mentord me as with writing n painting i cud still feel th line mooving thru space as i cud no longr xpekt 2 b a dansr going 2 ballet school evreething is a mentor evreething evreewun is an influens maude who was our houskeepr n whom i lovd as well i wud help her dew th kleening n we wud listn 2 duke ellington sarah vaughan billy ekstine ella fitzerald dinah washington george sheering as we kleend whn my mothr went 2 spirit wch tuk me yeers 2 get ovr as erthlings say my fathr let maude go 2 save munee she n i had bin veree close that was a doubul blow 2 me n my sistrs went away n i did th kleening n kooking all uv wch i lernd 2 dew from maude my next mentor reelee was bob davis th oldr brothr uv art davis wun uv my best frends he had gone 2 europe n brot back with him names uv artists n writrs picasso chagall sartre debeauvoir gide camus kandinsky renoir evreewun he told art abt thees peopuls works n art told me n thn i was alwayze at th libraree getting out theyr art books n gayzing n studeeing n lerning lerning at th libraree i wud also get out books by tennesee williams lillian hellman eugene o’neil arthur miller william inge all thees great writrs n mor bcame mentors 2 me n th biggest mentor uv all whn i got 2 vancouvr away from halifax aftr being away from lunaria my original home planet was along with marianne moore e.e. cummings n othrs was gertrude stein her work stanzas in meditations reelee awakend me sew much along with mrs reynolds tendr buttons three lives n othr great works awakend me 2 each word is n dusint need 2 alwayze represent thn latr at ubc warren tallman his third yeer poetree class wher we wud studee erth woman n watr woman 2 brillyant pomes uv denise levertovs how th sound n color agreementts n dissonans wud enhans each part uv th meening we also studeed yeats that way weeks on wun pome lapis lazuli that helpd us th students uv his mentoring 2 see n undrstand how that pome was made put 2gethr warren tallman also mentord me as a teechr frend 4 yeers helping me sew much 2 keep going raising munee 4 me whn i was undr attack by rite wing politishans raising th awarreness uv my work 2 withstand th onslaught he had me dew a reeding during thos dayze on th same bill as allen ginsberg wch was a huge thrill 4 me as allen ginsberg was also a huge mentor 4 me his great work howl changd my life sew did jack keroacs n michael mcclure n robert duncans n diane di prima ths kind uv bird flies backward as i set out from halifax with billie my first boy frend at 17 2 see n xperiens th world we ar reelee mentord by evreething evn ths darkning evning in august late n still in summr but i hope iuv mensyund sum uv th stellar mentors in my growing n writing life gertrude stein beng th biggest mentor uv my writing life

de: It seems to me that there is clear overlap between your early writing and some beat poets or post beat personalities. I’m thinking mainly of Lew Welch, Phillip Whalen, Richard Brautigan. Though clearly there is a separation also. Did you study Zen Buddhism at any point, as these other writers did? It seems to me the spirit of zen moves through your art, though I’ve never heard you specifically address it, as you have with shamanism.

bb: evree now n zen i cry whn its a zenfr i laff n oftn evree now n zen i smile with appresiaysyun uv thxcellens uv evreething inklewding th paradoxhes n th contradicksyuns whn it is xcellent wch is mor oftn thn not yes at leest heer in canada wch is brillyantlee muticultural n attempting th harmonee uv evreething class munee posisyun powr all n each uv evreething

th zen koan is it th moovment uv th flag in th wind or th wind it is th moovment uv yr mind lew welch i red a storee by him in th evrgreen review i lovd xcellent writr yes th othr poets yu mensyun all xcellent my favorits uv that gen trajekt allen ginsberg robert duncan denise levertov peter orlovsky taylor mead whn i was going 2 go 2 jail 4 possessyun in 68 it happend aftr a 3 yeer trial almost sumtimes living in hiding from th police as a phonee trial had bin riggd n i was gonna get maybe a ten spot i bettr lern meditaysun i thot sins naivelee i thot thr wudint b anee drugs inside well i drew onlee 3 months i thot it was 2 weeks but i met sumwun recentlee he had gone in with me n he sd i drew th 3 months who knows aneething fr sure aneeway as stond as i was whn i went in 2 jail i have bin meditating evr sins i first came across zen with th writings uv alan watts b4 i left halifax n thos writings along with jack kerouacs on th road n allen ginsbergs howl inspird me 2 leev or rathr reelee supportid me in leeving along with othrs n with studeeing philosophee at dalhousie undr george grant th idea that we ar 2 much led by binaree abstrakt nouns in all theyr dualisms was sirtinlee growing in me n helpin me out evreewun adapts 2 teechings uv kours n in theyr own wayze grows on


Primarily known as Canada’s ambassador to his home planet Lunaria, bill bissett is also an accomplished figure in literature and visual arts. Touted as the missing-link between the Beats and Hippies, bissett has inspired generations of Canadian poets to rage more excellently. His latest release is hungree throat (Talon Books, 2013).

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.


Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Scurrying White Mice Disappear” by Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

The Scurrying White Mice Disappear

Where have they gone? The cage door
unlocked is left open but that answers
nothing. The snow outside will hide them
if they are successful in crafting flattened
versions of themselves and leave through
the space where the high wall ends. This is
only the nothing that is. Not a horror, or
no more so than any other effacing trace,
a novel of one-hundred chapters that
meanders until it arrives at the end where
on the last page the reader sees, strange
coincidence, his or her name. Spelled with
different letters but still the same name.
Closing the cover unmasks the guillotine
and kills the mice. This is a well-known
structuralist principle.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of seven books of poems, including The Last Two Seconds, The Bride of E, and Elegy. Her translation of Dante’s Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, was published by Graywolf Press in 2012. She teaches creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Bedlam Spring” by Amanda Earl



Bedlam Spring*

write in ink
as green as
arsenic wallpaper that
killed Napoleon

take photo of azure
hole in clouds
inebriate your
chartreuse leaves
their new spring

leap into fresh untamed
season but bide a
while bide a while burn
your Russian amber
drink your Irish tea
stay away from strange
men on the internet who
want you only for your body
not your kink–a lust for agility
with language–nor your
madness, this insanity of
growing old, instant flare
your sun into seed 
your ardour
blackens flesh to bone & devouring

*Title taken from Sylvia Plath, “Spinster” in The Colossus (Faber & Faber, 2008).
Words in italics taken from Sylvia Plath, “Epitaph for Fire and Flower” in Collected Poems (Faber & Faber, 1981).

Amanda Earl is an Ottawa poet, publisher, and fiction writer. Her most recent works are Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014), firstwalks of the year (In/Words Magazine, 2016), Queen Christina (Ghost City Press, 2016). Amanda is managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More info is available at

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum 2016 Year in Poetry, Part 2


Yesterday we brought you Part 1 of our Year in Poetry questionnaire, in which we asked our recent contributors:

1) What was your Favourite Poetry Book?

2) What was your Discovery of the Year? and

3) What advice do you have for 2017?

We received so many thoughtful responses we couldn’t fit them all in one place, so without further ado, we bring you Part 2 of Vallum: Contemporary Poetry‘s Year in Poetry.

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

1. My favourite poetry book published in 2016 is The Wug Test by Jennifer Kronovet. Kronovet’s book is a correction to the bizarre idea being put forward recently by some that language doesn’t mean anything, that a politician can tell lies or utter hate speech and then say he or she was “just kidding,” or that someone can maintain that there are no “facts” and therefore politically self-serving statements must not be questioned.

As a reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote: “Rigorously intellectual and compassionate in its approachability, this second collection from Kronovet (Awayward), a 2015 National Poetry Series winner, employs linguistics research to probe how language makes ‘the world a glass we fill by speaking.’ There is a fierce and tender optimism in the notion that ‘a box can be// a word can be a ship can be/ the blank that takes us to each other.’ Tenderness is at the core of these poems, and Kronovet turns over each word carefully as only an attentive lover of language can.”

2. For me, there were two exciting discoveries of the year in poetry. One was via Vivian Pollak’s Our Emily Dickinsons (University of Pennsylvania Press). Pollak’s book examines Dickinson’s hold on the poetic imagination of Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. The book made me realize how radically misrepresented Dickinson has been by scholars and biographers who have often made her seem high-strung and neurasthenic, always speaking haltingly from behind a just-ajar door. Pollak gives us not one but many Emilys, none measured by neurotic insufficiency, but all living a robust poetic life—and an equally robust afterlife in which she profoundly influenced other strong women poets. The value of Vivian Pollak’s book, which I am certain will be lasting, is that by tracing her influence, Pollak reveals a Dickinson that is less fragile, more capable, more knowingly engaged in poetic de-familiarization.

The second discovery was via Terese Svoboda’s Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press). I had never read poems by Lola Ridge and yet, as Svoboda makes clear, I should have. Ridge was a major figure in American Modernism who enjoyed a wide readership during her lifetime, published many books, some of which won major prizes, and was a mentor to others poets whose work is still read today. Her work influenced Hart Crane, among others. I was rather stunned by how quickly and how completely she was forgotten after she died in 1941. She clearly deserves to be read and remembered. Without her, modernist history is incomplete.

3. More than ever before, we have to be diligent in speaking out against any attempt for people, especially politicians, to manipulate language in a manner that undermines fact and truth. We have to raise our voices to protect every kind of natural diversity—skin color, sexual identity, ethnicity, country of origin. We have to protect the rights of women to control their bodies and their minds. We have to ensure free public education. It’s a tall order, but if we fail to do any of these things, we will put the fabric of our society at risk. And if we don’t protect the air and water and land, we will destroy every hope we have for a future.

Mary Jo Bang‘s most recent collection of poems is The Last Two Seconds (2015, Graywolf Press); a new collection, A Doll for Throwing, will be published by Graywolf in August 2017. See Mary Jo’s poem “The Scurrying White Mice Disappear” in Vallum 13:2.

John Wall Barger


1. My favourite was The Deleted World, a tiny book of Tranströmer’s poems. The translations (by Robin Robertson) are good, but really I’ll take any excuse to revisit Tranströmer’s frozen visionary landscape. I love how he flashes from a personal detail to the earth to some (visionary) truth about existence: “I close my eyes. / There is a silent world, / there is a crack / where the dead / are smuggled over the border.” And he is not afraid, as so many of us are nowadays, of talking about the soul.

2. A friend recommended Alice Oswald. She’s amazing! Her new book, Falling Awake, packs a punch, but in a subtle, quiet, pensive way. I find I crave such poems, maybe because that energy is the opposite of my own. I love her delicious, delicate repetitions and music (“What is the word for wordless, when the ground / bursts into crickets?”). She has me staring at the hawks circling above our house, and writing aubades.

3. I just reread one of my favourite novels, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s set in the US in 1850, “in a time before nomenclature was and each was all.” The language is so astoundingly fresh: King James archaisms, southern colloquialisms, apocalyptic metaphor, and more. As I read I kept wondering how in hell McCarthy did that. I mean, did he have a photographic memory, or had he collected thousands of quotes—I pictured his walls covered with taped Bible pages, fortune cookies, newspaper clippings, overheard phrases—to use in his books? Then it occurred to me: it’s all him, inventing, not copying. He’s inside that nomenclature. It never happened, nobody ever spoke that way, it’s his alone. It was a lightning bolt moment for me, about voice. Up to a point we collect and repeat, then we become the engine of our own unique diction.

In 2016, John Wall Barger came out with two chapbooks (“Samovar / Dukkha” (Baseline Press) and “The Vnfortunate Report & Tragicall Tidings of Leslie Barger” (Thee Hellbox Press)), and his poems are forthcoming in Hotel Amerika, Cimarron Review, Freefall, and Arc. See John’s poem “The Swans Flew Out of the Sun” in Vallum 13:1.

Lorna Crozier

1. Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver, Norton, 2012.

2. A new book that just came out with Frontenac House Poetry, Blood Orange by Heidi Garnett. Powerful, heart-breaking poems about the author’s family experience in WW2 Germany.

3. For 2017 I have no advice for anyone else, just for myself. To try to do the next right thing to stop the terrible destruction of our beautiful planet and the creatures who live here.

Lorna Crozier‘s The Wrong Cat (McClelland and Stewart, 2015) won the Pat Lowther Award and the Raymond Souster Award. See Lorna’s poem “Modesty” in Vallum 12:2.

Amanda Earl


1. Sandra Ridley, Silvija (Book Thug, 2016): dark, incantatory, potent & important work.

2. Adele Barclay (having first read a poem of hers in The Fiddlehead, then more online & finally in her first trade book: If I Were In A Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood Editions, 2016); another answer: Montreal as a hotbed of luscious & brilliant poets.

3. Write bad ass poems to try and help yourself & others cope with/distract yourself from the pending doom many of us feel now that we’re in a post-truth, post-compassion era. Make art & publish the art of outsiders. Let the inside eat its own tail.

Amanda Earl is working on a poetry manuscript entitled Grace: city poems under the influence of Barnes, Buckley, Cixous, Jacobs, the seasons, melancholy & gin. More info: & on Twitter: @KikiFolle. See Amanda’s poem “Bedlam Spring” in Vallum 13:2.

Jill Jorgenson


1. Big shout-out to Robyn Sarah and her GG award-winning book My Shoes Are Killing Me.

2. Not a book, but indubitably poetry nonetheless: Jane Siberry’s CD Ulysses’ Purse. She is absolutely a poet, and these gorgeously accompanied sung-poems slow my breath and my heartbeat, induce a space of peace and calm.

3. Advice?? Well that feels audacious. About poetry, or just period? I feel inclined to want to put out there some nebulous, but fervent notions about Love and Oneness and Being in the Now, all substantially unhelpful “advice” indeed, so I’ll just say… Remember this paradox: everything matters, and none of it matters. It’s true.

Also, one further wisp of advice: check out the 2014 Cormorant release Looking East Over My Shoulder, by Jill Jorgenson. See Jill’s poem “Spit” in Vallum 12:2.

Richard Kelly Kemick

1. Michael Prior’s Model Disciple. 

2. I read Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband for the FIRST TIME. Yes, I know––I’m a bit late to the party. But you know what, this Carson person isn’t half bad. I think she could really go places.

3. I’ve recently admitted that I like white wine better than red wine. I have a suspicion that everyone feels this way but “society” is keeping us down. My advice is to embrace white wine and admit it is, at the end of the day, the far better choice.

Richard Kelly Kemick‘s Caribou Run is out now on icehouse press. See Richard’s poem “Ode to What is Left Behind” in Vallum 10:2.

Adam Lawrence

1. Shane Neilson’s Meniscus (2009).

I admit, I liked the way the paper felt in my hands, but I also enjoyed the poems that explored sickness/healing. I’m a New Brunswick boy, too, like Neilson, and I was happy to see some allusions to Alden Nowlan–one of my favorite Atlantic Canadian poets.

2. Matt Robinson (from Halifax, NS). He’s quickly become one of my favourites. I got hooked by the title poem of the chapbook a fist made and then un-made (2013), and am happy to see he’s got a new collection out.

3. No. I’m always looking for wisdom, really, enjoying each new book as a new horizon, a new world–like Prospero says to Miranda in The Tempest: “‘Tis new to thee.”

Adam Lawrence‘s writing has appeared in Quills Canadian Poetry MagazineSalonVallum, and JSTOR Daily. See Adam’s poem “The Wish” in Vallum 13:1.

Blaine Marchand

1. And With Thy Spirit  by April Bulmer (Hidden Book Press, 2016). I have not read April’s work for many decades. Her latest book of poetry is an exploration of spirituality. This book is the work of a mature artist who knows her métier, who is gifted in her telling and brave with honesty.

2. physical by Andrew McMillan (Cape Poetry, 2015). A birthday gift and a wonderful one. He is a British poet of whom I was not aware. His work is a powerful voice speaking about gay male love.

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). An important book even though I found it at times more polemic than poetic. The layout, which also conveys the central idea, is fantastic. What she says needs to be heard and considered.

3. A centuries old Shakespearean one – “To thine own self be true.” Keep on writing poetry in your own voice despite what others may say. Susan Glickman had an interesting post on Facebook – “accessible was now considered proof of insufficient artistry”. I have been thinking a lot about that since. In each generation, there are dominate poetic styles and each generation has the tendency to see the previous one’s as no longer relevant. Surely in the Canadian poetry scene, there is space for multiple voices and styles. All should be allowed to speak and given their due.

Blaine Marchand is currently working on two poetry manuscripts, Where You Dwell and My Head Filled With Pakistan, and a short story collection, Nomads. See Blaine’s poems “The Cracking of Foundations” and “The Stealth of Snow” in Vallum 13:1.

Cassidy McFadzean


1. Moez Surani’s Operations, a book-length poem that lists the names of military operations, truly underlines the power held by individual words. Since reading Operations, I’ve tried to be more precise in my use of language both in poetry and in everyday life.

2. I spent much of November reading the collected Lydia Davis, often holding in tears or laughter as I rode the bus to work.

3. It is more important than ever to read diverse books!

Cassidy McFadzean has new poems coming out in PRISM International, The Humber Literary Review, and Numéro Cinq. See Cassidy’s poem “American Harpy” in Vallum 13:2.

Ilona Martonfi


1. Jan Zwicky’s String Practice, Vallum chapbook. And Nox by Anne Carson.

2. Kelly Norah Drukker’s, Small Fires, published with McGill-Queen’s University Press

3. “Even if a line was brilliant and beautiful, if it’s not furthering the thrust and life of the poem, it needs to be cut.” –Ada Limón

Ilona Martonfi, author of The Snow Kimono, (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride, (Inanna Publications, Spring 2019). See Ilona’s poem “Dandelion Snow” in Vallum 11:1.

Ruth Roach Pierson

1. Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

2. Olena Kalytiak Davis, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2014); shattered sonnets love cards and other off and back handed importunities (Copper Canyon Press, 2003/2014); And Her Soul Our of Nothing (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).

3. Remember that poetry is solace for the soul, a powerful antidote to the madness of the politics that gives politics a bad name.

“I had the pleasure of reading poems with Maureen Hynes and John Reibetanz at an event sponsored by Larry Robin’s Moonstone Arts Centre in Philadelphia on September 30 and with a large group of Canadian poets at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC on October 9 and launching my second chapbook, Untranslatable Thought (Anstruther Press, 2016), at the Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto on October 15.” See Ruth’s poem “A Newfoundland Chimera” in Vallum 13:1.

Michael J. Shepley

1. For 2016, my unearthing in a clean up of the Billy Collins collection called Picnic, Lightning. I bought it with intent a couple years ago. Since I subtitled one of my efforts “after the style of B. Collins,” in that I had heard a couple of his humorous poems read on Prairie Home Companion, I decided to dig in. I liked the material, smooth as good whisky. But I have to elide that subtitle. He has humor, but Jazz and nature and, I’d say, a bit of melancholy are closer to his soul.

2. I read a good many poems, from little publications, to the New Yorker‘s, and the Poem A Day series. I am afraid I have an “existential” attention span. Like almost in one ear, out the other after a short pause. Though that word figure does not translate well to reading…

But a recent Poem A Day has me intending to dig up some William Carlos Williams because of the lines “a liquid moon/moves gently among/the long branches” and “the wise trees/stand sleeping/in the cold” since I like nature and season poems. (But I might have dumped cold for snows…don’t we all play the editor game?)

3. Like Mr. Natural- keep on truckin’ (I actually know a guy, Martin, who was a neighbor of the cartoonist R. Crumb when the guy fled the Bay Area for the bucolic life around Winters, CA. In fact I have met a couple older folk who claim to have played in Crumbs Rock band once upon a time. But old 60s gen memories are based in bent chops, so… I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the legend). The old phrase can be interpreted as keep working it. Like, for writing, do everyday, then repeat .

Since late 2014, Michael J. Shepley has had poems in print at CA QuarterlyMuse International, and Seems, and online at Danse MacabrePenumbraXanadu, and Pinyon. See Michael’s poem “November’s End” in Vallum 13:2.

Jan Zwicky

1. I’ve read too many fine books this year to be able to specify a favourite. But I recently finished an anthology that I can recommend highly: Dark Mountain 10, “Uncivilized Poetics”.

2. The anthology contains an essay by American poet Rob Lewis called “No Nature Poems, Please”; it did indeed make me sit up and take notice.

3. Deepen your love for the earth. As Mr. Lewis says, “Nature, slowly collapsing into silence, calls out louder than ever for the poet. Now we all need what the poet brings: the broken-open hearts of words, the wild articulation, the howl.”

Jan Zwicky’s most recent collection is The Long Walk. See an excerpt from Jan’s chapbook, String Theory, in Vallum 13:2.

John Sibley Williams


1. 2016 really was an incredible year for poetry, and I’d be hard pressed to label one book (or even ten) as my favourite. But a few of my favourites have been Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Sjohnna McCray’s Rapture, Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies, and Francine J. Harris’ Play Dead.

2. Definitely Keith Leonard’s debut collection Ramshackle Ode. Somehow this powerful book hasn’t made it to any “Best of 2016” lists I’ve seen. Though it just came out earlier this year, I’ve already read it twice.

3. Instead of advice or wisdom, how about a plea? The creative, free thinking, and open-hearted aspects of American culture are under political attack by certain figures whose rowdy bases are prepared to intimidate, censor, and harm those of us who cherish diversity, those of us who choose love over discord. So I challenge every poetry lover to spend 2017 reading collections by writers outside the traditional white-male-straight hierarchy. Read Middle Eastern poets, African poets, South American poets. Read poets representing the many indigenous tribes in the US and Canada. Read émigré poets. LGBTQ poets. Activist poets. 2017 will be a pivotal year for us all, so wield your love of poetry as a weapon against those who seek to divide us.

John Sibley Williams‘ most recent collection, Disinheritance (Apprentice House Press, 2016) is “A lyrical, philosophical, and tender exploration of the various voices of grief, including those of the broken, the healing, the son-become-father, and the dead. Disinheritance acknowledges loss while celebrating the uncertainty of a world in constant revision.” See John’s poem “It Was the Golden Age of Monsters” in Vallum 13:1.


A huge thanks and Happy New Year to all our readers and our contributors.

And be sure to check out Poem of the Week for 52 of our favourite poems this year.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.


Vallum 2016 Year in Poetry, Part 1


2016 was (for all its difficulties) an exciting year for poetry. This year saw the launch of Vallum: Contemporary Poetry issues 13:1 and 13:2. We were also happy to add two new chapbooks, Sonnets on a Night Without Love by Yusuf Saadi and String Practice by Jan Zwicky, to our chapbook series. And, after seven previous nominations at the National Magazine Awards, this year we celebrated a Gold Award with David McGimpsey for his poem  “The High Road.”

To help us say goodbye to the year, we asked more than 20 recent contributors to tell us what made 2016 a special year for them. We asked them:

1) What was your Favourite Poetry Book?

2) What was your Discovery of the Year? and

3) What advice do you have for 2017?

Here’s what they said:

Megan Callahan


1.  I absolutely loved Michael E. Casteels’ The Last White House At the End of the Row of White Houses, his first full-length book of poems. The collection is a wonderful blending of the strange and the ordinary, the mundane and the magical, and it was a pleasure to lose myself in Casteels’ surreal and dreamlike poetry. Each page offers a glimpse of an eerily familiar world, where robots and magic elevators are juxtaposed with bleak suburbia and office work. Funny and compelling, and imbued with empathy, Casteels’ collection definitely stood out for me this year.

2. I happened to pick up Sara Sutterlin’s I Wanted To Be the Knife at a book fair this winter, an extended edition of a booklet published in 2015. I was unfamiliar with Sutterlin’s work, and I was immediately grabbed by her awkward, erotic, and painful explorations of love and sex. Her voice is genuine, relatable, and comfortably intimate, and I couldn’t help but laugh and cringe and ache right along with her. I Wanted To Be the Knife cuts deep, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for more of Sutterlin’s work.

3. 2016 was a difficult year, and I think many of us are looking ahead with concern and trepidation. When the future feels so unstable, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the day-to-day. My only advice is to live in the present as much as possible, and to fully appreciate the good times when they happen.

Megan Callahan is a freelance writer and translator from Montreal. She is currently pursuing a masters in translation studies at Concordia University, where she is researching the auditory features of French poetry. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in Matrix Magazine and PRISM International, and her reviews appear regularly in Vallum: Contemporary Poetry. See Megan’s review of Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education in Vallum 13:2.

Edward Dewar

1. My favourite poetry book is Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Poems. Earlier this year I was in Pages (my favourite independent book seller – they have a pretty good poetry section). Once I picked up this bilingual volume I was hooked.  Borges has since become my go-to-poet. The way his words line up on the page really digs into my subconscious.  It’s the book I pick up when I need inspiration.  Two of my favourite poems from the volume are “The Hourglass” and “The Dagger.”

2. With regards to my discovery of the year, mine is more like a re-discovery. A few years ago I purchased Charles Wright’s Scar Tissue. I read a few poems, then for whatever reason put it on the bookshelf. I was rearranging the books on the shelf when the word “Tissue” caught my eye. I picked up Charles’ book and spent the afternoon engaged with his language and imagery. It’s one of those books where I’ll partly remember a line then I have to go back and re-read the whole poem. The two poems that stand out for me in this collection are “Wrong Notes” and “Archaeology.”

Edward Dewar‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in VallumThe Antigonish ReviewThe Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. See Edward’s poem “A Scar” in Vallum 13:2.

Antony Di Nardo


1. No one book was my favourite, but I kept returning to Vijay Seshadri’s work in 3 Sections and re-read with delight Tomaz Salamun’s Woods and Chalices and The Blue Tower for the umpteenth time. I kept a Pessoa next to me for a good part of the year—Pessoa is always full of surprises no matter where or when I read him. The two new books I very much enjoyed were Sue Sinclair’s Heaven’s Thieves and Matt Rader’s Desecrations. They bring an aesthetics to their poetry that I find inventive, musical, and mindful. Ashbery’s new book disappointed and I’m waiting for Seidel’s to arrive. Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry was promising, but never went far enough in exposing that hatred. It quickly ran out of margins. I preferred Tony Hoagland’s Twenty Poems That Could Save America – a collection of essays that offered fresh and creative ways to think and talk about poetry. Barry Dempster’s Disturbing the Buddha is next on my list.

2. Richard Siken. He read at the Edmonton Poetry Festival and I had just picked up his collections, Crush and War of the Foxes, which I found dazzling and compelling. Beautiful language, crushed and bruised between his fingers, his poetry an aesthetic of felt experience, obsessive, images to relish. Like all good writers do, he inspired me to respond to his work in kind, engage in conversation, so I wrote a suite of poems I entitled “Dear Richard,” talking to lyrics like “all paint is sent downstream, into the future.”

3. When you’re not writing, read. Read poetry everyday. Every single day of the year. Poems are so compact and portable – they’re on every device, on every shelf – and so rewarding with so few words. I read them for language, for words, for music, and rhythm and rhyme, for metaphors and ideas, for stories and characters and splashes of paint. And all of that usually in only one poem. A good line of poetry can so caress the eyes.

Antony Di Nardo’s poetry appears and is forthcoming in journals across Canada and internationally. He is the author of Roaming Charges (Brick Books 2015), his third collection of poetry, and is finishing work on a manuscript entitled, “Secretary of the Lawn Chair,” poems from and about village life in a global village.  See Antony’s poem “The Gardener” in Vallum 13:1.

Jim Fisher

1. SONG by Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951 – 2016).

2. Hip Hop Family Tree, Vol I: 1970s – 1981, by Ed Piskor.

3. Two propositions from Baudelaire’s “Three Drafts of a Preface” for Les Fleurs du mal:
     Proposition 1Rhythm and rhyme answer the immortal human need for monotony, symmetry, and surprise.
     Proposition 2Poetry is related to music through prosody, whose roots go deeper into the  human soul than any classical theory indicates.

Jim Fisher is a music educator for school children in Richmond, California. See Jim’s poem “The Beast in the Garden” in Vallum 13:2.

Miki Fukuda


1. Don Domanski’s chapbook Field Notes contains a single poem and is absolutely breathtaking.  Every time I enter this poem, it makes me feel so alive, feeling and experiencing with all my senses, noticing new discoveries, within and without, because the poem itself and the language continue to renew themselves.  It is mesmerizing.

2. Discovery of the Year:  Leaves Like Spindrift by Isabel Chenot.  Her graceful lines and exquisite music make me linger and forget time.

3. I won’t offer any advice, but I find stillness to be the most important space because imagination and waking dreams can come from there.

Miki Fukuda is the author of the chapbook Finality of the Morning (Baseline Press, 2016) and the leaflet small book Songs from Twelve Moons of the Bear (Leaf Press, 2015). See Miki’s poem “Bestiary” in Vallum 13:2.

Evan J. Hoskins


1. Laurie Graham’s book Settler Education. Laurie has written about a forgotten history that just has to be told, and she’s somehow done it clearly, strikingly, and poetically. It really is a book with voice. These poems highlight speckles of various Canadian locations and histories, including the prairies and Toronto—my two homes—so it’s hard not to love it.

2. Self promotion time: The discovery of the year has been Toronto’s new and incredible arts/reading series for emerging artists, Slackline Creative Arts Series! Every month I am stunned by what people present. In all honesty, the work that Canada’s emerging artists are doing I often find to be far more interesting than that of “established” artists/authors—and I read a-lot from all levels of authors these days. The discovery of the year was that emerging poets are doing just what they should be doing: taking risks, reinventing, and pushing the craft beyond itself.

3.  The year is just a collection of days, which is a collections of hours, which is a collection of minutes, which are very easy to misplace in this busy life. Stop trying to clutch the slippery seconds and your hands will be free to type.

Evan J. Hoskins runs (with a big amazing team of co-volunteers) the Slackline Emerging Artist Series in Toronto. See Evan’s poem “Marks on the Ice” in Vallum 13:2.

Sean Howard


1. Niche, by Basma Kavanagh (Frontenac House), winner of the 2016 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. I also had the good fortune to hear her read twice from the book, and she mesmerized both audiences. An extremely serious, but seriously unpretentious, work of eco-poetry.

2. I had the chance to review (for Arc) John Terpstra’s slim masterpiece This Orchard Sound (Wolsak & Wynn, 2014): 14 exquisite sections, loosely based on the Stations of the Cross, reflecting on the making of a new cross (in Hamilton) from wood found in an abandoned, traffic-drowned orchard (in Burlington). The book, appropriately, is full of both suffering and revelation, the old, entwined testament of nature and poetry – the “testimony of apples,” the “body memory” of trees – renewed.

3. Osip Mandelstam stressed the nature of reading as an activity, itself participatory and creative. (What he called ‘passive reading’ was a terrible danger, an affront against the nature of language [and, I’d add, in the spirit of Terpstra’s work, the language of nature]). I also think listening (not just, or even mainly, to words) can and should be an activity, a mode of creative perception requiring tome-consuming cultivation.

Sean Howard’s new book is The Photographer’s Last Picture (Gaspereau Press), an experimental reflection, in poetry and prose, on twenty photographs from the Great War. See Sean’s poem “Shadowgraph 141: To Trace Out a Shallow Figure” in Vallum 13:1.

Jami Macarty


1. Favorite chapbook: Let Me Be Clear (2016)Poems from Bernie Sanders’ filibuster speech on December 10, 2010 as (re)written by 10 incarcerated men at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, New York, edited by their poetry class teacher Cara Benson, and published as a Dossier by Ugly Duckling Presse.

Favourite full-length collection: The Good Dark by Annie Guthrie, Tupelo Press, 2015

2. Two new-to-me poets discovered in a friend’s book divestiture pile: Erica Jong’s Half-Lives (Henry Holt & Co, 1973) and Leslie Ullman’s Slow Work Through Sand (University Of Iowa Press, 1998).

3. Dear Citizens of 2017: Listen.

Jami Macarty‘s chapbook Landscape of the Wait, a poetic response to her nephew William’s car accident and year-long coma, is forthcoming in May/June, 2017 with Finishing Line Press. See Jami’s poem “Nor’easter” in Vallum 13:1.

Nathan Mader

Version 2

1. I think my  favourite book of recent poems has to be Robyn Schiff’s A Woman of Property (Penguin, 2016). Schiff’s tightly-wound-yet-sprawling lines accumulate endlessly surprising sonic effects and resonant images—from “A Doe Does Not Replace Iphigenia on the Sacrificial Altar” to “Amerithrax.” Pure incantatory force!

2. My discovery of the year was Max Ritvo and his book Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016). Sadly, this is both his debut full-length collection and his final one. Just before his book’s release, he passed away from cancer at age 25. A deeply felt knowledge of mortality haunts his poems, but don’t let your guard down: Ritvo crafts explosive inner-worlds with humour, confidence, and precision.

3. My advice is to read Gregory Scofield’s shattering Witness, I Am. For a good time call Daniel Scott Tysdal’s Fauxccasional Poems. A few other very recent ones: Michael Prior’s Model Disciple, Courtney Bates-Hardy’s House of Mystery, and Richard Kelly Kemick’s Caribou Run (and the list goes on…)

Nathan Mader has an essay forthcoming in The Literary History of Saskatchewan Vol. 3 (Coteau, 2017). See Nathan’s poem “Eilmer of Malmesbury” in Vallum 13:1.

Stuart Ian McKay

1. My favourite book this year is Jay Millar’s esp Accumulation Sonnets: So beautiful, so interesting, a book to return to over and over again.

2. I just finished reading Milton, for the second time too.  What an amazing poet!

3. My advice?  Go outside often, walk around and clear your head.  Read everything, especially the Bible, Milton, Du Fu and Kroetcsh.  Support Canadian literary journals.  Write longhand on paper.  Creativity is best when messy – enjoy writing!

Stuart Ian McKay is a Calgary poet. See his poem “An Indentation Is Also A Where” in Vallum 13:1.

Michael Prior

1. This year has seen some memorable chapbooks from poets with a full-length collection or two (or three) already on shelves, I’m thinking of Stevie Howell’s Summer, and its fierce, dialogic lyricism, as well as the labyrinthine-intelligence winding through Dani Couture’s Black Sea Nettle.This year has also been full of new talent publishing small press debuts: Curtis LeBlanc (Good for Nothing), Rebecca Salazar (Guzzle) and Michelle Brown (Foreign Experts Building) have each assembled striking chapbooks that work their poems’ emotional stakes through varied formal acumen: the results are memorable and well worth reading.

2. In particular, I wanted to draw attention to Couture’s Black Sea Nettle, with its elaborate circumlocutions (“If the relationship to one’s body is expressed / algebraically, let every variable be a decorative tuber”) and its sprawling, but deliberate accumulations of images that suggest the speakers’ unfurling worlds, both personal and public: “The waters / no longer run red or court fire.  / We’ve found better blends // to run off. Crushed pills in spoonfuls / of corn syrup. Come, the algae blooms / are so thick, we can walk on water we can’t drink”). When compared to Couture’s latest full-length collection, YawBlack Sea Nettle‘s poetics are sonically denser and more rhetorically complicated, marked by sudden shifts in register: Couture’s phrases echo, riff on, and torque the logic of myriad popular and academic discourses in order to evoke her speakers’ oscillating interest in “all opposing mirrors–the universe / trying to both see and collapse itself.” Black Sea Nettle is a slim volume, a scant nine poems, but all are intellectually and emotionally resonant.

3. Read more poetry; read more chapbooks!

Michael Prior‘s debut collection, Model Disciple, was released by Signal Poetry in 2016. See Michael’s poem “Godzilla Versus Mothra” in Vallum 11:1.

Yusuf Saadi

1. My favourite book that I read this year was probably The Snow Party by Derek Mahon, which was published in 1975. It has some really great poems, including the poem many consider to be his best, “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford.”

2.  I really enjoyed reading Kayla Czaga’s poem “Song,” from her collection For Your Safety Please Hold On. I remember reading it at about 4 am and feeling emotionally-punched; it’s so powerful. I feel that if a poet can write maybe three or four poems of that caliber in their lifetime, they have done well as a poet.

3.  I think I’m in need of advice more than I’m in any position to impart it. What I can offer are the same questions to others as I’ve been asking myself. Given that we’re living in a politically dark time, I think it’s important to ask ourselves again what role poetry has in our contemporary world. Clearly it’s not simply for the dissemination of information, as not a lot of people read poetry; I don’t think it’s merely cathartic release either. What is it then? What power does it have? What do we hope poetry can do? Answering or at least re-thinking these constellations of questions will hopefully allow us to purify our poems, and maybe ourselves.

Yusuf Saadi is the winner of Vallum’s 2016 Chapbook Contest. You can find an excerpt from Yusuf’s chapbook, Sonnets on a Night Without Love in Vallum 13:2.

James W. Wood


1. My favourite poetry book this year is Noel Duffy’s Summer Rain (Ward/Wood Publications, London, UK) – Duffy is a younger Irish poet whose reputation is flourishing on both sides of the Atlantic, with recent appearances in The Irish Times, The Financial Times, and on BBC Radio Four. His work evinces the delicate interplay between modern scientific knowledge and our human capacity for wonder and, at its best, remains in the memory long after reading, inviting us to re-read in wonder.

2. My discovery of the year was the work of the nonagenarian American Poet Stanley Moss thanks to the brilliant new English poetry journal The High Window, edited by poets David Cooke and Anthony Costello. Through decades of practice and observation, Moss has honed his craft, bringing subtlety and light to memories as varied as his service at Normandy in World War II and his life on a farm in rural New York State. Highly recommended.

3. I don’t consider myself sufficiently successful or august to dispense advice, though I now believe pleasure – the pleasure of writing, when we are fortunate enough to be afforded such pleasure, and the pleasure of reading, which ought to be obvious – to be fundamental to poetry’s future purpose and survival. I am concerned that too many poets subsume themselves in the seriousness of their craft, and focus on the development of their “career” as writers (egged on by creative writing courses, etc), without thinking of the sensual pleasure Gerard Manley Hopkins must have derived from writing, or the wit and play of the best of Edward Lear and Hilaire Belloc; the passion Donne brought to his verse, and so forth. Without such pleasure, there will be no readers, and poetry will be reduced to a chore or a career, instead of what it should be, which is the endlessly fresh expression of how it feels to be human, and to live.

James W. Wood is the author of five works of verse. His next book, Time Signatures, is forthcoming in 2018. Find him @James_W_Wood. See James’ essay “Perspectives on New Poetry from Britain and Ireland” in Vallum 13:2.


Come back tomorrow for even more thoughts on the Year in Poetry.

And be sure to check out our Poem of the Week blog for 52 of our favourite poems this year.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Communication” by dee hobsbawn-smith




1. One minute I execute the perfect
dive through the flames
of a burning hoop. The next, I’m jaw-to-jaw
with a tiger, orange smoke and charcoal
looking for an excuse to ignite.

A swan of a long walk, peaceful dust,
tracks to the veldt’s next town, breathing
the giraffe’s tall air. Along the way, kneel
close to the riverbank’s mud,
translate the hieroglyphics embedded there–
hippos’ fat footprints, the scrape and sing of a flamingo’s wings.

Trust ink and pencil to decipher their songs.
The Andalusians, in love with their galloping horses,
the Spanish, their aching duende, Portuguese fado.
Cousins, drink from the same stream.
My heart slides in, annealed.

2. A mother knows. Practicality is her favourite button-
down sweater, how her hands make sense
of the thread of things, the pulls of warp and weft,
the many pedals of the loom.

She might be magpie, drawn to shot-gold thread,
she looks for silk, not tweed. But she knows
what’s best, to shear and card and spin.
Dye it, weave it, unfold a tartan for her boys.
Next day she’ll make an entire bolt from scratch.

3. She’d blossom with my silver rope,
transformation spun from my horn
into her empty spaces. I fill her

with imaginings — how a girl breathes —
a little glitter, faery dust
like the shimmer of my hooves–beauty
she doesn’t know yet. Her kindness could kill her.

She’s the spell caster in a cloak of stars,
weaving legends with birch bark and aspen shadows,
part Diana’s daughter, part Irish sidhe,
who arrives by standing still.

dee hobsbawn-smith’s poetry, essays, fiction and journalism has appeared in literary journals and anthologies in Canada, the USA and Scotland. A retired chef and former restaurateur, she lives west of Saskatoon, and earned her MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. In 2015-16, she served as the Saskatoon Public Library’s 35th Writer in Residence. Her first collection of poetry, Wildness Rushing In (Hagios, 2014) was shortlisted for Book of the Year and Best Poetry Collection at the Saskatchewan Book Awards. It was followed by her first short fiction collection, What Can’t Be Undone (Thistledown, 2015.) Foodshed: An Edible Albert Alphabet (Touchwood, 2012) won three international awards for its unflinching examination of the politics and challenges of small-scale sustainable food production. At present, she is working on a chapbook poetry proposal, her debut novel, an essay collection, and new poetry. Most recently, she has contributed to the SK poetry anthology, Line Dance (Burton Books, 2016), edited by Gerald Hill, and was part of a contingent of Canadian poets who read at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City.

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.


Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Man Who Could Smell Time” by Tom Wayman



The Man Who Could Smell Time

The man who could smell time
reported a scent resembling

licorice, or anise
and that the aroma was identical

regardless of the apparent motion
of the recipient of the olfactory impulse:

no change occurred in the odor’s or nose
when present transmuted to past

or future to now —
in other words, no Doppler shift.

This observation indicates,
the man insisted, time functions

neither as wave nor particle, but rather
as a constant, part of an equation

definitive to our universe:
relentlessly travelling


Tom Wayman’s recent poetry titles include Built to Take it: Selected Poems 1996-2013 from Spokane’s Lynx House Press and The Order in Which We Do Things: The Poetry of Tom Wayman, selected and with an introduction by Owen Percy, from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, both published in 2014. A long poem of his won the 2015 Gwendolyn MacEwen/Exile poetry competition. Thistledown Press will publish a new collection of his poems, Helpless Angels, in 2017.

His most recent fiction title, The Shadows We Mistake for Love (Douglas & McIntyre, 2015), in June won the 2016 Diamond Foundation Prize for fiction (Western Canada Jewish Book Awards). For more information:

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Featured Review: “INJUN” by Jordan Abel. A review by Julie Mannell

INJUN by Jordan Abel


Review by Julie Mannell

There have been a few times where a fact was presented to me, cold and hard and entirely out of the realm of criticism, and the unbiased communication of the fact shifted the entire lens through which I view the world. Good poetry, like good theory and philosophy and mathematics are powerful in that they can destabilize the foundation of what we have forever accepted as truth. I am speaking of theories that philosophers have spent years attempting to disprove but persistently failed. It is in the failure to disprove, it is when a piece has surpassed debate, that then we must make room in our rewriting of our own stories as well as the stories of the world. This is hard. It is hard to accept something as integral to our identity as the stories we tell could also be so critically false. We have beliefs about literature; we value the narrative voices we consume and internalize them as a means to translate value from our experiences as the protagonists of our own reality. Jordan Abel’s book of poetry, Injun, destabilizes Western texts and forces us to engage in a new conversation with the literature that has been a cornerstone for writers, readers and critics for hundreds of years.

Injun is an artful exploration of the brutal colonialism that informs which voices are privileged. This privileging has orchestrated the acceptable methods, namely the way we use language, to frame both our public and personal histories. Abel employs an erasure method to Western novels, a process of cutting and repasting found texts, to probe beneath the surface of their decorative language. It is a sacrosanct retelling of these classic narratives—one that holds accountable authors through the simple representation of what was there, without argument or diatribes or magnanimous imagery. Abel violates personal beliefs—he deconstructs language that we have hoisted on a pedestal and interrogates the wide-range of racist implications such privileging connotes. Namely, through our authorization of ideologies that condone marginalization and subjugation of indigenous people.

Injun is equal parts sociological and poetic exploration of the Western Canon. In many ways it can function as a map that guides us through stories as not only they exist on the page, but as they exist as idioms that take up space and are capable of influencing people as individuals, as members of a collective culture, and as global citizens. Each page is a flat fact. The Western has played a pivotal role in the way people valorize the political acts that for centuries have preyed upon indigenous peoples. As you scroll through line after line, the way one might follow a path from one geological site to another, it is fairly obviously beyond contention that these texts are also combat zones. This was written. Large groups of people edited, published, and purchased these words. These words are hurtful and hateful and ripe with injustice. Words can be battlegrounds. A word can be a kind of war.

As these critiques emerge, and I hope there are more, I can’t help thinking about the way my own identity is being recreated. There are a few identities: me as Canadian, me as writer, me as reader, me as ethicist…they spiral. Yet so much of my own identity has been informed by myth. We create myths about literature and history so that we can excuse or applaud hedonistic efforts to disenfranchise large groups of people to take what we want but do not need. It is a disgusting method for moralizing the immoral.

I feel I am maybe doing a disservice to Abel who is a skilled poet, who crafts language the way a darner might crochet, by focusing so intensely on the broader context of his stunning work. I want to pause at lines, “money shook like rattlers” or “two yards of bright luck” and yes—Jordan Abel is an expert poet, obviously. This process of traditional critique that I would use when entering into any other work just feels so disgustingly trivial. It is trivial because the work moves beyond these conventions in poetic analysis. This isn’t a book of poetry alone. It is a documentary about the way violence forces a breakdown in language and how interpretation shatters when we speak to manifest meaningless hate. The world collapses. The words are only sounds. Injun isn’t just good; it is singular and essential.

Julie Mannell is an author of poetry, prose, and essays. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. Mannell is the recipient of the Constance Rooke/HarperCollins Scholarship, the Mona Adilman Poetry Prize, and the Lionel Shapiro Award for Excellency in Creative Writing. She splits her time between Montreal and Toronto.

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “The Megafaun: Fact or Fiction?” by Andy Verboom



The Megafaun: Fact or Fiction?

It’s thought they died with their necks bent.

The twelve-foot splay of their antlers
the tonnage of their antlers driving
their muzzles into ploughshares.

A sacred knot in their shoulders
a perpetual shrug in their shoulders heaving
their bodies over planes endless with grass
their heat through continents of ice

their breath into steam at the treeline.
It’s thought their antlers were crates
their antlers crated with intelligence
chocked by their own overreach

heaped too much with knowing themselves
incapable, themselves their likeliest end
and the end of all seditious heft
sent them nosing through the dirt

their nostrils shuttering open like cockpits
their throats like fuselage capped with dirt
formidable landing gear still retracted
into the hatches in their chests and haunches.

Andy Verboom edits the Word Hoard and organizes Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series. His poetry has recently appeared in The PuritanArcCV2BafterC, and 300 Hours a Minute (Desert Pets, 2015). He is the author of Tower (Anstruther, 2016) and co-author of Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow, 2016).

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

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.