Featured Interview: Monica McClure

Lilac Painted Walls and Black Fabric: A Conversation with Monica McClure
Interview by Jay Winston Ritchie


Jay Winston Ritchie: When did you start writing poetry?

Monica MM:: I always wrote poetry…I remember covering my lilac-painted walls one day with black fabric and writing very disparate poems on the walls. One was an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that was about the death of a friend, and not accepting that death. I loved the brazenness of it. It goes: “You have gone to feed the roses so elegant and curled but I do not approve.” I can’t remember the title. I liked that because I had just lost my friend, sometimes boyfriend, love interest, someone who I loved very much, when we were sixteen.

JWR: So you saw your own experience in the poem.

MM: I saw my own experience in that poem. Then I found e.e. cummings. I must have had a collection of modern American poetry somewhere in the house. We had books like that. I really liked “anyone lived in a pretty how town” so I wrote that on the wall. Tacked up my paintings and stuff. But before then I had been really into Percy Bysshe Shelley and I memorized parts of “Ozymandias”. Gerard Manley Hopkins. You know, I was that kind of a kid. I was nerdy but also a cheerleader.

JWR: Nerdy cheerleader. I don’t even know if that’s a stereotype.

MM: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Though there was that girl in One Tree Hill who was a cheerleader who was kind of weird. I was like her but actually very weird.

JWR: Do you think that support from older people, specifically parents and teachers, is an essential thing for young people? In order to feel talented and motivated?

MM: Absolutely. Too much of it is bad, too, because it contributes to this sense that you already have when you’re a tortured writer that you’re really special. I think at times I had a lot of that, because where I grew up the public school system was really bad. There was not a lot of literacy. I think some people graduated from my high school not really knowing how to read. And so by comparison, because both my parents had gone to college, which was rare in that community, I was a really good writer and a  really precocious student. I already had this sense of feeling really special and people would always praise me. That helped for sure, but it also maybe spoiled me a little bit and I didn’t push myself to actually become a great writer.

JWR: How old is the oldest poem in the book? How far back does it stretch?

MM: Not that old really. It happened really fast. Mood Swing is in here, most of it, and I started writing that the same year it was published. It came out in like six months, this very big, very playful burst of energy. They’re very easy to write, those poems, because once I’d…it was a very contagious voice once I had figured out this – because they’re persona poems, really – once I had figured out this highly stylized, highly synthetic tone that I wanted to write in, it just felt like, OK, now I can start plugging in the ideas, the themes, the concepts that are really dear to me that I had been trying to write about in grad school but had felt very limited by the way I was supposed to be writing them. Mala happened pretty fast too, all of those – well they’re long poems so there aren’t a lot of poems, there are four, now five – those also happened the same year they were published as a chapbook. The oldest poem is from 2012, probably.

JWR: One of the themes in this book, which I’m clued into through your internet presence as well, is an appreciation and knowledge of fashion. How does fashion play into Tender Data?

MM: I don’t know if I’m that knowledgeable about fashion anymore. It’s now just more of a love of fashion, and an appreciation for how personal style is empowering, how street style is influential. Couture has been so market-driven for so long that I’m not really inspired by it anymore, the big fashion houses. I mean I am, I love Comme des Garcons and John Galliano as much as the next person. I guess I’m more interested in street style and how when the styles trickle down they get worn in unexpected ways that then find their way back up to the runways. That cycle is fascinating to me. I think of the Tumblr girls a few years ago who are writing Chanel on their t-shirts with Sharpies and you started seeing Chanel imitating them.

JWR: Everyone seems to think that Tender Data has a lot of humour, but no one can really pin it down. On the Asian American Writers’ Workshop website you and Jenny Zhang talk about the search for decolonized jokes. Is humour a useful tool for dismantling oppressive power structures? Is it a coping mechanism?

MM: I think it’s both. I think a lot about how to beat the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy to the punch, by anticipating their jokes that would belittle me as a woman, as a person of colour, and so I think there’s power in saying it first. It also belies that power though, too, to be in the position where you have to laugh, or you have to make a joke, if you think about how so much pain gets turned into humour. Dave Chappelle is a good example of someone who does that.

JWR: I always think of Richard Pryor.

MM: Love him. It’s tricky. When you’re in a stand-up audience, you’re very much captive to the performer. You have two choices: you laugh, you don’t laugh. I think people are very excited by that feeling of powerlessness, but it can be bad. There’s nothing like that feeling of being suddenly the butt of the joke and looking around and seeing everybody laughing at this really racist, sexist joke and just feeling totally powerless. When you’re writing it’s easy to be as loud as you want because you don’t have to deal with the consequences of it there, on the spot.

JWR: Until somebody brings it up later.

MM: Right, until you’re doing an interview.

JWR: The book ends with “Novelistic Discourse”, which is a long prose poem.

MM: Yeah, and nobody wants to talk about this.

JWR: Really?

MM: No one has written about it or asked me about it yet.

JWR: It’s the most exciting part of the book for me. How did your approach to writing “Novelistic Discourse” differ from the rest of the poems?

MM: I started reading The Dialogic Imagination again, by Mikhail Bakhtin, and I had been wanting to write something that was truly polyglot for a long time, something that would use all this material I had been saving for essays or short stories, things that might find a more expansive form. It’s sort of screenplay-ish. The experience of writing it was very manic. To unpack it a little bit, there’s some thoughts on religion, humanism, the ironization of my own Marxist politics. I feel like talking about the themes is maybe not useful here.

JWR: Can you read it?

MM: “A little girl with my last name fell into a dream. Be a ramp to your sisters. All the stores were closed the next morning and we went out, you and she and I, into a circular Google, where each woman’s question was the other’s top hit. I’ve known a country without commerce, ghosts feeding on cured meat. It’s all about the libidinal relationship between objects, you know, like Katherine Mansfield, David Lynch. To a disappointing lover dripping syrup from my jaw to the white, white petals of male intellect, I say this: I watched Barack Obama get elected a second time. He could be the child of ASAP Rocky and Lana Del Rey, and he is. Angels made love with humans and made giants that made him, but all of them drowned in a great flood.”


Vallum’s summer  intern, Jay Winston Ritchie talked with McClure over Skype about her beginnings, her writing process, and the use of humour in her highly-acclaimed first collection.

JAY WINSTON RITCHIE is the author of poetry chapbook How to Appear
Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside (Metatron, 2014) and the
short story collection Something You Were, Might Have Been, or Have Come
To Represent
 (Insomniac, 2014). His work has appeared in The Puritan, Spork,
Vallum, Glittermob, Matrix, Joyland, and other places. He is Assistant Editor for

MONICA MCCLURE is a poet and performer living in New York City. She has
published two chapbooks, Mood Swing (Snack Press, 2013) and Mala (Poor Claudia, 2014). Her first book of poetry, Tender Data (Birds LLC, 2015).


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

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Vallum is now accepting original and previously unpublished chapbook submissions for the annual Vallum Chapbook Award 2017. For more information and guidelines, visit the Chapbook rules page

“Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden


Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.


Robert Hayden (1913-1980) was an American poet, essayist and educator, and the first African-American to serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. “Frederick Douglass” is taken from The Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, (Liveright, 1997). Copyright © Robert Hayman, 1966.

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!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Ariadne’s Thread” by Jim Johnstone

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Ariadne’s Thread

At ten feet, the white oak’s boughs begin
their reach, parse Niagara’s brow
with lines of Morse: long dashlong dash,
sky–our limbs twinned with snow
at each iamb’s incline. Designed to set,
to confound shadow like a nascent thrush,
light sweeps into the wind’s rough socket.
Our pact: to climb against winter’s rush–
mad, uncoupled–fighting the advance
of latent incantations. Such is our mutiny
less smirk than shitface grin, less stance
than having failed to plant our feet.
Rewind and we descend like ticks wrenched
away from blood, from alveolar branches.

Jim Johnstone is a Toronto-based poet, editor, and critic. His most recent books are The Essential D. G. Jones (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2016) and Dog Ear (Véhicule Press, 2014). In 2016, he was awarded Poetry’s Editors Prize for Book Reviewing.

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!

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Vallum Poem of the Week: “Travelling With Books Could Save Your Life” by Helen Tzagoloff



Travelling With Books Could Save Your Life

Drafted to fight the Nazis, my father took a suitcase
full of books. The war would end in a few weeks,
at most a couple of months, said Our Father in the Kremlin.
Among the books was a German grammar.
Learning languages was a lifelong hobby.

Preparing for a month-long trip, I fill my suitcase
with Martin ChuzzlewitThe Italian Renaissance,
A Sportsman’s SketchesAn Anthology of Sonnets,
The Iliad, the last four issues of The New Yorker.
I remove Martin Chuzzlewit, and A Sportsman’s
Not The Iliad. Just bought a new edition.
Should I reread Confessions of Felix Krull?
(Is it time for rereading, when there is so much still unread?)

What other books did my father take? Some in French,
I’m sure. The poets Tiutchev, Lermontov, Pushkin.
I see him reading after a day of manning the cannons.
Learning German to read Goethe, Mann, Schiller
in the original when he returns.

The Battle of Stalingrad over, the surviving soldiers were
ordered to assemble 300 miles north. One night my father,
worn out, hungry and resigned to dying in the freezing cold,
was asked by an officer if he could speak German.
Luck and God were with him that night.
After questioning the terrified young German soldier,
my father asked if he could stay overnight in the dugout.
With The hell with you! he was motioned to a corner.

Like my father, I do not travel without books.

Helen Tzagoloff was born in Moscow, the former Soviet Union. Her poems and short prose have been published in, Barrow Street, Blueline, Poetry East, the anthology Interpoezia: A Stranger at Home, and other literary journals. She was a first place winner of the Icarus Literary Competition, in honor of the Wright Brothers. A book of poems, Listening to the Thunder has been published by Oliver Arts & Open Press.

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!

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Vallum’s Poem of the Week: “The Fall” by Miki Fukuda



The Fall

October ripens as the fallen apples rot
on the orchard bed.

In the woods of Golden Acres Park,
daylight descends

whitely on branches, leaves,
and the crushed stone path

that winds through the trees
turning in fall.

It is afternoon, is customary

on the bed of stones for a hoary slumber
to pin a snake,

stretched from head, unwreathed
bone-by-bone to tail,

swallowed by the dream that made him
limbless. It is not the decay that kills.

The blind heels do. Uncoiled, returning
to the Tree, whose bitten fruit

you sloughed off,
he waits for a traveler’s heels,

trusting, trusting
what is done.

Miki Fukuda was born in Japan and grew up in Tokyo and Long Island, New York.  Her poems have appeared internationally in journals including CV2, The Maynard, Written River (US) and Earthlines (UK).  She is the author of the chapbook Finality of the Morning (Baseline Press, 2016) and the leaflet small booklet Songs from Twelve Moons of the Bear (Leaf Press, 2015).  She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.  She lives by the woods and lakes of Golden Acres Park, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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 Featured Essay: Ilona Yusuf

A Lively Progression: Mapping Pakistani Poetry
Essay by Ilona Yusuf

English. In Pakistan, the language of public correspondence. Of the law courts. Of government. Of education. The language of media. Ergo, the language of power.

Macaulay’s didactic (and discriminatory) ‘Minute on Education’ of 1835 declared “We must…form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” (1)  The recommendation that English become the official language of India as well as the medium of educational instruction (replacing the Persian of the Mughal Empire) was a strategy that created the backbone of the civil service and ensured the smooth running of Empire. Ultimately it also created a love for the language of the colonisers, and a cross pollination of words, phrases, thought and ideas.  

Independence, in August 1947, coincided with the Partition of the subcontinent to form two nations, India, and Pakistan, with its Muslim majority and communities of religious minorities.

Rajeev S. Patke, in Postcolonial Poetry in English, notes that at the time of Partition, “writing in English met resistance from indigenous languages and the State. Traditionally, poets in Pakistan preferred Urdu and Persian to English. Muhammad Iqbal (2) (1877-1938) wrote with brilliance and passion in both.” But a limited tradition of creative writing in English did exist, although it was in prose that early innovations in language took place. (3) Ahmed Ali’s novel Twilight in Delhi, still considered a classic, is set in the early decades of the twentieth century and depicts the life of a Muslim household belonging to the declining feudal culture. The author affects a break from the English tradition by importing local speech patterns into his writing. (4)

Cut to the nineteen seventies, a period of political and artistic freedom, and we enter a new dimension, a profusion of literary, particularly poetic, activity. Schools and universities, especially for the elite, still ran on pre-Partition lines, with English as the medium of instruction. Writers of this period had been taught using the English canon as the dominant literary reference, but now a fledgling movement took wing. In Lahore, the poet Taufiq Rafat broke away from traditional poetic form. Published in the literary magazines of the sixties and seventies, Perspectives, Vision and Pakistan Quarterly from Karachi; Pakistan Review and Ravi (the magazine of Government College, Lahore), Rafat, who had been writing since the late nineteen forties, was already an established poet. With fellow poet Kaleem Omar, he formed a writers’ group frequented by Athar Tahir, Khaled Ahmed, Shuja Nawaz, Tariq Yazdani Malik, Alamgir Hashmi, and Jocelyn Ortt-Saeed, who honed their poetic skills under Rafat’s mentorship. Waqas Khwaja, originally trained in the formal traditions of English poetry, in rhyme and metre, remembers Rafat for his generosity in nurturing talent. Local and foreign poets, among them the British poet Anthony Thwaite, joined the group’s meetings and judged poetry competitions organised through colleges as well as the British Council and the American Center; and Alamgir Hashmi’s radio programme ‘The English Magazine,’ broadcast from Lahore, featured readings of their work by local poets.

It was Rafat who forged what is referred to as a Pakistani idiom, a conscious effort to move away from the English canon, sowing the seeds of modernism, experimenting with free as well as formal verse, and the use of atonal speech patterns. His own poems, coloured by the rhythms of the land, a semi-agrarian landscape peopled by characters from his native Sialkot, are written in simple, direct language, and often follow a sequential narrative. But his best work uses nature as a metaphor for human strength and weakness. Perhaps these, such as “Kingfisher,” from which the following extract is taken, are the poems in which he does not consciously subscribe to a specific form or idiom:

‘Bird or hovercraft, your angling skill
proclaims the confidence
of repeated success; you flash
rainbows as you plunge to kill.

But what about tomorrow? Will they hiss
and boo from the sidelines
as you find, pause, fold and dip towards
the horror of your first miss?’

If Rafat’s indigenous imprint eventually gave rise to a group of poets who limited themselves to representations of the local landscape, it may have been a catalyst for another generation’s creative development, taking the example provided by its insistence on a new identity, while resisting its drawbacks.

Poetic activity was not central only to Lahore. Karachi was the home of Maki Qureshi, (5) poet and lecturer, and Daud Kamal who worked as a lecturer at Peshawar University. Both were poets with a small output of memorable poetry. (6) Maki Qureshi’s startling images, laid down almost objectively, manifest the underlying violence in humans and animals:

A universe surrounds us. At least
stay on the far reaches
of the wall. We intend no hurt to each other,

yet our contact point is horror.
I scream and shudder.
Quickly you wriggle behind a tall vase.

Then, without cause, creep round to stare at me close.
My calm breaks like glass.
Quite easily you also come apart.

I value your ethnic difference. Just keep

To your side of the universe. Please.    (“To Any Lizard”)

Daud Kamal’s short poems, sometimes dark and brooding, sometimes sparkling like jewels, resemble the work of the imagists, conjuring a mood or an image in almost every line:

Under the shade
Of a willow tree
Where the river bends
In a rock-pool
Prayer–beads rise
To the surface
From the mouth
Of an invisible fish.    (“Prayer-beads”)

Perhaps it is not incidental that most of these poets, who laid the foundation for Pakistan’s postcolonial literary tradition, were well versed in the rich literary traditions of the vernacular. Rafat, Hashmi, Daud Kamal and Waqas Khwaja have all produced fine translations of poetic works in the national as well as regional languages.

This flowering of writing and publishing was soon to meet the arrival of martial law in the late seventies. Under the iron fist of General Zia-ul-Haq, the nineteen eighties was a decade of political repression and religious ascendancy during which artists who coveted freedom of expression went underground. In response to this dark climate, Waqas Khwaja, (7) then living in his native city of Lahore, founded a group with two fellow writers, (8) bringing together authors to develop a critical understanding of texts in English as well as regional languages. The group, which met every fortnight and counted among its members the well-known feminist poet Kishwar Naheed, Urdu short story writer Intizar Hussain, and journalist and newspaper editor M. A. Niazi, grew to include visiting foreign poets and eventually ventured into the art of translation. During roughly the same period, Adrian A. Husain’s writers’ group, Mixed Voices, based in Karachi, became a multicultural forum that brought together writers from different racial and linguistic groups with the purpose of allowing for interaction between them, in the way of readings, translation and critique. Among the poets in attendance were Maki Qureshi and her daughter, Shireen Haroun.

This was the decade in which the government’s attempt to introduce Urdu as the official medium of instruction (9) met with resistance and a consequent mushrooming of privately run English medium schools. By the nineties this parallel education system contributed to the decline of the national language, giving students the option to learn ‘easy Urdu,’ which taught them basic sentence construction and a limited vocabulary. In a country where regional languages, rather than the official national language of Urdu, are learned and spoken at home, this meant that many children belonging to the elite were strangers to Pakistan’s strong literary tradition.

Notwithstanding all this, vernacular poetry was and still is a fundamental element of Pakistani society, from the street labourer to the Americanised elite. During the sixties and the seventies, poetry was routinely set to music, sung by famous vocalists, broadcast over radio, shown on television, and even used in playback film music. It was used as the rhythm of protest during repressive regimes. The work of national poets, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz, was woven into the speeches and slogans of politicians, particularly as an exhortation to freedom and democracy. Most recently the words of the socialist poet Habib Jalib have come to be associated with the Lawyers’ Movement through the songs of a local rock band. If the younger generation has otherwise lost its connection to local language, the thriving popular music scene has countered the loss by giving them anthems, using well known poems set to music which is often a fusion of eastern semi-classical form and western jazz, blues and rock.

And despite the literalist religion of the eighties, current fundamentalist movements and an undercurrent of violence have eroded Sufistic teachings; Sufi poetry is also woven into the consciousness of the people. The interactive experience of a Pakistani poetry reading ensures a bonding with the audience, who are expected to respond audibly to the poet’s recitation, in which lines are often repeated for emphasis, following the listeners’ appreciation.

If the seventies were the benchmark for creating a new idiom in literature in English, the nineties brought a fresh burst of activity. The establishment of courses in creative writing and postcolonial literature at the Lahore University of Management Sciences during the eighties gave impetus to a budding group of writers. Hima Raza, who taught English literature and creative writing at the latter institution, experimented with a variety of forms and themes in the two collections of poetry published before her short life ended in an accident. Word puzzles, jazz rhythms, visual or ‘size’ poetry define much of her work, which examines the materialistic quality of modern relationships and cultural divides. Hers is an urban, politically informed metaphor, in which history is used as a reference to challenge the colonisers and the formerly colonised.

imperial designs (plus)
colonial practice (equals)
a new ‘civilizing mission’
(encased in) sanctimonious shades
of red, white and blue…

it’s a good thing I’m used to this;
the process of shutting things out
as they fall apart,
the pretence of cool
in a dry, hot season,
the taste of redemption
in a t.v. screen…     (“the pretence of cool”)

A number of young poets have stepped into this playing field of modernist and post-modernist form. Hima can be considered representative of this movement. They have a literary tradition, however brief, to use as a reference point. This tradition has grown to include a large diaspora, as well as developments during and after the seventies, which have taken poetry beyond the Pakistani idiom, ‘towards a more universal metaphor’. (11)

Several poets belonging to the formative period of this literary tradition, working in Pakistan during and after the seventies, are represented in this anthology. Among them are Alamgir Hashmi, whose verse, alternately lyrical, whimsical, wry and sarcastic, straddles and sometimes finds itself suspended between the often disparate worlds of east and west. This appears in an early poem, “America is a Punjabi Word.” The poet tours America with a camel with whom he carries on a private conversation expressing wonder and bewilderment at cultural similarities and differences. Digressing from the poets belonging to this formative tradition and crossing over to the diaspora, award winning poet Moniza Alvi, (12) who was brought up in England and has been writing since the nineteen eighties, borrowed the device in “Alamgir Hashmi’s Camel,” (13) using it to explore the English suburbs. Alvi’s early work expresses the colour and flavour of the east, as the child of a mixed marriage. But it also contains the seeds of her mature work, which culminates in How the Stone Found its Voice. The cycle of short poems which give the title to this collection—their own titles inspired by Kipling’s Just So Stories—investigate dichotomy, injustice, war, silence, and anger, and the bittersweet last poem where, after the war of wars, the stone at last finds its voice. The first section of “At the Time of Partition, The Line” is written in a similar style: an almost naive tone which represents a harsh, brutal reality. Alvi’s work often examines separation, the division between body and soul, between people, between East and West. Returning to the formative period of Pakistan’s literary tradition, award winning poet and Shakespeare scholar, Adrian A. Husain, ‘aspires to write verse that transcends time and space, rather than specifically Pakistani ethnic poetry.’ His poems, characterised by short line breaks, often paint an idyllic, peaceful landscape in which there is a hint of something beyond, often the presence of evil which lurks unnoticed by the subject, only to reveal itself chillingly at the climax of the poem.

Of the diaspora writers who began their writing careers during the sixties, Zulfikar Ghose is an influential poet, essayist and novelist. Fiercely independent, he consciously eschews the postcolonial label into which most writers originating from this part of the world are lumped. Ghose began his literary career with poetry, and three collections were published before he turned to the novel and the essay. He has recently returned to poetry: this volume includes the early poem “The Attack on Sialkot,” and the new “Silent Birds.” Born in Sialkot, the writer moved several times during his early life, eventually settling in Texas where he has spent the major years of his career. A member of The Group (14) in England, Ghose’s early work shows its influence in his attention to technique and construction; the themes are frequently nostalgia for the country left behind, or the exploration of intellectual concepts such as the changing shape of memory. His later poems, which are less tightly controlled, often portray the intense colours, flora and fauna of the landscape of his current home, evocative also of that of his childhood, a ‘country’ to which he constantly returns in spirit.  

Amongst the emerging poets, several are familiar with the vocal tradition of the vernacular. Harris Khalique is a bilingual poet, writing in Urdu, Punjabi and English, the latter a terrain where he feels freer to experiment than in his national language. Shadab Zeest Hashmi, whose collection The Baker of Tarifa recently won the San Diego Book Award, grew up with the poetry of Iqbal, Bulleh Shah and Faiz, ‘inspired by how boldly they question the status quo, how deftly they fuse rhetoric with lyricism, and how powerfully they utilize paradox, engaging the reader on various levels as they negotiate spirituality with the intellect.’ Hashmi has experimented with compo-sing in the traditional sub-continental poetic form of the ghazal, which she has also taught. History is very much a part of her oeuvre, used to unco-ver common places and spaces between East and West. She is a masterful painter of light, and has vast reserves of empathy for the characters who people her poems.

Kyla Pasha also grew up with this oral tradition, which contrasted with her experience at university in the United States, where she encountered a preoccupation with style and form. Her discovery of Def (15) poetry confirmed the impact of spoken poetry that she was familiar with from childhood. But she recognises the importance of learning ‘how to balance the physical and vocal art of performance poetry with poetry laid down on the page.’ Pasha’s ardent, impassioned voice owes much to both western and eastern influences, in the latter case the Sufi idea of talking directly to God. Her themes and form, however, are intensely modern, subscribing to the feminist idea that ‘the personal is political.’

If Pasha addresses God in the Sufi tradition, Sascha Aurora Akhtar weaves rhythms reminiscent of a group of chanting, swaying forms approaching euphoria in “Sufi’s Sestina,” which translate equally well into jazz rhythms, as the poet herself points out.

To talk about the work and background of all the poets in this anthology would require an exhaustive essay, which might detract from the poetry itself. The purpose here is to trace threads and recurrent themes, and to provide background so that the reader unfamiliar with poetry from this part of the world understands the poetic heritage of the poets represented. What is clear is the wide diversity of theme and handling, whether these be identity, place-related poems such as those of the lyrical Sahar Rizvi; of Sehba Sarwar, whose work has its roots in performance poetry; or that of Waqas Khwaja, whose poem, “Tryptich”, recalls landscapes discovered in his childhood, then rediscovered in the present, rendered in a style and form reminiscent of the English Romantic poets. Sadaf Halai, winner of the Young Voices competition, (16) evinces a philosophical preoccupation with the unseen connections between small events in a person’s life, which represent a much larger reality. Connecting the dots reveals a larger design, an alternative reality, which escapes the immediate, naked eye. Other variations are the exacting form of rhyming verse used by Faraz Maqsood Hamidi, a sarcastic, sometimes bitter take on urban reality particularly among the educated middle and upper middle classes; the flights of fantasy, modern takes on the literary past by Rayan Khan; the painterly eye of Moeen Faruqi, the crystalline images of Bilal Tanweer and Shireen Haroun’s implicit identification with the natural world.

What one realises in reading the poems is that this is a group of poets who have a masterful grasp of what they want to say. They confidently straddle two worlds, seeking to reinvent language in very individual voices, through metaphors culled from local and international poetic traditions, skilfully using allusions stemming from an internalised knowledge of forms. What transpires is the reshaping of language, the fusing of vernacular and traditional English speech and poetic patterns. Not to be forgotten is the role of the globalized world and technological innovation, in which the last few decades have seen wide access to world literature and developments in writing.

In a way, these poets are refashioning the idea of identity, by aspiring to the universal, rather than remaining confined to one place, capitalising on an appetite for the exotic or producing elevated political rhetoric. Place and time are two entities that are inescapable. It’s in how we transcend them that we make poetry.



To Blaine Marchand, for initiating this project, and with whom it’s been a pleasure to work.

To Vallum, for giving Pakistani poetry a platform.

To the poets who, in conversation, helped me piece together the evolution of a literary tradition in Pakistani poetry: among them Waqas Khwaja, Adrian Husain, and Alamgir Hashmi.

To the poets, who have contributed to the making of a fine body of work.


Work Cited
1 Macaulay’s ‘Minute on Education’, (1835) The Victorian Age, The Civilizing Mission, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, online. It also declared ‘the entire native literature of India and Arabia is not equal to a single shelf of books in the English language.’
2  Muhammad Iqbal is the national poet of Pakistan. He wrote to motivate the Muslim community, and was inspired by Islamic ideals of community as well as the philosophy of Nietzsche.
3 Although during the 1930s Shahid Suhrawardy (who later migrated to Pakistan) published Essays in Verse in English, there was not much poetic output, and whatever was written was often informed by the work of Rabindranath Tagore.
4 Ahmed Ali is more remembered for his prose than for poetry: the latter, published in The Purple Gold Mountain, uses a romanticised English idiom and lacks the innovation of his prose.
5 Maki Qureshi, Pakistan’s first female poet writing in English, was from the minority Parsi community but married a Muslim. Her poetry embodies references from both faiths.
6 This transitional stage in the development of English writing culminated in the publication of several anthologies, First Voices in 1965, Pieces of Eight in 1971, and Wordfall in 1975.
7 Waqas Khwaja, poet and translator, is originally from Lahore but is now settled in Atlanta, Georgia.
8 Mahmud Gilani and Chaudhary Shaukat Ali were the co founders of the group.
9  The transition from English to Urdu created controversy. Among other reasons, there was a lack of corresponding texts in the vernacular, particularly in the sciences.
10 From 2007-2009, lawyers, civil society and certain political groups fought for the independence of the judiciary following the unconstitutional sacking of the Chief Justice by General Pervez Musharraf, then ruler of the country.

11 Adrian A. Hussain

12  Alvi’s work was shaped by her experiences and contact with writing groups and poets in Britain. She was introduced to Hashmi’s work when asked to review his collection The Ramazan Libation (Arc Books, 2003)
13  From How the Stone Found its Voice (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)
14 Members of The Group included Peter Porter, George MacBeth, Alan Brownjohn, Martin Bell, B. S. Johnson and Peter Redgrove.
15 Def Poetry, also known as … Def Poetry Jam, which was co-founded by Bruce George, Danny Simmons and Deborah Pointer, is an HBO television series … (which) presents performances by established spoken word poets, as well as up and coming ones. Well known actors and musicians will often surprise the audience by showing up to recite their own original poems … though technically not a poetry slam, Def Poetry has become heavily associated with the poetry slam movement…’ (Wikipedia)
16 Young Writers’ Competition, Goethe Institut, Karachi with the Heinrich Boll Foundation of Lahore and Oxford University Press, 2007.


To view 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: “Eilmer of Malmesbury” by Nathan Mader

Version 2


Eilmer of Malmesbury

He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong.

William of Malmsebury

The votive candles flicker but do not go out
as I sew the fabric of the devout to a skeleton
of pine I’ve hewn from out of service pews, every
thread a tether between design and air, prayer
and machine. For the foreseeable future, I’ve
turned from my star maps that I might craft
a form of ascension I can strap to my back, wings
taut as a crucifix bound in a Book of Hours.
But even the angels have their momento mori,
and the tower’s stones are woven into the same
weightless dream. How long I’ve looked to the skies
for a sign of myself in You and felt You in
the nothing that is everything there. Why do I
hesitate to touch your face? The Brothers grow restless,
suspecting I’m no longer Daedalus, but Penelope
undoing the night’s loom work. They don’t see
the guide wires disconnecting from my thought’s
black box—there’s something faithless in this leap.

Nathan Mader was born and lives in Regina Saskatchewan. His work has appeared in Grain, The Fiddlehead, and Vallum. He has been a finalist for the Walrus Poetry Prize and has an essay forthcoming in The Literary History of Saskatchewan Vol.3 (Coteau, 2017).

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 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 Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More info is available at AmandaEarl.com

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.