Prompt: Seeing Red

redWe know that everybody sees the world in a different way, right? During the process of creating characters, something we do is try and figure out how a character views the world – it’s a part of creating voice and believability. But sometimes it’s hard to get into that perspective.

As a writer and a reader, my attention catches on books. A friend of mine who is a physiotherapist notices how people walk (with their toes turned out, in my case). Hairdressers notice hair. Dog owners notice other dogs. And so on.

So when you’re developing a character, think about what is important to them, what they would notice. Begin with a colour. What’s your character’s favourite colour? Red? Get a pen and paper and list everything red you can see. Did you see this before? Take this further and find out what is really important to your character – their job, their obsessions, their phobias. Now think about what they see when they look at the world.

Good luck!

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Ann Shin “continues to stun readers with her innovation, attention to craft, and rendering of language.”

Family-China-webThe Family China
Ann Shin
Brick Books, 2013

The Family China is Ann Shin’s second collection of poetry, and with it she continues to stun readers with her innovation, attention to craft, and rendering of language. Shin is originally from the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, and urban and suburban life are some of the central themes in this collection. Shin also explores migration, death, and how childhood can haunt the present day. Although these five suites have a fine-tuned personal narrative, the poems invite readers to look inward at their own narratives and definition of selves.

Almost every poem has a sidebar-like segment. These fragments emerge from a word within the poem. The words are easy to miss upon first glance because they’re faintly tinted grey. If the word was bolded or italicized, however, it would lose the effect that the poet might have originally intended—that these fragments are memories. They’re inspired by seemingly simple and banal words such as fresh, official, safe, and yes, and then Shin unpacks them. Out of forks emerges:

your thia and yiayia sorted through the burnt rubble rescuing blackened spoons, forks with curled tines  they polished and bundled them into 5 handkerchiefs, one for each grandchild


Although the fragments can be read immediately following the inspired word, they seem better suited to be read after the end of the poem. The tone throughout the collection is so smooth and controlled that if the fragments are read as the inspired word appears, they interrupt the rhythm and flow. They work well as conclusions, as moments the reader might think of when they see a fork, a house, or define what legacy means to them. More than anything, these fragments feel true to each poem. They don’t appear forced or gimmicky. Instead, they add even more layers that Shin has already created through such lines like, “Children in their nightgowns stand waiting to sing,/ as the song skips a generation.” (7)

This line appears in my favourite poem from The Family China. It’s from the suite entitled “Forgotten Fields” and it explores youth—the failings and joys, the overwhelming longing for something different, to be anywhere else in the world. This poem captures what it’s like to grow up in suburbia with such deceptively simple language and evocative images.

Roll me down the length of your long, black driveway.
Let’s steal back what’s ours from closed-mouth houses
where lights are left on, mail delivered, lawns mowed,
while we’re out on the hunt in the dew-wet fields
hungry to find and twist open the seed
of our own promise. We’re not lost,
we’ve just been looking away.


In this poem, Shin uses safe as the key that unfolds a memory, the fragment found beside the poem. It’s an apt choice, a word often associated with the suburbs, though not the first one that comes to mind to those who live there.

The Family China is rich with layers, a dark undercurrent beneath language both simple and haunting. Shin has the skilled ability to evoke whatever landscape she wishes, to bring the reader there and make them feel as if they really know that world. She takes the reader behind the scenes, behind each poem. Shin lures readers further into the world she created and leaves them breathless.

Claire Matthews is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Her fiction has appeared in Joyland Magazine and her poetry is forthcoming in Room. Her poetry was also long-listed for the CBC Canada Writes Poetry 2013 Award. She was a cofounder and the Managing Editor of Kwantlen University’s fine arts and literary magazine, pulp. In her spare time, she makes soap and drinks whisky.

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Save The Capilano Review!

TCRIt was a sad day for Canadian literary magazines this week when Descant announced that their Winter issue will be the last, after 44 years of publishing. But you can still do your bit to support lit mags! The Capilano Review needs your help to become an independent magazine

Founded in North Vancouver in 1972 by Pierre Coupey, The Capilano Review has a long history of publishing new and established Canadian writers and artists who are experimenting with or expanding the boundaries of conventional forms and contexts.

So help save The Capilano ReviewTCR has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to make the six month transition stage possible, to fund office set-up costs, payment to writers and artists in the first year, and printing and design costs for their first independent issues.

Many writers and artists have donated rewards, and for your donation you can receive subscriptions, beautiful cards, manuscript consultations, artist-studio visits, dinners, rare books or paintings. You can pledge $10 or more, and one of the coolest rewards is, for $95, an hour manuscript consultation with one of many amazing writers including Fred Wah, Clint Burham, or Rita Wong, or for $145, an hour and a half manuscript consultation with Jordan Abel, Thea Bowering, and many more.

You can check out the Kickstarter page for more ways to donate. Every little helps!

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Prompt: Translating English into English

Foto_Charles_BernsteinIn today’s prompt we’re going to borrow some techniques from Charles Bernstein. Poet, essayist, theorist, and scholar Charles Bernstein is a foundational member and leading practitioner of Language poetry. Bernstein’s own poetic work explores the wide-ranging uses of language within diverse social contexts, combining the language of politics, pop culture, literary jargon, advertising, corporate-speak, and many others to show the ways in which language and culture are mutually constructive and interdependent. You can read one of his poems, “A Test of Poetry” right here.

Bernstein has many different writing prompts (you’ll be seeing more of them here in future), but I like this one a lot. It’s called “homolinguistic translation”. Find a poem (someone else’s, then one you’ve written yourself) and translate it – into English. You do this by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or a more free translation, in which you respond to each phrase, line or sentence.

A fun way to try this prompt is with a group. Somebody begins by “translating” a poem, and then passing it on to the next person, and so on. When the poem reaches the first person, it’s time to read it out and see how the language has changed… The results can be strange, unexpected and funny.

Good luck!

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A review of “The Rapids” by Susan Gillis: “A turbulent, ethereal collection of poetry.”

rapidscoverby Rochelle Squires

The Rapids
Susan Gillis
Brick Books, 2012

Pico Iyer once wrote, “It doesn’t matter where or how far you go… the important thing is how alive you are. Writing of every kind is a way to wake oneself up and keep as alive as when one has just fallen in love.”

In reading Susan Gillis’ 2012 collection The Rapids, Iyer’s quote comes to mind as the perfect mantra for the speaker of these poems: someone who gets so lost in detail, someone who is so fully engaged with both her physical surroundings and internal senses that standing on a porch is as exotic as touring Chile, and stepping on a balcony is as turbulent as rafting down the Lachine Rapids.

As suggested by the title, The Rapids is a turbulent, ethereal collection of poetry that spans the distance between rural Canada, urban Montreal to landscapes as far away as Greece and Chile. The reader is taken on a journey through many passages, unexpected turns, and places of surprising tranquility. Similar themes of loneliness, disconnection and an unquiet mind are woven throughout each of the groups of poems, as well as images from nature and a searching for solace.

The first of four sections in the collection, called “Bloodroot”, pulls the reader into the speaker’s lonely, pastoral world where the desire to embark on something more is palpable:

Each day curved, inviting as a bell
Opened by birdsong and the persistence of surf
or its cousin, wind in the leaves.
Like an open throat, rimmed with the moist lips
of a limitless music.
I climbed in, with my kit of troubled origins.


There is a restlessness, unwilling to lay down roots, or desire to be uprooted in this section. This journey is interconnected, as the travel in the poems happen simultaneous to a new awakening internally.

The poems speak of loss through uprooting: “No one can cross the rapids without unnatural force.” (36) There is a ‘we’ mentioned in several of the poems, drawing to mind an image of husband and melancholic wife wanting to leave her bucolic life/marriage to embark on an exotic journey.

The section called “Neruda’s Rain” is homage to Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet whose 1973 death is shrouded in suspicion, although apart from the namesake poem in this section, there’s not much to ground the reader in Chile, or make a connection to the sub-title or to Neruda. All other poems in this section are rooted in Europe: Greece, Germany, and the north of France. The sub-title sets up a promise of exploration that was not fulfilled, proving to be one of the only (slight) disappointments in the book. Having said that, the poetry in this section is compelling and vivid, offering memorable verses you’ll want to read again and again.

Throughout the entire collection the poet shows amazing depth and range, none more so than in the third section called “Habitat”, an exploration of architecture inspired by Moshde Safdie. These poems seem to explore various synthetic and engineered places we call home and its (dis)connection to nature. The final section, “Twenty-two Views of the Lachine Rapids”, feels more observatory, yet the poet’s reverence to her subject remains evident. There’s a sense of detached neutrality as the poet observes the ebbs and flows of life that pulls us all toward a rush of turbulent water.

Rochelle Squires, a former journalist, is completing her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing through the Opt-Res program at UBC.

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This year, give the present of PRISM… And for 30% off our normal subscription price!

BookTree4‘Tis the season for love, joy and giving… And for (sometimes desperately) searching for the right gifts to give.

But we’re here to make that hunt a whole lot easier! From now until the end of December we’re offering a one-year subscription to PRISM for just $25.00 – that’s 30% off our normal subscription rate, and 48% off the newsstand price!*

A one-year subscription entitles your cherished loved one (or cherished you) to four great issues, filled to the brim with contemporary writing from Canada and around the world.

So go on… give the present of PRISM! Your mums, dads, children, partners, neighbours and pets will love it.

Click here for this great offer!

*Offer available for Canadian subscriptions only.


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