PRISM 53.1 Fall 2014

531_storePrism 53.1 launched on a glorious teacup-and-octopus filled Sunday at WORD Vancouver. The issue, the first from new editors Nicole Boyce (prose) and Rob Taylor (poetry), is filled with good ink (cephalopod or otherwise).

The prose in PRISM 53:1 explores a wide range of perspectives, captured by both emerging and established writers. On the fiction side, “Everything Here Reminds Me of You” by Amy Jones looks at the relationship between a woman and her boyfriend’s ex-wife, beginning with the woman’s decision to crash a family funeral. “Postcard from the Adriatic,” a coming of age story by Jasmina Odor, is told through the shifting lens of multiple family members who have taken refuge on the Adriatic Coast during the Bosnian War. Moving from the Adriatic Coast to the West Coast, we have two stories set on islands in the Pacific Northwest: “The Troubles of North LaPorte” by Anne Trooper-Holbrook takes a month-by-month look at a teenager’s life after he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant, while “Witching Hour” by Toni Hiatt is a haunting portrait of a mother-daughter relationship impacted by mental illness. Finally, “Flight Simulator” by Michael LaPointe details one man’s nostalgic search for identity—by way of childhood computer games. On the non-fiction side, PRISM 53:1 includes K.A. MacKinnon’s “Character Sketch,” a uniquely-structured piece about two women traveling through Europe as circus employees.

For poetry, PRISM 53.1 brings you four Canadian voices: two well established (Elise Partridge, Peter Norman) and two you’ll be hearing more from soon (Raoul Fernandes, Michael Lockett). Joining them are three American writers who are most likely unfamiliar to Canadian readers: Gwen Hart, Emily Tuszynska and Mark Parlette. If one thing unites all of these poems and poets, it is their desire to pay close attention: Fernandes’ itemizes a playground in “Suspension,” Lockett explores the world both inside and outside a Sri Lankan bus in “Vavuniya via Anuradhapura,” and Tuszynska considers every angle as a boy is dressed for Halloween. Partridge, for her part, studies hard the sound, shape and meaning of words and letters in poems like “Before the Fall” and “The Alphabet.”

Put together, it makes for one fantastic issue. But don’t take our word for it – suction-cup up a copy and see for yourself!

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Prompt: Writing with Lynda Barry

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read a good prompt or have a good idea and then fail to sit down and actually put it into practise. So the prompt today is for all of you (and for me).

Lynda Barry is somebody I was only recently introduced to by one of my writing professors, despite her renown as a cartoonist and her experience as a writing teacher. She’s best known for the weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, as well as the bestselling What It Is and Picture This.

Having tried several of Lynda’s writing exercises, I can attest to their effectiveness – and the most wonderful thing is that she has many of these on Youtube.

So here is one: the 9 Minute Timing (Part One). Oh, and did I mention? Lynda will talk you through the exercise, and she will ask you questions as well as timing you! Although you can’t actually talk back, this is like having your very own teacher.

The only thing you need is a notebook and a word bag, which is exactly what it sounds like: a bag of random words you like.

If you like this, then Lynda has a whole Youtube channel! And if you want to know more about her you can listen to an interview snippet with Jian Ghomeshi and Lynda, or you can check out her blog.

Good luck!

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PRISM is going to Word Vancouver!

word_vancouver_headerPRISM is excited to participate in the Word Vancouver festival this weekend! This annual festival—held at Library Square in downtown Vancouver—is always a fun weekend full of events, conversation, and appreciation of all things reading and writing.

PRISM will have a booth in the exhibitor marketplace on Sunday—pop by to say hi, meet PRISM’s editors and volunteers, and check out our brand new issue. We’ll also have information on our upcoming non-fiction, poetry and fiction contests, special deals, and a secret photo opportunity worth tweeting about. Hint: #octocup

In the afternoon, PRISM is participating in Magazine Words, a series of readings and panels focused on Canadian literary magazines. The event starts at 11am inside Blenz Coffee in Library Square, and includes readings hosted by PRISM, subTerrain, Room, EVENT, The Capilano Review, The New Quarterly and The Fiddlehead. Come for the full day, or stop by at 2:20pm to hear talented PRISM contributors Karen J Lee and Rachel Rose read their work and answer a few questions from the audience.

At 4:15, PRISM’s Poetry Editor Rob Taylor will take part in a panel titled “The Inside Dirt on Literary Publications.” Ever wondered what it’s like to work at a lit mag? Or what happens to your submission between the time it’s received and the time you receive your reply? Rob will join Ian Cockfield of EVENT, Todd Nickel of The Capilano Review, Leanne Johnson of Pacific Rim, Carrie Schmidt of Room, and moderator Frances Bula to discuss the inner workings of literary magazines.

These events are free and open to the public—hope you can stop by to say hello! For more details on all the fantastic goings-on at Word, check out the Word Vancouver website.

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Theatre: “The Daisy Theatre” at The Cultch

image

Photo by Alejandro Santiago

By Ramon Esquivel

The Daisy Theatre
Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett
Historic Theatre at The Cultch

Laughing at the characters that populate Ronnie Burkett’s show, The Daisy Theatre, one can take for granted the artist’s technique, vocal talent, and design skills that bring them to life. A vaudeville of sorts, the show makes room on its little stage for torch singers, a fading diva, a retired British Army officer, a widow from Alberta, a dummy and his ventriloquist, and others. Funny, ribald, yet touching at moments, The Daisy Theatre makes for a raucous, memorable time.

Ronnie Burkett returns to The Cultch with a revamped version of The Daisy Theatre, after a sold-out run there in 2013. Known primarily for shows with darker, emotionally charged topics like mental illness, genocide, and the apocalypse, Burkett created The Daisy Theatre as a way to simply have fun, and to give some idiosyncratic puppets a chance to find an audience. In the spirit of vaudeville, some acts and characters were more memorable than others.

Burkett admits that three particular marionettes represent the “trinity” of his soul, and each are featured. First is Schnitzel, an earnest childling who wonders beyond the confines of the tiny stage. Second is Esme Massengill, the diva and icon of The Daisy Theatre—and she knows it. The third is Mrs. Edna Rural from Turnip Corners, Alberta, who sits in her comfy chair and shares how surprisingly popular her dill-infused dough has been with young Vancouverites. My favourite characters, though, were ventroliquist Meyer Limon and his dummy, Little Woody Linden. Their story will resonate with anyone who has cared for loved one who is fading, and it is well-timed departure from relentless innuendo.

The show’s pace dragged during some musical numbers. While the singing characters demonstrated Burkett’s vocal range, only those that interacted with the audience made a lasting impression. The memorable characters had emotional depth in their stories and undermined stereotypes. The weaker ones were caricatures, like the Carmen Miranda-inspired burlesque performer, Flirty Sanchez. Notably, the show’s few “marionettes of colour,” for lack of a better term, only sang songs. We never heard their stories. The three-week run gives Burkett opportunities to try different characters and play with histories and motivations. Perhaps we will eventually hear the singers’ stories, but I was left with the impression that Burkett did not know them yet.

With so many improvised moments, and with the promise of new characters to be introduced throughout the run, audience members often return. At Thursday night’s performance, half the audience had attended the The Daisy Theatre when it ran in 2013. There are opportunities for audience involvement — or, more accurately, audience members are drafted into the show. Hint: if you would like to join the performance, you can increase your chances by looking innocuous during the pre-show, and by wearing black. (The contrast makes colourful puppets look better.) If you are considering a night out in the coming weeks, pick The Daisy Theatre.

The Daisy Theatre is playing at The Cultch in the Historic Theatre through October 12. Tickets can be purchased here.

Ramon Esquivel is a writer based in Vancouver and Seattle. He is currently studying creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

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Going Down Swinging: Talking in Dead Tongues

It’s time for our September swap with Going Down Swinging!

One of Australia’s oldest and strangest literary publishers, Going Down Swinging was conceived in 1979. It now produces print anthologies, audio recordings, multimedia publications, live events and a very busy website.

We’re happy to be able to team up with Going Down Swinging and introduce Australian writers to our PRISMers–and vice versa. We’ll be swapping articles and interviews once a month, so keep an eye out!

This month, Rafael S. W. writes about languages and what makes them thrive and die…


Boa spends her evening thinking of names for the children she never had.
 She would have called them after majestic, wonderful things. Words for promise and wisdom. For vitality and loyalty.

In the peak of her loneliness, she had hundreds of descendants. All of them named; all of them dreamed. After her parents died thirty years ago, she started to forget things. After her husband Nao Jer died, her eyesight started to deteriorate too, as if there was nothing worth looking at in the world. More often these days, her personal vocabulary is an untended fishing pond. There are bright flashes of things: she will see a bird and feel it in her mother tongue. Likewise, she will notice a certain cake, a ribbon. But more often these things sink back into the murk.

Languages die like people. Sometimes it’s a gentle goodnight; other times it’s sudden and violent. More common is the slow death through assimilation, where a community with one language will take on a new one – due to the demands of commerce, communication or status – and become bilingual. Over time, the old language will become outdated, no longer used, and fade away. This decline is what happened to Boa Senior and the language she spoke in India’s Andaman Islands. Bo – a language of the Great Andamanese language family – was thought to originate from Africa, and may be up to 70,000 years old. Boa was eighty-five when she, and the language of Bo, died on January 26, 2010.

However, death can be a sudden and violent thing, as in the case of linguicide – which Briarpatch Magazine defines as “the killing of languages without killing the speakers”. Restricting the modes of speech people use is an idea older than Orwell, but this doesn’t make it any less effective. Linguistic death can become a matter of government policy, as shown in reports from New Zealand’s parliamentary library. Punishment of school children for speaking Maori was only official policy until the 1930s, however a survey in the 1970s found that “40% of the adult respondents had been punished personally for speaking Maori when they were at school, in some cases as late as the 1950s and 1960s.”

The violent nature of this manner of linguistic death comes through strongly in stories surrounding the history of native speakers in colonies like Canada, where, as Briarpatch reports, “First Nations children [were] being routinely punished in residential schools for speaking their language, sometimes even with needles stuck through their tongues.” Even in less dramatic actions, the act of imposing one dominant language (in this case, English or French) over another contributes further to linguistic death, in a phrase linguistic rights scholar Tove Skutnabb-Kangas has termed “subtractive language education”.

While not always easy to spot in action, the process of linguistic death has a fairly clear scaling system, much like that used for endangered species. UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger outlines five levels of language endangerment:

  • Vulnerable: Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home).
  • Definitely endangered: Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in their home.
  • Severely endangered: Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves.
  • Critically endangered: The youngest speakers are grandparents and older people, and they speak the language partially and infrequently.
  • Extinct: There are no speakers left.

Of the approximately seven thousand languages spoken today, six percent of these are spoken by ninety-four percent of the world’s population. This means that already the linguistic gene pool is flooded with common tongues, making languages harder to preserve, or even be understood by those on the outside.

Source: UNESCO

Source: UNESCO

The language afterlife

Once a language dies, there may still be hope for revival. Unlike humans (for now), languages can be revitalised through a combination of sustained effort, culturally aware programmes and legislation. This has happened in New Zealand, with recovery programmes such as the immersive kohanga reo ‘language nest’ schooling, which fosters knowledge of Maori language and culture from an early age. Another successful case is the revival of the Hebrew languageIn the case of Hebrew, however, there is a driving force for the revival in both in a religious and practical sense, as well as a sustained effort to teach it in schools and universities.

Oddly, these revival elements are lacking in Australia, which is problematic in a country that linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann says “has set a record for ‘linguicide’. Where there had once been an estimated 250 languages spoken by indigenous Australians, only twenty of these are left. One of these surviving languages is Kuuk Thaayorre, a language spoken by the small Thaayorre community on the western edge of Cape York. Interestingly, the language has an entirely unique way of locating the speaker in space.

The future of language death

Globalisation is often blamed for the death of languages, but it’s actually ‘digital language death’ that is going to be the real problem. The internet is already so relevant in the language debate that mathematical linguist András Kornai published a paper indicating why having Wikipedia available in your language is an important criteria in assessing the vitality of a language. It’s logical enough: considering the role online communication plays in our daily lives, it seems likely that if you use one language to speak online, it will begin to supersede any other you use.

While the internet seems to be a giant scythe for most languages, I wonder whether the result will be as bad as feared. As well as providing tons of options for learning majorlanguages, there’s a chance the internet won’t even remain a written medium. There’s already a rise in non-text methods of communicating, including advancements towards a ‘multi-sensory Internet’, or haptic technologies that can transmit the sense of touch. But if that’s too highbrow, there’s also Durex’s ‘Fundawear’. As well as a growing number of ways in which users will interact with the web, it’s entirely possible that the future will circumvent the need for universally understood written languages.

It’s worth asking, too, whether the disappearance of little known and barely spoken languages is even that great a loss. Linguistics professor Salikoko Mufwene from the University of Chicago states that, “As cultures evolve, groups often naturally shift their language use. Asking them to hold onto languages they no longer want is more for the linguists’ sake than for the communities themselves.”

However, the majority of linguists feel differently. The Catalogue of Endangered Language (ELCat) – a joint project between the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and The LINGUIST List at Eastern Michigan University – states on their website that “the disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information, comparable to the loss of a species.”

As well as this, the knowledge contained within a language can be valuable to those inhabiting the same environment. This knowledge could include historical details, such as evidence of past monsoons or tidal changes that are built into expressions of the seasons. Or it could be of a spiritual nature and express complex thoughts and feelings. Even ecological information, such as the names of plants indicating their toxicity, can be held within a language, which may help both the speakers and outsiders survive.

As stated by linguist Narayan Choudhary when mourning the death of Boa Senior: “Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community, it is a loss of several disciplines of studies put together, including anthropology, linguistics, history, psychology, and biology.” Though I’m unable to speak a word of Bo, I can’t help feeling that, when a language dies, a way of thinking dies with it.

Rafael S. W. is a graduate of creative writing and one of the founding members of Dead Poets’ Fight Club. He writes every single day and has been published in VoiceworksGoing Down Swinging No. 33, the current print/audio edition No. 35, and Dot Dot Dash. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.

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An interview with Daniel Scott Tysdal

Authors Photo (Tysdal-Stancu)-1

Photo by Alice Stancu

By Esther Griffin

Daniel Scott Tysdal is the author of three books of poetry, The Mourner’s Book of Albums (Tightrope 2010), Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Coteau 2006), and Fauxccasional Poems (forthcoming from Icehouse in 2015). I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel this spring when I attended his Master Poetry Workshop, “The Convergence of Occasions,” at the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! Conference in Orillia, Ontario. His workshop was inviting and inspiring, which is how I would also describe his latest book, The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems, published by Oxford University Press (2014).

In your poetry workshop, “The Convergence of Occasions,” you discussed how “poems are born out of occasions, not a sole occasion.” This is explored further in your creative writing poetry textbook, The Writing Moment. How does this convergence provide inspiration for writing poetry?

The basic idea behind the convergence of occasions is this. Yes, different poems have different origins at their core—a sense of elation or emptiness, a birth or headline-making news, a desire to test out another poet’s techniques. Yet, in all cases, as the poem develops, this original occasion is joined by the other occasions out of which poetry arises: the insight, the emotion, the life moment, and the artistic motivation.

The way this convergence of occasions can inform the creative writing classroom, and the way it does take shape in The Writing Moment, is through the composition of exercises that immerse students in this mix of occasions. For example, The Writing Moment opens with the section “Working with the Image” in which four variations on, “Write the poem you are forbidden to write,” are used to move students to compose with different aspects of the image.

This approach has benefits for new poets, poetry teachers, and veteran poets alike. Old hands can brush up on craft while exploring new terrain. For teachers, this modular approach, which promotes the mixing and matching of different topics, tools, techniques, and traditions, provides an almost limitless set of productive writing exercises. Finally, new poets are introduced to this wide range of topics and tools in a way that encourages attention to craft and really sparks the imagination. The key I’ve found is underpinning the exercise with a provocative request. I mean, what’s the poem you’re forbidden to write?

What has been one of the most profound convergences that you’ve written about?

Though they might not be profound, two convergences have profoundly consumed me: the meeting of the poem and the non-poem, and the meeting of the image and the word.

My first encounter with the convergence of the poem and the non-poem was in Robert Kroetsch works like The Ledger and Seed Catalogue, works that really spoke to me both as a farm kid and as someone who grew up in a generation obsessed with and inundated by all sorts of media and mediums. Kroetsch’s work really inspired me to find the lyric in the non-lyric languages of everything from poker to porn, and to explore how non-lyric forms like the MAD fold-in or encyclopaedia could reshape the poem.

My obsession with the convergence of the image and the word, then, grew organically out of this first obsession. My first big step in this direction arose out of necessity. In the early 2000s, while trawling the underbelly of the internet, I chanced upon a video of a man shooting himself in a police station and I was shattered. I started writing a poem to find balance and I knew I needed to work this man’s image into the language of the poem in order to honestly bear witness to this experience and to our time and, I hoped, to bring dignity to a person’s death whose “shock” was presented as entertainment. This poem appeared in Predicting and spurred the mixed media elegies I wrote for Mourner’s.

In The Writing Moment, while you use previously published poems, most of your examples for analysis are your students’ “poems in process.” I really enjoyed reading your students’ work. It created an intimacy for me that I haven’t experienced with other textbooks. Why did you decide to use these “poems in process”?

I wanted to foreground the idea that we are all poets and can all learn to write insightful and moving and mind-bending poems. Also, too often poets just starting out think that poetry begins and ends as a single moment of perfect inspiration and expression. This misapprehension results in either frustration with the process or, worse, the total block and turning away from poetry. My job in The Writing Moment, and in my teaching more generally, is to emphasize the raggedy “in process” as a necessary aspect of creation.

Having been a participant in your poetry workshops, I know how passionate you are about teaching. Your “writing moments” took our poetry to fresh places, and we all left feeling exhilarated. Your enthusiasm for teaching poetry also comes through strongly in The Writing Moment. How does teaching poetry compare with writing poetry?

Thank you for the kind words, Esther, about the workshop and The Writing Moment. Your use of the word “enthusiasm” makes me suddenly picture myself as the anti-Larry David. I wonder if I should just scrap the novel altogether and pitch a classroom-based sitcom to the CBC: Intensify Your Enthusiasm? Escalate Your Enthusiasm?

In terms of comparing the two, writing poetry and teaching poetry are united by an incredible interactive and improvisational quality. How this plays out in both, though, is very different. With poetry, this happens while writing—the rush of the interaction with language and other poets and the world and the improvisation that arises as you don’t know what will happen one line to the next. By contrast, teaching preparation is more like the time spent reading other poems, thinking about poetry, talking about poetry, and so on, whereas the classroom experience—sharing ideas and insights, asking questions, taking questions, spurring discussion—is more like the act of actually writing the poem, the wonderful moment where the interaction and the improvisation occurs. The classroom is a sort of collaborative poem that takes no single form and has no end.

In The Writing Moment, one of your writing exercises asks the readers to “compose a manifesto poem in which you state the motives and goals of your writing.” In this moment, would you write a “poem in process” stating your current motives and goals for writing?

Awesome question! Okay, the muses are not totally cooperating, so I am going to cheat and offer a quatrain from a poem I composed two years ago, “Ballad of the Follower.” This ballad is the final part of a long poem I wrote during my last twenty-four hours on the recently sold family farm. The Puritan published the poem online, so you can read it in full here. I have tweaked the quatrain so it reads like an oath, giving it a bit more manifesto-esque verve:

“I will not follow followers;
I’ll follow following.
The fallow path’s within the path
and flowers the fringes string.”

The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems is a must-own book for both emerging and established poets. I would also recommend this book as a textbook choice for post-secondary creative writing courses. For more information on Daniel Scott Tysdal, and to order his books and see his upcoming workshop schedule, please visit his website: danielscotttysdal.com.

Esther Griffin teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various anthologies, and she is currently pursuing her Optional Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.Visit her website at www.esthergriffin.ca

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