PRISM 52:4 Summer 2014, the Fiction and Poetry Contest Issue

524_storePRISM 52:4 launches this week! It features the winners of PRISM’s 2014 Fiction Contest, judged by Joseph Boyden. “This is How I Remember You,” the fiction grand prize winner and debut publication for Cathy Kozak, looks at what happens when the past and present collide after an unexpected phone call. Kathy Friedman’s “Bad Things,” the contest’s runner-up, explores mortality and sexuality, with a stop-off at Rambo roleplaying.

The issue’s fiction also includes new work by Journey Prize nominee Trevor Corkum, who writes about the apocalypse from the perspective of a call centre employee, and Julie Paul, who takes take a witty look at neighbours, parenthood, and backyard critters in “Squirrel People.” “Squirrel People” will also be included in her forthcoming story collection, The Pull of the Moon (Brindle & Glass, September 30th, 2014).

Issue 52.4 also features an abundance of poetry: twenty-four poems by eighteen different poets, led by Jordan Mounteer’s PRISM 2014 Poetry Contest winning poem, “Mt. Misen.” The diverse content in the poems takes us from a Chinese copper mine (“Monywa Copper Mines,” Elise Marcella Godfrey) to a milk-drenched highway (“Milk,” David L. White), to a muffin-laden hospital cafeteria (“In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias,” Susan Elmslie). The poetry also travels in terms of the diversity of its writers, from Canadians both well known (Kate Braid, Susan Gillis) and up-and-coming (Jess Knowles, Vincent McGillivray), to a suite of Tennessee-connected poets specially gathered together by Issue 52.4 poetry editor, and former Tennessee resident, Zach Mattheson. Melissa Tyndall, Sienna Finney and Leslie Angel show us that the Volunteer State is flush with poetry talent.

On the nonfiction side, Jessamyn Hope’s personal essay “The Reverse” centres around a diving practice in 1980s Quebec, while Janice McCachen’s “La Fille à Bicyclette” retells the story of a prisoner and a bicycle during the Second World War. Pick up your copy today to check out these great pieces!

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The End.

Photograph: Tetra Images/Alamy

Photograph: Tetra Images/Alamy

We all know about the importance of opening lines – they’ve got to have a hook, catch your attention, and propel you on to the next sentence… and the next.

But what about closing lines? I find opening lines easy, but a good closing can cause many drafts and much agonising. It has to be satisfying, but not too on-the-nose; it has to enlighten but not act as a big reveal (it was all a dream…). Good closing lines tie a story together and linger in your mind – and often will hint at another story, or a new one, or bring you to a whole new place.

It’s the latter effect that is going to be our prompt for today, and we’re going to use some closing lines as opening ones. Try this first with your own work: gather your last three poems or stories and look at the closing lines. Now, take that last sentence and put it right at the top of your page… and let your writing lead from there. Try to think about the sentence in a brand new context, not as a continuation of the poem or story. What does it conjure up by itself? What beginning does this ending inspire?

If you don’t want to use your own work, here are some good last lines that can start you off…

Out, Ronald Sukenick

this way this way this way this way this way this way this
way out this
way out

 To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace

“You can trust me,” R.V. said, watching her hand. “I’m a man of my

(And no, that last word isn’t missing…)

Good luck!

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An interview with Kate Braid

Kate BraidInterview by Rob Taylor

Our Poetry Editor Rob Taylor speaks to PRISM contributor Kate Braid about her poem “I Seem to Have Come to the Start of Something But I Don’t Know What”, which appears in PRISM international‘s 52.4 issue.

Kate talks about grandchildren, personae and, of course, poetry…


Rob: The title of this poem is an altered version of the opening line of Charles Wright’s poem “Last Supper”. You nod to this with your epigraph for the poem (“with thanks to Charles Wright for “Last Supper”). Is the one borrowed line the only link you see between the two poems, or are there other things you think you borrowed from “Last Supper” (or from Wright) which went into this poem, and for which you are thankful?

Kate: Wright’s was one of those gift poems. When I read it I’d just learned my son Kevin and his wife had had a daughter and suddenly I was that mythological creature, a grandmother. But Kevin isn’t technically my son so his daughter wasn’t (technically) my granddaughter. Or was she? I’d lived with him and his dad since Kevin was seven and when he said, “We have a daughter,” every cell in my body realigned and I was a grandmother. Or was I? Really? What struck me about Wright’s poem, especially that first line, was the vulnerability of it though the whole poem has the feeling of groping and in the end, not being sure of any “right” answer, just as I was feeling at the time – rich and vulnerable and fragile.

Your borrowing (with credit) the title of your poem made me think about other forms and poems out there which borrow in one way or another (found poems, centos, glosas, erasures, etc.). These kinds of “remixes” are very popular right now, and I was wondering about your thoughts on them. Do you think all borrowing is good? Are there limits or conditions that should be met when borrowing? And if there are limits, where do you, personally, draw the line?

Isaac Newton said, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” Anyone’s work that inspires us is a gift and it’s always been important to me to acknowledge when I can, exactly whose shoulders I’m on at any particular moment. This is deeply important in traditional societies. Buddhists begin conversations by stating their lineage – who their teachers were. First Nations and indigenous cultures are similar.

So I’m fine with “borrowing” as long as lineage is acknowledged – as glosas and many other forms do, as many poets like Jordan Abel did in Place of Scraps where he “erased” the words of Franz Boaz who’d previously helped “erase” Jordan’s traditional First peoples. In cases like that, borrowing can work like the best of forms, its power increasing the power of the whole, as a beautiful vase increases the beauty of a bouquet.

But erasure, or “borrowing,” or the thousand other clever words for it, makes me very nervous when it doesn’t acknowledge its source. Some poets don’t even acknowledge which phrases are borrowed. That feels arrogant and disrespectful to me – not clever at all.

Which isn’t even to approach the issue that we used to call the uncredited use of other people’s work, “plagiarism.” As writers, what right do we have to ask for copyright, to ask acknowledgement (and payment) from others who use our work, if we’re not willing to do the same?

“I seem to have come…” is such a lovely, intimate and (seemingly) personal poem. I hesitate always, though, to read a poem as being “true” – how the heck am I supposed to know, really? Still, it’s inevitable that readers will interpret a poem as referring to the real life of the author. In your writing you’ve produced both largely biographical books (Turning Left to the Ladies) and books which are clearly more imagined/fictional (A Well Mannered Storm, Inward to the Bones). Do you put much thought into how “true” a reader might find a given poem? Do you find value in people thinking your poems are “real” and about the “real you”? Is it at times a hindrance?

One of the things I love about poetry is that I’ve always assumed it didn’t have to be “true,” that I could make it up. On the other hand, granted the challenges of memory and individual experience, I’m rigorous about “truth” when writing non-fiction. There, if the “deeper truth” can’t be conveyed with the facts as accurately as I can get them, or can’t be suggested with other techniques, (“The conversation might have gone something like this….”) then I hold it should be billed as fiction. Even in poetry when I take on personas – Emily Carr, Georgia O’Keeffe, Glenn Gould – I do my homework: I spent two years researching O’Keeffe, four with Gould.

As you say, it’s fascinating how readers want to know what’s “real” and what’s not. I honour that. I think it’s part of staying balanced in this topsy-turvy world. It’s saying, what can I trust? What can I learn from someone else’s (real) experience?

To answer your question more directly: in poetry, I assume people know I’m playing with facts while aiming at a deeper truth. (Don’t all poets say that?) I actually prefer people not to think the poems are about me.  I like being hidden.

Looking back over your last few poetry books, I realise just how themed they are (poem on construction work, or Glenn Gould, or Georgia O’Keefe/Emily Carr), and, by comparison, how unthemed “I seem to have come…” appears to be. Could you speak more about your next book, however embryonic it may be, and how you think this poem might (or might not) fit into it?

Ah, you are a careful reader! Looking over my recent poems, I’m a bit alarmed to find I’m writing more personally, neither behind the mask of another or out of my experience as a carpenter – which also became a sort of persona. I feel far more vulnerable about these poems than any I’ve written before. Funny, how as I write, I keep having to find new kinds of courage….


Pick up a copy of PRISM international 52.4 to read Kate’s poem “I Seem to Have Come to the Start of Something But I Don’t Know What”. For more of Kate’s work and writing, go to her website, or pick up some of her books at Caitlin Press.


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Going Down Swinging: New Slang

It’s time for our July 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 slang and what makes and breaks it…


“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”

— Regina George, ‘Mean Girls’

 “Slang,” as the Bard once said, “is some wicked sick shit.”

There’s a chance those weren’t Shakespeare’s words exactly, but he has been credited with creating a whole bunch of weird words. While it plays to our romanticism of him as a literary genius, it’s unlikely that he just sat around all day ruminating on words for things we now take for granted. Instead, our friend Common Usage is most likely to blame (or praise). And that’s the best way of understanding slang, too.

Slang words exist in a nice halfway house between being understood (as in, not gibberish) and being reputable (as in, a word your grandparents or the Oxford English Dictionary might use). As long as a piece of slang can comfortably chillax* within this space, it’s got the right starting point. But there are plenty of other words that aren’t slang.

The study of language is by definition pedantic, and so it’s worth noting that slang isn’t to be confused with euphemisms, colloquialisms or jargon. These three have their own specific purposes, and although they sometimes share characteristics with slang, they also do their own thang*.

Jargon is the easiest to spot. It has the cliquey* nature of slang, but with greater formality and less fluidity, and therefore less chance to be adopted by demographics outside the original.

Euphemisms have all the colour of slang, but less of the practicality. They’re coy words substituted in for unpleasant or embarrassing realities – compared to slang, which sometimes brashly confronts taboo topics.

Colloquialisms are broader than slang, and typically specific to geographical locations. Often forming just a part of informal speech, colloquialisms can be quite confusing to outsiders, such as in America, where they call pizza ‘pie’.

Knowing all of the above now, you must have a good understanding of what slang is. Nope*. Turns out it’s more complex than that.

While the criminal underground isn’t known for its contribution to language, it’s a good example of the genesis of slang terms. In the underground, slang words are developed so that speakers can talk about things like drugs, felonies and weapons without the risk of being understood by others who aren’t a part of their culture. As stated by social media scientist Dan Zarrella, “subcultures often create terms to describe things that mainstream society does not have words for, or does not have words conveying specific enough meanings for.”

freaks and geeksAnother subculture, and only slightly less criminal, is teenagers. While risking sounding like an old fart*, the exponential growth of teenagers and technology seems to contribute to the development of new slang words every day. A study conducted on students at the University of Botswana found that, in contrast to conlangs, slang deliberately aims to lower “the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing” – if only temporarily.

More important than any subversion however, is that slang, especially for teenagers, can quickly and easily identify what subgroup the speaker belongs (or wants to belong) to – showing whether they’re hip* or whether they’re hella fatass lamer newfag*.

It’s also worth noting that most slang words aren’t completely new creations. More commonly they are repurposings, where old words are given new meanings. And there are many different ways to do this, as Zarrella points out in the following list:

  • Changing the class of a word, like using an adjective in place of an adverb
  • Metaphor: using imagery to designate something
  • Metonymy: designation of something by one of its parts
  • Polysemy and synonymy: playing on the multiple meanings of words
  • Derivation or resuffixation of existing words with popular suffixes
  • Truncation: either of the ending of a word or the beginning
  • Abbreviation (although I’d personally question if these are true slang)
  • Loan words from other languages

Source: ‘How and Why Slang Spreads’, Dan Zarrella.


There are plenty of logical, scientific and bland reasons behind why we use slang, but the one illuminated by G. K. Chesterton is the most appealing – that is, slang is beautiful. He uses one example of “breaking the ice”, and says:

If this were expanded into a sonnet, we should have before us a dark and sublime picture of an ocean of everlasting ice, the sombre and baffling mirror of the Northern nature, over which men walked and danced and skated easily, but under which the living waters roared and toiled fathoms below.

So, with all the ways to make slang happen, and all the options and subgroups available, why did Gretchen’s ‘fetch’ fail? Forensic linguist Allan Metcalf, whose job title alone would make it worth going back to university for, has developed a method to predict the success of invented words. Just like a linguist, he’s made the five factors needed for this success into the snappy acronym FUDGE: including the ‘Frequency’ of how often the new word is used, its ‘Unobtrusiveness’, the ‘Diversity’ of both users and meanings, the word’s ability to ‘Generate’ new meanings and the ‘Endurance’ of the concept behind the word.

Slate gives ‘fetch’ a score on this metric of two out of five, but Gretchen shouldn’t feel too bad: she’s in good company, with plenty of Shakespeare’s own words failing to catch on, as well as a whole book of words that failed to be adopted, made up by a futurist namedFaith Popcorn.

Slang can fail in a different sense too – that is, when it becomes accepted by mainstream culture. The very act strips a word of its ‘slang’ status. While it might seem that the ubiquity of a word is a mark of its success, we know that slang isn’t just about popularity, but rather ownership and group dynamics. If the core group that invented a word no longer uses it, then it’s no longer true slang. And as a broader demographic of people adopt the new terminology without being aware of its roots, the term loses its sharpness of meaning.

There’s no slowing language down though. The Oxford English Dictionary, considered by many as the last word in words, has admitted it can’t even keep up, with the next edition not expected to be completed until 2034.

While some may whinge* about this relentless evolution of language, others are thirsty* to make their own inventions popular. This is all hampered by the general public, who are desperately playing catch-up with any new slang that will help improve their street swag*. The true marker of their success will be a long time coming, however, as only time – and an entry into the Oxford English Dictionary – will show whether a slang word has made it into the English Language, and after then, it may as well be dead.

oxford english dictionary

NB: * = a word that remains or used to be a form of slang.

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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Prompt: A picture says…

As the PRISM editors and I are the hunt for our next issue cover (yes, already!), I’ve been coming across more and more interesting and inspiring images. So today I have a visual prompt for you! A picture says a thousand words, as we know, but it inspires a million more.

Take a look at the photos below for about 30 seconds each. This is a free writing exercise, so after you take in the photo, just write about whatever comes into your head. You can time yourself and write for two minutes, or just aim to write a full page without stopping.

Do this for each photo, and then do the same for all three photos together. Think of the three photos together and see what connections you come up with it; think of the story that these images together can create.

Photograph: Reuters

Photograph: Reuters

Photograph: Reuters

Photograph: Reuters

(I’ve actually visited this indoor resort in Germany, it’s pretty wild.)

Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

If you liked this exercise, then I find the Guardian’s Twenty Photographs of the Week series, which is where I came across these images.

Good luck!

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Jessamyn Hope’s diving photos

In PRISM 52:4, Jessamyn Hope writes about her experiences as a diver in the personal essay “The Reverse.” She was kind enough to share some photos related to the piece.

“My short memoir “The Reverse” takes place during a diving practice in 1988, when I finally let go of the notion that I could do anything. These pictures of me in my team swimsuit were taken by a fashion photographer shortly before that diving practice. If I were thirteen years old today, with the way we snap and share photos, there would be thousands of pictures of me in my team swimsuit, but these are all I have.

My whole childhood I had wanted to be an actress, and the photographer who used to shoot my uncle Tony’s modeling pictures offered to take some headshots of me for free. My uncle Tony had died a few years earlier at the age of thirty-three of a highly aggressive form of lymphatic cancer, and she was doing this in his memory.

Uncle Tony

A comp card the photographer made of Tony.

My mom drove me from our house in the suburban West Island of Montreal to the photographer’s studio, which was in a converted industrial building downtown. I had never been in such a building, and I rode the large service elevator filled with film equipment, and walked down the hallway, past the doors to all sorts of artists’ studios, thinking this was the world I wanted to be a part of.

I was asked to bring a swimsuit for the shoot, so I brought the only one I had, the one for my diving team. I got in front of the large white backdrop, under all the beaming studio lights, and froze. I could not relax. In some of the pictures I’m wearing a jean skirt and sweater, some a button-down and jeans, some the diving swimsuit, and in almost all of them a most uncomfortable expression. Whatever confidence and blissful lack of self-consciousness I had when I first wanted to act, back when I was seven years old and was the twirling flower in Peter Pan’s Neverland, wasn’t all gone, but almost, and what was left was disappearing fast.

"I was asked to bring a swimsuit for the shoot, so I brought the only one I had, the one for my diving team. I got in front of the large white backdrop, under all the beaming studio lights, and froze."

“I was asked to bring a swimsuit for the shoot, so I brought the only one I had, the one for my diving team. I got in front of the large white backdrop, under all the beaming studio lights, and froze.”

The photographer took enough pictures for there to be a few good ones, and a couple of weeks later my mother and I showed them to an agent or some other gatekeeper in the industry, a person I had learned about through a friend in drama school. This gatekeeper looked at the pictures and said I had a chance if I lost ten pounds. “Ten pounds!” my mom said to the agent. “No way! I’m not going to allow my daughter to lose a single pound!” This led to a huge fight between my mother and me. I yelled at her that I wished I had a different kind of mom, a more supportive stage mother, one that would do more than just drive me
to auditions.

I didn’t know at the time that my mom had cancer and was going to die soon. I had no idea that she’d been diagnosed with cancer the same year her brother Tony died and had been fighting it on and off throughout my childhood. When it came back for a third time that winter, and she could feel it eating at her spine, she didn’t even tell my dad. She didn’t want to go through all the treatments again for nothing. So she kept it to herself, while trying to pack into the little time she had left enough parenting to last me through my teens and beyond.

"The self-consciousness I acquired in those tween years, which prevented me from performing for the camera that afternoon, never went away."

“The self-consciousness I acquired in those tween years, which prevented me from performing for the camera that afternoon, never went away.”

I never did become an actress. The self-consciousness I acquired in those tween years, which prevented me from performing for the camera that afternoon, never went away. It’s all right. The thing that made me want to be an actress wasn’t the audience or the snapping of a camera; it was the chance to pretend that I was Little Orphan Annie or Anne of Green Gables. More than anything I wanted to be a part of a great story, and now what I do as a writer is try to create those great stories. Today I’m so into the creation of stories that it’s hard for me to imagine wanting to be anything but a writer. As it turns out, self-consciousness can be a wonderful asset to a writer, especially the memoirist.

To read my short memoir “The Reverse” check out PRISM 52:4.”

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Theatre Review: “Cymbeline” at Bard on the Beach

Anton Lipovetsky, Shawn Macdonald and Benjamin Elliott Photo: David Blue

Anton Lipovetsky, Shawn Macdonald and Benjamin Elliott
Photo: David Blue

Directed by Anita Rochon

Review by Clara Kumagai

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s rarely performed plays, one that has been termed both a tragedy and a romance. It’s a refreshing experience, to see such a Shakespearean play, without having studied it or mouthing along with some of the soliloquies.

The play is titled after the Cymbeline, King of Britain, whose daughter Imogen sets the play in motion by marrying the wrong man. Posthumous is “beneath” her, Cymbeline declares, and the newly weds must part to escape his royal wrath. But Cymbeline’s Queen is plotting, and war with Rome threatens, and Posthumous and Imogen’s love is tested… It’s a brief synopsis, but it must be because the plot is one that can only be watched; there are kidnapped princes, wagers, disguises, plots, poison, banished lords, battles, misunderstandings; there is hate and love and jealousy. What more could you desire for a night at the theatre?

Despite this dizzying list of plot points, Cymbeline clips along at a fast pace, aided and abetted by the sub-plots, but mostly by its cast. This is what makes this production work so very well—the talented and energetic ensemble. The seven actors, Rachel Cairns, Gerry Mackay, Shawn Macdonald, Anton Lipovetsky, Anousha Alamian, Bob Frazer and Benjamin Elliott, take on all the roles the play demands—and it certainly is demanding. It’s a concept that has been used in productions of Cymbeline, but this cast brings a freshness and originality that makes it a delight to watch. It’s hard to single out individual actors, given how deftly they switch between characters, but Rachel Cairns’ Imogen is a smart, witty and perhaps the only character that does not require redemption. Anton Lipovetsky shines, too, as Posthumous, Cloten and Arviragus (particularly as the detestable Cloten). The music played throughout by the ensemble lends itself well to the play—and it’s worth mentioning that Benjamin Elliott takes on another role as the sound designer and composer.

Director Anita Rochon describes Cymbeline as a “tragedy gone right”, and it’s a fairly accurate description. The play’s intricate and fantastical plot lends it the tone of a romance, or a comedy, which the cast’s doubling or tripling of parts emphasizes wonderfully. The elements of tragedy, though, are often turned into farce, or pantomime villainy, which suits the production’s giddy humour, but at times distracts from questionable moments. The central conflict that comes between Imogen and her husband Posthumous hinges on a wager on her honour and chastity. Posthumous boasts her fidelity and bets that Iachimo (Bob Frazer) cannot seduce her, and so Imogen’s body becomes the main battlefield. Iachimo sneaks into Imogen’s bedchamber and, while she sleeps, finds a mole on her breast—it serves the plot, certainly, but it was startling to find that it was played off as something funny; even more so that the audience found it so.

But that’s Shakespeare; that’s romance and tragedy. Cymbeline is joyous, lively and succeeds with a flourish. I’ll even dare to say that it’s my favourite production of this year’s Bard on the Beach. Fear no more and buy a ticket.

Cymbeline runs until September 17th 2014 as part of Bard on the Beach.

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