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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Throwback Thursday: An Interview with Johanna Skibsrud

picture of Johanna Skibsrud

PRISM is delving into the archives for a Throwback Thursday! We went back to 2010 for Cara Woodruff’s interview with Johanna Skibsrud, whose latest novel, Quartet for the End of Timewas released this month. Enjoy! 

Cara Woodruff, one of PRISM international’s former Fiction Editors, talked with Johanna about her Giller win and her upcoming projects.

With her novel The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud became the youngest writer ever to win the Giller Prize. Though she is only 30, Johanna, has an accomplished list of publications, including her coveted novel and two poetry collections, I Do Not Think I Could Love a Human Being, Gaspereau 2010, and Late Nights With Wild Cowboys, Gaspereau 2008 (shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award).

Johanna, congratulations on the Giller Prize for The Sentimentalists! I was fortunate to have a copy before the shortlist was announced. Your win has been celebrated across the country, and apparently the world—you said your mother was on a bus in Turkey when the announcement was made. Where are you now?

I’m back in Paris, now. I’ll be living here for about six months, working on my dissertation. I’m working toward my PhD in English Literature from Université de Montréal, which has a connection with the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III—one of my supervisors is a professor here.

You’ve said that you wanted to explore memory in the novel and the way things below the surface shape the surface. The narrator’s father, Napoleon Haskell, a veteran of Vietnam, remembers everything—songs, poems, movie dialogue, events—just in the wrong order. What interested you about examining memory in this way?

I really like what Sarah Selecky said in the Giller panel interview a couple of weeks ago—she said that people often ask her if her stories are true—if the things that she writes about “really happened” to her. She replies that “nothing is fact, and everything is true.” I think most of the time we experience our lives in this way – the idea that there is a real order or an objective point or perspective from which we can organize our memories or experience is an impossible one for me. I think our entire experience is a process of sifting through and rearranging the “facts” in order to come up with something that “rings true” for us. This is what literature is, too—just a more concentrated form of it.

After he has begun to open up to the narrator about his experiences in Vietnam, Napoleon quotes from a Keith Douglas poem (which you include in its entirety at the end of the novel): “Remember me when I am dead/ and simplify me when I am dead.” This comforts the narrator because it makes her feel that everything isn’t “such a big mystery after all.” Throughout the “Vietnam” section and the Epilogue, you explore the danger and the necessity in the simplification that occurs when we mine the past for details and facts from which we hope to know something, when really we can only get versions of truths, or stories. Can you talk more about this idea?

It’s really tricky. I think that there needs to be a space of reflection and critical thinking in our politics that just doesn’t exist. It has been relegated to the academy and the arts, and I think that’s become a huge problem for us. My title—The Sentimentalists—is purposefully ambiguous. I wanted it, and the book as a whole, to generate some reflection on the manner in which we necessarily simplify our experiences in order to process them—on a very small, as well as on a very large scale. This simplification, sentimentalization or its opposite, can be very, very dangerous, but it is also our only tool for understanding one another, as well. What is literature—what is a conversation with your best friend—but a necessary simplification of all the complicated feelings and impressions that you have that you can’t possibly begin to share or explain—even to yourself. I don’t pretend to offer any answers as to how we can begin to navigate the distance between that dangerous simplification and the vital, generative kind, but I do think that it is necessary to think about that in-between space of our perception and understanding of our world and one another. Fiction is a really good vehicle for exploring that space. History has a hard time getting in there. So does politics—at least the way we’ve been practicing it so far.

You’ve been out of the country since you won the Giller, and you’ve remained quiet about the controversy surrounding Gaspereau—for not being able to produce enough books to respond to the “Giller effect.” What has that been like for you?

I am really happy about the deal with Douglas and MacIntyre; it seems that everyone’s interests—Gaspereau’s, my own, and, most importantly, the reader’s—interests are being met through this agreement. But I never doubted that a solution would be arrived at. I admire Gaspereau precisely for the values that made a mass printing of my book on demand impossible for them post-Giller—they took the time that was necessary in order to make a considered decision, and arrived at a terrific solution. They knew that I was very much in favour of making the book more widely available and took that into account. Not many publishers take their authors’ personal feelings into account when they make their business decisions, and I feel really grateful to Gaspereau Press for that. If there was something that made me sad, it was the way that the media was so eager to write the story that they wanted to write that they twisted some things that I said to make it seem as if there was this “good guy, bad guy” story. It was never like that—it never is. But most people are smart enough to know that, and overall, I’m not too bothered by the whole thing.

You wrote The Sentimentalists (or began it) as your thesis for Concordia University’s Creative Writing Program. How did that program help your writing at that time? What was the process of completing The Sentimentalists after Concordia?

The Concordia program had allowed me the freedom to devote myself to my writing and that wasn’t possible after I graduated, so the book sat around for a couple of years before I was able to get back to it again. I think that waiting period was good for it, though—because when I went back to it, I was able to unflinchingly raze it to the ground and then begin building it back up again—that’s what it needed. I am really grateful to the assistance of grants that I received in 2007—one from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage and one from the Canada Council—which allowed me to return to the project full time. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the novel without them.

You also write poetry. Do you work in the two genres simultaneously? Do you have a preference?

More or less simultaneously. Working on a novel won’t stop me from writing poems, but I can only really concentrate on one major project at a time. I don’t have a preference. In fact, I don’t think that there is really a clear line for me where one ends and the other begins. To me, they are part of the same thing—just some things just work themselves out better in poetry and some things better in prose.

Are you willing to talk a bit about what you’re working on now?

Sure. Right now I am editing a collection of short stories and working on a second novel. The novel takes place in between the two world wars in the United States. A lot of the themes that emerge in The Sentimentalists emerge again: memory, guilt, responsibility.

Who do you love to read? What are you reading now?

My favourite things to read are poetry and philosophy—but of course I like novels, too. Right now I am reading Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting, and Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster.

You’ve been living between Paris and Montreal for the past couple years. How do those cities influence your writing?

Actually, this is the first time that I’ve been able to spend any extended amount of time in Paris. I love this city. I could walk and walk for hours here, and I do. I also spend a lot of time in art museums—I have an incredible tolerance for long museum visits—the Louvre on Friday nights, the Beaubourg anytime. I think this influences my writing, certainly. I have a lot fewer friends, and a lot more time to just walk around and look at things in Paris, and that has got to affect my writing. Montreal has been the place that I have done most of my concentrated writing, though. I wrote the first draft of The Sentimentalists there and then returned to Montreal when I got my grant in 2007 and finished it there. I feel good in Montreal—it’s an easy place to feel good in and I like it for that. It’s easy to write when you feel good.

Favourite place to go in Paris? Montreal?

Parc Monceau in Paris, Parc Lafontaine in Montreal.

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Prompt: Back From the Grave

Misty-GraveyardSo All Hallows’ Eve is almost upon us… And I thought that the prompt should be suitable to the season.

Today’s prompt is a character exercise, and all you’ll need is a newspaper. Take a pen and paper and turn to the obituaries. Now scan through until you find three names that catch your eye. Note their name, date of birth and death, and any other information given.

Now think about the dates of birth and death. What did this person live through? What landmark events? What change? What music did they grow up listening to? What films did they grow up watching? Consider what was happening in the world around them, and how this may have influenced them. Start with educated guesses, and once you feel a character beginning to form, branch out to invented ones.

Once you have an idea of your three characters (oh, and I recommend name changes!) place them in a setting together. For today, that is a graveyard, and these characters are watching their own funerals…

Good luck!

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PRISM international’s contest prize package increases to become the largest offered by a Canadian literary magazine!

golden-quillPRISM International is excited to announce that we are increasing the first-place prizes for our Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction writing contests! PRISM made this decision in order to equalize the prizes for our three writing contests. We believe that writers of all forms are equally important and in need of support, and we are delighted that our contests now reflect that.

Our combined prize package of $7500 is now the largest offered by a literary magazine in Canada! Winners of the Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Non-Fiction contests will now receive $2000 for first place, $300 for first runner-up and $200 for second runner-up. Previously, the winner of the Poetry contest received $1,000, and the Creative Non-Fiction contest offered a $1,500 first prize.

This makes our Creative Non-Fiction prize the highest offered by a Canadian literary magazine, and the deadline is November 21st, 2014. The deadline for both the Fiction and Poetry contests is January 23, 2015. More details can be found online at

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Vavuniya via Anuradhapura by Michael Lockett, in Photos

PRISM 53.1 features Michael Lockett’s poem “Vavuniya via Anuradhapura”, in which the speaker travels by bus through Sri Lanka, taking in the sights, sounds and history of the country. Michael Lockett himself traveled to Sri Lanka in 2008, and in addition to writing poems, took some stunning photographs. Today we share a selection of those photos with you, along with commentary from Michael on both the photos and the poem.

While traveling through Sri Lanka I used Michael Ondaatje’s Handwriting as a kind of travel guide. Without that source I mightn’t’ve encountered some of the places I found most appealing, Mihintale for instance.

Bike - Michael Lockett

“Bike” – Vavuniya, Northern Province, Sri Lanka – © Michael Lockett

Attempting a reconciliation of images gleaned from poetry with the island itself was a challenging experience — there was much that cohered and clashed and confused.

Goat - Michael Lockett

“Goat” – Galle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka – © Michael Lockett

And regardless of the perspective I’d assume, reader or traveler, writer or photographer, there was, of course, much that was inaccessible.

Rain - Michael Lockett

“Rain” – Nuwara Eliya, Central Province, Sri Lanka – © Michael Lockett

I tried to replicate that tension between curiosity and inaccessibility through photography by playing with framing and focus, and within the poem, primarily by positioning the speaker as one eager to observe yet hesitant to infer.

Window - Michael Lockett

“Window” – Vavuniya, Northern Province, Sri Lanka – © Michael Lockett

- Michael Lockett

Pick up a copy of PRISM 53.1 in our online store or at a bookstore near you to read Michael Lockett’s poem “Vavuniya via Anuradhapura.”

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Birney/Purdy Letters Excerpt #4: “Lash and goad and liberal applications of Mace.”

we go far backIn celebration of the publication of We Go Far Back in Time (a new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy) and in preparation for The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition, PRISM international and Harbour Publishing have partnered to present you four excerpts from the Birney/Purdy letters throughout October. With the Al Purdy Show only a day away (buy last minute tickets here), we now bring you the last of our excerpts. We hope you enjoyed the series–if you missed any of the posts, click here to view them all. If you’re in Vancouver we would love to see you tomorrow at the big event!

A note from Nicholas Bradley, editor of We Go Far Back in Time, on this excerpt:
In this selection of letters from 1968, Earle Birney and Al Purdy are busy with various projects and preoccupied by violent events in the United States and Canada. Purdy’s time is also taken up by household obligations. Al and Eurithe Purdy hosted dozens of writers, young and old, at their A-frame house during their decades in Ameliasburgh. “The shack,” as Birney called it in a poem, was a hub of writerly conversation and is now a Canadian literary landmark, preserved for writers’ residencies by the Al Purdy A-Frame Association.

A note from Rob Taylor, PRISM Poetry Editor: These letters were pre-selected by Nicholas and me in September for publication today, and their selection has no connection with the shooting in Ottawa earlier this week. That the “thickening atmosphere of violence” Birney described 46 years ago, and his reference to threats to the Canadian Prime Minister, seem so prescient today is a stunning demonstration of how cycles repeat themselves. They’re also a reminder of how valuable it is for us to study our past in order to better see our way forward.


To Al Purdy (Ameliasburgh, Ontario) from Earle Birney (Vancouver, British Columbia)
June 20, 1968

Well Al here we are back & not far from where you were staying in the winter of 65–66 & my Ikuko days. Wonder have you sold the Ameliasburg cottage yet. I heard some kind of rumour you had bought somewhere else?? Must be the place you mentioned in your May letter “a far northern farm.” Whatddyumean, Baffinland? Is yr Selected Poems out from Anansi yet? My selected-selected, Memory No Servant, came out, 2 copies at least, from John Gill’s press last week. & I’m expecting him out here in a couple of weeks with several hundred more copies, a wife, 2 kids, & a tent.
           Any more word of Acorn’s Charlottetown paper? — sounds like a lead-balloon for sure, a hippy mag in Charlottetown, especially if edited by a politically committed nut like Acorn. Even with Ginsberg it couldn’t go in PEI.
           Since I drove up here I’ve been unpacking, settling in, & trying (as ever) to catch up with letter backlog, esp. corresp. with Australia-NZ arranging what is turning out to be a fantastically tricky itinerary & lecture schedule. Won’t bore you with the details. Anyway, what I started to say was I haven’t literally seen one damned soul or even saved soul I know in this town yet or even phoned anybody — I must finish writing people before I can see them! Something wrong with that as a way of life, I admit.
           Are you going on a reading tour, then, for McClelland and Stewart? For nothing, as usual? At least Belleville gave you a 5-buck bottle. I wish to hell you thought more of yourself than that as it makes it impossible for anybody else to charge, & so removes one of the few sources of income for really young poets (like me).
           I’m hoping to be back in Toronto for about a week on July 2 or 3 — will you be in earshot? I hope so. Maybe by then I’ll have dug the Vancouver scene a bit & have news at least.
           Will send you a copy of Memory No Servant for your collection (it doesn’t have anything new in it, as Gill wanted to stick to the tried & true).
           I was glad to get out of the USA. The thickening atmosphere of violence, ignorance, hate, stupidity, mutual brainwashing. The day of Kennedy’s funeral my daughter-in-law got us up at 6 a.m. to watch and weep on color tv, & so on thru the day (if I’d strung along). 2 days later, in Oregon, I stopped to visit old friends, a poet, & found myself in the midst of a family breakup & a suicide attempt by the wife which I was able to frustrate, without knowing, for a long 20 seconds, if I were going to get killed for trying. Well maybe it’s only a time-lag of a difference up here & Trudeau’s killer perhaps already has his gun.

Take it easy. Send me yr news.


To Earle Birney (Vancouver, British Columbia) from Al Purdy (Ameliasburgh, Ontario)
June 26, 1968

Dear Earle:
I am very interested in your news, but will not comment on it much, since I am so goddam busy. Except for the bit about you being in Toronto. There will be a party for my book at Anansi right around that time. Send Toronto address quick, if any.
           We bought a farm 20 miles from Bancroft — price $3,500., which includes a small lake, a house (about six rooms) and 200 acres with 40 cleared.
           Yep, I want my dog-eared annotated copy of Birney’s new book.
           I have undertaken to edit Acorn’s selected poems for Ryerson and signed a contract with them. Acorn has amazingly given me carte blanche.
           People from high school came to cottage when I was away with another 26 of Scotch, and when I wasn’t here drank some and left the rest. This is my full fee. Okay, I am a sellout. But they flattered the shit outa me, and as you know I am a pushover for flattery.
           Eurithe is driving me with lash and goad and liberal applications of Mace to get the cottage repaired and otherwise fit for foreign tenancy.
           I agree about Trudeau. I think some FLQ or RIN is liable to gun him down. I enclose my piece on Kennedy in Star Weekly, and mentally composing poem obit for Trudeau. Jesus tho, I hope not.
           I am also correcting proofs of New Romans at intervals. Also high school antho. Also Annettes. Also the McClelland and Stewart book. I am damn near crazy! Acorn yet to come. Birney book also.
           Did you actually feel the atmosphere you describe in U.S.? The suicide thing is ghastly. Corpses being hit by typewriter keys. Turn over every red fallen autumn leaf and there is another dead man, still bleeding. A host of golden daffodils. I do not intend to start feeling guilty as a member of the human race, but still, won’t the remnants after the next big bomb be complex and psychosis ridden?

Must stop. Best,


Excerpts from We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1987, edited by Nicholas Bradley, appear with the permission of Harbour Publishing. © 2014 Nicholas Bradley, Eurithe Purdy, and Wailan Low. The excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.

The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition is a PRISM international-sponsored event happening on October 26th as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest. All funds raised at the event will go directly to the Al Purdy A-Frame Association. Click here for tickets and more information.

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The Al Purdy Show at the Vancouver Writer’s Festival

writerfestPRISM international is excited for The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition! The event is a PRISM international-sponsored event happening on October 26th as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest.

It’s a special afternoon of comedy, poetry, talk, film and storytelling in celebration of Canadian poet Al Purdy, and the A-Frame Association—the effort dedicated to restoring Purdy’s house and encouraging a new generation of Canadian writers.

It’s hosted by writer and stand-up comedian Charlie Demers, who also happens to be the judge for PRISM‘s Creative Non-Fiction contest. The event is a who’s who of Canadian writers including Ken Babstock, our Poetry contest judge, George BoweringColin Browne, Brad CranMichael CrummeyMaxine GaddAislinn HunterDaphne MarlattBilleh Nickerson, Sina Queyras, Sharon ThesenFred Wah and Howard White. Among them is our very own Poetry Editor Rob Taylor, who will be going to the A-Frame Association residency in 2015—the first person from the West Coast to do so.

There will also be a silent auction fundraiser , including rare Purdy books, Purdy memorabilia, bundles of signed books by the readers, signed broadsides, and more. PRISM is a promotional sponsor of the event with the Purdy posts, and every performing will be leaving with a beautiful PRISM tote bag.

All funds raised at the event will go directly to the Al Purdy A-Frame Association. Click here for tickets and more information.

If you’d like some reading to get you in the mood for the Al Purdy Show, PRISM international and Harbour Publishing have partnered to present you four excerpts from We Go Far Back in Timea new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy. You can read all the posts in the same place here.

And if you’d like a more visual teaser, here’s a promo video from the Toronto Edition of the Al Purdy Show:

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