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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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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An Interview with andrea bennett

PRISM‘s dashing Poetry Editor Rob Taylor talks to andrea bennett about her new book Canoodlers, and about Florida, food and baby sharks in jars…

There’s a story – andrea bennett

and it happens when I am twelve. There’s the back seat of a car, where my best friend Jane is sitting — I can see her in the rearview. Outside it’s a zoo, according to my mum. Rolling through downtown Hamilton, she says, Some of these people truly belong in cages. She points out the driver’s side window, flicks her fingers at a woman walking. Wouldja look at that, she says, and so I look — crunchy blonde hair, crop top, too-short cut-offs.

Then I say one of those things that emerges from your mouth like a just-born giraffe learning to walk immediately on whatever legs it’s got. It’s just a hop and skip, I say to my mum, between you and her.

In the rearview, a hyena. To my left, a lioness stalking, deciding if now is the time to pounce. That’s the thing, I say to myself. The thing about cages. I get it now.

from Canoodlers
(Nightwood Editions, 2014).
Reprinted with permission.


New Technology #1:  iPhone Mirror Selfie.

New Technology #1:
iPhone Mirror Selfie.

PRISM’s own designer (and former Poetry Editor), andrea bennett, has recently published her first poetry collection, Canoodlers (Nightwood Editions, 2014). Canoodlers is lovely and weird and delightful and sad and sharply written all around, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to ask andrea a few questions about the book. It turns out she answers interview questions with as much skill as she writes poems, and I very much enjoyed our exchange.

andrea has been embracing new technologies of late, as you can see from the two author photos she contributed, so we chatted via hologram (I was Narendra Modi, she was Tupac). Ok, we just emailed each other, but a boy can dream…

Our conversation covered a few of andrea’s preoccupations: prose poems, Florida, food, and keeping it real. Jar-sharks, crocodile backscratchers and James Frey all make cameos. And andrea makes “a confession a poet probably shouldn’t make” in her opening reply. What more could you want from us, people? Right, holograms. Next interview, I promise. Until then: get reading!

The majority of the poems in Canoodlers are prose poems – to the point where I was a bit thrown off each time I encountered a line break. What is it about prose poems that you are drawn to? When writing do you find you have a default style/shape that all your poems start in (i.e. everything starts as a prose poem, but some change, or?), and if so, has that default changed over the years?

I used to write tiny opaque little poems. One of the first poems I ever had published, in The Antigonish Review, was maybe 20 words. I had a habit of writing song poems too, not because I have any musical talent whatsoever, but because I lived for awhile in Guelph, and my friends there were mostly musicians – I used to be very involved with the Kazoo! collective, and I loved those people and that time in my life.

Prose poetry became my metier when I started grad school. This was partially because what I wanted to do with my poetry was capture the rhythm and cadence of the way people spoke in my hometown, and partially because I wanted the interconnections between the words and the images in the poems to be subtle and embedded, rather than polished bright at the beginning or end of a line.

Here’s a confession a poet probably shouldn’t make: I can’t hear metre the way that some people are able to hear metre. It’s not a black and white thing to me. I talk funny, slow and clipped, and my family is from England and Jamaica, and I grew up in Hamilton, and to me, the way people speak is so variable that I don’t get standard metre. So every time I try to write a sonnet sequence, it ends up morphing into prose poetry. (“A Week in the House of What Repute” started off as a seven-sonnet sequence, for example, and turned into a long prose-poem during the editing process because it worked better, and was easier to edit, that way.) I don’t have the gall to fail at formal poetry anywhere past the first draft stage. Occasionally I’ll write a poem that works best with line breaks, but I’m never 100% sure about it.

It’s always good to get those big confessions out of the way right off the bat, isn’t it? Now we can take a deep breath and move on to the really serious topics, like Florida. Florida plays a prominent role in a number of these poems. What is your personal relationship to the place, and when you think about it now, does it resonate for you more as a symbol/idea, or as a real, tangible place? What does writing about Florida allow you to talk about in your poems, which would otherwise remain inaccessible?

Just yesterday, my partner Will and I were watching some TV show about people who purchase their own islands, and there was a couple who bought a house on stilts on a small island off Florida for a super-reasonable price – like $400,000 or something. (Living in Vancouver makes that seem like a steal, no?). Will said, when I was visibly excited about mimicking this couple’s choices, that there was no way he’d live in a red state. I corrected him: Florida is a swing state. Florida is a wild card. It’s a Swiss-cheese sinkhole. It can be a violent, and awful, and racist place – and I personally feel like Disneyworld is the most depressing place on earth – but it is also a place where the world’s weirdest people can congregate and feel okay about themselves. Example: the last time I visited my snowbird Nana in Port Charlotte, Florida, I was training for a half-marathon. I went to a gym for my long run and my gym-mates that day included an 80-year-old man in a three-piece suit on a treadmill, a 50-year-old bodybuilder woman with a full-face snake tattoo, and a young man with a rainbow mohawk wearing a vintage weight belt.

My personal relationship to Florida is that my grandparents bought a manufactured house in a gated park for old people in Port Charlotte when I was a kid. My nuclear family did not have a lot of money, but my grandparents did help us fly or drive down to Florida to visit in the winter. My grandparents were a very, very important part of my young life, so being in their home was a reminder for me that I was loved, and that everything would be okay. On top of that, Florida was so different than Ontario – like someone had turned the colour dial up on the TV that was my life. Hot-pink ibises, green crocodiles, turquoise water, trees and vines and creatures everywhere. Giant flea markets. Baby sharks in jars. Crocodile backscratchers. Weird, simultaneous reminders of life and death, just everywhere. I’m not sure, exactly, if that comes through in the poems, but that sums up the practical and symbolic backdrop of the poems set in Florida.

New Technology #2: Obama Spy Drone. Taken as andrea forded a creek in Utah.

“All you need to know about gators” also deals with a different kind of (in)accessibility. I’m estranged from my mother, and we always had an intense and fraught relationship, and I spent much of the first part of my life just trying to understand who she was. One way I did this was to surreptitiously interrogate my grandparents, when I had them to myself. “All you need to know about gators” takes place after my grandfather passed away; it was probably the last time, and the most straightforward time, I tried to press my Nana for information.

Yes, that all comes through (though I could have used a few more jar-shark references throughout). Another dominant theme in Canoodlers is food, though it dominates from the periphery. Food and the making of food sneaks in as simile (“You can put your fingers on the feelings // like you can put your fingers into the cake”, p. 52), and metaphor (“I am baking, says summer”, p. 18), and background noise (“Meanwhile we’re watching a marathon special of the celebrity chef cooking show”, p. 51), while most often not being the the central theme of the poem. The food that sneaks in is most often of the fast and commercial variety – Waffle Cones and Cracker Jacks and “eating only pizza every meal” (49). All of this seems to align very well with North American food culture, where food is in many ways our obsession, but at the same time is not given due attention or care (and skyrocketing-off go our obesity rates): food is everywhere and nowhere; it’s all we care about and it’s not worth our time.

Could you speak a bit about the role of food in the book, and its connection with the emotional themes in Canoodlers? Similar to my question about Florida, what did talking about food allow you to get at that you couldn’t address directly?

Appetite, consumption, compulsion, shame, desire – all of these things are wrapped up in food, for me, and food is a way to get at these things sideways. North American food culture is such a complex thing. Quinoa and soy versus Oreo and hot dogs – whether you’re a Whole Foods-shopping vegan or a vegetable-eschewing McDonald’s eater, you probably can’t avoid making some ethically dicey choices, and your choices are also, probably, bound up in your class position. Moreover, we have a tendency to equate food with bodies, in the sense that your body is a physical manifestation of your choices. If you’re fat, especially if you’re a fat woman, it’s hard not to internalize that as some kind of moral failing. The food-themed poems are, I think, a way for me to get at who I am, and where I’m at, and what undercurrents are pulling me out to sea. Sometimes I make the poems first-person plural, or a cheeky second-person, because I think these feelings are somewhat common.

The back cover of Canoodlers features three blurbs, and two of them make a common observation. Rhea Tregebov suggests the poems in the book “carry an absolute authenticity”, while John Paul Fiorentino says “There is an impressive authenticity… in these poems.” “Authentic” is not a word I’ve seen used to describe poetry books too often, and there it is – back to back – on your book jacket!

It got me thinking, what does “authentic” mean? Is it simply a code for “non-fiction”, assessed at the Oprah Winfrey/James Frey level? Is it about having a voice that sounds “real,” regardless of the subject matter? Or does it necessarily have to be both, the alignment of “truth” and a “real” voice? And then on top of that there is the whole hornets nest of felt truth v. literal truth. My point being: the word confounded me, even while at the same time instinctually feeling accurate in regards to your collection.

I wonder then how you feel when you hear people describe your book as “authentic”. What do you interpret it to mean? How do you think telling people your book is “authentic” might affect how it’s read and received? Does it matter to you if people think the poems in the book are “true” or not?

Ooh, all good questions. I wonder if “authentic” has something to do with class? Like some of the poems are quite blunt and straightforward on the surface, and I’ve consciously incorporated colloquialisms. Maybe that’s the “real” voice you’re mentioning. Maybe it is a nice way of saying “unsophisticated” :).

The poems in Canoodlers are mostly non-fiction, but they play a little fast and loose in the way that I probably wouldn’t in a prose memoir – a few characters are composite characters, a few names have been changed. (Nothing approaching the James Frey variety of truth-stretching.) Most everything in the book comes directly from my life, and I’ve tried to be honest about myself as a character and a narrator.

I think people approach non-fiction with a different set of expectations than fiction, so in that way I’d prefer that readers have a sense that the events in the poems are “true.” I think Fred Wah’s Diamond Grill plays with these expectations of truth and autobiography in a super-interesting way, and that book, as well as the film True Stories, were both methods of story-telling I had in mind when I was writing Canoodlers.

When people describe my book as “authentic,” I guess, overall, I accept that description. Like oh, okay, if there are a handful of people saying that, then that’s a reader reception I should pay some attention to.

Canoodlers-coverAs a younger writer who both has her first book out and is active in the publishing world (through your work with PRISM international, Geist, CWILA and more), you seem to be in a prime position to give younger writers advice about navigating their way to their first book. If you had one piece of advice to give an aspiring young poet about that journey, what would it be? Are there any common pieces of advice out there that you think aren’t actually that helpful, or perhaps that have become irrelevant as technology has altered the publishing world?

Ha ha. I’m turning thirty this year, so I guess I am a youngish writer, but as a human being I’m finally seriously considering a lot of life choice things like marriage and kids and financial responsibility. (I tried out taking on more financial responsibility this year, in the form of owning a car and living in a nice, spacious apartment, and it was not a fit.) That comprises my first point of advice to young writers: prioritize your writing, and understand that that might be somewhat painful on the “life” front: maybe your childhood and university friends will be buying houses, and celebrating career milestones, and you’ll be like, “What’s a career?” and “How am I scraping rent together next month?”

Maybe you have rich/supportive parents, and all the power to you. Maybe you don’t. It’s still worth taking the risk. You’re a smart person. If the writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always take some college classes that focus on concrete skills and insert yourself into some kind of profession where people get health benefits. (Is this depressing? Sorry. I have a friend who is a doctor and a poet. If you can balance a career you love with your poetry-writing, you are amazing!)

I think the journey to a first poetry book is in some ways the same as it has always been: work hard on your writing and find your community. In some ways it’s easier now, because you can make friends with writers you admire on Twitter, rather than just reading their work from afar and hoping to maybe run into them at a conference or a festival. Also, it has been helpful for me to be knowledgeable about my field. It has definitely been helpful to be involved with magazines and literary journals – you get to see a side of the process you wouldn’t see otherwise, and you get to feel truly connected to publishing. Lastly, introduce yourself to writers whose work you admire in respect, either over email, or in person. Be a little gutsy about it.

Be gutsy. Follow andrea on Twitter. And pick up a copy of Canoodlers from your local bookstore, or from the Nightwood Editions website or Amazon. You won’t be disappointed.

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Prompt: remember that tantrum?

iStockAs a writer and reader of children’s and young adult literature, I find that I’m often hearkening back to my childhood, or teenage years.  The memories can be funny, or awkward, or embarrassing (the latter especially when I am recalling teenage style choices).

The farther back you remember, to earliest memories and formative years, you may find that you can also remember the physicality of those moments. Remember any of your own tantrums? If you’ve ever been around a small child, you’ll notice that their emotions are immediate, and very physical.

So today’s prompt requires you to remember—or, of course, imagine—a situation in a child’s life, and explore the physical experience of that. Try not incorporate any conscious commentary or narration; just focus on how the emotion itself is articulating it through the body.

You may want to write this in the first person, or limited third person, and either is good to begin with. But it’s most interesting to write the same emotion in both point of views; you may find it more clarifying to write as an observer in the third person initially.

This is a great exercise to explore a different point of view, and it’s a way of exploring emotion and how that can be shown. Keep writing, too; don’t rest on familiar or easy descriptions that you’ve read before. Dig deeper and see how you can show emotion in a new way.

Good luck!

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