PRISM 53:3 Spring 2015

533_storeThe pug has landed. And it’s brought pizza!

PRISM 53:3 was officially launched last weekend at AWP 2015 in Minneapolis. You can view a few pictures of the cardboard cut-out madness by checking out the Twitter hashtag #pizzapug. But oh, discerning reader, we know you are never one to judge a book by its cover, so let’s discuss the content a bit:

Issue 53:3 opens with the three winners of our 2015 Non-fiction Contest, all of which explore family, identity, and place. In the grand-prize winning piece “Doughnut Eaters,” Diane Bracuk examines her relationship with her father by taking us back to a foggy German town in the 1960s. First runner-up Sarah Mitchell writes about her brother, autism, and life by the ocean in the heartfelt memoir “Sea Salt.” Finally, Ann Cavlovic’s “The Generation After” details her quest to obtain Polish citizenship, and the discoveries she made about her mother along the way.

The fiction selections in 53:3 capture a range of tones and timelines. “Four Nocturnes for Left Hand” by Scott Nadelson offers a window into step-parenting, taking a close look at four evenings in a stepfather’s life over the course of fourteen years. “Plus One” by Greg Rhyno, in contrast, takes place during a single night, when a man attends his high school girlfriend’s wedding. The issue closes with “I Thought I’d Get More” by Richard Kelly Kemick, in which a teenager comes across a surprising item during his stint as a pawnshop employee.

After an all-Canadian-poetry Winter issue, PRISM 53:3 brings you the work of three excellent American poets: Todd Boss, Derek Sheffield and Katy E. Ellis. All three bring poems filled with rhythm and play and good, deep thought. Joining them are Canadians both well-established (Evelyn Lau, Patrick Warner) and new (Angela Rebrec, Margo Wheaton). Highlights include suites of poems on illness and grief by Nora Gould and Daniela Elza, and knockout (in some cases literally) poems by Nicholas Bradley and Michelle Brown, including Michelle’s “Something Funny.”

All together, you’ve got one delicious (and slightly furry) issue. Pick up a copy at your favourite newsstand, or grab one in our online store today!

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A review of “House Dreams”: “Love and fear and the unsettling quiet…”

HouseDreamsReview by Rochelle Squires

House Dreams
Deanna Young
Brick Books, 2014

“Beautiful, Astonishing, Wondrous,” the opening poem in Deanna Young’s recent collection, House Dreams, places the reader mid-air in a ‘futuristic insect-god’ of an airplane as unknown turbulence causes a split-second meditation on life and death. Without flourish, the poem contemplates the afterlife:

Not that there’s nothing after,
I’d argue, just that
everything’s here. Heaven
and hell in equal measure on this
short-haul domestic flight that is
our time on Earth.
(15)

The poem hits a note that assures the reader of a reverent examination of life without sentimentality. The self-possessed tone, vivid imagery, and evocative phrases of Young’s first poem is maintained throughout the collection, engaging the reader in universal themes of love and fear and the unsettling quiet that often shows up when least expected.

House Dreams is divided into five sections. “Barachois”, a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by an ephemeral sand bar, provides the name for the first section. As saltwater breeches a sand bar and swirls into a lagoon, so too do dreams of these poems ebb into the light of day. A dreamt accident casts terror into the early waking hours like a slant of light through an opened curtain. Nightmares reverberate as premonitions: “the flash of heat on your face / just enough to scare you. They’re snapshots of possibility, / like gentle warnings from a relative who loves you”. (24)

The night is quickly established as an enemy in many of Young’s poems, none more so than in “Vieil ami,” that begins, “Evening surrounds the house / like wolves.” (23). “Survivante” is a poem that achieves a delicate state between awake and dreaming with haunting acknowledgment: “A scream, I know would wake me, / but the contract between brain, / body, will, it’s severed. / He’s cut the wire again.” (28)

The second section of the collection, called “The City”, moves in a more urbane direction, away from the haunting woods and isolated coastal landscapes of Barachois. Themes of ageing and survival move into the forefront, starting with “The Linden Tree,” a homage to struggling by in difficult times:

You gathered yourself in,
as a mother gathers children around her
in the cold or in foreign places,
and emerged
more luminous after. Each time
what looked like death
never really was.
(38)

But loneliness and personal angst are not the only themes explored in Young’s poetry collection. The tone shifts considerably in “The Humanitarians,”where it assumes an observatory distance from the action. The end result is a detached, somewhat sardonic view of six people heading home after completing their humanitarian work in Haiti, with their motives and inner lives on full display. The poem’s strength is in observations that lie flat, allowing the reader to bring her own multi-dimensional viewpoint to the page.

The section entitled “Westmoorings” takes the reader on a journey into a foreign land where themes of isolation, security, race and wealth are explored from an expat’s point of view. The exotic location and myriad of difficult relations are examined by a keen and compassionate mind, making for an interesting journey that is as much internal as external.

The poet Ted Kooser wrote: “There’s something to be said for mystery, if handled with care: A little mystery can help make the poem memorable. Too much mystery though, and you’ll discourage most readers.” I thought of Kooser’s words as I read some of Young’s poetry, such as “Helen,” a haunting poem in the first section. It is unclear who the speaker is addressing, and nor is Helen’s identity revealed, other than to say she lived alone on the mountain for many years with “Who knows what / peering through the window while she bathed.” (27) I found the intrigue too mysterious to enjoy this as a poem. Placed toward the end of the collection, “Mythology” also has a similar shortcoming, with the details too vague to be understood. The collection requires some patience, but there are many stunning, crystal clear poems that pack emotional wallops.

One poem, “The Faith of Dogs”, is as delightful as it is unexpected. In it, the speaker makes a heartbreaking discovering of two German shepherds in an abandoned home, waiting for their owner to return. There’s a rugged edginess to the voice in this poem, making it one of my favorite poems in House Dreams. What’s most exciting about this collection is the range of voice Young brings to the page. From tender and compassionate to rebellious and full of tough-talk, each poem is distinct in its own way.

House Dreams is Deanna Young’s third collection of poetry.

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

 

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PRISM at AWP: Literature, Starbursts and #pizzapug

The editors have been working hard to put the international into PRISM international. We were lucky enough to go all the way to Minneapolis for AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair), where we attended panels, met writers, editors and publishers and unveiled our Spring Issue 53:3… and #pizzapug.

AWP had big love for pizzapug. Lots of people were into the cover (literally) and tweeted some amazing pugshots to win some coveted t-shirts. Here are some of our favourites…

 

Proud t-shirt winner Brad Kelly, one half of Color World Books.

 

 

PRISM 53.3 contributor Todd Boss

 

 

Here’s Todd Boss, contributor to 53:3. He is both outside and inside the issue. What a poet. What a pug.

 

 

Our 2015 Poetry Contest judge, Ken Babstock.

 

Our esteemed 2015 Poetry Contest judge, Ken Babstock! He has confirmed that this will be his new author headshot.

 

 

Chris Tarry, author of "How To Carry Bigfoot Home"

 

 

Chris Tarry: MFA Creative Writing alumni, bassist and author of “How To Carry Bigfoot Home.” If you want too check it out, you can watch the animated trailer here.

 

 

Bix Gabriel, one of the longlisted authors of our 2015 Fiction Contest

 

Bix Gabriel, whose story “Old City” was placed on the long list of our 2015 Short Fiction Contest.

 

 

 

Andrew MacDonald with unidentified pug accomplice.

 

Andrew MacDonald with a pug accomplice that has now been identified as none other than Melissa Carroll. Melissa was one of the long listed authors for our 2015 Creative Non-fiction contest. They won t-shirts for this dramatic tableau.

 

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Look who it is! Paul Vermeersch, poet and editor at Wolsak and Wynn. Rob Taylor interviewed Paul recently, so if this photo intrigues you (and it should), you can read it in full here.

 

 

Want to read issue 53:3? Take a pugshot? Win an incredibly cool t-shirt? Then come to our launch party, May 8th at Lost + Found Cafe. For more details and to click attending, visit our event page here!

*          *          *

When the editors weren’t taking photos, giving away t-shirts and spreading the word of PRISM, we were attending as many panels as we could. What were our favourites? Let us tell you…

pizzapug_nicole

Nicole Boyce: Prose Editor
I really enjoyed the creative non-fiction panels at AWP. One of my favourites was “Other People’s Privacy: Secondary Characters in Nonfiction,” hosted by Debra Monroe. CNF ethics are a complex subject, and the panelists offered experience-based advice on what it means to portray someone honestly and fairly, and strategies for navigating these portrayals on and off the page. I took away some valuable tips, and found myself reflecting on the session for days afterward. I also really liked “Fashioning a Text: Discovering Form and Shape in Literary Non-fiction,” hosted by Michael Steinberg. Each of the panelists had interesting, specific strategies for structuring non-fiction narratives, and Elyssa East’s Starburst-based structuring method made me feel like it’s alright to work candy into my writing routine.

Jen Macdonald: Executive Editor, Circulation 
This was my first AWP, and I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the presenters and the quality of the panels. There were so many interesting panels I wanted to attend, and at times it was painful to choose only one! I thoroughly enjoyed “Growing up in a Magical Space: Magical Realism in Contemporary YA”. Listening to the authors describe their passion for the genre and hearing them outline some of the practical techniques they use to blend magical elements within the realistic environment was inspiring for my own YA writing. I also took in “Narrative, Lyric, Hybrid: Crafting Essay Collections into Books”. I’m currently working on a collection of essays and grappling with the overarching structure and organization of the book as a whole. As each panelist shared the influences and decisions that shaped their collections, I came away with new directions for my own work, and a wonderful reading list.

photo 2Rob Taylor: Poetry Editor
I felt a little bad for the non-poetry fans at AWP 2015 – they missed out on so much! A highlight was Robert Bly’s brief reading at the end of “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat: A Tribute to Robert Bly” in which he concluded many of his poems with a note along the lines of “I have no idea what that meant, but it sounded pretty nice, didn’t it?” My favourite event by far was “Teaching: The Life of Poetry and Muriel Rukeyser.” Poets and teachers such as Tim Seibles (whose collection we recently reviewed) and Jen Benka spoke generously about Rukeyser, her life, her poems and her essay collection The Life of Poetry. Rukeyser’s writing has always meant a lot to me – as a birthday gift years back, my wife made me a painting which included the text to Rukeyser’s “Islands” and it has hung beside my desk ever since. In the middle of all the endless self-promotion that comes with a 700+ booth trade show and speaker after speaker opening with their “look-how-many-grants-I-got-last-year” bios, the selflessness with which these poets gathered together to celebrate one of our own was refreshing and grounding – it reminded me why I fell in love with poetry in the first place.

image1Sierra Skye Gemma: Executive Editor, Finance
One of my favourite sessions was “Let the Body Speak: Sex in Literary Nonfiction.” Moderator Devin Latham and panelists Peter Selgin, Barrie Jean Borich, and Sean Ironman read excerpts from their own work and discussed how descriptions of graphic sex can still be “good.” The other session I really enjoyed was “The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but Your Speculations: The Use of Speculation and Other Imaginative Techniques in Creative Nonfiction”  with Sean Prentiss,  Nancer Ballard, and Robin Hemley. This session described all the many ways you can use speculation (provided it is clearly indicated to the reader) to flesh out missing information in literary nonfiction, including using alternate outcomes, or imagining what might have been. High on inspiration from these sessions, I’ve already started a new essay that incorporates sex and speculation to explore desire.

pizzapug_claraClara Kumagai: Executive Editor, Promotions
AWP always has a lot to offer children’s and YA authors, which is just perfect for me. One of my favourite’s was “Representing Responsibly: We Need Diverse Books – Authors on the Challenges of Writing Diversity for Kids and Teens,” which included Torontonians Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung on its panel. We Need Diverse Books is an awesome organization that works to further diversity in children’s and YA writing and publishing. (This panel also happened to be at 9am Friday morning, and I was truly proud that I made it there. Another highlight of AWP? The nightly dance parties.) The panelists discussed the need for diverse characters with gripping stories and how to responsibly write about cultures outside one’s own. The panel also had the most passionate and dedicated audience I saw at AWP. (That’s children’s writers for you…)

‘Til next year, AWP. See you in Los Angeles!

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The Tuesday Prompt: Who’s your alter ego?

nicole_tamogotchiWe had our creative writing prom last week. Yes, prom. We are not too old for prom!
The theme was Alter Egos, which was interesting (if somewhat difficult.) There were some good costumes, especially from the PRISM editors: a seductive “lady” by the name of Shequila Tots (Sierra, Finance Editor), a tamogotchi (Nicole, Prose Editor), Jeremy Lin (me) and a camel, a Gruffalo, a bee and a pug (all of which were Rob, Poetry Editor). So I thought we could share the party with you through today’s prom(pt).

What is your alter ego? There are a few definitions: a second self; a trusted friend; the opposite side of a personality.

Choosing any of these is a good way of finding a character that can be very different from yourself, in voice and action. (The opposite side of a personality is my favourite one to use.) And to develop this alter ego, list three different situations you found yourself in over the last couple of days. Choose ones that had some conflict: road rage, someone skipping the line for the checkout, an argument. Now think about how your alter ego would have reacted. Write those scenes!

Good luck!

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Interview with Non-fiction Contest Winner Diane Bracuk

Diane Bracuk won first place in PRISM‘s 2015 Non-fiction Contest for her powerful and suspenseful story “Doughnut Eaters,” which appears in PRISM 53:3. Diane was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece, and her approach to creative non-fiction.

Diane Bracuk

Tell me a bit about your background as a writer. What drew you to creative non-fiction?

I’ve always been writing in some form or another, as a way to make sense of the world. What I like about creative non-fiction is the freedom to just be myself in a personal essay. Rather than inventing characters from scratch as I do in my fiction writing, I can just let my personal narrative take its own organic course, circling around a subject, and weaving together several perspectives and timelines as I did with “Doughnut Eaters.”

Approximately how long did it take you to write “Doughnut Eaters”? What is your writing and revision process like?

I generally start loose to let the story emerge. I’ll do a couple of drafts, then set them aside to marinate for a while, seeing if any new insights or revelations surface when I go back to it. After that, I’ll workshop the piece with a few writer friends, and consider something completed in seven to eight drafts.

That said, “Doughnut Eaters” had the longest gestation period of any piece I’ve ever written. The story literally came to me one dark and foggy (but not stormy!) night shortly after my divorce, an intensely vulnerable time where I was on unfamiliar terrain, emotionally and physically. The dense fog triggered a long forgotten memory of my ten-year-old self getting lost. So I simply went with the rush of raw emotion, interweaving descriptions of the fog with my childhood memories of Germany. After writing a few drafts, I put it away for a while—a couple of years actually—while I worked on my fiction pieces. When I looked at it again, it was as if I were reading it for the first time.

“Doughnut Eaters” is a tense and engrossing story. Can you speak about how you conveyed this tension to the reader?

I think any story about a young (or old for that matter) female being followed by a predator on a lonely country road will have a certain amount of tension. But in my earlier drafts, I was trying too hard to heighten the suspense by including too many descriptions of the fog. I wanted to create an eerie, Gothic Germanic atmosphere to intensify my feeling of being “prey,” but it started to get corny and melodramatic. So I edited out about a page of description, and that helped with the pacing.

Although most of the events in “Doughnut Eaters” took place during your childhood, the scenes are vivid and detailed, giving the story a strong sense of time and place. Did you do any research while writing this piece? If so, how did you balance research and memory while writing the story?

I’m a stickler for accuracy, so balancing out memory with historical detail was important. I especially wanted to know if my perception that post-war Germans saw Canadians as “special” was correct. Or had I just assumed so because I was living a military brat life with my larger than life father?

One essay that was extremely helpful to me was “A glamorous, untouchable elsewhere” by Eva Vieth, in which she explores how the American (and by extension, Canadian) dream reshaped Europe after WWII. As she writes, Americans perversely remained Germany’s favourite foreigners, because “the abundance of goods and “fun” that seemed to follow any encounter with an American confirmed the glorious image formed during the war.” This verified my childhood memory of sensing that we Canadians—strutting about with our shiny new cars and stylish clothes—represented the good life Germans aspired to.

“Doughnut Eaters” is a personal and vulnerable piece, dealing with the dynamics within your family and relationships. Were you nervous to write this piece? If so, how did you overcome those fears? 

Writing the piece didn’t make me nervous, but getting it published and upsetting my family did. And I certainly never wanted to come across as a self-pitying whiner blaming daddy for all that went wrong in my life. As I said, I put it aside for a few years, and during that period, my father passed away. I wouldn’t have submitted this for publication while he was alive, because we had a good relationship when I was older (and ironically enough, I now make my living as a healthcare writer, railing against doughnut eaters!). As well, I’ve also become good friends with my ex-husband. A lot can change over the course of a few years, and I’m glad I captured those raw emotions back then, because they seem all slightly unreal now.

What other projects are you working on right now?

I’m currently editing my short story collection Middle-Aged Boys and Girls which will be published by Guernica Editions in spring of 2016. As the title implies, the theme is about adults stuck in various stages of adolescence—something I can definitely relate to!

Do you have any advice for writers who are considering sending their work in to writing contests?

There are no hard and fast rules, but I’d recommend going for quality over quantity. Remember, your piece will likely be online forever, so do a few drafts, get some input from a few trusted friends, edit scrupulously, and only submit your best work.

You can read Diane Bracuk’s “Doughnut Eaters” in PRISM 53:3. The issue is available through our online store

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Announcing the winners of our 2015 Short Fiction Contest!

The wait is finally over! We are thrilled to present to you the winners of our 2015 Short Fiction Contest, as chosen by our judge Marina Endicott.

  • Grand Prize: “The Bride and the Street Party” by Kate Cayley
  • 1st Runner Up: “Admissions Interview” by Taylor Armstrong
  • 2nd Runner Up: “The Emigrants” by Colette Langlois

We had an incredible response to this year’s contest, with over 450 stories submitted! Thank you to all who entered, and the writers who made our long list and short list.

You’ll be able to read all three of the winning stories in our Summer issue 53:4, which will be accompanied by Marina Endicott’s judge’s essay.

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An interview with Heather O’Neill: “Nouschka Tremblay is me if I were a Jean Cocteau character.”

heather2

Interview by Matthew Walsh

Heather O’Neill’s novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night was released in 2014 to critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It’s wonderful novel for many reasons, but it excels with its sharp characterizations, vivid details, and the finely crafted world that O’Neill show us. After seeing her speak at this past Vancouver’s Writer’s Fest I knew I had to at least try to get an interview with her. Luckily, she agreed, and we talked about alternative titles, who she is reading lately, and what readers can expect from her new project, titled Daydream for Angels.

 

Your new novel, like your last, Lullabies for Little Criminals, has a standout title. How important is picking the right title for a book? Were there any others you were considering while you wrote The Girl Who Was Saturday Night?

I had that title right from the beginning. I did consider some other things along the way. Etienne Tremblay’s Rag and Bone Orchestra. Days of Beer and Dandelions. On the other hand, Lullabies for Little Criminals had no title at all until my agent was on the phone saying he wanted to send the manuscript out. So I doodled some titles on a piece of paper.

I was reading review of your new book and one word the reviewer used to describe your sentences was “acrobatic.” I agree, but I think they are also poetic. In The Girl Who Was Saturday Night there’s a sentence about a t-shirt one character wears. There are horses on one of the girls’ t-shirts and Nouschka remarks that “if you put your ear up against her chest you could hear them galloping.” A magical sentence. Do these kinds of sentences come easily to you?

Yes they come really easily. But only because I work on them for so long. At the beginning each sentence was impossible to find. When you start off writing you’re like a prospector, always sifting through dirt for days and days to find a nugget. Then you hit on your style and things get easier. Now I have to cut half of those types images out.

Do you consider yourself more of a prose writer or do you think you might have another book of poetry in you?

I don’t really see a difference between prose and poetry. I don’t see a difference between poetry and anything. It’s just hitting life with a magic stick. People seem to like their poetry anywhere else but in a poetry book. They prefer it spray-painted on a wall or on the back of a photograph of their grandmother. My next novel is going to be my next book of poems. But, yeah, I might write another book of poems.

One of my favourite scenes in the novel is when Nouschka sees her father again. It begins with the sentence “When Etienne sat down at the kitchen table, he didn’t even seem to be able to deal with the chair.” There’s a bunch of emotion packed into that scene. I think you struck the right balance between comedy and tragedy. Are there other writers that you feel are able to strike that kind of balance in their prose?

Everybody good. Everybody wonderful. I was just re-reading Junot Diaz and he does that really well. Denis Johnson tells the saddest jokes in the world. The Edwardians were excellent at that: being funny was high art to them. You can only really get people to the darkest places through laughter. Humour writing and stand up comedy albums don’t age. But funny stuff in literature stands the test of time. I remember being 13 and laughing out loud reading Catch-22. Who else? Miriam Toews.

girlwhowassaturdaynightI love cats and I really enjoyed all the appearances made by cats in the novel. Was that something that happened accidentally while you were writing, or did you intentionally want to have various scenes with cats coming and going?

Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. Because once you make a decision while writing a book, it feels like it’s always been in your head. I do actually remember one day being in a mood to put a lot of cats in the novels. I wanted to have a motif, like in Marcel Dzama drawing where there are a hundred ballerinas tiptoeing by with red bags on their heads. There used to be a catnip tree near the building where I lived and there were always stoned cats in the branches, so that was an inspiration. I just wanted it to be a sort of feral kind world. And I also wanted it to be like those old kids books where there are bands of cats getting into mischief and saving the day. But in the beginning there was just me describing a cat and liking the way that it felt.

Whenever Etienne is mentioned in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night I couldn’t help but think of folk singers like Stompin’ Tom Connors, who I used to watch on my grandmother’s little black and white TV. Were any characters, like Etienne or Nouschka, for that matter based on anyone?

I had insomnia when I was little and I would watch late night television and they were always airing Canadian movies from the sixties…like all five of them. I remember watching this movie called The Ernie Game really influenced later male characters. And I remember this documentary about Leonard Cohen where he’s in a hotel room in his underwear and socks (that’s how I remember it, anyways) that creeped me out and enchanted me in equal measure. What’s my point here? Yes, Etienne is a very specific kind of 1970s Canadian folk hero. Like he’s a Canadian poète maudite. So that’s why you’re having TV flashbacks. (I loved Canadian TV growing up. I was madly in love with Alasdair from You Can’t Do That on Television. I don’t know why I didn’t go on to marry him. It doesn’t seem like too farfetched a dream.) Nouschka Tremblay is me if I were a Jean Cocteau character. Whatever that means.

I noticed know that you’ve written screenplays—how was that experience for you? Would you ever consider adapting your own work for the screen? Who could you see playing Nouschka?

I do like the movies and would like to write more screenplays. And yes, I’d consider adapting something of my own. Now as for casting Nouschka… If I could time travel: Anna Karina in 1961 or Jessica Paré ten years ago.

What do you find yourself reading nowadays? Any writers you have your eye on?

I read about 150 novels a year, so everything. I’m re-reading Mavis Gallant, which is wonderful. I can’t wait for her collected journals. I’m curious what Emma Healey and Stacey May Fowles will do, both in their non fiction and fiction in the next few years. I’m curious what Anna Leventhal will do. I just got sent a story collection by Jess Taylor, which is fascinating.

Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects? I hear that you have a new book of stories coming out soon. What can we expect from them?

Yes, it’s true. I have a book of short stories called Daydreams for Angels coming out in April. They are kind of like fables and children’s bedtime stories but darker. Like there’s one story about a Cold War experiment to clone Nureyev that goes awry. And one about mothers in the 1950s waiting for their newborn babies to wash up in the surf.

 

Heather O’Neill’s work is strange, funny, and honest. She’s a master of crafting that perfect sentence. We’re lucky she is so prolific.

Matthew Walsh’s work has been featured in Arc, The Found Poetry Review, Carousel, Descant, Existere, Matrix, Carte Blanche, The Steel Chisel and as part of the Halifax Commons Poetry Anthology. His short fiction will appear in 11th Dimension Press’s Rock is Not Dead short story anthology. He is currently poetry editor of Plentitude Magazine.

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