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

524_storePRISM 52:4 has launched! 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: Kevin Brophy Reads from ‘A Small Boy’

It’s time for our August 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, we have an aural treat for you by Kevin Brophy…

Kevin Brophy

Photo of Kevin Brophy by Nicholas Walton-Healey (forming part of the ‘Land Before Lines’ series on contemporary Victorian poetry, to be released by Meanjin in September)

Last week, Professor Kevin Brophy read an excerpt from his piece, ‘A Small Boy: Don’t be scared to be scared’, as part of a guest lecture on creative non-fiction to over 400 creative writing students at the University of Melbourne.

We were there, posing as model university students, to record the whole thing for your listening pleasure.

“A Small Boy” (extract), by Kevin Brophy


Read the original piece here.

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Theatre Review: Soulpepper’s “Tartuffe”

Tartuffe, SoulpepperTartuffe
Soulpepper Theatre Company
Written by Molière, Translated by Richard Wilbur, Directed by László Marton

Review by Mary Kim

The playwright Molière, considered today as one of the great masters of comedy in the Western canon, wrote and performed Tartuffe (ou, l’Imposteur) for guests at the Château de Versailles; the play was promptly banned by the Archbishop of Paris (mostly) and the Sun King Louis the XIV (reluctantly) quickly turning this achievement into a tragedy. It’s hard to imagine how the court of Versailles where the play opened in 1664, with its extravagances, debauchery, drunken revelry, and salacious intrigue could possibly judge the play as censurable; but with its satirical lampooning of the French Roman Catholic Church and the bourgeoisie, it was inevitable that the story of the interloper Tartuffe (played brilliantly by actor Diego Matamoros) under the guise of a pious clergyman and out to con the unwitting nobleman Orgon (Oliver Dennis) of his title, property and family, would stoke the ire of the French noble class.

By today’s standards – particularly on our own turf with a prime minister who could be described as “secretive” rather than “in absentia,” and a mayor in Toronto who is caught in one salacious scandal after another – the satirical play seems simply innocuous and hilarious. Soulpepper’s production of Tartuffe uses poet Richard Wilbur’s 1989 English translation and is directed by László Marton who returns to Soulpepper two years after his direction of The Royal Comedian (Soulpepper 2012), a play about Molière himself and the public turmoil over the Tartuffe controversy.

Marton’s direction of Tartuffe seems gently rendered with a light hand–Wilbur’s rhyming couplets (from Molière’s original alexandrines) are spoken naturalistically; the stage setting (Lorenzo Savoini) is stripped down to a few moveable walls (all the better to eavesdrop with, one of the central themes of the play,) a few chairs, and the all-important table covered loosely with sheets of brocade textiles. These textiles serve as the only throwback to the baroque aesthetic of 17th century Versailles, while the costumes (Victoria Wallace) and characters remain in modern dress.

Without much of the 17th century bourgeois eye candy—Marton saves this effect for later in the play where it is utilized hilariously—which so beguiles and motivates Tartuffe into his schemes, we rely simply on Molière’s comedic timing and dialogue to bring us to his social commentary. The subversive overtones in Marton’s stripped staging and direction seem to point out a resounding message, which contemporary audiences can still identify with – that of the question of social propriety, rules, and appearance versus reality.

Dorine, played outstandingly by Oyin Oladejo, tells us that like everyone else, she sees the delicacy of class and social propriety and bursts at the seams to tell Orgon to open his eyes to the ludicrous Tartuffe.  The deceptions continue, and it is not until Orgon must completely conceal himself and his social position by hiding under a table and watching his wife Elmire (played excellently by Raquel Duffy in an elegant performance) get nearly devoured by Tartuffe, that his eyes are finally opened to the deceit—here Marton’s direction is simply excellent and relies on the audience’s imagination rather than visual tactility; one can imagine that the actual wine spilling on stage, the display of naked skin, and panties thrown off into any direction is what Molière actually saw among the noblest of nobles in his time.

All seems nearly lost—to tragic proportions—as Tartuffe blackmails Orgon for his land, title and daughter. However the gilded and most hilarious ending, where chandeliers of epic proportions and a miniature golden chariot arrives on a red carpet with a note of reprieve from the King himself, the skillful absurdity of the homage to the Sun King—as well as the clever set design which is over the top as some might fashion the mask of the French baroque period to be—has the last word, telling us that all is as it should be and seemingly restored. Sadly, even with this revised ending the Catholic Church was not moved, and Molière’s play Tartuffe was legally banned for five years. By the time the ban was lifted in 1669, the controversy had taken its toll on the playwright who ultimately aimed to please the people. He died shortly after, and remained tight-lipped on his social commentaries for the remainder of his life.

Soulpepper and László Marton’s production of Tartuffe is hilarious, outrageous, and masterful its execution, and rightly impious in the unmasking of its themes.

Tartuffe runs until September 20th 2014, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane.

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Prompt: Dear…

letterAre you good at staying in touch with people? Since moving to Vancouver I’ve gotten a little better—but still not as good as I’d like to be. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to write a short story than a letter. And it’s always easier to write an email than to put a real pen to real paper.

Today’s prompt is going to help in more than one way—it’s going to get you writing and it’s also going to get you to practise your correspondence skills. As always with my prompts, use this to kick off whatever form of writing you fancy, whether it’s poetry, fiction or creative non-fiction.

Think of three people—somebody you have lost touch with, somebody close to you, and somebody you don’t want to talk to at all (ex-partners, friends you’ve fallen out with, estranged family…). Now, get a pen and paper and begin by writing ‘Dear (insert name here)’. Your paper isn’t blank any more, so you can start writing what comes to you. This doesn’t have to be serious or confessional, either, so don’t worry if you want to write a fun or silly letter.

You might not want to post these… Or maybe you will.

Good luck!

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An interview with Michael Crummey

Crummey_Michael_portraitBy Matthew Walsh

Under the Keel is Michael Crummey’s first book of poetry since 2002’s Salvage, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been writing. Since 2002 he’s finished two novels—2005’s The Wreckage and 2009’s Galore, and his new novel Sweetland,which was just released earlier this month. Based in Newfoundland, Crummey has cast his net far in terms of writing across genres, beginning with a number of award and nominations for his poetry. Since 2000, he has produced an abundance of intriguing novels and has even added writing for film to his growing resume. I shot him some questions about his new poetry collection, what music he’s been listening to, buying Amelia Curran records, and what it’s like to be considered a multi-genre writer.

MW: A few of the poems that appear in this collection, like “Viewfinder”, have appeared in magazines like Riddle Fence and Arc. When you initially started writing these poems, were you thinking of them as stand-alone poems or a series of poems that would make their way into a collection? You spent the last few years writing prose. When this new collection came to you were you surprised? Did you know that it was going to be a work of poetry?

MC: I didn’t have a collection in mind when I started writing the poems in Under the Keel. I was suffering a pretty severe hangover from a novel called Galore and I didn’t really know what to do with myself besides lie in bed with the blankets over my head. The poems started arriving sporadically for a while and it was a real pleasure to be writing poetry again. It felt like a very private undertaking, something I was doing for myself alone. And at a certain point, the floodgates opened and I was writing new poems all the time. I was forgetting the poem I had written a draft of early in the week because it was crowded out by one or two new ones. It took a while before I thought I might have a book on my hands.

Do you think the poems that didn’t make it into this collection will appear in your next book?

I think some will show up somewhere. Some were cut because they sucked and will never see the light of day. But a few just didn’t fit the book, or weren’t quite ready to go. I haven’t stopped writing poetry altogether these days, but it has reverted to a pretty sporadic undertaking. So I imagine it will be a while before I have anything like a new collection on my hands.

The poem “Boys” I think is so successful at capturing these little moments in boyhood. The first line “not old enough to pay for our trouble” has two meanings. Not being old enough to get charged if you get caught doing something illegal, like trespassing (the boys in the poem break into an abandoned house), and not being able to pay to get into anywhere that would get you into trouble. I think it points to an interesting point in boyhood, or childhood for that matter where you are just wandering and figuring yourself out. Why were you interested in writing about these moments? What about the “boyhood” depicted in these poems fascinates you?

I guess it’s an in-between place, where you aren’t even consciously aware of what you want, although you are viscerally aware that you want something, and are willing to get into trouble looking for it. And it’s a strangely lonely time, despite the fact that it’s something we all went through together. We couldn’t have talked about it, probably, even if we could have found the words to say what we were going through. It was a communal urge we suffered alone.

Something I thought was interesting about this collection is how the poems are framed. In “Hope Chest” for instance, you use a variant of the traditional rhyme “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” to set the poem up. It’s usually used for luck, but each “something” gives a new meaning to the original rhyme which is interesting. Why did you choose to frame the poems in this way?

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for this. “Hope Chest” is an example of happenstance in action. I was writing something for my wife before we got married. For some reason, that old rhyme came to mind. Maybe something in the piece I was writing suggested it. And from there it seemed a natural frame to work with. And I tried to tweak them a little bit, just to make it interesting for myself mostly. I thought, why not a kind of blues riff for the last piece? Why not call it “Something Blues”?

under the keelWhile I was reading, I was really interested in that poem. What a great tune! Were you listening to a lot of music while you were writing Under the Keel?

I always listen to music when I’m writing. I know a lot of writers can’t work with that kind of distraction, but it’s never bothered me. And on occasion I’m able to steal something from a song as it’s passing by. As far as what I listened to, though, that’s hard to recall. I tend to troll around on Youtube or CBC Music until I hit something and play the hell out of it for a while, then move on. Went on a bizarre Rush kick two winters ago, listening to albums like Caress of Steel and Hemispheres. Went through a pretty intense Tallest Man in the World phase. Amelia Curran has been a regular companion. Paul Buchanan and his former band The Blue Nile. Currently infatuated with Gramercy Riffs, a local band that recently moved on to Toronto. Favourite tracks: “Dreaming,” “Heartbreak,” “Silent Walls and Siren Calls.” I missed them completely while they were playing around town on a regular basis, which is my loss.

I should say here, I paid for almost none of this music (except Amelia’s! I bought all your records, Amelia! Honest!) Most of it I streamed online. Which is criminal. There should be some kind of levy on internet and phone packages, similar to the tax on blank tapes in the 80s, to get some cash into the pockets of the people making the music.

There is a lot about relationships and community in this collection, and you tackle the idea of community from various angles in your work. Under the Keel reminded me at points of kitchen parties as a child, and while the majority of the collection deals with grief and loss—the last poem in the collection had the effect of walking home under the stars after a really great night of music and conversation. Throughout the collection I heard gossiping, people playing music, talking about their travels, and reminiscing about the past. There is grief, but also points of humor in this collection. How did you go about weaving these two elements of the collection together? What advice would you give to young writers about incorporating these different tones and moments into their own writing?

Well, I don’t know. Those things recur in my writing because they are my own particular obsessions, because my antennae are attuned to those tones and moments. It certainly wasn’t a deliberate process, trying to weave those together. It’s just what the world seems to throw my way, what happens when I sit down to write, and when I piece individual poems into some kind of whole. It may be related in some way to coming from Newfoundland where there isn’t necessarily a strict line dividing one from the other, where people tend to use humour as a way of dealing with grief. It seems perfectly natural to me to weave those together.

I think a huge part of “learning to write” is that fumbling towards your own voice, towards the tones that feel like your own. And there’s no way to get there but trial and error. Heavy on the error.

Under the Keel covers a lot of geography— as readers we are taken to Dublin and India and it got me thinking. Aside from the obvious things, what do you miss about your home in Newfoundland when you are away?

Mostly the beautiful weather. Ha. I’ve always said Newfoundland is the best place in the world to live, as long as you can get out on a regular basis. Which is why I travel as much as I do.

It’s difficult to say what it is I miss when I’m away. I didn’t pine when I lived in Ontario for thirteen years. It was only after I moved home that I thought, What the hell was I doing up there all that time? I realised I’ll never belong anywhere else the way that I do here. So “Belonging” is what I miss I guess.

You are a writer who has proven himself as both a poet and novelist. You also wrote and did research for a short multimedia film called 54 hours this year based on the 1914 Newfoundland Sealing disaster. What else is next for you?

I’m trying to say yes to whatever comes my way these days, partly for financial reasons, but also to push myself a little. To try things out of my comfort zone. Currently working on a documentary about the Newfoundland Regiment during the first world war for the CBC. Writing an essay on falling in love with poetry for The New Quarterly. Doing some non-fiction pieces for a few publications. Writing the occasional poem. Just trying to keep busy.

Matthew Walsh is a writer from Nova Scotia whose work has recently appeared in The Found Poetry Review, Carousel, Matrix, Descant and The Steel Chisel. He co-hosts a radio show called Alphabet Soup and is currently a member of the PRISM international editorial board.

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(Don’t) Judge a Book by its Cover?

One of the best things I read this week was an article on – an excerpt from Peter Medelsund‘s newly released book CoverMendelsund is an associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf books, and has designed hundreds of book jacket covers, from classic authors to contemporary ones.

In Cover, a monograph of some of his work, Mendelsund writes about what a book jacket can do, especially in a world which is increasingly digital.

Here’s an excerpt (of the excerpt) of Peter Mendelsund’s Cover

What is a book cover?

A skin. A membrane. A safeguard. The book jacket protects the boards of a book from scuffing and sun damage. However, for most books (trade and mass-market books), the jacket is no longer needed as a protective outer layer. These books’ boards are cheap, durable, and undersigned (around the turn of the 20th century, the decorative aspects of the book’s covering transferred from the binding to the jacket itself). If, for the majority of books, the jacket no longer serves a protective function, it still shields the subcutaneous narrative metaphorically. As we spend more of our reading time in digital, disembodied, notional environments where texts lack differentiation and may easily leach into one another unconstrained, covers (and physical books in general) remain part of an anxious cultural effort to corral and contain the boundless. The cover is a skin, here, in the sense that it provides a book with a unique face, and in so doing, it helps establish a text’s unique identity. The cover thus holds (in the sense of constrains) and restricts (in the sense of tethers) the text.

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Courtesy of George Baier IV

A frame. The text requires a context. A text also requires some kind of preamble, a throat clearing, an entryway, an antechamber. Jackets are the visual equivalent to the foreword, or to a front door. The jacket is a paratextual neutral ground between text and world.

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Courtesy of George Baier IV

Interesting, right? Read the full article here for more of Mendelsund’s thoughts, and for the excellent book cover examples he includes.

It got me thinking about book jackets in general, and I found a great resource in The Book Cover Archive, which lives up to its name with a vast array of covers.

Here’s just a few that made me want to get under their attractive jackets…

The Crow’s Vow, by Susan Briscoe. Jacket designed by David Drummond.

The Storm, by Margriet De Moor. Jacket designed by Barbara de Wilde.

Laughter in the Dark, by Vladimir Nabokov. Jacket designed by David Eggers.

And for a current list of eye-catching covers, made a list of their favourite book covers of 2014.

And if you think that covers shouldn’t make you judge a book (and in most cases they shouldn’t), or if you just want a laugh, then here are some less-than-effective jackets…


Time Ninja, by Andy Schoepp. Jacket designed by Rob Heinsman.


A Passion for Donkeys, Dr. Elisabeth D. Svendsen.



Anybody Can Be Cool… But Awesome Takes Practice, by Lorraine Peterson.

Use your judgement, readers!

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Prompt: Rule Breakers

prompt signWhat would you never do? I’ve always been a rule-follower so this list is fairly long for me. Some of the things I would never do are fairly ordinary, like jaywalking (I don’t want to get run over) or stepping on the grass (just leave the grass alone) to much larger issues, like robbery at gunpoint.

So today’s prompt is one that you can use for yourself, for a character, or just to spark some new writing. Make a list of twenty things you would never do. They can be small or big—try and mix it up because this will create a more interesting insight, and try and think of things that are not as common, that are particular to you or your character.

Then choose three of these and begin a story or a poem in which you or your character does these things. You can combine these into one story or poem or play them out in different scenarios—it’s up to you.

Good luck!

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