The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2014 is “both an introduction to poetry and an advanced reading.”

griffin_poetry_coverBy Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2014
Edited by Robert Bringhurst
House of Anansi, 2014

Reading poetry from an anthology is a lot like speed dating—it’s barely an introduction—but less so with The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology, which features twelve pages of poetry by each of the eight shortlisted poets. These selections by no means feel complete, but the opportunity to sit down and stay awhile with each poet makes the experience far more robust, as layers and themes converge.

Rachael Boast’s poems, from Pilgrim’s Flower, contemplate transformation: “the burned skin of the embrace / flinches into intimacy, into focus, / then changes into dust, then rain” (13) and “I envisaged / the inside eyes of his hands remaking words / for a song that is a drawing that is a film – / that is, a poem…” (6). While in Carl Phillips’ poems, from Silverchest, it is a lost lover that appears and reappears, “It is hard to see anyone who has become / like your own body to you.” (33)

Among the seven poets featured, Canadian Anne Michaels’ sparse prose stood out. Correspondences features a single, 700-line poem presented in 54 sections, eleven of which are included in this year’s Anthology. It is a poem that envisions language as geography, as psyche, as memory, as family, as language. Michaels’ word choices are simple, the themes quotidian, but the poetry transcends. In the opening lines, she addresses her father, Isaiah Michaels, who died in 2009, “…I did not imagine / your death would reconcile me with / language…” (91). What follows is indeed a reconciliation, if not a celebration, that comes full-circle in its final lines:

each to smell their favourite dish
each to hear his own language,
her own song, mother and father
tongue, mother and father
reading under the lamp, the lost child
asleep upstairs, the lover’s breast,
the mother’s breast, the book open

to the third side of the page
(102)

Polish poet Tomasz Różycki’s work, as translated by Mira Rosenthal, is also a form of memorial, in this case to what has been lost in the contemporary era, including the written word: “The twentieth century’s come to an end / and literature has left the cities… At last it’s moved to weighty libraries, / virtual archives in machines.” (54) Twelve of the 77 sonnets from his collection Colonies are featured in the Anthology. Several feature humorous reflections on the writer’s life, “When I began to write, I didn’t know / how quickly it would make me very rich,” (50) while others long for meaningful expression, “And if I speak / with language, but don’t know this, I’m nothing.” (56)

In Sue Goyette’s poems, a hungry, boisterous sea commands respect from imagined shore-dwellers. The nine poems featured from Ocean, Goyette’s collection of 56 numbered poems, depict mankind’s often-turbulent relationship with the ocean. Goyette’s engagement with her theme is masterful: “The trick to building houses was making sure / they didn’t taste good. The ocean’s culinary taste / was growing more sophisticated and occasionally / its appetite was unwieldy. It ate boats and children,” (80). And yet, her reach extends far beyond what one might expect from a book of poems about the ocean, to the metaphysical:

The words we used had the thin syrup of our loneliness
in their veins. In this way, we learned that words also have souls,

and when the souls of our words escaped, there was a glitter
frosting the ocean, and briefly, we had managed to sugar its tide.
(87)

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2014 is both an introduction to poetry and an advanced reading, recommendable especially to those who want an overview of the poetry of the moment. I finished this book with a sense of privilege, in the knowledge that I inhabit a linguistically rich landscape made ever richer by contemporary poets like these seven, whom I believe capable of opening the windows that exist between languages and at times, of passing right through.

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt is a Montréal-based writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She is currently working on her first novel. Visit her at carlyrosalie.com

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Going Down Swinging: “A Man Made Entirely of Bats”

It’s January… And time for our monthly 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 excerpt from Patrick Lenton’s A Man Made Entirely of Bats, a collection of microfiction.

When he’s not reading obscure novels for The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, Patrick Lenton writes stories. His first collection of microfiction, A Man Made Entirely of Bats, will be released by Spineless Wonders in March, and we’re excited to publish three excerpts from his impending release. 

— GDS

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Wonder Woman

The train carriage carrying all the TNT was picking up speed towards the crowded terminal where the orphans had gathered for their yearly ‘Orphans Day Out’ initiative. Somewhere, Wonder Woman could hear cackling from the villain who’d orchestrated this monstrosity – but she couldn’t worry about him, she had to stop this locomotion of doom.

I wonder why the dinosaurs actually died out? thought Wonder Woman, before shaking the thought away so she could focus on the task at hand. If she could find somewhere to tie her magic lasso to, maybe she could slow the carriage down.

Why birds? she wondered, tying one end of the shimmering golden rope to the speeding train.

Why do dogs look so amazing when they run? she pondered, flying to a metal bridge and anchoring the other end of the rope to it.

She was so close now, she could see all the orphans, miniature ponies and clowns. Being magic, the rope held, but the bridge bent and snapped, sending the train full of explosives careening into the terminal, where it exploded in a huge mushroom of fire and noise.

Why is death so beautiful? Wonder Woman wondered.

 

The Man with the Massive Heart

I never knew why the potion we invented as kids only worked on my friend Maher, turning him into a muscled god-man and leaving me a scrawny twelve year old. By the time he was fifteen, he was putting his amazingly sculpted pectorals to good use and modelling for teen magazines.

I was striding through high school at that point, like someone wading through a viscous swamp. People were cruel, even violent, but somehow it didn’t matter. I just focused on doing well enough to get out of there.

By the time we were in our twenties, Maher was super rich and living in Paris. Like most childhood friendships, ours dissolved as soon as the first hint of strain was put upon it. We had no reason to remain friends except a brief shared portion of time, and the knowledge that we’d both drunk from a glowing green bucket in his mum’s backyard. But even though we weren’t friends, I saw him get roles in action films and endorse energy drinks in television ads. He couldn’t act, but his body was ripped. I saw him on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine and could only laugh, knowing he had no need to ever lift weights.

Meanwhile, both my parents had died in a plane crash, and my boyfriend had left me after a string of affairs. It was sad, and I missed them all but I was convinced I would be fine. I focused on my career instead and became a surprisingly talented glassblower in my spare time.

In our thirties, I saw Maher one last time. We ran into each other on a street in New York. I recognised him of course, but was simply going to walk past.

Up close, he was massive and slightly hunched over as if the sheer amount of back and neck muscles he possessed were weighing him down. He saw me, paused, and then approached, smiling shyly and shaking my hand in his huge muscle gloves. While we exchanged awkward pleasantries, him inquiring after the last twenty three years of my life, me pretending I didn’t already know everything about his, a carload full of thugs slowed down and threw a bottle at him. With startling speed, he bounded onto the road; blocked two more thrown bottles with his meaty forearms, and then lifted the car above his head and threw it into the Hudson River.

We got drunk that night and he told me about all the disappointments he’d endured, the break-up of his marriage, the loss of his kids in a drawn-out custody battle. Behind the muscles, his eyes looked sad and defeated, and his laughter was all hollowness and whiskey.

The next morning, hung-over and bemused by my strange night, I looked in the morning paper only to discover that some time after I had left him, Maher had thrown himself off a building. I was sad, but then I was fine and so I did a few chores and made a healthy frittata.

It was only later in life, after some routine X-rays, that doctors discovered my heart was a massive hunk of muscle, five times the size of a regular persons. It was then that I realised the potion we’d drunk as kids had affected me. My massive heart was the reason I’d managed to get through life with such comparative ease. I was able to process heartache and sorrow at roughly five times the speed of regular people.

The doctors told me that my massive heart was causing organ failure in the rest of my body and that I only had a year to live. I was bummed out, but then I did all my Christmas shopping and it was only October.

 

Mr Aerodynamic

At first you think this guy isn’t going to be a huge asset to the mutant superhero team. I mean, his mutant power is just being hairless. What kind of advantage is that? Slightly less wind resistance? Not much chance of getting shocked by static electricity? But then you realise how fucking cool he is in a crisis, the way he just looks at the world like he owns it. And he’s resourceful, able to get into places you swear were completely locked up. And damn, he sure is athletic, able to jump incredible distances and maintain perfect balance.

Before you know it, he’s in line to become the new superhero team captain, even though you’ve been there longer and you have super strength and optic blasts for god’s sake. You shouldn’t even be intimidated by him, but you find yourself edging around him when you’re walking through rooms or when he’s sitting on the other end of the couch. When you see him in the middle of the night, sitting in your window, eyes glowing an unearthly green, you have to remind yourself he’s just one of those goddamn hairless cats, nothing to worry about.

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Illustration by Daniel Lethlean Higson

A Man Made Entirely of Bats will be available in print and ebook format on March 1. Pre-book your copies through Spineless Wonders.

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The Tuesday Prompt: Five Reasons Why You Can’t Write

do-it-now-chalk-drawingI’ve written about procrastinating before – mainly about how I do it and find it very difficult not to. But I found a wonderful prompt that will make your writing avoidance disappear… Or, at least, turn it into something more productive.

This prompt is inspired by one I came across in The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron – a good resource of writing prompts and discussions of craft.

The next time you think you can’t sit down to write, list five reasons why. All of these reasons should be good ones, too. (Things like “need a nap”, “have to re-watch that Youtube pug video” and “I need a third sandwich” don’t count… But you should probably watch that pug video just once.) Then write a sentence beside each explaining why this excuse is not good enough, and another sentence about how you can overcome it, by re-arranging your schedule, finding the right time to write, or just making a resolution to sit down with your story or poem every day.

I’d recommend doing this every time you feel like you don’t have time to write – it will do wonders.

And why not resolve to enter that story or poem to our Fiction and Poetry contests? The deadline has been EXTENDED to January 30th, so you still have time! Click right here for details on how to submit.

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PRISM 53:2 Sneak Preview – “Warren” by Trisha Cull

PRISM 53:2 is set to launch next week,  featuring work by Ayelet Tsabari, Liz Windhorst-Harmer, Mark Jordan Manner, and many others! Can’t wait? Here’s an excerpt from Trisha Cull’s essay “Warren,” which explores Cull’s relationship with her stepfather over the course of her life. 

Warren

You are dying.

You have Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The cancer eats away at your stomach, bladder and lungs. Now there’s the tumour in your brain that may be malignant.

We’re waiting for results.

Years ago: home in the Fraser Valley (after you left Cranbrook the summer I turned nineteen) between semesters at university, you seemed to regard me with disdain, resentful that I was once again occupying space in your home, moving in on the time you spent with my mother.

The disdain was subtle yet penetrating. It was your general aura, the rigidity of your jaw while talking to me, a slight sneer only perceptible by me, hardly a grunt at the dinner table as you consumed your food deliberately and methodically, elbows jutting out from each side of the robust barrel of your chest, gaze set sternly straight ahead at the tablecloth or stack of sliced white bread.

I felt invisible to you, or inconsequential. You neither loved nor hated me.

You were indifferent.

Now, when I visit you, the air in the valley smells of manure. Streets are grey, few trees, two shopping malls, strip malls, one pub, too many churches, only one sushi restaurant, horses, and cows for slaughter in farmland outside of town. I look at the cows and wish to save them, the way I wish to save you now too.

At what point does a little girl, adolescent, or young woman grow to love her stepfather, who has been there since she was five?

That summer I was home from university, I escaped from the city on my bike and rode into farmland, to berry orchards and wheat fields growing waist-high. I walked through wheat, my fingers grazing brittle stems that tickled my palms, and listened to metal lines separating rows of berry bushes, the zap of wind and whistling of air.

Some afternoons I biked all the way to the small airstrip where two-engine planes take off carrying parachuters. I lay on the grass at the edge of the strip under a solitary poplar tree, making war against the darkness in my heart that would blossom into despair and cripple me for years.

I shaded my eyes and gazed into the cerulean sky, watched small figures jump from planes, chutes opening into reds, greens, and yellows, domes descending toward Earth like jellyfish descending through blue waters.

Pick up a copy of PRISM 53:2 to read the full essay! 

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PRISM international’s Fiction and Poetry Contests Extended to January 30th!

We’re pleased to tell you that the deadline for our Fiction and Poetry Contests has been extended for another week! So if you haven’t already entered, here’s your chance. You have until January 30th 2015 to submit your best stories and poems.

And in case you haven’t heard, we’ve doubled the grand prize for our Poetry contest to $2000! This equalises the prize winnings for both Poetry and Fiction, with the grand prize winners receiving $2000 for first place, with $300 for first runner-up and $200 for second runner-up.

Your work could be chosen by our amazing contest judges, Marina Endicott and Ken Babstock!

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Marina Endicott, Fiction judge

What advice would you give to writers entering our Fiction contest?

Write again, write better. Do another draft, and another. (Advice I give myself every day.)

 

 

ken babstock

 

Ken Babstock, Poetry judge 

What are you looking for in a winning poem?

I’m going to try to go into the pile of poems consciously not looking for anything in particular. I’ll let the outliers announce themselves to me. This passive stance is a way of avoiding responsibility while also effectively mocking the haters out there.

 

Your entry fee also gets you a one-year subscription to PRISM or an extension of an existing subscription.

For information on the contest please click here, and if you want to enter right now you can! Right here, via Submittable.

If you have any questions, please contact promotions@prismmagazine.ca.

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In Theatre: PostSecret: The Show

PostSecret: The Show
Created by Frank Warren
Created and directed by TJ Dawe
Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver

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PostSecret has received a million anonymous secrets, the blog boasts half a billion visitors,  and has been compiled into six bestselling books – and now creator Frank Warren has teamed up with Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre to bring the voices of PostSecret to the stage.

PostSecret, for anybody who has managed to escape it’s huge popularity, is an ongoing project, created by Frank Warren in 2005, in which people mail their secrets to him anonymously, on a homemade postcard. A selection of secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or exhibitions.

And now PostSecret has a show. With three actors, the secrets are given life, a voice, and in many cases, a fuller story. All of this is based on true secrets; it really is a “crowd-sourced narrative”. The actors are warm and personable, with Kahlil Ashanti in particular bringing out the humour of many secrets. Supported by live music from Mario Vaira (who also contributed some secrets), the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. In fact, this show did communicate the sentiment of PostSecret itself; audience members also contributed (such as “I’m a full-time yoga teacher and I think chakras are bullsh*t.”) and became involved. Supported by striking visuals – animations, images of postcards and short videos – the show covered the history and impact of PostSecret.

For this reason, the show is less a play than an immersive retrospective of PostSecret. While it’s true that actors bring life to the secrets, there is also nothing new or unexpected in what we are shown, and the animation and videos are heavily relied upon. The secrets themselves are honest, sad and often hilarious; but the high emotions and sentimentality became a little tiring. The voices of the secrets’ authors also became somewhat repetitive, though the anonymity of the contributors does make this a bit more understandable.

That said, for fans – and there were many in the audience – this is what PostSecret is all about. And I have to admit that in my years of theatre-going, I have never seen an audience shed more tears. It proves that PostSecret: The Show, like the project itself, is an extremely cathartic experience.

PostSecret: The Show runs at the Firehall Arts Centre until February 7th 2015. For tickets and more information, click here.

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