PRISM 53.2 Winter 2015

532_storeThe first PRISM of the new year will be arriving on news stands and in subscribers’ mailboxes shortly! We’ve already released a couple samples from the issue: the poem “Tar Songs: Maestro” by Laurelyn Whitt and an excerpt from Trisha Cull’s essay “Warren.” A few days from now you’ll be able to read the rest, but for now, we’ll give you the rundown:

The non-fiction pieces in 53.2 hold relationships under a close-up lens, exploring connections by examining the details. Ayelet Tsabari writes about flying insects and a long-distance relationship in “Hornets” while Trisha Cull reflects on memories of her stepfather in “Warren.” In the personal essay “Correctives,” Liz Windhorst Harmer contemplates her own relationship with vision, perception, and beauty after undergoing laser eye surgery.

On the fiction side, PRISM 53.2 features an eclectic mix of short stories, each of which reveals the unexpected in some way. Online dating takes an unconventional turn in Sarah Meehan Sirk’s story, “The Date.” “Graduation” by Amanda Leduc is a subtle portrait of a married couple and their houseguest, while Charlotte Bondy’s “Naked in a Dirty Lake” follows three university students on an acid-fuelled walk through Toronto. Finally, Mark Jordan Manner’s piece, “King Arthur On Fire,” tells the story of three young girls and their fascination with a neighbourhood lawn decoration.

For poetry, we are on an (almost) 100% CanCon diet this Winter. Opening with five poems by Montreal poet and editor Robyn Sarah, we move across the country, gathering up poets of all stripes along the way: Stephanie Yorke (UK, via Truro, NS), Stephen Brockwell (Ottawa, ON), Don Coles (Toronto, ON), Rocco de Giacomo (Toronto, ON), Pamela Mordecai (Kitchener, ON), Laurelyn Whitt (Minnedosa, MB), Alice Major (Edmonton, AB), Russell Thornton (North Vancouver, BC), and Susan Alexander (Bowen Island, BC). Our “almost” exception to the all-CanCon rule comes in the form of a poem in translation: Toronto poet Patricia Hanley translates the work of Marina Moretti of Trieste, Italy. The poems themselves range widely in subject matter: from travel, to children, to tar sands, to tweets, we’ve got a little something for everyone.

But don’t take our word for it – strap on your crampons and climb to your favourite newsstand for a copy! Or click here to buy a copy from our online store.

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A Red Scarf Story – The Firehall produces Tina Milo’s “The Village”

By Sarah Higgins

Tina Milo. Photo by Una Skandro.

Tina Milo. Photo by Una Skandro.

The Village
Conceived and performed by Tina Milo
Direction and Dramaturgy by Dijana Milošević
Firehall Arts Centre

Tina Milo’s The Village is intimately theatrical, telling a story that is, unfortunately, all too familiar. Milo, who also wrote the piece, portrays the story of an immigrant woman, and how this unnamed character, new to a place of unfamiliar culture and language, experiences and explores the faces of depression. There is a balance of the particular and the universal here – the details of one woman’s story echo the stories of many, as Milo uses excerpts from anonymous women to deepen her own voice. She uses silence to the same end, very effectively drawing the audience into her world with long pauses early in the play. The absence of language becomes a language in itself as she builds herself slowly and deliberately before our eyes.

And, powerfully, before her own eyes, too. A video, designed by Neša Paripović, intermittently shows Milo “putting her face on” as she prepares herself for the day, applying foundation, etc. Each time the video airs, the Milo onstage turns to watch it too, further pulling the audience into her perspective.

One of the strongest elements of the play is its physicality. Directed by Dijana Milošević, Milo seeks to embody the effects of depression—from having it change how she walks to physically being trapped by it. At one point, a red scarf becomes the depression and Milo distorts herself under it, curling into herself or pushing out, but always covered by the fabric of the illness. One particularly powerful moment occurs as Milo piles on layer after layer of clothing, continuously assuring us she is fine, she’s fine, she’s fine as the jackets swallow her. That said, there are some confused moments when the movement has clearly been specifically chosen, but the reason why remains obscure. At these points, the movement is more distracting than defined.

The music, composed and played by Milo, is evocative. The final number hits an especially poignant note. Its upbeat rhythm and the double meaning haunting the lyrics of “when you get to the end of your rope…” all add to the tension of the moment. Although Milo is smiling again, there are no conclusive happy endings to this kind of story – the red scarf remains at the edges of all the lives it touches.

Tina Milo’s The Village reminds that there are common experiences within the particular rages of depression. Her story, like many, is both dark and light, filled with silence and speech, hope and despair, humour and sadness, being alone and being together. Because to start opening up about depression it takes, in the end, a village.

The Village is playing at The Firehall Arts Centre through February 28. Click here for tickets and more information.

Sarah Higgins is into her second year of her Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts at UBC. She’s foremost a playwright, and has had work produced at both edges of the country—from Little Mountain Lion Productions in Vancouver to a recent show in the Halifax Fringe festival. This is her first foray into theatre reviews, and she is excited to work with the talented writers at PRISM international.

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An Interview with Laisha Rosnau: “I find it difficult to separate my experience of the world from an experience of place.”

Interview by Alison Braid


Laisha Rosnau received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she was the Executive Editor of PRISM international. Pluck is Rosnau’s most recent book of poetry, published by Nightwood Editions in 2014. She has written two other collections of poetry, the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Prize-winning Notes on Leaving, and Lousy Explorers, as well as the bestselling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow. Her poetry has been published in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. Pluck addresses the complications of parenthood and sexuality with arresting images and language that is fresh and focused.

The first book you wrote, The Sudden Weight of Snow, was fiction. How do you find the transition between writing fiction and writing poetry? Do both come equally naturally?

The Sudden Weight of Snow was the first book of mine that was published. I’d been writing poetry and prose concurrently for a decade before then—short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, long fiction. My first novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow, and my first collection, Notes on Leaving, were written in the same time period and published two years apart. So, yes, writing both poetry and prose comes quite naturally! I’ve never done otherwise. I’m rarely in the same part of the process at the same time, though. I’ll usually be researching or mucking about in the early draft stage of one genre while working the mid-draft and editing stage of the other. I’ve written as much prose as poetry (heaps more, in fact) but published more poetry in this last decade.

What is your process usually like when writing a poem?

I don’t know if there is a usual process. Oh, yes, there is! I read other people’s work—I go back to my bookshelf, go on-line, read the literary journals I have subscribed to that year (I switch up yearly.) Then I write a fast, raw, messy first draft and go from there. The longest length of time from first draft to publication so far has been 22 years (from a first year creative writing class to my most recent collection.) I have a feeling I’ll beat that some day.

Pluck gives a beautiful array of different spaces. There’s a lot of feminine space, but also physical places that feel firmly embedded in the natural world. How do you find your location influences your poetry? Do you often write from the landscape of home? Photographs? Memories of place? 

I walk a lot. I think that influences my writing, not only by moving physically through landscape, but the rhythm of walking, the methodic quality of it. I also love biking, swimming, and skiing—anything rhythmic and solitary. I’m remarkably unobservant while outdoors though, as I’ve discovered being married to a biologist who notices so many details about the natural world—and remembers them. I like to say that I take in more of a “feeling” of a place than actual details! This is what I tell myself.

I don’t feel like I often consciously set out to write a poem about a particular landscape, but I find it difficult to separate my experience of the world from an experience of place. A big exception to that, perhaps, was my second collection, Lousy Explorers. The entire collection was written while I lived in Prince George, in the north-central interior of BC, and was published only a few months before I moved south. It’s very much an homage to that place, that landscape, that time, but I didn’t set out to write a collection that was so united by place; the north will do that to a writer, I suppose—take over.

pluckParenthood is a major focus in Pluck. How do you imagine your children will grow up with your poetry? Do some of your poems serve as ways to document and preserve memories of your own children, or your own experience of them as children?

I was quite conscious of writing about my children, and the fact that they might one day read the poems. I tried to make the work more about experiences of motherhood, rather than about my own children as individuals. I believe I was able to do this—I don’t know that there’s much in any of the poems that identifies either child, though there is a lot about me or an imagined mother figure very specifically. So, I see the poems as documenting experiences of that phase of parenthood, rather than memories of my own children.

One exception I can think of now (there are likely more) is in the poem “Pluck” when I describe a little girl spinning circles, wearing nothing but a pair of gumboots. This is very much my own daughter—but I was also trying to say something larger. Of course this girl can spin around in nothing but a pair of boots—but not all girls, everywhere, can. So it’s about her specifically and about a larger question of what it means to be a little girl in different families and cultures.

As for my children growing up with my poetry, they’ve been to several poetry readings, both my own and others, and they think of writing poetry—or writing any kind of book—as an option of something people can do. I show them the author photos of people they know, tell them when friends are on CBC, and I think they have an understanding that we have both a public side—the books, the interviews—and a private life, the one they know. I like to believe they’ve been schooled early and often in what it means to be a working artist.

Many female writers have written while also bringing up children—Munro, Plath, Glück—to name a few, but I don’t know many who focus on parenthood with the same intensity that you do in your writing. Who are some favourite authors or poets you know who do this and have found inspirational?

While writing Pluck, some of the poets I returned to were, yes, Louise Glück, also Margaret Avison, Anne Carson, Damian Rogers, Sina Queyras, Sharon Thesen, Rosmarie Waldrop, C.D. Wright. Of those, all are women (I was also reading and rereading male poets, but we’ll stay with the women for now!), some are mothers, and I’m not sure how many write about motherhood. I wasn’t looking for that, specifically. A strong early influence on me was Sharon Olds, who has written quite explicitly about motherhood. It’s been twenty years or more since I was in my Sharon Olds phase, but I believe those early influences stay with us, in some way, forever.


Alison Braid is a student at the University of British Columbia, where she is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. Her poetry has been published in The Claremont Review and shortlisted for the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem.

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The Tuesday Prompt: Talking to Animals

Photo Justin Lee / The Ubyssey

Photo Justin Lee / The Ubyssey

Now that it’s springtime (in Vancouver, anyway… Sorry, rest of Canada) I’m glad to see more wildlife out and about. City wildlife, that is, so raccoons, squirrels and skunks. And even a coyote or two, if you pass through UBC campus and happen upon Carter the Coyote (now with his own Facebook and Twitter account).

An interesting example of this is Ayelet Tsabari’s non-fiction piece “Hornets”, which appears in our Winter issue 53.2, also shows nature moving into a human space. The piece is about a long-distance relationship and a family of hornets who move in to the author’s East Van home.

It made me think about how we interact with animals, particularly in an urban landscape. So that’s what today’s prompt is about! It’s a straightforward one: think about a time when you came into contact with an animal. Where did it happen? Was the space one that belonged to you – or belonged to them? And how did it change? Write down all the impressions you remember, and then find out something you didn’t know about the animal. (Coyotes can also mate with dogs. The offspring are called “coydogs.” Coydogs don’t have a very big population because they tend to mate and have babies during the winter, making it harder for the pups to survive.) Can you work this in? Does it make you see the animal in a different light?

This is also an interesting time to consider perspectives: yours, as well as the animal’s, and can introduce a magical realism tone to a piece. This can be used for fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Good luck!

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Inside My Own Skin: A personal essay on illness, healing and the Great War

Inside-My-Own-Skin-Coverby Connie T. Braun

Inside My Own Skin
Guillaume de Fonclare
Translated by Yves Henri Cloarec
Hanging Loose Press, 2014

In this compact volume, Guillaume de Fonclare, a secular humanist, probes existential depths with philosophical precision and historical acumen. He is a father and husband, at war with an un-named auto-immune affliction that is both debilitating and painful. He is also, at the time of writing, the director of The Historical, the Museum of the Great War at Peronne in the Somme. The intertwining voices of a man who loves and suffers, narrates and records, portray the conflicts imbued in his existence; the threads are braided with compelling effect in this short personal essay. de Fonclare’s illness mirrors his understanding that there never was a healing after the Great War; suffering is the human condition. The motifs of embodiment and commemoration are often juxtaposed. Keeping the memory of the dead gives de Fonclare a perspective that rouses him to life, to help feel “[his own] pain with less acuteness and more compassion toward [him] self “(9).

de Fonclare chronicles the fatalities of the Great War that killed 10 million men—his shocking calculation for the Battle of the Somme is that the dead lay one every 50 feet, keeping in mind that elsewhere “Combat never ceased.” This is the absurd “equation of horror” (35) that remains in the trenches, never quite filled to ground level and still visible, and where dozens of corpses are unearthed each year in construction sites. There are more than four hundred military cemeteries in the Somme Valley.

The work is a translation from the French, and while this reviewer does not speak or read French, I must conclude that Claorec’s translation is very successful in portraying tone and mood, and creating a narrative that moves from historical facts, to reflection, darkness, and even a resolution of sorts. The translation convinces the reader that de Fonclare manages the tension of his narrative masterfully. While his project could be book length, I was satisfied with the short frame of time de Fonclare’s chose, perhaps because of its sombre subject matter and compelling intensity and rhythm that moved me along and held me throughout.

At turns, Inside My Own Skin is a study of history, and a reflection on the duty of memory, suggesting the influence of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, as de Fonclare points out our responsibility to “teach, educate and demand of ourselves a commitment to the duty of history.” (14). It seems he is also a student of language theory, aware of the semantics that are meant to dull war’s effect on our consciousness. Under his care, in the archives of the Historic, the stories of the lost come to de Fonclare’s rescue—those whose “stories have never been heard because they never said a word” (44). He reminds us that story and memory are all we have as means to transcend death.

Connie T. Braun is an author and instructor of Creative Writing (BA in Communications, MA in Humanities) and is completing her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She has published a memoir and a book of poetry along with reviews for various publications, and her personal essays and poetry appear in anthologies and journals. She is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. As well as serving on the board of PRISM nternational, she serves on advisory boards for the arts and creative writing and on the Board of Directors for Image Journal. She lives in Vancouver.

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Pass the Baton: The Arts Club presents The Mountaintop

Crystal Balint and Dion Johnstone Photo by David Cooper

Crystal Balint and Dion Johnstone
Photo by David Cooper

By Sarah Higgins

The Mountaintop
Arts Club Theatre
Written by Katori Hall
Directed by Janet Wright
Granville Island Stage

You can measure the success of theatre on your skin; when you get goosebumps, it’s a good one. Presented by Arts Club Theatre, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop—which explores Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final hours, rounding him out from legend to human being—had the audience shivering. The moment where Camae (played by Crystal Balint) preaches, the moment where King (Dion Johnstone) addresses the audience directly, the moments where the distinction between then (1968) and now disappears. The show is a taut and driving ninety-minute marriage of fact and fiction that captures the energy of that time and brings it into today, imploring us to take up the baton that King has passed on in the relay race to equality. Calling us to action.

The parallels between 1968 and now are heartbreakingly resonant—in particular when King speaks of the police shooting a sixteen-year-old boy. A multi-media element acknowledges and builds on this juxtaposition, a timeline of photos that play under a litany of the progress—and “progress”—of King’s mission, generally to great emotional effect (read: the sound of weeping from a rapt audience). One instance of confusion arises from this juxtaposition, however, when the final images of the slideshow (recent tragedies like Sandy Hook) conflict with the hopeful and hope-filled message of King’s closing speech.

The set, designed by Ted Roberts, is instantly convincing, from the details of the motel room to the rain outside the window. Brian Linds’ sound design adds a beautifully executed realism to the world onstage, with the rise and fall of the storm outside never disrupting the suspension of disbelief. And when Marsha Sibthorpe’s lighting strays from the realistic, it’s always to effectively support the theatricality of the moment.

Johnstone and Balint lovingly bring the characters to life. His physical embodiment of King’s paranoia and fear is engaging—but it’s her portrayal of Camae that grips hardest, with its depth and compassion as a counterpoint to King. The dynamic between the actors was vibrant, strong and authentic—save for a few moments of disconnect when the flirting between them was too heavy-handed to be believed.

Hall’s humour and empathy are evident in the honest dialogue, and work well with the sorrow and weight of the story itself. That balance of humour and pathos is generally well-maintained throughout the piece. In some moments, the humour threatens to diminish the emotion, and near the end the legend of King starts to overwhelm his dramatized humanity in a few overtly sentimental moments. But the bulk of the story is well-balanced, and the ending is goosebump strong.

The Mountaintop is an important piece, with an important message. After all, despite the distance we’ve covered since King passed the baton, it seems we’re still not at the top of this mountain. It seems, in fact, that the world is more in need of love and cooperation than ever—and this play calls us to that.

Can I get an amen?

The Mountaintop runs at The Arts Club Granville Island Stage until March 12. Click here for tickets and more information.

Sarah Higgins is into her second year of her Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts at UBC. She’s foremost a playwright, and has had work produced at both edges of the country—from Little Mountain Lion Productions in Vancouver to a recent show in the Halifax Fringe festival. This is her first foray into theatre reviews, and she is excited to work with the talented writers at PRISM international.

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The Tuesday Prompt: Six Minutes with Lynda Barry

lynda barry's diary

Yesterday, a friend of mine told me that he had been watching the Lynda Barry writing exercise that I posted as a Tuesday Prompt back in September and that he was planning to use it in a creative writing class for high school students. So I thought that it was time for another session with Lynda!

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to keep a journal or diary (mine was) and you find it hard to put pen to paper regularly (I do), this is a great, simple exercise. It’s called “Six Minute Diary” and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Lynda says that keeping a diary is much easier if you limit it to just six minutes a day – and everyone has six minutes. (There’s 1,440 minutes in a day, you can definitely spare six.) What I like about this exercise is the way it focuses on different aspects of a day: what happened, what you saw, what you heard, and then drawing an image connected to that. What a wonderful way to start a story!

Lynda also does the exercise, so you can do it with her. Like a one-on-one session! Here’s the video… it’s cool when the drums kick in.

Watch it right here: Lynda Barry’s Six Minute Diary

And if you like this one, check out Lynda’s Youtube channel!

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