PRISM 53.1 Fall 2014

531_storePrism 53.1 launched on a glorious teacup-and-octopus filled Sunday at WORD Vancouver. The issue, the first from new editors Nicole Boyce (prose) and Rob Taylor (poetry), is filled with good ink (cephalopod or otherwise).

The prose in PRISM 53:1 explores a wide range of perspectives, captured by both emerging and established writers. On the fiction side, “Everything Here Reminds Me of You” by Amy Jones looks at the relationship between a woman and her boyfriend’s ex-wife, beginning with the woman’s decision to crash a family funeral. “Postcard from the Adriatic,” a coming of age story by Jasmina Odor, is told through the shifting lens of multiple family members who have taken refuge on the Adriatic Coast during the Bosnian War. Moving from the Adriatic Coast to the West Coast, we have two stories set on islands in the Pacific Northwest: “The Troubles of North LaPorte” by Anne Trooper-Holbrook takes a month-by-month look at a teenager’s life after he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant, while “Witching Hour” by Toni Hiatt is a haunting portrait of a mother-daughter relationship impacted by mental illness. Finally, “Flight Simulator” by Michael LaPointe details one man’s nostalgic search for identity—by way of childhood computer games. On the non-fiction side, PRISM 53:1 includes K.A. MacKinnon’s “Character Sketch,” a uniquely-structured piece about two women traveling through Europe as circus employees.

For poetry, PRISM 53.1 brings you four Canadian voices: two well established (Elise Partridge, Peter Norman) and two you’ll be hearing more from soon (Raoul Fernandes, Michael Lockett). Joining them are three American writers who are most likely unfamiliar to Canadian readers: Gwen Hart, Emily Tuszynska and Mark Parlette. If one thing unites all of these poems and poets, it is their desire to pay close attention: Fernandes’ itemizes a playground in “Suspension,” Lockett explores the world both inside and outside a Sri Lankan bus in “Vavuniya via Anuradhapura,” and Tuszynska considers every angle as a boy is dressed for Halloween. Partridge, for her part, studies hard the sound, shape and meaning of words and letters in poems like “Before the Fall” and “The Alphabet.”

Put together, it makes for one fantastic issue. But don’t take our word for it – suction-cup up a copy and see for yourself!

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Going Down Swinging: Poesis Ex Machina: Non-Human Language and Mechanic Poetry

It’s time for our October swap with Going Down Swinging!

One of Australia’s oldest and strangest literary publishers, Going Down Swinging was conceived in 1979. It now produces print anthologies, audio recordings, multimedia publications, live events and a very busy website.

We’re happy to be able to team up with Going Down Swinging and introduce Australian writers to our PRISMers–and vice versa. We’ll be swapping articles and interviews once a month, so keep an eye out!

This month, Rafael S. W. writes about poetry, humans and robots…

Poetry has long been a way of trying to come to terms with something we don’t fully understand. In the past this has been death, or love, or war.

Now it’s Horse Ebooks and Google Autofill.



Some of these are poetic in that traditionally horrible way – esoteric babble aiming to stupefy through pretty-sounding phrases. But some are genuinely poetic. (Though the question remains as to the criteria of ‘poetry’, and whether an accident of clumsy typing is ‘genuine’.) The only metric we really have to go on is the one thing we still have over robots – feelings.

Does this poem feel like it was written by a human or a computer? is the central question asked by Bot or Not, an experiment designed by Oscar Schwartz and Benjamin Laird for the Digital Writers’ Festival earlier this year. Described as “a Turing test for poetry”, the challenge is to distinguish between a poem written by a person, and one written by a robot. According to their Leaderboard, it seems like Gertrude Stein and Corey Wakeling are the most robotic humans, while this poem by the program Janus Node is the most human.

The methods used to create non-human poems vary from using rule-based systems, collaborations of original texts, or language models from databases of authors’ works. One example of these bots being loosed upon the world comes from @Pentametron, which is best explained in its own words:

With algorithms subtle and discrete
I seek iambic writings to retweet.

While we can take solace in the fact that we’re at least still writing the programs that generate the poetry, it’s clear that these sonnets have some of the creativity (and all of the voice) of our generation. Chris Baraniuk, in his essay ‘Evil Robots and Their Way with Words’, unintentionally describes the future of robo-poetry when talking about the dialogue of replicants in Blade Runner: “the things he says could easily be uttered by a human experiencing the same sense of fracture.”

The fight to distinguish between humans and robots has already moved on from poetry and is coming to a Twitter feed near you. Botornot – not to be confused with Schwartz and Laird’s website – gets users to rank tweets and compares them to 16,000 users who are ‘verified humans’ (which sounds like something you’d put at the bottom of your dating site profile). While Motherboard is quick to jump to the conclusion that, based on these tests, Obama is a robot, it is still worthwhile learning how to distinguish between tweets, especially as robots have already started seducing my friends.


While spambots on Tinder are hardly poetic, the fact is that communication is evolving, so we may as well get a common tongue.

At the moment, there are two directions this evolution is heading in. The first is where we are developing robots to adopt our languages; the second is where we try and learn a language optimised for robots.

Robots interacting with humans

ASIMO is pretty much the poster child of the robots-resembling-humans race. As the first self-regulating humanoid walking robot, ASIMO has been guided by Honda through various stages of personal growth for the last fourteen years. And now they’ve taught him, sorry, it, sign language.

“Previous generations of Asimo have demonstrated incredible fluidity and speed of movements,” states Satoshi Shigemi, the ASIMO project’s chief engineer. But newer iterations of the robot are adding much greater flexibility and means of communication. Andra Keay, managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, believes robotics can go even further.

“We’re entering a rich age for deep machine learning from humans,” she said.

Just like that Animal Farm quote, “One language good, nineteen languages better”, French robotics company Aldebaran has created a ‘companion robot’ that can speak in nineteen different languages. Even more amazing is how, after teaming up with the voice technology company Nuance, this new companion – NAO – aims to be able to learn the languages too. Thanks to the cloud-based software and integrations with Nuance’s voice recognition and text-to-speech programs, the NAO robot can also “walk on varying surfaces, track and recognize faces and objects, express emotions and react to touch.”

But who needs any of that when you could just make it dance to ‘Gangnam Style’.

Humans interacting with robots

Singing to them in binary could be a good start, but a specific ‘Robot Interaction Language’ might be even better. ROILA, as it’s known, is a language developed by the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology specifically for talking to robots. Like many conlangs it aims to be much more accessible and logical than natural languages, with the added bonus of being optimised for recognition by robots. This is thanks to an algorithm designed specifically to create a vocabulary free of ambiguous or confusing words. According to their website, humans shouldn’t have much trouble either, as “the simple grammar has no irregularities and the words are composed of phonemes that are shared amongst the majority of natural languages.”

While learning this inhuman tongue might seem strange, the rewards are rich – currently ROILA can be used with Roomba vacuum cleaners and Lego Mindstorms’ NXT robot.

My own personal favourite, though, is the language spoken by chess engines. It is a poetry of probability, where instead of every line being crafted into a whole, lines are pruned down until you just have a few letters and numbers per million phrases analysed.


“#15…Bb7,” the chess engine will say to me, and even though we’re both using a common tongue, and the intermediary medium of the chessboard, it is highly unlikely I’ll be able to follow all its reasoning for the moves suggested. Indeed, chess computers have a reputation for quiet, seemingly subtle moves. If Grandmasters play chess with the finesse of a surgeon wielding a scalpel, then chess computers use laser eye surgery.

It’s entertaining, too, to hear the human dialogue around chess computers. Players talk about certain chess positions requiring you to “think like a computer”, or they might say, in post-game analysis, “the computer wants me to play Bishop e2, but I went with my gut and played Bishop b5.” Instinct, creativity: these are the only advantages we hold over computers, and it’s still not enough to help us win.

Robots interacting with robots

Communication between machines has basically been the cornerstone of the twenty-first century, but where before it was purpose-driven, now it’s experimental. Through crafting and analysing how robots develop and learn, we gain a greater understanding of the complexities of all languages – not just machine ones.

Lingodroids look like a child’s dumpster truck crossed with a dismembered thong, but according to the University of Queensland developers they are “language learning robots that play location language games to construct shared lexicons for places, distances, and directions.”

Rather than the typical transfer of data that happens between machines, the Lingodroids have been specially crafted to communicate concepts that can be both concrete and abstract. For example, they will observe a room (using 360-degree cameras, laser range finders, and sonar) and, if a space is unfamiliar to them, they will name it with a pairing of two syllables. One robot will then teach this new phrase to another and, through playing games, reinforce the understanding of this location.

Through observing their processes of interaction, researchers gain a greater understanding of how we describe the world around us, as well as developing processes which will, one day, allow robots to give and receive complex directions, even to places they’ve never been before.

In the end though, it doesn’t matter if you’re a human, robot or somewhere in between – knowing how to express yourself, and understanding how others do so, is key to your sense of self-identity. But, in the wise words of Horse Ebooks, “unfortunately, as you probably already know, people”.

Rafael S. W. is a graduate of creative writing and one of the founding members of Dead Poets’ Fight Club. He writes every single day and has been published in Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging No. 33, the current print/audio edition No. 35, and Dot Dot Dash. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.

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Prompt: Spot the story

Something I’ve enjoyed since childhood is poring over crowd scenes. It began with books like Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books and, of course, Where’s Wally/Waldo (in Ireland it’s Wally). It something that a lot children enjoy at a certain age – studying elaborate scenes for every little detail. Nowadays, I find paintings a wonderful source.

So the prompt today involves some close perusing. Below are some good examples of scenes, so take a good, hard look at all of them. Note the small details, the setting, and, most importantly, the characters. Find at least two characters that are interacting (you can use more) and now think about what they their conversation could be about. You may want to use the setting in the picture, or transplant the characters to a time and place of your choosing. This can also be an interesting way to write some historical poetry or prose, if that’s something you wouldn’t normally do.

Try and write a conversation for each painting – though you can do as many as you like.

Take a look and start writing!

"The Story of Virginia" by Sandro Botticelli

“The Story of Virginia” by Sandro Botticelli


"Children’s Games" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“Children’s Games” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


"The Derby Day" by William Powell Frith

“The Derby Day” by William Powell Frith

This one isn’t a painting, but I couldn’t resist adding it in – it’s a photo of a fight in the Ukrainian parliament, which is particularly notable because of it’s Renaissance-like composition.

Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

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Literary Nostalgia

In PRISM 53:1, Michael LaPointe writes about nostalgia in “Flight Simulator,” a funny, thought-provoking short story about a young man’s search for his past. We asked Michael whether he’s nostalgic for any books from his childhood. He was kind enough to share a few words:

Imaginary Places“My late grandfather gifted me Gianni Gudalupi and Alberto Manguel’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places in 1998, either for Christmas or my eleventh birthday. I spent countless hours going through this dense, unwieldy book in no particular order, my eyes now and then alighting with curiosity on one especially vivid place-name—Doonham, Venalia, Lomb. Although the word imaginary is right there in the title, somehow I must have ignored this important detail, because I used to write my own stories about the places, using the information from the entry to form what were thin, no doubt ersatz palimpsests over the original tales. My grandfather wisely inscribed the dictionary, “Some of the best voyages of all are to imaginary places of the mind.” In general, I try to resist the nostalgic urge, which seems to me a romantic turning away from reality, a form of selective remembrance that carves an ideal memory from its less ideal context. Nevertheless this book holds a nostalgic quality, no doubt because the imaginary nature of nostalgia is programmed into my experience of these places: both are fictional. The dictionary serves to remind me that every memory is a voyage to an imaginary place of the mind.”

On the subject of nostalgia, here are a few childhood favourites from the folks here at PRISM:

All Creatures

Clara Kumagai, Executive Editor, Promotions

The book I’m most nostalgic for is James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, which I read and re-read constantly at the age of nine or ten. It was at a time when I was obsessed with animals and had vowed to be a vet when I grew up. James Herriot was a semi-autobiographical character created by English author James Alfred Wight, and his stories and novels were based on his own life as a vet in rural Yorkshire in the 1940s. So it was a bit incongruous that a small girl in Loughrea, County Galway was identifying with his books. From them I learned things like how to cure a cow of acute stomach gas and how hard cat hysterectomies are, and I thought that at some point in my life this knowledge would actually come in useful (hasn’t happened yet but who knows). I read the five hundred page book so often that, in the end, the librarian of my tiny local library just told me I could keep it. Which I did.

Rob Taylor, Poetry Editor

WaysideFew books gave me more joy as a child than Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. I no longer own a copy of the book, and I admit that I had to look up the plot summary on the internet. But when I did—oh! Mrs. Gorf turning herself into an apple and then being eaten by Louis the yard teacher. Mrs. Jewls’ DISCIPLINE list. The new kid, Sammy, who wouldn’t take off all his rain coats (spoiler alert: dead rat). And the one part for which I didn’t need a reminder: there is no chapter 19. Just the words “There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth floor. Sorry.” All that white space, bursting with possibility! Oozing with negative capability! The poet in elementary-school me stirred a little, perhaps for the first time

Nicole Boyce, Prose Editor 

Catherine_Called_Birdy_coverI’m a very nostalgic person, so this was a tough choice for me. I settled on Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman because the book’s funny, engaging voice  piqued my interest in character-driven writing. The book—set in the 13th century—follows Catherine, a teenager who goes to great lengths to avoid marriage and embroidery, much to her parents’ chagrin. I loved Catherine’s angst; if LiveJournal had existed in the 13th century, this is what it might have looked like. I also loved the historical details—minstrels, Michaelmas, vellum, oh my!—and the comically awful suitors (Catherine, of course, foils them at every turn). Re-reading the book this summer, I had flashes back to a time when I was enchanted by medieval names, Robin Hood movies, and the exclamation “Corpus bones!”

To read “Flight Simulator,” pick up a copy of PRISM 53:1!

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Birney/Purdy Letters Excerpt #3: “Before I get nasty I want to thank you”

we go far backIn celebration of the publication of We Go Far Back in Time (a new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy) and in preparation for The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition, PRISM international and Harbour Publishing have partnered to present you four excerpts from the Birney/Purdy letters throughout October (you can read all the posts in the same place here). Last Wednesday we presented you a letter from Earle Birney to Al Purdy, informing Purdy that PRISM was rejecting his poetry submission, and taking issue with Purdy’s assertion in a review that poets in the 1940s were influenced by the work of Bliss Carman (you can read that letter here). Today, we share Purdy’s reply. Both letters have been posted 50 years to the day after their composition.

To Earle Birney (Vancouver, British Columbia) from Al Purdy (Ameliasburgh, Ontario)
October 19, 1964

Dear Earle:
That’s a blockbuster of a letter. Before I get nasty want to thank you for Canada Council missive. You hit what’s nearly the crux of the whole thing in your comments about the travel allowance. On accounta I don’t suppose very much “lateral” travel is possible in the north, and I’d likely have to go back south in order to go east or west. By plane anyway. Tho of course I’ll take whatever transport is available. Anyway, it’s a good letter, with, I think, very accurate judgments and estimates throughout.
           I wish the rest of the letter was as close to the mark.
           Naturally, I disagree about the “Love Poem.” However, you either get and like such a poem or you don’t. No amount of explaining makes it better if you (or whoever) don’t get it themselves in the first place. And you certainly know what I mean here. I could talk about this one all night, and hope to do so on some later date with you. In the meantime I think your Poetry Ed. is full of shit.
           Anyway, you challenge me to name a poet who was influenced by Carman. That’s easy. ME. He was the first reason for my writing poetry, and no snide comments please. I got over him eventually as you know, but “Arnoldus Villanova, 600 years ago (not 20) / said peonies have magic and I believe it so.”
           Your list is damn impressive, and gives me info I didn’t have before. I could have guessed some of it, but not nearly all. However, one of the things it demonstrates very strongly to me is that the poets with good models improved, and those who imitated (or were influenced by) Carman didn’t. Moral: Imitate the best. I may say (modestly) that Birney too at one time was one of my influences. Still, despite this severe handicap, I survived. No kiddin tho, there is a point here. And don’t you remember Carman’s vogue at that time, and earlier?
           You say none worthy of the name was influenced. Of course you’re right. Except me. And I wasn’t worthy the name at the time. But there were also the Canadian Authors Association type (generalization) of poets who go nowhere. You know damn well they were influenced. Carman was worshipped among some of those people, just as Williams is now, he and the Black Mountain boys.
           Still, I’ll give you best somewhat, since it isn’t a precisely accurate generalization. If I’d written 40 pages tho would have done better. But I will not agree when you say that Carman had no influence. 20 years ago and farther back.
           I went thru most of the influences you name in that table, except Eliot. But I went from Carman to Chesterton, W. J. Turner, Hardy to Yeats. Then Dylan Thomas. The Americans I didn’t even know about a few years back.
           Among your particular influences, Auden and Jeffers have been strong. Hardy a little less so. The others not at all. Donne and Marvell to some extent. Even Kipling at one time. Yourself and Layton tho, in Canada. Eliot, beyond admiring somewhat “La something or other” and “Prufrock,” not at all. I can’t even understand The Waste Land, nor very sure there’s much to understand.
           So — you busy bastard, I expect you to either disagree with this and not write, or disagree and write a year from now. However, I’m pleased to see some of the awe that seems to permeate the atmosphere these days (no kiddin) is not breathed in by you. Tho you’ve probably noted some of it. Eh? And are about to kick me in the egotistic balls. We could probably have a good argument under the “right” circumstances?
           Next day — and where the hell was I?
           Anyway, I find your graph damn interesting. For instance, whatever happened to Wreford? Or did he ever happen in the first place?
           I see you have left out Pratt, perhaps thinkin he didn’t imitate anyone.
           What a nasty question. Do I know who was writing poetry in Canada in 44? I’ve written the stuff myself since I was 13 years old, and I’ve heard of or known most of them, including many who never got anywhere. Who weren’t, as you say, “poets” — depending on the level of merit you have to achieve to deserve the epithet. But why worry about nomenclature, let the old ladies have their magic occupation. “Honest definition”? I’ve never seen a valid definition yet, one that would hold up, either of poetry or poets. Lots of stop-gap ones tho. And nearly everyone I know (who writes poems) just loves to make such definitions.
           Anyway, before I stop, thanks again for your letter. Really, I should think anyone who was so sharp and perceptive in such a letter wouldn’t be the opposite in the accompanying letter. I’ll give you about 50% of your points tho. Will you be that generous/dishonest??? No. Anyway, if I get this thing I hope to see you in Vancouver, for I’ll be out there before leaving for the north.


Excerpts from We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1987, edited by Nicholas Bradley, appear with the permission of Harbour Publishing. © 2014 Nicholas Bradley, Eurithe Purdy, and Wailan Low. The excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.

The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition is a PRISM international-sponsored event happening on October 26th as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest. All funds raised at the event will go directly to the Al Purdy A-Frame Association. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Theatre: Carmen Aguirre’s “Blue Box”

Carmen Aguirre. Photo by Megan Verhey.

Carmen Aguirre. Photo by Megan Verhey.

by Sasha Singer-Wilson

Blue Box
Written and performed by Carmen Aguirre
Directed by Brian Quirt
Arts Club Theatre Company
Revue Stage

Carmen Aguirre has got it goin’ on. She is a fierce force of bold sensuality and brash wit. She oozes generous warmth. She is an exceptional storyteller. To top that off, this is a story that warrants stage time, that deserves open ears and curiosity. No matter your background, your connection to the revolution in Chile or the sexy six-pack of a movie star, Blue Box will connect, via hot wire, to your heart.

Blue Box was commissioned by Nightswimming and is masterfully directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Brian Quirt. Nightswimming is one of Canada’s leading creators of new works of theatre, dance and music, and Blue Box is one of its great successes, having premiered in 2012 at the Cultch in Vancouver. The ninety-minute, one act show has since toured to Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Regina, Banff, Victoria, Whitehorse and St. John’s.

Aguirre is the vibrant soul of Blue Box. The writer and actor has co-written over twenty plays and her first book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, won CBC Canada Reads in 2012 and is a national bestseller. She’s at work on two new plays as well as a second memoir. In Blue Box Aguirre weaves together two incredible autobiographical stories. One is powerfully political and chronicles her underground life in the 1980’s Chilean resistance movement combatting the Pinochet dictatorship. The other is keenly personal and accounts her passionate and tumultuous relationship with an irresistible actor. She manages to knit these starkly contrasting and yet profoundly connected stories together, often only a breath in between them, with grace and clarity.

The set is bare, with only a black stool and water bottle upstage. This leaves the necessary emotional space for Aguirre and her story. The thrust of the Revue Stage serves the intimacy and up-close-and-personal nature of the play. Set and Lighting Designer Itai Erdal leaves room for the audience to process the scope of Aguirre’s life, as we follow her into the cockpit of an airplane with her resistance fighting first-husband, to a phone-sex call center in Vancouver’s Lower East Side, to the steamy bedroom of her lover in Los Angeles. The lighting is bright and dramatic one moment and gently subtle the next, illuminating both Aguirre and the audience with intuitive skill.

Music is central in Blue Box and Sound Designer and Composer Joelysa Pankanea, a multi award-winning musician, carries us to smoky salsa clubs and dark Chilean streets. The soundtrack includes La India’s “Ese Hombre” and “Ya No Queda Nada” by Tito Nieves and inspires shoulder shaking and head bopping throughout the audience. The music both facilitates the joyful moments of levity and helps to build the mounting tension. All design elements unite in simple service and honour of the story, a rare experience.

Upon leaving the theatre, my date said, “I’m going to IMDB Carmen and figure out who that actor is!” I responded, “So, you think it’s all true? You think you’ll find someone?” A passionate discussion ensued in which we debated the truth of the story, and if it mattered if all the details were real—we were invested and engaged. Given that Aguirre was playing “herself”, we inherently trusted her and therefore believed that what she told us had actually happened. My date felt disappointed that I’d even introduced the possibility that anything might have been exaggerated or fictitious, and felt somehow manipulated if it was. Is part of going to the theatre seeking a kind of “manipulation”? In “confessional” theatre, is the artist accountable to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”? When you go to see a play, do you care more about the “truth” (a slippery notion no matter what the circumstance) or more about being engrossed and entertained?

I invite you to engage in this discussion and have a unique and invigorating evening at the theatre. Be sure to catch Blue Box. Carmen Aguirre is an artist to follow closely. Wherever she goes there is sure to be a dance party and an uprising.

Blue Box runs at The Arts Club Revue Stage until November 1st, 2014. Click here for tickets and more information.

Sasha Singer-Wilson is a Vancouver based and Toronto bred writer and performer. She makes theatrical things with the blood projects and literary things with these five minutes. She’s in her first year of the joint Creative Writing/Theatre MFA in Playwriting at UBC and has a serious crush on the mountains.

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Review: “Placeholder” by Charmaine Cadeau

Charmaine Cadeau
2013, Brick Books, Canada

The future is elusive and uncertain. The past is exact, a known experience that marks like “road salt from the side of the car / sticks to your jacket, tells where you’ve been.” (49) Placeholder, the second book of poems from Charmaine Cadeau, takes residence in the moments between these opposing abstracts of time.

Cadeau’s placeholder seems both metaphor, as a marker or trigger to memory, and literal, like a pause button, a time out for reflection. The poems straddle the narrative and philosophical, and the ambiguity in the stream-of-consciousness verse lends itself to multiple readings. Structurally, the text reinforces this conception. The book uses a variety of forms—from couplet to prose poem to sprawling free verse that layers in stanza bunches like a textural moraine of image—and the lack of unity seemed symbolic of fragmentary remembrance. Memory is not static, but open to environmental stimulus, open to deterioration. The speaker’s frequent use of the ‘we’ pronoun suggests an attempt to democratize access to the placeholder itself. We seem to know that there is no use in burying the past, “as if anything could be safely / sealed away.” (19)

The poems are infused with anxiety and a careful control of diction leads the reader through runs of subtle sound play. From “Queen bee”:

her cell’s architecture is the same as steroids, cholesterol,
graphite lines ghosting up through watercolours, aspirin
loose in the desk drawer…

The workers hum and build like canary

girls in a munitions factory—skin yellowing from TNT. They
think about demolition,
what the last sound would be, the catch—


Cadeau’s is a line possessed of itself and its shifting auditory rhythms.

Seduced by memory and the past, an honest fear of what next? rises from the language, “flicking between when to hold out / when to let go.” (14) “Glasshouse” proceeds as a series of questions: what if, what then, what now? “How we reminisce” further elaborates this complicated comfort, describing reminiscence as both a scarred red pear and the sweet juice beneath its skin. There is an inescapable pull in memory that “swims in your blood. And it washes up, no matter how far the toss.” (41) And as captivated by memory as the speaker is, she is equally contemptuous of “tomorrow,” a “tease hiking up its skirt at today’s loneliness.” (21)

Near the end of the book the reader realizes something has changed. From “Overexposure”: “Our photographs came back white, or mostly / white like froth, traces of something else / pressing from the other side.” (40) Here the past doesn’t give the speaker what she wants, the easy access, the placeholder, what Aislinn Hunter has called the object as repository of memory. Looking forward with “compass at the ready,” the speaker is plagued with doubt and can’t help remind the reader “the hippo— / campus is your ticket home.” (57)

In the end, Placeholder faces up to what is approaching and describes “how kids chase / after the flashlight’s pool moving always slightly ahead,” (62) the book and these lines a powerful reminder that the future holds our understanding of the past.

Geoffrey Nilson is a writer and musician from New Westminster, BC. His poetry has appeared in a variety of publications across Canada including PRISM internationalsubTerrainThe Rusty ToquePulp, and rip/torn. In 2012, he was a finalist for The Malahat Review Far Horizons Award for Poetry. He studies Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is attending The Banff Centre‘s Wired Writing Studio in the fall of 2014. Find him at his website or on Twitter @GeoffreyNilson

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