An interview with Shannon Bramer

Shannon Bramer is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Precious Energy, with Book*hug. Her plays The Hungriest Woman in the World, The Collectors and Monarita were all produced thanks to the dramaturgy and support of the Women’s Work Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Shannon has a children’s book forthcoming from Groundwood in March 2019.

Photo credit: Sadie Glenn Derry

How did you begin writing and what keeps you going?

I started writing when I was a child; when I was in middle school I discovered the work of Canadian poets Irving Layton, Gwendolyn Mac Ewen and Leonard Cohen and fell in love with what a poem could do, how a poem could make me feel. When I got older I started reading Ana Akhmatova, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and my love for poetry and language grew and grew. I continue write because the effort to create is so satisfying—because writing consumes me and because writing is hard but it also helps me figure things out, about myself, about the world.

What was the process of putting together you latest poetry collection? Have you noticed a difference in how you approach writing poems since working on plays or your forthcoming book for children?

I’m inspired by broken things and whole things: that’s how Precious Energy came to be. It took me a long time to write and refine the manuscript because I was in over my head with life: marriage, children and caring for my parents as well.  Once the manuscript was accepted I sat on it for a long time and then kept revisiting it. I did a lot of rewriting and also let new poems emerge. My publisher, Book*hug, also paired me with a wonderful editor, Jennifer LoveGrove (a brilliant poet and fiction writer), and she helped me figure out how to push many of the poems down further into the dark, surprising places they wanted to go, especially when it was hard for me to be as brave or funny or sad as I wanted to be.

I love listening to people talk; how people express and hide what’s inside. It’s so wonderfully peculiar and specific. Some of my poems are like monologues—they arrive in my head and want to speak their piece. They possess an individuality that is simultaneously fragile and immediate.

I find playwriting to be a more fluid process. Once I have a bit of momentum and have found the special way a character speaks, dialogue unfolds quickly; the work starts to grow and change and travel. The characters in a play say things and they don’t always understand why they are saying them. Also, my plays are more extroverted than my poems. My plays possess a bit more volatility and swagger. Poems are harder to write and take longer to finish because they need so much tinkering and tenderness.

The poems I’ve written for children are really poems for human beings of all ages. But I’ve tried to see the world through the eyes of a child in these poems; these poems were inspired by conversations with children and by conversations (overheard!) between children—both my own and those I have spent time with in schools as a visiting artist and kindergarten lunchroom supervisor.

All of my work explores tension and fluidity in relationships.  I’m compelled in all genres by the beauty and power of language itself, the space it creates, on the page and inside me.

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

The list of poets that have influenced me over the years is enormous. The first poets I ever read and fell in love with as a child and then later as a young adult have probably been the most impactful: Gwendolyn MacEwen, Leonard Cohen, Federico Garcia Lorca, Langston Hughes, Roo Borson, Yehuda Amichai, Anne Carson, Janet Frame (a now deceased novelist from New Zealand whom I’ve been obsessed with for decades). Gypsy Guitar by David McFadden and Cruelty to Fabulous Animals by Gary Barwin were also two really important books for me—I remember being so buoyed and thrilled by the surrealism in those books, by the delight and aplomb. I still want to write poems like that someday!

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

I don’t think I would have found the confidence to pursue writing if not for the encouragement of my first poetry workshop instructor at York University: Libby Scheier. She was the first person, after my mother, to tell me that my poems were good. She was also an excellent, compassionate critic and it was from her that I first learned how to accept criticism and use it to help my work improve and grow. It was so wonderful to have a real-live poet (and a wonderfully bad-ass feminist poet at that) be my first poetry instructor. She did not shy away from difficult subjects in her work (sexual abuse is one example), which in turn inspired me to write about anything I wanted. I could write about flowers. I could write about terror. I could write about both at the same time.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a strange new collection of poems and miniatures called Little Guns.  It’s going to be quite different from Precious Energy. I’m also finishing a play for young audiences called Chloe’s Tiny Heart is Closed. It’s a play for children about death and divorce (but it’s also a comedy with an endearing and grotesque clown at the centre)!

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

I’m sure there is more than one poet out there who should be receiving more attention! There are so many books and so many poets; but I’m quite delighted by the work of those who are currently in the spotlight in Canada. I am a poet and I am fan of poets. I only wish every poet could experience that feeling of being acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts. Writing a book is a huge amount of work and an accomplishment in itself—one that should be celebrated! However, it’s unfortunate (and understandable!) how deflated one might feel after all that work if a book isn’t properly reviewed or if seems none of your peers notice or like it. Before social media it was harder to tell who was getting attention and who wasn’t, so it’s easy to get tangled up in it all and feel worried and self-conscious about it.  I try not to. The prevalence of online magazines and blogs mean that more books are being reviewed than ever before and I’m grateful for that. I had ten years between my last two books and it feels very good to have something out in the world again. 



Annick MacAskill

Who’s to say when spring arrives? The crowns
of jays on the deck, a downy woodpecker who mistakes
man-made for natural habitat.

The surprise—a great heron’s flat yellow eye,
sharpened through the lens of your father’s
binoculars (hauled in a black carry-on

across provinces), its feathers navy and slate, jean-
coloured, startling against the river,
the anemic grasses—a pop quiz on

after months of white on white, the clouded absence
of spectrum.

Annick MacAskill is the author of No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), and a chapbook, Brotherly Love: Poems of Sappho and Charaxos (Frog Hollow Press, 2016). She has new poems forthcoming in Canadian Notes & Queries, Event, The Antigonish Review, Room Magazine, and The Nova Scotia Advocate. Originally from Ontario, she currently lives and writes in Halifax.


An interview with Geoffrey Nilson

Geoffrey Nilson is the author of In my ear continuously like a stream (above/ground, 2017), O (Swimmer's Group, 2017), and We Have to Watch (Quilliad, 2016). His poetry and prose has appeared in various publications including Coast Mountain Culture, CV2, Lemon Hound, PRISM international, and The Capilano Review. He is a contributing editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and is currently at work on a collection of short fiction. When not exploring the weird and wonderful in his writing, he takes film photographs and educates his daughter on the merits of punk rock.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

My writing has always been a product of my reading, and beginning at an early age, I was addicted to books. Some of my earliest memories are trips to the local library where my parents would turn me loose in the stacks. I’d come home with an armful, reading until I fell asleep in my bed with the light on (something I still do regularly). I didn’t have any dreams of being a writer, then. I just loved stories.

But at 16 I started working at the same public library I had spent so much time in as a kid, and one of my tasks was shelf-reading, where I went over a section of books one-by-one to make sure they were in order. I discovered so many different writers, so many different forms of writing, which I didn’t know existed. At the same time as stealing novels assigned to my older sister for her university classes, I found Kingsway by Michael Turner while shelf-reading, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Well not quite. I wrote for a few years, took some classes, published a little, won a contest, and then promptly quit writing in 2003 to play guitar in a band. I didn’t write again for a decade. I got married. My daughter was born. I got divorced. Quit music and went back to school. I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do anymore, but as I should have expected, once I started reading the words came too.

Every writer has doubts and feels like a failure sometimes, at least all the writers I know. We’re only as confident as our last finished piece, if that, so commiserating does help. Thankfully I can also fall back on books for motivation. There’s just nothing that excites me more about writing than reading, about the feeling I get when I read something that makes me feel less alone in the world, as if the words on the page were, as Flaubert wrote, “some vague idea you once had, some blurred image from deep down that spells out your finest feelings.”

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

Influence is a strange word. To be honest, I don’t give it a ton of thought. I’ve been asked a few times and I stumble through my answers, listing off the first writers I can think of. I will attempt to do better here.

I suppose at the formative place, where I began to love poetry, is Michael Ondaatje. His sensuous attention to language and his keen use of allusion both made me realize the poem is not limited to what I know, it can also spur me to other discoveries. Vancouver poetry of the 1960s, the TISH poets and the Downtown poets and the small press culture, they were very important too, but that poetry motivated me to create my own literary reality rather than waiting and hoping for something to happen. bpNichol is my beacon, my light. Whenever I am unsure, Nichol has something to offer me. His daring, his love, his weirdness, and his forms—they loom large for me in all the writing I do. More recently while working on a suite about the end of my marriage, I’ve been reading Lynn Crosbie and Sharon Olds. Both have unique ways to approach the confessional. I especially love Crosbie’s Liar, a book length serial that reinvents what the love poem can be.

Have you noticed a difference in the ways in which you approach the individual poem, now that you’ve had some experience putting together chapbook-length manuscripts?

I think what has changed most for me over the years is my attention to each part of the poem or the sequence. I have gotten better at keeping all my important concerns in check. I’m a writer who is comfortable in letting the writing dictate the form, so I listen to the work I am doing and let it tell me what it needs to be. I’m thinking here of Dennis Lee and his notion of “cadence.” Ideas can be expressed in different ways. I don’t create with any exacting or specific method. I try things. I make mistakes. I throw stuff out. Usually a form best suited for the content will present itself. Only after I listen to the work, sometimes I must train my ear, will a form show itself. I’m not just talking about stanzas, line breaks, and rhyme schemes, but about the line, page, and book level considerations of how an idea is manifest, about the poem as physical object and conceptual space.

Putting together a manuscript is fraught with considerations and sometimes it can be difficult for me to get enough perspective. I can obsess a little and get attached to structures as they develop. Thankfully I’ve had great editors who have helped me develop arcs for my sequences I had not considered. Editors really are the heroes of literature.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

Mentorship has been vital to my development. Without a doubt I would not be where I am without the help of many people. I am very fortunate to have studied with some fine poets in the past few years: Don Domanski at the Banff Centre, and Jen Currin, Rachel Rose, Billeh Nickerson and Aislinn Hunter at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Billeh actively encouraged me after I started writing again and his words of support gave me the confidence to pursue my path as a writer. But it was Aislinn who became my mentor over the years I completed my university degree.

I met Hunter in 2012 when I enrolled in a creative non-fiction class she was teaching, and connected with her deep well of academic and literary reference as well as her penchant for hilarious self-deprecating anecdotes. She taught me so much about how to approach big themes, how to use philosophy and art history in my poetry, and encouraged me to think in a granular way in which sequences accrue for the reader.

She was my hardest editor, calling me out when I didn’t put in enough effort, letting me know it was unacceptable to waste time with bad work. She was also my biggest champion, encouraging me to apply for residencies when I didn’t think I deserved them, and editing work for me in her office hours that had nothing to do with my classes.

Pearl Pirie wrote that a mentor is “Someone who shows you that doors exist.” I’m eternally grateful for the doors Aislinn showed me.

You are currently on the editorial board of Arc Poetry Magazine. Why was this important, and have you been learning through the process of working on a journal?

My work with Arc and other literary journals has made me appreciate all the people working in literary publishing much more because anyone who is in this racket is in it because of love. That’s a good feeling to be around and it infuses everything I do in my life. The sense of community I feel from participating in the literary culture is important to me.

For me, the whole thing of reading for a literary journal is like crate digging at a record store. It’s about the search for some unknown gem buried in the mix. Finding beauty in a batch of submissions is the same as finding it any other time: delightful.

Your author biography mentions that you’re working on a collection of short fiction. What is the difference between working on poems to working on short stories? Are you able to work on both poetry and fiction concurrently?

Fiction is an entirely different process and I really need to separate it. Poetry is so idiosyncratic for me, and I expect the reader to participate, collaborate in making meaning. But when I write fiction, I think much more about readers and about what the story is trying to say to them. It also just takes more physical time to develop a story from beginning to end, from idea to completion. More words, more drafts, more frustration when I toss out something that isn’t working.

Prose writing in general is more structured and doesn’t usually reward leaps of tangential fancy. I don’t malign the restrictions. I enjoy the opportunity to create within them. Like my approach with listening to form, I listen to the story and let it determine how and in what voice it wants to be told.

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

Matea Kulić. 


Age of Experience

Daniel Cowper

Following the retreating shore, we lead
our horses into valleys flat with slopped

deposits of silt and junk. Nail-toothed eels loop
in pools; huge squid ooze aimless around

the oily iridescence, skins rippling with
rainbow eyespots. While the earth drains we eat

those freaks, slice chunks off suckered arms.
The topsoil bakes with trapped compost

of choked sealife, drowned birds and beasts. Steam vines
up mountain slopes, crystallizes at night

on summits of rock. Children track our plows,
sowing the exothermic plain, kids pick

skulls from furrows instead of stones, parse bones
as beast or human. Skeletons stack neatly

into fences, white walls for huts. We wear
ourselves out working, dream ad idem

                                                of mushy spatter

and drip on decking.
The constant roll     of a wooden hull.

Greedy water
discs our sleep,

tossing up                                little dollops
wherever                                  raindrops fall.
The immense chime
of rain                      perforating the sea.

In my bunk, I listen to the hum of ants
hollowing ribs and tibia

within the walls, admire
the myriad spider webs.

Through gaps between femurs and funnels
I watch insomniacs stumble

side to side in nocturnal fields, teasing
bones from rancid mud,

mourning over drowned unknowns,
the disarticulated dead.

On the sea’s tympanum

once we found a flotilla of glass buoys,

knitted in the teal fibres of fishing nets.
Under them hung strips of over-weighted mesh,
snagged and tangled with dead
sharks and cormorants,
loose sneakers and cushions.
On one stray cord a bride

in bridal dress
was leashed head downward
in the water, veil
and chiffon train

beating with an inorganic pulse.



Daniel Cowper’s first book of poetry is forthcoming from McGill-Queen’s University Press. His chapbook, The God of Doors, was published by Frog Hollow Press as co-winner of its chapbook contest. Daniel and his wife serve as the poetry editors for Pulp Literature, and live mostly in a small cabin on Bowen Island, BC.


An interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s first book, Port of Being, is forthcoming from Invisible Publishing in fall 2018. She is the author of the chapbook, Prosopopoeia (Anstruther Press, 2017), and her poetry and fiction are forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and The Humber Literary Review, respectively. Shazia is an editor for Metatron Press and Canadian Women in the Literary Arts.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

I'm not sure how I began writing, but I constantly remember writing when I was young, even though I didn't think of it as "writing" at the time. I remember writing stories between sets of Apogee racing games on my first computer and writing poems in front of the TV. I used to love animals, like many kids, and I remember being overwhelmed by beautiful and sad things, which moved me to write. To be honest, I think writing was like a tic. I remember being hyper aware of the seemingly small moments of sadness and awe and the complexity of things. In many ways, I'm still motivated by nuance and complexity. On good days when I feel strongly about my work, I'm almost always motivated by loneliness – to try to reach another person out there. That doesn't always mean that the writing is going to be hopeful or optimistic. Sometimes I write to make sense of the world. Sometimes I write for the dead.

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

Far too many to name. Off the top of my head: Dionne Brand, Ken Babstock, Richard Siken, Phyllis Webb, John Thompson, Rimbaud, Solmaz Sharif, Kaveh Akbar, Jonathan Ball, Terrance Hayes, Mark Strand, Fred Moten.

Your first full-length collection, Port of Being, is scheduled to appear this fall with Invisible Publishing. What was the process of putting together a full-length collection, compared to putting together your chapbook, Prosopopoeia (Anstruther Press, 2017)?

Prosopopoeia brought together some poems I'd written over the years. It's not necessarily unified, though themes and connections emerged after seeing the various pieces in conversation with each other. The chapbook clarified my obsessions with surveillance, geography, time, and relations between people and objects, and it began to couple those with more personal experiences of loneliness, addiction, and clinical depression. Recognizing these connections in the chapbook was crucial for the book. When I was writing Port of Being, I constantly jostled with the weight of these personal experiences and a sense of responsibility to facts, history, and the experiences of other people. This struggle was intensified when, a few years ago, a thief who stole my laptop followed me and had knowledge of my whereabouts. It was a traumatizing experience that made the more removed preoccupations with surveillance and space far more personal and immediate. The book has a clear arc (at least to me) that moves into the lyrical. I should clarify that the book isn't about me being stalked, though. I've preferred to tell it slant (thanks to Emily Dickinson for the wise words!). It began with research, which led me to undertake a kind of surveillance (after Vito Acconci's Following Piece) in return, and this gave rise to the first part of the book. The process of putting together the book was like following a trail of myself in the world and mapping it all together. I learned so much about the world (for lack of a better word) when writing this book and that makes me feel okay.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

Mentorship has been extremely important. Wayde Compton's work has been influential for me for many years now. He is the director of The Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend thanks to a scholarship. As well, Port of Being received the 2017 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, for which Wayde was the sole judge. He is a kind of bright light for me through his work and his words. And, Meredith Quartermain, who was my mentor at the The Writer's Studio, continues to be important for me. She encourages my curiosity about Vancouver and my interests in psychogeography and theory, and she understands things deeply. The integrity of my undergraduate professor, Jeff Derksen, still carries me through my work. I would not be where I am without them.

Over the last year or so, working with Dr. Ian Williams at UBC has pretty much changed my life. His approaches to poetry and writing balance a kind of rigour and play, experimentation and lyricism, which I have yearned to find. As well, it's really something to be able to talk to a prof about diaspora and similar histories, and all kinds of sensitivities around navigating the literary world as a visibly racialized person and how it affects the work. Because of Ian, I was able to be on a panel at the Canadian Writers Summit and share the research process that gave rise to my first book. As well, I had been reluctant to share the research process for my book prior to speaking with Ian, because the stalker incident and the subsequent surveillance I undertook made me feel uneasy. But, Ian has been encouraging, critical, and generous. His presence makes me feel less alone.

You were the poetry editor for PRISM International and are currently on the editorial board. Why was this important, and what did you learn through the process?

During my time as the poetry editor at PRISM, it became apparent to me that I had to ask for the work I wanted to see. I sought out work by emerging writers, such as Mohammad Kebbewar, with whom I worked to develop his poetry. It means a lot to me that I gave him his first professional publication. Recently, you asked me for some work. I sent you a poem called "Conspiracy of Love," which I thought I could avoid sharing, because it's a harrowing poem for me. The fact that you asked me for work made me feel okay and safe to share this scary poem, which was received surprisingly well! It was a relief to see this poem in the world because it's a very important poem for me. It's dedicated to those who have experienced addiction and clinical depression. It's not meant to be a poem for anyone else. This was partly the nervousness around this poem. My point is that editors have to ask for the work they want to see. When I was at PRISM, it was clear to me that if I wanted to work closely with writers, I would have to balance my workload by publishing more polished pieces so that I could devote time to giving a few writers in-depth developmental edits. I wish that wasn't the case, but it was. I've been a poetry editor for book publishers, and I think that the one-to-one work ethic for book editing is something I've tried to bring to editing for magazines, just to remember the reasons for doing what we do, which can get lost in the face of quick turnarounds and deadlines. It's very fulfilling to be able to work closely with writers, and I'm glad I have the chance to do so as an editor at Metatron Press and the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive.

What are you currently working on?

I'm working on reading! I'm finding it important to read for pleasure, especially as I continue to work on a book of stories that seems to be turning into a novel (god help us all) and a second book of poems. Reading reminds me how this party got started and why I should still be attending... 

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

Faith Arkorful



Sean Braune

Civil emergence as
mutant figures

shell the

habits tread the

subjected to readerly
rudders I am trapped,

                                                Hermetic, a dull chase
loves the epitome

                        the plenty
of lilies; our enemies

with noisy riches
are love’s pull

            on rapid pulses urging
the dumbest

                                                            trifles to stick
to the sass relation.

                        Father, the spleen
yields dreams

Our publicity is by all

            means an
egg prick.—

the amber, a ruckus
a corpus emptiness

rustic mysteries
wander freely

laugh, the
finely tuned

patter of


Sean Braune’s first book of philosophy, Language Parasites: Of Phorontology, appeared in 2017 from Punctum Books. His poetry has appeared in ditch, The Puritan, Rampike, Poetry is Dead, and elsewhere. He has two poetry chapbooks out with above/ground press—the vitamins of an alphabet (2016) and The Cosmos (2018)—and a third forthcoming called Face Portraits and Author Cops. A chapbook of his creative writing has appeared from AngelHousePress called Story of Lilith (2017).


Eleventh Sketch of a Poem I will not have Written

Stephen Collis

        Perhaps the greatest transgression possible under
        neoliberal capitalism is to stand very still—Anne Boyer
I told myself
be revolution
was more like joining
or finding
or waiting a long time some stretch of road no traffic
but the heat of broken concrete / you know?
It doesn’t have to be all
storm of bricks and fire
lawyers and bankers strung
from their shingles
bodies swinging etc.
/ could there be a stillness
in revolution /
could there be a place where
we were like
breaking out from inside
still inside reading
/ letters of blood and fire /
loaded not yet sprung
from stillness when
you put the book down
and light that cocktail / cock arm / throw
doesn’t have to be
stillness like
getting away from the mess
of class and conflict
just the stillness
of bodies joining the mass
which starts to turn once
those stillnesses mesh
like teeth of gears biting
/ sorry / that’s so analog /
me: how many egg mcmuffins
do you think could fit
in a kangaroo’s pouch?
Interviewer: I meant questions
about the job
Stephen Collis’s many books of poetry include The Commons (Talon Books 2008; 2014), On the Material (Talon Books 2010—awarded the BC Book Prize for Poetry), DECOMP (with Jordan Scott—Coach House 2013), and Once in Blockadia (Talon Books 2016—nominated for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature). He has also written two books of literary criticism, on poets Susan Howe and Phyllis Webb, a book of essays on the Occupy Movement, and a novel. Almost Islands is a forthcoming memoir, and a long poem, Sketch of a Poem I Will Not Have Written, is in progress. He lives near Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and teaches poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University.


Last Child of Oedipus goes Childless

Rebecca Rustin

King Creon forbids that Polyneices, brother of Antigone and Ismene, be granted proper burial. The body lies exposed on the battlefield. Antigone, against Ismene’s advice, buries him. Creon condemns Antigone to a cave where she hangs herself. Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s betrothed, finds her, kills himself with his sword, and dies with her in his arms. – Antigone, by Sophocles  

Many say Ismene
Stood for days at the mouth
Of the cave

Where Antigone
Lay with Haemon
Her champion
Their love
Lost to rule of

They say Ismene held
A mason’s trowel
Though whether
She hoped to
Dig something up
Or smooth something
No one
Could say
She’d go
Down to the
Watching place
See celebrity
Celebrity sisters
Unite before
A violent ex
Hesitated then
Turned away
Only one soldier of
Theseus could hold
Her against a tree
At the maenad bash
She brandished her
Thyrsus unbacchicly
At the gathering
Place she picked
The kind of beans
Said contained
The souls of the dead
Did she sleep
In a bower pricked
With rosemary
Did she stumble
As she wandered
There was a fallen
Spruce she liked
To balance on
A particular
Point in the sky
To look into
As she told
Her father and
She wore sequined
Dolce e Gabbana
Jumpsuits with
White boots and a long face
Her brother as ever
A cipher
A filing away
Of secrets  A
Gateway to
Newer forms
Of disaster
Whom Antigone
Loved but Ismene
Could not
His hand on the back
Of her neck  Her
Knees on the grass

Rebecca Rustin is a freelance writer and translator in Montreal, QC, with poems in Prism and Pioneertown.