Fall 2020 Newsletter

asleep on the softsoil of the forest / the tide just kept shrugging

We're so excited to share our Fall 2020 issue with you! This newsletter features excerpts of poetry and fiction from the issue, artwork by our featured visual artist, Ruth Cuthand, as well as a Q&A with the 2020 Short Grain Contest winners!

Issue contributors include Julia Escaño, April Ford, Tikva Hecht, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Christina Shah, and many more, as well as the winning pieces from the Short Grain Contest, as selected by our judges, Casey Plett and Sylvia Legris. 

Our Fall issue is available NOW to order on our websiteSubscribe today to save 37% off the newsstand price! 

From our Fall issue


I Have Been a Strong Lover (excerpt)
Jennifer LoveGrove 

You leave me 
oranges in the kitchen 
They are important to me 
in the morning. 
Conclusion (excerpt)
Jun-long Lee

There is a type of pining, not for the forest but for the body parts left there on each subsequent visit. It is difficult to see the similarities between the smoke of burning rosemary and a series of amputations, but the blessings on the place are the same. Nostalgia is directed at the presence of former presence, expanding with each passing.


Black Holes (excerpt)
Liedewij Vogelzang

I sat down and looked around me. The poster next to me on the wall read: Every last Friday of the month: Disco swimming.
          Pelle had taught me to do reality checks. You have to check regularly during the day to see if you are asleep or awake, he said, then you will automatically start doing the same in your dreams.
          He had different strategies for that. For example, you could look at the clock twice; in your dream time will pass. Or you could turn the light on or off. If that fails, you also know that you are dreaming. Your brain is unable to simulate such a sudden change.
          Of all the strategies I learned from Pelle, I applied the last one that he told me most often: read the same text twice. This is not possible in your dream. The words will change when you try to read them again. I looked to the side. There was still disco swimming every last Friday of the month.
          I was not dreaming.

Featured Artist: Ruth Cuthand

Surviving: Hepatitis C, 2019 (glass beads, thread, backing, 25 1/4" x 19 1/4")
COVID-19 Mask No. 8, 2020 (glass beads, mask, thread, backing, 12" x 12")
Surviving: COVID-19 No. 1, 2020 (glass beads, thread, backing, 25 1/4" x 19 1/4")

Artist Statement 

Surviving is a series of contemporary diseases marked by the discovery of HIV. These new diseases include: H1N1, West Nile, Hanta, H5N1, Hepatitis C, and most recently COVID-19. As Indigenous people we are very aware of our health. Substandard housing, lack of clean water, and poverty are leading causes of poor health. I was worried that COVID-19 would lead to deaths of Indigenous people. Most reserves shut down roads and quarantined residents, and this helped to keep numbers down. The pandemic has been scary and boring at the same time. 

Reserving: Polio, 2019 (glass beads, thread, backing, 25 1/4" x 19 1/4")
Extirpate this Execrable Race No. 2, 2018 (glass beads, Canadian Forces blankets, ribbon, dimensions variable)
Surviving: COVID-19 No. 2, 2020 (glass beads, thread, backing, 25 1/4" x 19 1/4")

Short Grain Winner Q&A


First Place: “Heat” by Ryanne Kap 
Second Place: “Lucky Baboon” by Iryn Tushabe 
Third Place: “Success” by Alexis Pooley 


First Place: “Asch’s Line Study in the Current Anthropocene” by Paola Ferrante 
Second Place: “Common Law” by Katie Jordon 
Third Place: “the decapoda and the molting moon” by Cooper Skjeie 
What inspired or motivated you to write your Short Grain winning piece?
Paola Ferrante: This poem was written just as the world was going into lockdown in March and in that sense, it is a response to a world on fire (both literally and metaphorically). I think, like a lot of us right now, I’m trying to work through the fear and anxiety which comes with living with what quite often seems like the end of the world, with the persistent threat of climate change, or at very least the end of our own worlds as we know them, and the social isolation that comes with living in these times. In this piece, I wanted to examine the sometimes very human reasons why people persist in clinging to old, destructive habits, especially with regards to climate change, and why we do the same things over and over again, somehow thinking they will lead to better tomorrows.
Iryn Tushabe: I’m fond of olive baboons now, but that hasn’t always been the case. I was born and raised in a village right up against Kibale Forest National Park in Western Uganda where some of my primate neighbours included baboons, monkeys, bush babies, and chimpanzees. I grew to regard baboons as the destructive bullies who had no respect for my family’s privacy. They were always barging into our compound and eating our food. My interaction with them often involved shouting and swearing on my part. They, of course, were never anything other than themselves, too. They growled and bared their teeth. They made no secret of their anger and frustration.
After my family was evicted from Kiyoima village as part of the government’s initiative to expand the park, I missed the baboons almost immediately. I hadn’t realized how much entertainment I’d derived from watching the boisterous creatures. I appreciated that they were clever and entrepreneurial. They figured, “Why spend many hours foraging in the forest when there’s a kitchen over there?” It’s sound logic from their perspective, but when you’re the human being whose kitchen they are determined to raid—or the human child charged with guarding said kitchen—it’s easy to see the creatures as relentless rascals.
Ryanne Kap: I actually wrote this piece for an upper-year English course at UTSC with SJ Sindu! It was written as a response to the title story of Traplines by Eden Robinson; I wanted to focus on the feelings of being trapped and stifled. That’s something I return to a lot in my writing, and something that I think resonates with many people of colour who grow up in small towns.
Katie Jordon: I wanted to write a love poem that could include technology and urbanity in its intimacy. As a millennial, there are certain ideals about partnership that I have grown out of, as well as perennial ideals that I have grown into, no matter how modern I aspire to be.  
Alexis Pooley: I wrote “Success” at 4:00 am while someone I met on Kijiji was living in my spare bedroom. We both had insomnia, so we kind of alternated roaming around the apartment through the night. I would eventually sit in the little wooden chair in my bedroom and write to pass time. I think the lack of sleep made my brain malfunction enough that perfectionism checked out and I was able to write uninhibited. “Success” was one of those rare ones that just sort of spilled out. Everything about it surprised me. I don’t usually include mice in my stories. In general, though, I’m very interested in the idea of what we believe success is—that it’s treated as the goal rather than the by-product of the goal. I also believe that humans have the tendency to focus on our perceived failures more than our successes, and that we can understand each other in a deep, intimate way through sharing our failures.
Cooper Skjeie: It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where this poem began, but I guess I would trace it back to the fall of 2019. Though I wrote this poem on the heels of finishing Voodoo Hypothesis by Canisia Lubrin, the title’s subscript has reach beyond that. The poem emerged in the months that followed a week spent transforming through Canisia’s mentorship in the Emerging Writers’ Intensive at the Banff Centre. Penned five months later, the poem doesn’t exist without that window of time, nor without the seven poets I shared that space with, whom I’m ever grateful now to call my kin. Their love I feel daily. Their beings inspire me, motivate me, and their friendship sustains me.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing practice?
Paola Ferrante: I tend to alternate between poetry and fiction (although lately I’ve been almost exclusively focused on fiction, as I’m finishing up my first collection of short fiction, Her Body Among Animals), and they both require different strategies in terms of a writing practice, as I’ve been finding out. With poetry, I feel like I can put down a beautiful line here, an interesting animal fact there, and work the poem from these shards and fragments. With fiction, I start with some kind of central idea of the characters or the form, and then write copious amounts of notes and scene fragments, re-working the true beginning of the story over and over until I feel I truly understand the story I’m trying to tell. In writing fiction I try to have a word count to meet each day, and I find that keeps me on track, but with poetry, I’ll tend to measure my progress in hours. That being said, I find that a poem, once I’ve worked on it for a few days, is either a poem or it’s not. And if it’s not, I throw all my “not-poems” in a virtual drawer and start working on something else, sometimes cannibalizing a few favourite lines from myself. With fiction, I find the piece evolves, so my test is, if I can write the first third and there’s an actual story with characters there who want things, and who have an arc they need to resolve, then I’ll finish it. For me, all of this takes much longer, and, of course, is more frustrating when it needs to be relegated to the virtual drawer.
Ryanne Kap: My writing practice tends to be very erratic. I’ll go months without writing anything, then write a story in a few hours after getting inspired by an image or an opening line that pops into my head. It’s an exciting process, but a very unpredictable one. It’s actually helpful to be in grad school right now; I’m encountering a lot of ideas and writers that make me want to develop my own practice further, or at least be more consistent with it.
Katie Jordon: I used to think poetry was this magic force, something that manifested out of thin air. But now that I am more practiced, I think of poetry as problem solving. I tend to spend a lot of time gathering the clues of a poem before I start writing it. I keep lists of persistent ideas, images and words that insist on hitchhiking. I cultivate this list knowing that the items on it have caught my attention for some undisclosed meaning that is up to me to discover. Then, I spend the next little while tinkering with the ingredients until a natural chemistry occurs. I never really know exactly what the end result will be, but I can usually tell when all the parts are satisfied with the poem they’ve revealed. 
Alexis Pooley: I don’t have a regular time of day that I write, or an amount of time I do it for. I fit it in anywhere I can, sometimes standing at the kitchen counter while I cook dinner. I try to write the most on weekends, when I’m not working. I drink a lot of espresso, listen to CBC, and scratch my dog under the desk with my feet. I’m always editing heavily while I write, from the first draft. This is often discouraged, but the heart wants what it wants. Someone once told me that writing is what happens when the guilt of not writing becomes too big—I do this a lot, too.
What did you find particularly challenging in writing this piece?
Paola Ferrante: The thing I worried about most in writing this piece was that the references, particularly the central reference to Asch’s line study, would be too esoteric. The title refers to a classic social psychology experiment on conformity which is well known if you happen to be a psych major, but not so much otherwise. In it, the experimenter asked people to judge the length of a line in a group setting. Unbeknown to the person actually participating in the experiment, the rest of the people in the group were going to give a blatantly wrong answer as they were working with the experimenter. The whole idea was to see if the person participating in the experiment would follow the group’s judgment. And they did, on the most part. So in writing this piece, it meant that I had to really let the title do the work and just spell out the study I was referencing and trust that my readers would look it up because it was integral to understanding the meaning of the poem. There were also quite a few sections, when it came to editing the poem, where I really had to work on the clarity of my images, making sure that with the complexity of ideas I was trying to address, I wasn’t actually creating obscure images or saying something in a more complicated way than it had to be said.
Iryn Tushabe: The death of a parent is a difficult experience for anyone regardless of age, but I suppose even more so for a child. At least that’s what I thought. My own mother died when I was a teenager, but whenever I attempt to write about that period of my life, the story fizzles and dies before coming into being. As an experiment, I wondered what might happen if I gave my mother and the circumstances of her death to someone else—a version of myself when we had just moved to Kamwenge and everything was still new. In so doing I somewhat overcame many of the obstacles, my own grief for example, which had made previous attempts at this story unsuccessful.
Ryanne Kap: It was difficult to figure out the pacing of the story. I wanted to communicate the overbearing heat of summer, and how lethargic and suffocated it can make you feel, but I didn’t want to go too far and make the piece boring to read. It still needed to have movement, despite this sense of being in a stagnant space. I also had a much less clear idea of who the main character was, which made it hard to write from her voice at times.
Alexis Pooley: I’ve been challenging myself to write as sparsely as I can, as an experiment. I’m naturally a writer of many words. This was the first piece I tried it on. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but I had to continually remind myself to pare down—what are you trying to do, is every sentence important in this goal?
Cooper Skjeie: There was a period of research that prefaced what would become the poem, and that effort was certainly challenging, but the bigger challenge was confronting the weight of the grief that is at the core of the poem. I arrived at a crossroads this past winter where I felt as though I was being held down and I began to notice certain patterns, behaviours, and relations that were restricting my growth as a father, a teacher, and a member of community. I was reflecting on that “crab in the bucket” mentality, and in navigating my emotional terrain, I started to make more profound connections to the crab. As a Cancer on the zodiac, my sign is the crab, my element is water, and my ruling planet is the moon. Immediately, this becomes the setting for the poem. On the Métis cosmological calendar, that time of year is known as pusko pesim, or the molting moon, where duck feathers fall out and make way for new growth, restricting flight in the process. The crab, too, undergoes a molting process, though the time of year varies. So, in understanding how these various crabs grow and interact with their environments, and how lunar cycles influence zoea-release in certain crabs like Sesarma, this somehow pried open a sort of imaginative, otherworldly ecosystem in which I could heal and grow anew. To tie together dimensions of the personal and the natural world, and to incorporate ceremony and cultural teachings in ways that maintain care, buoyancy, and sense, so to speak, pushed me both poetically and ethically, holding me accountable to what I included in the poem and why. In essence, the poem itself is a molting, a forest fire, a letting go, a becoming.
What do you enjoy/struggle with when writing in short forms?
Paola Ferrante: As both a poet and fiction writer, I think the appeal of the short form is the actual form part of it. In a short piece, whether poetry or fiction, I believe there is a necessary attention to the “how” of what is being said. Especially with poetry, words have a duality of meaning, invoking implications that often gets lost in longer pieces. I think short forms tend to lend themselves to more experimentation than, let’s say, a novel, as there are things that can be done with the voice and form that can’t be sustained over a longer body of work. I tend to work between poetry and fiction, and I’ve found that the struggle for me in writing short fiction is knowing how to balance the form of the thing with the actual human story being told, so that the form drives the story forward and is an integral part of character development. Whereas in poetry, I feel like my responsibility in choosing the form is to make sure it is integral to the emotional response I want to invoke in the reader.
Ryanne Kap: I love that I can get away with having barely any plot. I’m not the most inventive when it comes to plot points, so I like being able to lean into interiority and character more than external events. That being said, I’m often guilty of making my characters too passive. I spend too much time having them essentially stand around and think about things instead of doing anything concrete.
Alexis Pooley: I love writing in extremely short form. It’s always been my preference. I finished writing a novel this year and have been glad to return to short forms again for a while. I’m interested in small, simple moments that I believe are universally experienced. What lies beneath these simple moments is important and complex. Short forms feel perfect to me—solid, powerful, complete.
As an award-winning writer, do you have any tips or words of motivation for aspiring writers?
Paola Ferrante: I know for me that having a community was really crucial in terms of getting me to evaluate my own work honestly, so I would say build those connections with other writers whose work you admire, take those workshops, start or join that writer’s group. I also think it’s important to say, be kind to yourself. You’re going to write garbage drafts, and that’s okay. It’s very few pieces that spring out fully formed. What’s important is that you take the garbage drafts, and you decide what’s valuable in them, and you keep going, even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually, you will find the words for what you really want to say.
Ryanne Kap: One tip, which I read somewhere on Twitter, is to not self-eliminate. Don’t be the one to take yourself out of consideration; submit to things even if you don’t feel 100% confident that you’ll get in. (Honestly, if you feel 100% confident about anything, I need advice from you). I always saw writing contests as a long shot, but it’s worth a try, believe me! Also, your work matters no matter how many people read it. 
Katie Jordon: Writing is a solitary task, but editing needs a buddy system.  
Alexis Pooley: One of the best tips I’ve received from a great writer is to make sure I finish projects. This might seem obvious, but most writers probably love writing because of that rush you get when you have an idea or hear words or feel a rhythm, and probably not because you love powering through the dark night of the soul that comes somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to bail. When I make the commitment to finish, I’m always pleasantly surprised by what comes out. It’s a type of boundary, like form poetry, and will always push out something you wouldn’t otherwise write. The bonus is that you’ll have a finished piece for people to read if you decide you want that.
Cooper Skjeie: Begin from your truth and weave the objective world into the work thereafter. Carve out a sacred space to work. Let music help you. Read more than you write. And write.
Grain is grateful to its funders:
Saskatchewan Lotteries, SaskCulture, and Canada Council for the Arts, and for the financial support from its private donors. 
Copyright © 2020 Grain Magazine, All rights reserved.

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