We’re happy to announce the winners of our 22nd annual literary contest. The Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem is awarded to Kim Trainor for “Cradle Song: Six Variations.” The two honourable mentions are Sue Chenette’s “Inscription” and Samantha Bernstein’s “Eulogy for Finn.” Our fiction prize goes to Rhonda Collis for “The Halter,” and the two honourable mentions are Jennifer Manuel’s “Silent E” and Vin Fielding’s “All Bones Recovered.” Thank you to our fiction judge Joan Clark and our poetry judges Erin Knight, Elise Partridge, and David Seymour!
Our Spring issue also features a special section on the poetry of Elizabeth Brewster, one of The Fiddlehead's founders. Brewster died this past December, and we look back at her literary legacy, starting with an introductory essay by current UNB graduate student Chasity St. Louis. Most of Brewster's poems reprinted here are from The Fiddlehead's earliest issues. Also to be found within the pages of our Spring issue is the usual mix of eclectic literature that is sure to whet your appetite, ranging from a story that uses the economic downturn as a metaphor for personal circumstances to poetry found in the texts of Nobel Prize speeches.
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No. 255 Spring 2013
5 Ross Leckie
7 Chasity St. Louis: Where We Come From: Elizabeth Brewster's
20 Rhonda Collis: The Halter
30 Jennifer Manuel: Silent E
44 Vin Fielding: All Bones Recovered
74 Greg Shupak: Into the Woods
92 Jeremy Lanaway: Downturn
11 Elizabeth Brewster: Eight Poems
55 Kim Trainor: Cradle Song: Six Variations
58 Sue Chenette: Inscription
59 Samantha Bernstein: Eulogy for Finn
61 Ruth Roach Pierson: Two Poems
65 matt robinson: Two Poems
67 Sean Howard: Two Poems
69 Elizabeth Ross: Three Poems
72 Alison Dyer: Two Poems
78 Tim Prior: Two Poems
81 Alec Hershman: Two Poems
84 Darryl Whetter: Plenty of Lava
85 Peter Imsdahl: Chopin, Like Milk Straw-Sucked Toward an
86 Daniel Karasik: Old Haunt, Republic
87 Naomi Mulvihill: Two Poems
89 Robert Alan Burns: Memorial Library 1948
90 Desmond Graham: Out of our senses
91 Scott Andrew Christensen: today they took hatay teyze
99 Mark Dickinson: From Lilburnia With Love
Assiniboia, Tim Lilburn
101 Barbara Colebrook Peace: Unaccustomed Spaciousness
Dancing, With Mirrors, George Amabile
104 Rebecca Geleyn: The Fishes' Forgiveness
Between Dusk and Night, Emily McGiffin
A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth, Stephanie
108 Richard Cumyn: Consorting with History, Serbian Style
Song of Kosovo, Chris Gudgeon
111 Susan Haley: Patterns of Light and Shade
Night Street, Kristell Thornell
Notes on Contributors 116
Elizabeth Brewster and Donald Gammon at the University
of New Brunswick Graduation, 1946
Photograph kindly provided by the Gammon family.
Editorial by Ross Leckie
In the early forties my father was a young man in Europe fighting in a war that seems like an ancient epic now, a war of good and evil, a war with a larger purpose often lost in quotidian exigencies of horror that no one seems capable of understanding. It was in this world that Elizabeth (Betty) Brewster began to write poetry. Poetry does not have the terror of war, but those who take it up often feel the sense of some larger purpose, and they typically feel the confusion of its daily practice. Early in the war years Brewster, encouraged by P. K. Page to attend university, started at University of New Brunswick as an undergraduate student, and, as a woman of precocious talent, joined a group of poets formed by Alfred Bailey known as the Bliss Carman Society.
Out of this group The Fiddlehead evolved, in 1945, from the ashes of the war, and Brewster was one of its driving forces. Her poem “If I should meet myself” is on the first page of the first issue, and her poem “Morality is chill” concludes that first issue. And now an astonishing sixty-eight years later Elizabeth Brewster has died.
To open this issue we include a brief essay by, I think fittingly, a UNB student, Chasity St. Louis. It is followed by a selection of early poems by Brewster that appeared in The Fiddlehead, as well as her classic “Where I Come From.” In this brief selection one already sees Brewster’s evolution from the modernism shaped by the metaphysicals, in particular John Donne, to the looser, personal poems of daily life that were to have such a remarkable impact in shaping the poetry of a generation of Canadian poets.
The Fiddlehead spring 2013 is also our contest issue, and I choose to believe that all who submitted work to the contest bring the same intensity and commitment to their writing that Brewster brought to the founding of The Fiddlehead.
The contest always involves the hard work of our judges, and I would like to thank David Seymour, Erin Knight, and Elise Partridge, who gave thoughtful consideration to the poetry for the Ralph Gustafson Prize, and I would like to give an especially warm thanks to our fiction judge, writer-in-residence Joan Clark, who took time from an intensely busy schedule to give careful attention to our fiction entries.
This year’s poetry winner is Kim Trainor for her poem “Cradle Song: Six Variations.” The poem has as its fulcrum a speaker holding a newborn, but from this vantage it sparks across associative fields of idea and tone, back to the cave painters of Niaux and out to the incessant rain as figured in the infant’s skull. Partridge says, “I admired this poem for evoking some of the mysteries of a new life and for its art.” She praises the poem on how well it “is built on deftly varied two-beat lines,” and notes how the intimate enclosures of each section mingle, “in an enriching paradox, the outside world and the infant’s guessed-at inner world.” Knight adds, “there is a powerful sense of unease and fragility,” as the “images are startling, unforgettable, disconcerting.”
The honourable mentions are for Samantha Bernstein’s “Eulogy for Finn” and Sue Chenette’s “Inscription.” Seymour says of “Eulogy”: “Its collapsible time frame, raw fragmented structure, and the almost clinical remove of the speaker intensify rather than diminish the emotional atmosphere of the piece.” Seymour also praises “Inscription” as a “finely crafted poem, whose prosodic elements — cadence, assonance, attuned enjambments and breaks — indicate a studious eye and ear at work in a world of details.”
Our winner for fiction is Rhonda Collis for her story “The Halter.” The story centres on Dick Armstrong, a middle-aged farmer, and his wife and how their marriage has hardened over the years, working a difficult farm and raising five children. Dick’s wife, Arlette, holds close to a slow and permanent anger, and Dick desires an affair with a bar waitress. It is a classic story, and told in the hands of Collis it is, as Clark says, “perfectly pitched, understated, and closely observed.” Collis is “a writer who clearly understands that less is more.”
“Silent E” by Jennifer Manuel and “All Bones Recovered” by Vin Fielding are our honourable mentions. Clark describes “Silent E” beautifully: “Set on the Houpsitas Reserve in remote corner of Vancouver Island, this moving story of a tormented child finds its power in a teacher’s caring, her firm and gentle hand.” “All Bones Recovered” is an Australian story about a child eaten by a crocodile, and the secrets held by the townspeople, the treatment of the mother afterwards, and the rumours that seep around the edges of the event. Clark notes that it is “a graphic story about the deceptive underbelly of nature and its power to kill.”
This issue of The Fiddlehead is about literary history and the contemporary moment. I thank you, Elizabeth Brewster, for your efforts in establishing this magazine, and I thank you all who contributed to this year’s contest for your commitment to writing.
-------Ross Leckie is the editor of The Fiddlehead.
Excerpt from The Halter by Rhonda Collis
Dick Armstrong ran a thick hand over his thinning hair. He’d been listening to Arlette, his wife of twenty-six years, tell their youngest, Mary Anne, that she needed to adjust her attitude. The battle was unevenly matched.
Mary Anne was twelve, and like the three sisters that went before her, womanhood was setting in early. Dick didn’t know if he was up for it this time round, though he gathered strength from knowing this was the last of them and he and Arlette had managed to keep the girls from getting knocked up, so far at least.
Mary Anne was sulking at the kitchen table, her lower lip a tea tray. Her older sister by three years, Stacey, was drying the dishes with a look on her face like someone in the house owed her an explanation.
“She was just having a lot of fun over there.” Stacey pulled the towel in slow circles around a plate.
“It’s dry Stacey. Not like it’s fine bone china or anything.” Arlette waggled a wrist her way. She was plump now, and pale to the point of blue veins crumpling under the bare skin of her legs. She was shaped like her mother, may she rest in peace, with hips that started mid-back, and on this hot night she wore a one-piece bathing suit under shorts, a pear without the skin. His Mary Anne, she was going to be the most trouble of all. She had his own mother’s looks, freckles, blue eyes the colour of wide open sky, blonde hair the colour of those Mormon’s fields down the road, full of wheat in the sun. Did well, those Mormons, with both their kids and their farms. . . .
-------Rhonda Collis has an MFA from UBC. Her poetry has been published in The Antigonish Review, Vancouver Review, and Regreen (Your Scrivener Press, 2009). Her short fiction has been published in Room Magazine and On Spec Magazine. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and two daughters.
Excerpt from "Silent E" by Jennifer Manuel
Small creatures, moon-shaped and pearly-white, burrow into Leroy’s hands. You can see their tunnels, like thin grey pencil lines, under his skin. The creatures lay eggs between his fingers, then eggs hatch, and soon more creatures resurface to fornicate on his knuckles. Small red bumps and blisters spread to his hands to wrists to his elbows. It’s been two days since the pustules appeared, and each day it gets worse. He considers telling his teacher, Miss Royston, but he doesn’t want to get sent away from school again. Instead he wears his half-brother’s favourite shirt because his half-brother is dead and the sleeves are long. The cuffs hang past his fingertips, but the scabies are hard to hide. Their itching drives him mad.
On Monday morning, Leroy waits in the hallway for school to start, the long sleeves wrapped over his hands like mittens. From the end of the hallway Miss Royston watches to make sure he stays calm. He leans on the wall beside the classroom door and curls his wrist around the doorknob like a creeping tendril. The other children press themselves flat against the opposite wall because he is angry and tall and his reach is far. They do not yet notice the parasites on his hands. They are too busy keeping a slantwise lookout for sudden movements.
When the bell rings the children wait until he’s inside so they don’t get trapped in the doorway with him. As they hang their backpacks on hooks, Leroy creeps close behind a small boy named Ronnie and stares down at the top of Ronnie’s head. The pull of Leroy’s gaze, like a puppet string, holds Ronnie in place. Even Ronnie’s arm is frozen in mid-air, the jacket in his hand. Strands of his hair quiver under Leroy’s breath. The other children scurry to their desks. As soon as Leroy steps away and Ronnie moves to hang his jacket, Leroy sidles up to Ronnie again. . . .
-------Jennifer Manuel has published short fiction in Room and PRISM international. She is currently working on a novel that explores the ethical issues of teaching Aboriginal students in remote communities. She lives on Vancouver Island.
Excerpt from "All Bones Recovered" by Vin Fielding
At times like this good men move together like a pack. Talk dies down, and they see what needs doing and do it, and if something needs saying it’s done with a nod or a single word. It’s Christ-melting hot out here and not ten o’clock yet, but no one complains. Not long, not long now, I tell my grizzling feet. But under all the aching for rest and the satisfaction of doing what needs doing, I feel a rot twisting up from my insides and on the back of my clay-red neck: it all seems more real in the daylight.
It was my shot that killed the croc. We drag the hulking corpse up from the bank, hole behind its left eye, onto the switch-grass beside Lester’s bald-tired ’38 Holden coupe and now we’re twisting its limbs straight, orderly like, so we can be sure and so we can measure the body. Men are taking their hats off to mop at the tendrils of dirt and sweat seeping into their eyes. You can hear how bloody tired we are from the creaking leather boots, the small moans of a couple of blokes as they shift about on blistered feet and aching legs, but I’d rather take a kick to the nuts than to gripe at a time like this.
When you look out over the delta the air shimmers across the mudbanks with the January heat. My ears are half crazy from the buzz of the bities, hands all swelled with itch. The sun wrecks us from over the treeline while the rest of the saltwater crocs in the delta lie still, digesting prey and watching us from the mustard soup rivers that fan out like tree branches before meeting the open sea. A full belly can take a salty a week or more to put down, but this is one meal that men have cut short. . . .
-------Vin Fielding was born in Paget, Bermuda, and immigrated to Canada when he was six months old. At the age of six, Vin decided he could fall back on a career in writing when he discovered that poor eyesight meant he would never be an astronaut. He is currently completing his final year in a Bachelor of English at UVic. His creative non-fiction piece, “Going Up,” appeared in issue 10 of This Side of West (2012).
"Cradle Song" by Kim Trainor
The rain pools
in your small skull
so new it gapes
in its dressing
of pale skin, collects
this quiet sound.
Here you shelter
in its cracked hollow
sutured with blue
threads and gauze,
on the walls,
as if the caves
of Laas Ga’al,
A synapse flares
down Neanderthal lines —
a horse out-flung —
then dies, guttering
Down it comes
races the tide.
the blood’s hush
and sluice through
in bone. The sea
rushes in, spill
of sound over
lip and drum.
in sighs and whispers
through little holes.
These holes I finger,
place my mouth
to your ocarina skull.
And what thin wires
attached at temple and wrist
play your startles
marionette frowns —
these life throes?
Then let go
as you slip away,
your fuzzed head
on my collarbone
like the bluish bud
of a poppy, sodden
with drumming rain.
Hush, hush. Listen
to its song, gentle
sluice and hush
of drumming rain.
-------Kim Trainor's poetry has appeared in journals such as CV2, Prairie Fire, and Event. She won second prize in The Antigonish Review’s 2012 Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest, and was longlisted for the 2012 CBC Poetry Prize. She lives in Vancouver.
"Inscription" by Sue Chenette
Secretive, the moths left hieroglyphs
incised in blankets, as shy lovers might
leave notes inside a cupboard door:
Slovenly! I read,
spelled out in runnels rivered in thick
orange and blue Colombian wool.
My penance — ruefully imposed — required
a visit to a craft shop.
looped along the wall, carnival of yarns
to thread a wide-eyed needle.
There’s rhythm in the quiet dip
and weave of darning — I’d forgot —
small heft of something saved
from the rifts and gapes, that broken
doll, lost friend, unravelled marriage —
the weight of all that won’t be mended.
the light lamb’s fleece,
soft rub trailed against my palm,
as I work among the moths’ runes,
in the cipher and weft of bitten wool.
Sue Chenette, a classical pianist as well as a poet, grew up in northern Wisconsin and has lived in Toronto since 1972. She is an editor for Brick Books, and the author, most recently, of The Bones of his Being (Guernica Editions, 2012). Her chapbook The Time Between Us won the Canadian Poetry Association’s Shaunt Basmajian Award in 2001.
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"Eulogy for Finn" by Samantha Bernstein
They found you hanging
by a tie
Your cat, known for its tragic wail
on rare occasions when you were away,
did not give your body up but was discovered
half-starved, staring in mute horror at your form.
Your form, all bone and sinew,
too heavy to float, washed up
on a shore in Georgian Bay in spring.
On a shore in Georgian Bay in summer
you drank beer while a gorgeous girl
rubbed lotion on a brown shoulder
and life was perfect.
They found you curled in a closet
jutting bone, eyes a calm stare and decided
you’d just been in there and wasted away, though bowls of food
for the cat adorned the fetid apartment.
You were done
you said, done,
into your beautiful mouth.
Wait a few years, said I; you are too young.
We sat knee to knee at the table; I observed you, rapt, horrified
at the strength of my appetite.
I always picture you in the shower
with your girl, her black hair against grubby tiles,
face to face with you; I
feel the moment as an inhalation
after that she’s shouting at you again, or materializing
on the blanket next to you at the crowded beach:
it’s fate, you say, and truly
it’s hard not to believe you.
She’s everywhere, there’s no escape, and anyway it’s your luck.
She looks down and finds fifty bucks where you,
you get gum stuck to new shoes, grease on sweaters received
as presents; she won thousands in the lotto and bought you pizza. And yet
that winter you found the baby pigeon outside your building,
brought it a box and placed it there,
when it died anyway,
she understood why
you told that story so many times.
So they found you outside her east-end diner, frozen and smiling
like Sam McGee. He was done, I told them;
he was tired.
Don’t write me, you said, or at least no names. I agreed but really
if Finn were Dean, David, Sean or John would it matter?
When they found you on the battlefield you looked like everyone else there.
Samantha Bernstein's memoir, Here We Are Among the Living, was published by Tightrope Books in 2012. She is in the fourth year of an English PhD at York University; her writing has appeared in Exile, Numero Cinq, and the anthology TOK 3: Writing the New Toronto.
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