The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Vallum: Comtemporary Poetry

Editors-in-Chief Joshua Auerbach and Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach. Fall/Winter 2005. 91 pp. Flat bound. $8.00 Can/$5 US. ISSN 1496 5178.Vallum Magazine
FOB 48003
Montreal, Quebec H2V 4S8

Vallum is a slick-appearing biannual literary journal—shiny, color cover and expensive paper—, thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and United Way International. United Way? Yes.
            "Vallum's mix of poetry, prose, and visual art is audacious and exciting," blurbs the literary censor  "Vallum... is witty, startling, sardonic, obscene, often (and I can't believe I'm using this word)—lovely," blurbs Literary Magazine Review. Well, this reviewer can certainly believe it. How not to in this day and age of blurb, self-congratulation, and literary backslapping? What in fact do those vacuous words of praise signify?  What does "audacious and exciting" really mean?  This reviewer couldn't find anything remotely "audacious," let alone "exciting" in this issue.  And what about "obscene"?  The manipulated, hackneyed front-cover photo of a naked female torso?  Don't artists today have anything at all to say?  Have they become reduced to trying to renovate the naked female or otherwise top the weird? The other photos in this issue include a tree lizard with humanoid legs, arms and shoulders and bird with humanoid breasts, bellybutton, legs and arms by Danielle Borisoff. Will that artiste become "stuck" working that vein thanks to recognition and money? Mark Laliberte also serves the weird with his "Screaming Bloody M" and "Voice: Excerpt" voice pattern graphs. Has "murder" become a bad word? Do we need to say the "m" word now?
            "Cutting-edge poetry," blurbs Vallum about itself.  But what does that platitude mean? In reality, nothing at all would make one think the poetry in this issue "cutting-edge"... whatever that means of course. It is rather poetry that clearly does not matter, despite Vallum's boasting on its back cover "Poetry That Matters." Poetry that matters is poetry that seeks to shake things up, questions and challenges the status quo, be it literary or other, and otherwise makes one think. The poetry in this issue doesn't do that at all.
            Clearly, the editors are trying to be different, but their quest is doomed to failure because it is only effected within the literary paradigm of acceptability. How can they depend so heavily on flattering compliments from establishment entities, while supposedly attempting to be different? Also, they feature establishment academic regulars including an interview with Pulitzer Prize poet Paul Muldoon ("with a pink and a pink and a pinkie- pink"), who says nothing new at all, verse by Pulitzer Prize poet Stephen Dunn ("All day long, my former love, I've been revising/ a poem about us"), and a Baudelaire translation by Charles Bernstein. Has the latter finally become tired of his language poetry vein? Let's hope so. The translation is fine, but why the need for yet another translation of an old Baudelaire poem?
            Vallum in its purported goal of challenging readers "with poetry that's fresh, edgy, and unpredictable" ought to open its doors to real, tough, critical poetry, rather than simply seek to publish "rising stars and established figures." Clearly, this issue serves only as "entertainment" for the comfy, high-brow poet and poetophile. Contrary to the editor's assertion, it does not inform at all.  Vallum in desperate attempt to become the Poetry Mag of Canada boasts and boasts and boasts, but fails at all to produce. "Governor-General's Award for Poetry-winner George Elliott Clarke calls Vallum "valuable neo-vellum."  Well, this reviewer, who has not been designated "safe" by a government award calls Vallum "valuable neo-Valium."
            Interestingly, Vallum forms part of Vallum Society for Arts and Letters Education, "a registered charity dedicated to promoting literature and the arts through publications, workshops, public readings and other live events." Charity? But what kind of literature and art are being fed to the poor today? Certainly, not that which might make the poor question and challenge why in fact they are poor. And that is precisely the problem.
            Ronnie R. Brown's "Little Red Riding Hood (Part V)" perhaps best illustrates the kind of verse in this issue: "white drifts... thoughts of cranberry/ red nipples, an auburn tufted triangle." Yes, let's serve that one up as charity to the poor. 
            Finally, how can this reviewer possibly recommend Vallum, considering the state of literature and democracy today?  Wake the hell up, Vallum editors!
—The Editor