The Quilliad Reviews: Ginger Ko’s Motherlover


Feathers stuck beneath your eyelids     don’t you dare rub them
Or you’ll spark your dry mind     on fire

“Starve the Beast”

Reading Motherlover, it’s clear that the speaker’s mind is alight. The voice is bold and in your face; the voice of a woman taking up space. Unexpected twists of language give energy to the poems: “Guts lined with wet fur that had never seen light” (from “Gaslight”); “The ground is softening: raising up the smell of offspring and ghosts.” (“Easter Egg”) The text is daring, purposefully so: “What would you do to my resting bitch face” (from “Gaslight”).

The first section, “Gaslight,” is straightforward, harsh, sometimes accusatory, combating the foggy, anxious experience of being the victim of gaslighting. The book as a whole embodies a struggle between love and selfhood, often reflecting on the challenges of being a woman with strong feelings and opinions while simultaneously having to live in relation to others:

No one ever listens when they ask
Except later when they crash into my words
And think they’re listening to themselves
I’m a daughter and used to remaining unmentioned

“Stay Away from my Windows No One is Welcome”

Much of the final section of the book, “Prairie Lighthouse,” remains difficult for me to parse. The lines sometimes feel haphazard, and many images feel either too personally specific or too abstract for me to connect to. But these poems are not without power, similar to, though structurally more wayward than, what came before.

There is still something radical and brave about unflattering honesty, and in a sense also a frank beauty to the vulnerability of statements like the opening lines of one of Ko’s “Night Signatures”: “My self-sufficiency has disappeared. I pick up five-dollar pulp books / when I buy cigarettes and I read them at home / in front of television talk shows.” There is so much evoked in these lines, a combination of loneliness and not giving a fuck that’s poignant and refreshing. The emotionality of the text is unapologetic; the cleverness of the lines is tempered by emotional depth.

I will not pretend to understand all of Motherlover. But what stays with me and touches me is liberating, a vulnerable voice speaking honestly of heartbreak and rebellion.

Chapbook? Launched. Issue 7 submission call? Open.

The Quilliad Press is busy this spring! Last night, we launched our first chapbook and hosted our first retrospective. Four of our past contributors, all of whom have been published more than once by The Quilliad, read at the event: John Nyman, Suzanna Derewicz, Larissa Kucharyshyn, and Devin P.L. Edwards. John shared work from previous issues of The Quilliad and some new work from his forthcoming book Players, which launches on April 5 at Another Story Bookshop in Toronto. Suzanna shared both new and old work and plugged her own reading series, Write On Playwright Showcase, the next installment of which is on April 19 at the Junction City Music Hall in Toronto. Larissa, who was one of our chapbook finalists, included in her set a beautiful poem that will be published in our next issue as a preview of what’s to come. Devin read from his chapbook, Love and Longing, as well as some newer pieces.

And we’re not done for the season! Our issue 7 submission call opens today and will continue until the end of April. For more information on our guidelines, visit

Last night’s readings gave us a strong sense of the community we’ve built and the wider literary community we’ve connected to. We look forward to inviting new voices into the conversation with issue 7.

Your editor-in-chief,

The Quilliad Reviews: Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women, Volume 1

MosaicsA literary exploration of femininity and womanhood, Mosaics approaches its subject matter through stories, poetry, essays, and art. The tales within its pages span across eras and genres. These varied approaches reflect the variety of perspectives contained within the anthology’s pages. This diversity is an intentional political act; the creators of Mosaics set out to produce a book that depicts the experience of women through an intersectional lens, and they’ve succeeded. From a girl with a glass heart to the erotic encounters of lesbian suffragettes, this anthology embraces a diversity of forms that women may take on.  Mosaics tells the tales of robots and the wheelchair-bound, folkloric monsters and Lillith.

If there is one flaw that I might take issue with, it would be that, at times, some of the stories are a little heavy-handed. Most of the time, Mosaics is an engaging and accessible read, but occasionally the stories take on a more didactic tone than is my preference, which takes away from the immersive quality of the narrative. The more nuanced tales still embody their politics, and I am thus left wishing all the stories could find that perfect balance.

That said, Mosaics is a well-written anthology compiled by women who aren’t afraid to imbue their work with political purpose, and there’s power in that. All proceeds go to charity (The Pixel Project to end Violence Against Women), so they are truly walking the walk. Between the valuable social message and the strong writing, Mosaics is a meaningful contribution to both literary and social discourse. You can find it on Amazon here:


Chapbook Launch and Quilliad Retrospective

Too impatient to wait for issue 7? You’re in luck. We’re releasing our first chapbook at the end of the month! Come out to Betty’s on King in Toronto (240 King Street East) on Thursday, March 31, 2016 between 7 and 11 p.m. for our chapbook launch and journal retrospective. Hear readings from Geoffrey Nilson’s We Have to Watch, as well as performances by past contributors to The Quilliad, all of whom we liked enough to publish twice (or more!). We’ve also invited writers and artists from past issues to bring their work for the merch table, so there will be lots to look at. You can find the Facebook event here:

The Quilliad Reviews: Bird Watching at the End of the World by Lisa Mangini


The Poetry Parrot’s approval is unsurprising.

Bird Watching at the End of the World does not shy away from hard conversations. Lisa Mangini’s  collection presents the reader with a series of portraits, impressions, and preservations of self in the face of trauma, illness, and other sources of emotional upheaval. The book is at its best when confronting brutal things, such as the specifics of the horrifying reality of being sick. “This is Your Body Speaking” is a particularly strong series that speaks of the ways the body can break.

In places, I wished to see the explanations stripped away to allow me to see with more focus the precise, unforgiving depictions of specific moments, acts, and sights. Mangini is clearly capable of powerful, vivid imagery and strong descriptions of very particular subjects:

“Consider the time you were age six, on errands
with your mother: the lollipop from the bank
melting into one round sliver on your tongue,
the cardboard stick fraying from your spit.”

(From “My Subconscious Reminds Me Not to Be too Optimistic”)

“Between the feral and the house of god:
the original pinata.”

(From “The Fate of the Bee Hive Discovered in the Convent Walls”)

Those poems that don’t make full use of this ability can feel plain, more prosaic than poetic, especially as sound and rhythm are not always prioritized. Yet there are places where this style works. In some cases, Mangini embraces this and writes prose poetry, which works more often than not once the reader catches on to the ongoing narrative. The poems in general become stronger toward the middle and end of the book. And the titular poem is worth the wait.

Overall, while speaking unflinchingly of death,  Bird Watching at the End of the World becomes more poignant and more alive the further you delve into Mangini’s collection.


The Quilliad Reviews: Awful Baby by Mary Lou Buschi


You can find Awful Baby at!mary-lou-buschi/skyvj. Image credit Red Paint Hill Press

Awful Baby is a dark book, but it would be flippant to simply call it sad. There is too much wit and craft here for that. This book is rich with strong images that shift between dreamy impressions and crisp, haunting memories. While these images are often quite specific, they draw the reader in. At times, reading this collection feels voyeuristic, as the speaker lets us in to her world, allowing us to see both her family’s love and their grief; at others, she holds back, allowing emotion to seep through the cracks in a seemingly calm and practical exterior.

Mary Lou Buschi has constructed a portrait of family life and childhood and used the powerful impressions made by both to explore the ways our upbringing and our identity intersect, as well as to explore the effects of loss. The normal becomes grotesque, both through the memories of pain experienced by the speaker’s family“To put up a tree means the family is well, happy”and through the surreal instructional poems such as “Today’s Objective,” “Purple Math,” and “Rounding.” Another such poem, “Beauty School,” shifts between practical advice (“Start at the temple, knead the skin with your index and middle fingers in a cross skating motion”) and eerie suggestions (“You will need to recant each bone before cutting her cuticles”). Whether she is examining our social rituals or showing us how our interpersonal memories form our sense of family (Tell me again about the time you shook me awake to make sure I was still breathing”, from “I hate and I love”), Buschi manages to both evoke emotion and offer psychological insight.

In “Mirror Box,” Buschi asks, “If a family is a body/how does the brain/deal with a missing limb?” This collection is a love letter and a study of how the parts of a family grow apart and together, and how our memories persist as we do, living with us whether we like it or not.

Coming Soon: We Have to Watch by Geoff Nilson

We’re excited to announce that work is under way on our first ever chapbook for The Quilliad Press. We will soon be publishing We Have to Watch by Geoff Nilson. We’re currently in the midst of layout decisions, editing, and cover design. Congratulations to Geoff, as well as to our talented runners-up, Larissa Kucharyshyn and Melinda Roy. We’ll be publishing poems by Larissa and Melinda in issue 7 of The Quilliad.

While you are waiting, check out Geoff’s website or order a copy of one of our back issues!


Our Chapbook Call Ends Sunday Night!

Just a reminder to everyone that our chapbook call is nearing its end, but there’s still time! Send us your work before midnight on Sunday if you’d like you poetry or short fiction to be considered. See below for guidelines.

We’re looking for 10-20 pages of poetry and/or flash fiction from a Canadian writer who has never had a chapbook or full-length book published (self-published authors are exempt from this restriction, as this restriction is in place to allow emerging writers without publisher representation an opportunity to become a more active part of the Canadian literary scene). Previous Quilliad contributors are welcome to apply.

We will be paying a $50 honorarium to the selected writer as well as providing the author with 5 copies of their book. We will also consider poems/flash fiction pieces from the submitted manuscripts of 2 runners-up for issue 7 of The Quilliad. Publication in The Quilliad will be compensated with an honorarium and contributor copy.

To submit, send your writing to by December 13, 2015.

The Quilliad Reviews: Oregon Pacific by Nancy Slavin

imageSlavin’s collection is a tribute to the coastits histories, day-to-day dramas, and the power of the ocean. Nature is powerful here because of its adaptability, despite our interventions (and even invasions). Waves overwhelm the hapless road in “After the Storm”, while in “Landowner”, mold and mildew bloom in the speaker’s office. Our domination of nature is questioned, both its wisdom and its truth, and the relationship between the natural world and civilization is investigated throughout the collection. This relationship shifts many times, but it remains the focus.

Ultimately, nature mostly knows best in Oregon Pacific. In “Cape Meares Lake”, human industry is valuable in relation to its harmony with nature“I know you are man made / but some good has come of that”, while “Blues for the Birds” compares the complexities (and, it seems, foolishness) of human society with the straightforward instincts of birds. In “Cape Lookout”, as in many other pieces throughout the collection, nature is the setting for a spiritual quest. The speaker is in an in-between space, “[her] soul / again at that time of dusk where shadow meets shape”, her internal spiritual world mingling with the physical world, just as the civil connects with the natural. The speaker “walks the whole trail” in more ways than one, her “trial by fire” an emotional and spiritual journey as well as a walk amongst the trees, until “an ember of sun burns the tops of the evergreens [ . . . ] for that one brief joyous moment.” As occurs elsewhere in Oregon Pacific, this joy belongs to her and the natural world around her. Nature’s many incarnations are characters in themselves, often imbued with some level of pathetic fallacy, engaging in varying ways with the speaker’s emotions. Nature is a constant referent for the speaker, even when she is at odds with the natural rhythms of the world: “I am at the end of a cycle, / though it is summer, a world within me / dies.”

The collection is unified by its subject matter, with both formal and freeverse poems sitting side-by-side. Slavin moves mostly effortlessly between forms, though some rhymes are slightly singsong. This intense focus on the coast and the humannature relationship can sometimes make the poems within the collection blur together. Yet this strict attention, when combined with Slavin’s eye for details and the precision of her language, also renders the flora, fauna, and landscape within her poems whole and real with fresh images and loving specificity. One of my favourite pieces in the collection, “Communiqué“, offers this depiction of crows taking flight: “The flap of wings taps in one dark / hearbeat against the pale white sky until / the birds splinter apart, like buckshot spent / in all directions.” “Urchins” provides a similar level of insight into the space between land and sea: “Urchins, anemone, starfish, and mussels / at low ebb wait, exposed. Scarlet tendrils, / mouths chartreuse, clustered in colonies / bound together.” Overall, the reader is left with a strong sense of place and the intensity of the impression that the North Oregon coast has left on the poet.


Chapbook call

Following the success of our Kickstarter and our sixth issue of The Quilliad, it’s time for our first-ever chapbook submission call!

We’re looking for 10-20 pages of poetry and/or flash fiction from a Canadian writer who has never had a chapbook or full-length book published (self-published authors are exempt from this restriction, as this restriction is in place to allow emerging writers without publisher representation an opportunity to become a more active part of the Canadian literary scene). Previous Quilliad contributors are welcome to apply.

We will be paying a $50 honorarium to the selected writer as well as providing the author with 5 copies of their book. We will also consider poems from the submitted manuscripts of 2 runners-up for issue 7 of The Quilliad. Publication in The Quilliad will be compensated with an honorarium and contributor copy.

To submit, send your writing to by December 13, 2015.