Essays, Recent

The Music of the Zone

by John Wall Barger | Contributing Writer

The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e., forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.

– Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens, 1938)

Still from Stalker

Part 1.

The arena where a game happens, according to Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, is sacred. A closed microcosm where only the playing makes sense. The game, he says, “has no contact with any reality outside itself, and its performance is its own end.”

As a kid in the late 1970’s, I was obsessed with games. Toy soldiers, the Rubik’s Cube, ColecoVision. I was a restless only child, by myself in my room, in the back seat of the car, absorbed in “temporary worlds within the ordinary world.”

Here I am in 1980, at ten, closing the door to my room, climbing the ladder to the wooden loft my dad built me. My bed up by the ceiling. Doubly private, very safe. Today I’m reading a Spider-Man comic. Other times I draw a picture, or just look down over my room and daydream.

Sounds drift from inside: my mother preparing dinner, the low drone of CBC radio news, the rhythmic clicking of our dog walking the wood floors. Now I’m on my back, staring at the white ceiling, close enough to touch, at the plaster I once gently cracked with my hand: a broken circle, mouth of a well.

At some point in my life, the loft transcended the physical space. In dreams the loft became a refuge where I hid from intruders. To this day when I read a book, certain fictional characters find themselves in my loft. It became an archetypal space. Hallowed, hedged round. A deeply personal, cordoned-off bed of the mind.

My parents still live in that house, but now my old loft stores blankets, towels, odds and ends. Below it, my dad sits at his computer playing online Scrabble. On visits I never go up there.


In my late teens I switched from playing games to writing poems. An easy transition, I think, because writing is a kind of game. Both involve puzzling through problems. Both require a mild obsessiveness: repeating an action over and over till it’s right. Both demand child-like absorption, and child-like play. And both occur in a play-space of the mind.

Here I am in 2017, at 47, living with my wife, the philosopher Tiina Rosenqvist, in Dharamsala, north India. I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing and reading. If I feel cooped up in my dark little spider-infested studio, I hike up to a plateau called Indru Naag which overlooks the Kangra Valley, the low misty hills of the Punjab in the distance. A serene spot—despite the noisy paragliders sailing by, and tourists at the adjacent Hindu temple—to sit in the grass, read, and bask in the vista. I often bring a problem I’m puzzling over: a tricky unfinished poem, or a thorny idea to unpack.

The long days in Dharamsala also afford me time to keep in touch with friends. Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster and I write back and forth so much that it’s hard to know where any particular idea originated. She sends her new poetry manuscript, which includes these lines:

When they enter the Zone there is colour.
This happened decades earlier.
When the house landed on the witch.
Her feet curled up. Water melted her green sister.
It’s never easy in a place of colour.

The Zone she refers to is from Stalker (Сталкер, 1979), a film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Inspired by Stalker, we’d both written about zones. I send her my Chernobyl poem, in which Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, finds herself walking through a radioactive hospital in Pripyat. Bolster tells me about Robert Polidori’s ruin porn photographs of Chernobyl and about Geoff Dyer, who wrote a book of essays about Stalker called Zona.

The Zone of Stalker becomes shorthand for us to talk about the forbidden spots of a poem. The space a poem takes up in the mind. The psychic landscape of a poem.


The plot of Stalker is simple but elusive. A guide called Stalker leads two guests, Writer and Professor, into an enchanted area called the Zone. At the end they leave.

Opening credits inform us that the Zone was created by an alien visitation. “WE SENT THERE THE TROOPS IMMEDIATELY. THEY DID NOT COME BACK.”

Few know of the existence of the Zone. It’s encased in barbed wire, protected by military guards that shoot machine guns at the three men as they break in. Inside the Zone there are no other people, but it’s rife with life force. Wind blows the high grass back and forth. Constant suffocating fog surges across them. Pollen—or snow?—swirls in the air. The landscape drips with existence. The visitors step with dread between predatory flora and rusted military machinery like megafauna skeletons in the grass.

The main character is the Zone itself. The three men are trespassers in the Zone and, we sometimes feel, in the film itself. They are constantly at risk of being rejected by the supernatural landscape.

Stalker warns his two guests to fear and respect the Zone: not to run, or move unpredictably. Is it a minefield? “The Zone,” Stalker says, “wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.” How does it punish? Stalker doesn’t say, but keeps tossing metal nuts tied to strips of cloth ahead of them, bracing himself for some retaliation.

Their destination is a wish-granting Room which, we learn, has a dark side. A previous Stalker named Porcupine led his brother to his death in the Zone, visited the Room, came into possession of a large sum of money, and then died by suicide.

Tarkovsky constructed his Zone to be deeply weird, utterly indescribable. A psychic landscape with unstable spatial properties. Its geography mutates, evolves, erased by fog, reborn by rain. Even Stalker, the guide, walks in circles, loses his way.

A spiraling metaphor, irreducible to language. The Zone reads us. Our minds; our thoughts; what we imagine possible. A political activist might see it as a metaphor for a police state: a cold world fantasy of bursting through a militarized border. As a poet, I think the Zone is the artistic process, how the artist enters the creative reverie: crossing the barbwire from normal life into a space of deepening focus.

As the three characters enter the Zone—painfully slowly, on a railway handcar—the bleak sepia landscape bleeds into a deep, almost psychedelic, green. Suddenly, as Bolster points out, there’s color! Later they plod through a terrifying wet tunnel called “the meat grinder.” Their final destination, the Room, is both exhilarating and anticlimactic. Each are mythic steps in the artmaking process: entering the trance, full immersion, and completion.

Still from Stalker

But is artmaking dangerous? Is art, as Stalker describes the Zone, “a very complicated system of traps”? Is the Zone an allegory of, for example, Sylvia Plath? The caveat being, do not enter psychic terrain—that of others, or your own—without the obligatory fear and respect. In other words, using one’s own psychic terrain as fodder for the work can traumatize, or trigger a psychosis in which one is unable to distinguish the reverie from the life, or the figurative from the literal.

Stalker wears a constant expression of stunned paranoia. His wife pleads with him not to visit the Zone again. His daughter, Monkey, is deformed and has telekinetic powers: both resulting from Stalker’s trips to the Zone. A disquieting inheritance.

Think of the danger of making a poem this way. The poet enters the Zone of the poem, risking “punishment.” The poet prepares the reader for the capricious Zone by surveying the property lines and marking where the gold is buried. So when the reader steps into the dense foliage of the poem, they shouldn’t get lost or hurt. As such, poets are—at least upon the psychic minefields of the poems themselves—guides, or Stalkers, walking ahead of us, risking themselves so that we don’t have to.


Tarkovsky has built a space outside time, outside narrative. The pacing crawls. He seems interested only in enacting the Zone, its ineffable powers, its unpredictability, its hazard. He will not entertain us.

The characters, as if to distract themselves from the menace around them, digress, babble, at times seemingly uninterested in what they themselves are talking about. Sometimes they just lie on the ground, as if defeated.

In Stalker, the unspoken trumps the spoken. Following the quasi-philosophical, circuitous conversations—as the subtitles, if like me you don’t know Russian, drag your eyes away from the cinematography—can be irksome. You want to tell the characters, “Shhh. Just look around!” For the land itself demands complete absorption. The four elements—spontaneous burning coals, wind gusting in trees, water gushing and dripping, earth pulsating, swallowed by fog—positively throb. The viewing experience entails, along with a certain fatigue and frustration, immersion in the Zone.

According to interviews with those on set, our agony as viewers might mirror the agony of creating the film. Stalker was filmed near Tallinn, Estonia by the Jägala, a small river. “Up the river,” said sound recordist Vladimir Sharun, “was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison.”

They botched the film or was it sabotage.
Through the pipe of fear to where. They call it
the meat grinder. A place of heaps of sand of saturation.
Downstream from a chemical plant it seeped
their deaths into them. They met it in reflections.
You cannot go back the way you came.
Next time will be different.

from “Shelter Object (Zone),” Stephanie Bolster

Some on the crew developed allergic reactions. Sharun goes so far as to blame the toxic location of Stalker for the early deaths by cancer of Tarkovsky, his wife Larissa, and actor Anatoly Solonitsyn, who played Writer.


In Russian, зóна (zóna) comes from the same root as the English word zone: from Latin zona, from Greek: girdle, belt, to gird. The Russian word connotes prison camp, or compound. The gulags—Russia’s forced labor camps, ubiquitous in the 40’s and 50’s, in Tarkovsky’s youth—used the same name: зóна, zóna, zone. Jägala concentration camp, a WWII German labor camp for Jews deported to Estonia, had been just down the Jägala River from the Stalker film set.

The contaminated area of Chernobyl, whose “catastrophic nuclear accident” occurred eight years after Stalker was filmed, is called “The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone”: in Russian, Зона отчуждения Чернобыльской АЭС, or “The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation,” or “The Zone of Absolute Exclusion.”

Zone: “A definite region or area of the earth, or of any place or space, distinguished from adjacent regions by some special quality or condition.” A literal or figurative arena “within which,” as Huizinga describes a game, “special rules obtain.”

There’s an inside and an outside. Inside is the Zone, engirdled with barbwire. Outside are “adjacent regions.” It’s not always possible, or advisable, to travel in and out of the Zone. You will need stamps, licenses, passports. Without them, guns will be fired at you.

The fences are high and the barbwire sharp. If you spend too much time inside, you become alien to the outside. Aliens, of course, infected the Zone. An infection Stalker passed on to his “mutant” daughter, Monkey. 

Monkey: a psychic, yet unable to walk. Half deformed, half goddess.

While inside the Zone, enjoying its special rules, it’s easy to forget the outside. Stalker’s nameless wife, considering her existence with a man compelled to enter and reenter the Zone, speaks directly into the camera: “it’s better to have a bitter happiness than a gray, dull life.” The bitterness, for her, is born in the Zone. But she’ll stay with him because it’s better to have some happiness with the man she loves than “a gray, dull life” without him. She prefers—and who can blame her?—to live adjacently, contiguously. We all have our private, inviolable definitions of alienation.

A poem is an addictive landscape, like the deadly poppy field of Oz. A space closed off by the barbed wire of absorption. A continual present. The Zone of the poem requires the poet-Stalker and the reader-guest to remain, as much as humanly possible, in the delicious state of rapt immersion.

“It is so quiet out here,” says Stalker, “it is the quietest place in the world.”


“The Zone,” says Geoff Dyer, “is film.”

This is, first, literally true: Tarkovsky captured the landscape near the Jägala river on film stock, later chemically developing it into visible images which became the Zone.

Second, the Zone is what happens to us as we watch the Stalker film.

Nothing in the Zone is real. It’s imagination, which is where inspiration comes from and where inspiration goes. We invent the Zone as we watch. When a black dog appears, trotting in the river, lying down next to Stalker, it’s not an actual dog but an aspect of the Zone: a suggestion, a mirage, an archetype. This dog reminds us of all the dogs we’ve seen, all the pictures of dogs we’ve seen, all the thoughts of dogs we’ve had. Containing the cumulative energy of our experience of dogs. In short, the black dog is a manifestation of the Zone: as hallucinatory and variable as everything else in that numinous space. Only at the end, outside the Zone, when we see the same black dog trotting beside Stalker and his family—with the Chernobyl-esque towers cooling in the distance—does the dog seem like a real thing that exists in time.

Still from Stalker

Tarkovsky preferred archetypes to symbols. Archetypes are ephemeral, energetic, freeplay. Symbols are expository, reductive, relying on a specific meaning or allegorical association. Symbols are heavier, harder to lift. The Zone is malleable, suggestive, direct, urgent—à la the black dog, or the immutable fog, negating all it touches like a thumb of God. The objects Stalker sees in the river—syringe, coins, religious artifacts—do not mean anything. We’d go mad trying to explain them. They mean what we think they mean in the glittering instant that we see them: just as a basketball might suddenly become a soccer ball, depending on who’s playing or the time of day it is. Tarkovsky’s archetypes are film, then nothing.

“The Zone,” Tarkovsky once said, “doesn’t exist. It’s Stalker himself who invented his Zone.”


Stalker opens on a sleeping family in bed: Stalker, his wife and daughter. A passing train shakes the house. “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, plays faintly underneath that noise. “Marseillaise” itself shakes the house. Then nothing, as if it hadn’t played. Did we mishear? Are we in France?

When Stalker, Writer, and Professor depart the Zone at the end of the film, “Bolero” plays faintly underneath the rattle of a train. At the borders of the Zone—whispering at the edges—is classical music. A barbwire fence of music. Are we now in Spain?

Within the Zone sounds are distorted. As the trespassers first enter the Zone on a railway handcar, the repetitive noise of the wheels morphs into an electronic tone. Music, almost. Later, as the camera pans the rocks and moss of the visionary river, we hear Stalker’s voice: “music, as if by some miracle, gets through to our heart.” Music, like the omnipresent toxic pollen, emanates from the Zone.

As they step, slowly, carefully, through the Zone, there’s a constant eerie soundscape of water: dripping, splashing, running.

The Zone is water. A river, a mist, a rain. A human crying, bleeding. Spitting verse.

Poetry too emanates from the Zone, as if of its own accord. As the three lie by the river, sleeping, dreaming, a disembodied voice recites The Book of Revelation: a colossal earthquake, the sun turning “dark as sack cloth.” In a huge hall with sand dunes, Stalker recites a poem by “a delicate boy”: written by the director’s father, famous Soviet poet and translator, Arseny Tarkovsky:

Now summer is gone
It might never have been.
It’s warm in the sun,
And yet surely there’s more.

All that could happen
Fell into my hands
Like a five-fingered leaf;
And yet surely there’s more.

Neither evil was squandered,
No good done in vain,
Light never faded;
And yet surely there’s more.

Life guarded and cared for me
Under her wing,
I’ve had such good fortune;
And yet surely there’s more.

Not one leaf was burned,
Not a single twig broken . . .
Today is clear as washed glass;
And yet surely there’s more.

Part 2.

The Zone is a field of action.

William Carlos Williams’ 1948 essay, “The Poem as a Field of Action,” is an attack of Eliot and Auden and sonnets and “the rigidity of the poetic foot,” which Williams associated with British verse. He wanted a poem where the fresh and distinct American vernacular could have free reign.

Charles Olson’s 1950 essay, “Projective Verse,” goes further. With great bombast, Olson describes the urgent force of “composition by field”:

It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. It is in this sense that the projective act, which is the artist’s act in the larger field of objects, leads to dimensions larger than the man.

Tarkovsky would have liked this idea, that without nature the artist “shall find little to sing but himself …” “What is it,” Stalker asks, “that resonates in us in response to noise brought to harmony, making it the source of the greatest delight which stuns us and brings us together?”

Olson proclaims, “every element in an open poem … must be taken up as participants in the kinetic of the poem just as solidly as we are accustomed to take what we call the objects of reality.” For Olson the field “within which special rules obtain” is a poem: a kinetic space containing “secrets objects share.”

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James describes the soul “putting itself in a personal relation with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence.”

Stalker, awestruck, continually weeps.


Self-serious geniuses gesturing exaltedly can grow tiresome. Both Tarkovsky and Olson sometimes sound like they’re delivering news from a mountaintop.

It makes me crave fresh voices, like that of Mary Ruefle, whose poems are sharp, nimble, playful, wild. The opposite of arrogant. The voice in her poems doubts itself, changes its mind. Best of all, Ruefle has a sense of humor.

Yet—like the work of Tarkovsky and Olson—Ruefle’s poems exist in kinetic fields where, invigoratingly, anything can happen. In the countries where Ruefle is queen, citizens are amnesiacs, dreamers, sacred fools. Every poem is an opportunity to build and rebuild the ruined world with language. Trying to situate yourself in her poem “Timberland,” for example, is as precarious as running in the Zone.

Paul’s Fish Fry in Bennington, Vermont, is no longer
Closed for the Season Reason Freezin. The umbrellas
have opened over the picnic tables and the bees are
beginning to annoy the french fries, the thick shakes
and real malts of my past.

I am thirteen thousand miles removed, on the delta
of the Pearl River, eating a litchi. Its translucent flesh just
burst in my mouth; shreds of it glitter between my teeth.
I smile but the fruit seller is sour. In fact, he is so sour
the only man on earth he resembles is Paul. But the litchi …

Actually none of this has happened yet. I am nineteen
years old. I am riding in the boxcar of a freight train
hurtling toward Pocatello, Idaho. In a very dangerous move
I maneuver my way back to the car behind me, an open gondola
carrying two tons of timberland eastward out of Oregon:

it is here I will lie all night, my head against the logs,
watching the stars. No one knows where I am. My mother thinks
I am asleep in my bed. My friends, having heard of a derailment
at ninety miles an hour on the eastbound freight, think I am
dead. But I’m here, hurtling across the continent with un-

believable speed. We are red-hot and we go, the steel track
with its imperceptible bounce allows us to go, our circuitous
silhouette against the great Blue Mountains and my head in a
thrill watching the stars: I am not yet at a point in my life
where I am able to name them, but there are so many and they are

so white! I’m hurtling toward work at Paul’s, toward the litchi-
bite in Guangzhou, toward the day of my death all right, but all
I can say is I am happyhappyhappy to be here with the stars and
the logs, with my head thrown back and then pitched forward
in tears. And the litchi! it’s like swallowing a pearl.

From Paul’s Fish Fry in Vermont, we find ourselves eating a juicy litchi in Guangzhou, China, then on a freight train barreling east out of the Blue Mountains of Oregon. The poem hurls us back and forth, keeping us unsteady, lightheaded. Soon as we get a foothold the speaker tells us, “Actually none of this has happened yet.” All we can do, in the arena of Ruefle’s poem, is submit to the noisy uncertainty of “the boxcar of a freight train / hurtling toward Pocatello, Idaho … ” All in all, it’s not a bad place to be: “it is here I will lie all night, my head against the logs, / watching the stars.”

Ruefle invites us to join her at the “un- // believable speed” of both the train she describes and the poem she’s gleefully conducting. The speaker’s mother thinks she’s in bed; her friends think she’s on another train, which derailed. “But,” she says, “I’m here …” Where, we ask, is that? Vermont, or perhaps China? Does it matter? We’re in the poem, that ecosystem, which is exhilarating. To follow we must release. The shifting field of action demands our flexibility and complicity. 

It feels as if Ruefle has created a Zone for me, personally. A space beyond time and logic, with a John Wall Barger-sized nook on a hurtling boxcar, open to the stars. I love being there, in Ruefle’s poem. I visit it sometimes, or it visits me, while I’m falling asleep, or in a cab. The warm familiarity—combined with a certain Tarkovsky-esque hyperawareness—reminds me of when I was a kid in my loft.


Still from Stalker

At the Indru Naag plateau, my bare feet in the grass, I read Tomas Tranströmer’s poem “From the Thaw of 1966” to the glittering rooftops of the Kangra Valley:

Headlong headlong waters; roaring; old hypnosis.
The river swamps the car cemetery, glitters
behind the masks.
I hold tight to the bridge railing.
The bridge: a big iron bird sailing past death.

In the Zone of Tranströmer’s poem, we are on the bridge, water gushing beneath us.

He puts the items in place—roaring water, car cemetery, bridge—like props of a theatrical production. But he needs us readers to step onto that stage with full hearts.

So I do, at the Indru Naag plateau, and the water overflows onto the riverbanks and nearby cars. I am an amnesiac—all canons and tongues are mine—in the urgent, uncertain present. Soaked, clasping the railing, dizzy, exhilarated. Sailing out of my life.

The poem carries us, despite ourselves, to flashes of our own destruction. It passes quickly but when it’s over, however shaky we remain, we are refreshed.

Comparing a bridge to a bird doesn’t make sense: the bird isn’t metal, the bridge can’t fly. But what in the Zone does make sense? Its irrationality lodges itself in our minds, like so many moments in Stalker: the bird vanishing mid-flight, the uncanny dog, and of course the daughter—so-called “victim of the Zone”—moving the glasses across the table with her mind.

The engine of the Zone is metaphor. Like an archetype, metaphor morphs, contorts, glitters. Quicksilver, fairy dust. Radiation.

Part 3.

The Zone of the poem is made up of the combined sentience of poet and reader. The poet infuses the Zone with their whole psyche, then departs. That Zone then requires the psyche of the reader to resuscitate it.

“The room of desires,” Tarkovsky explained, “is … yet another provocation in the face of the material world. This provocation, formed in Stalker’s mind, corresponds to an act of faith.”

A poem is a provocation because it inhabits a surrogate space “dedicated to the performance of an act apart,” whose rules resist nature.

A poem is an act of faith because the poet believes in it, though its ecosystem is held together only by the gossamer scaffolding of words. The poet must, further, have faith that guests will visit that ecosystem and partake in the performance.

For that performance to work, the rules of the ecosystem cannot be too rigid, logical, or grammatical. The guest of the poem must be invited, with tact, to participate.

Readers should be drawn in by the play of mad drummers. Once in, there should be oceans for the readers to map, binoculars to peer through, animals to name.

If the poet scribbles the word “stone” on every stone, and leaves the price tag on every dress, the reader will—like Porcupine and his brother—simply vanish. The reader loves to touch objects with wonder. The reader loves to step off path into the brambles where it is shadowy and prickly.

When the poet invites the reader, with tact, and the reader enters, with wonder—oh, it’s an uncommon and lovely communion. Two psyches constructing the space together, outside of time, in harmony, as if under the stars on a boxcar, “happyhappyhappy.” A kind of shamanism.

The poem, as Huizinga said of the game, “has no contact with any reality outside itself.” The poem refers only to the poem. Words point to words, fashioning their own logic as they are spoken. I enter your Zone, my psyche porous. I accept what I find, and repurpose every object in real time to make it my own. In such a space the reader has unheard-of powers. Time travel, flying bridges, vanishing birds—a piece of cake!

Tranströmer: “I am not empty, I am open.”


I believed Stalker was the poet. He’s not. He’s God, walking across the field of himself.

I believed the Zone was inside the artist. But it’s not inside, or outside. It’s both inside and outside.

There is nowhere that is not the Zone.


Sit in the writing chair. All your things around you: books, lamps, blankets. Dishes clinking, the low drone of a radio, the dog clicking by in the hall.

Block it out. All of it. Now you can start.

Climb the high fence, always in your chair. Your pants tear on the barbwire, you fall hard on the grass on the other side. 

Now there’s color. Green, how I want you green. Who said that? No mind. What pleasure to let such green soak your skin. Everything’s wet: the field, the river, the house. You are soaked.

Walk the field. It hums, a low drone of … bees?

The river is weird. Hard to see. Was the house so tall? Whose black dog is beside you? That humming, is it the river?

Step into the house. Into the Room. Sit on the floor. The hardwood, crosslegged. Shut your eyes. Can you feel how it—the house, the field, the river—all of it, exists without you? How it doesn’t need you? You’re helpless. The music is louder.

Breathe, eyes shut. Vertiginous, uncomfortable. Familiar.


On October 24, 1901, on her 63rd birthday, Annie Edson Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

The barrel, custom-made out of oak and iron, padded with a mattress, included Taylor’s lucky heart-shaped pillow. As she climbed in, her friends held the barrel steady in the water. She blew them a kiss, they shouted Hoo-rah! and sealed her in by screwing on the lid, compressing the air with a bicycle tire pump, and plugging the hole with a cork. They urged the barrel adrift. The tiny ark.

Shut your eyes, darling, against the dark. Breathe, relinquish it all. The craft begins to rock.

Roaring toward an unseeable edge.

John Wall Barger‘s poems and critical writing have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, The Hopkins Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His poem, “Smog Mother,” was co-winner of The Malahat Review’s 2017 Long Poem Prize. His fourth collection of poems, The Mean Game (Palimpsest, 2019), currently in its second print run, was a finalist for The Phillip H McMath Book Award. He lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches Creative Writing at The University of the Arts.