The Performer Speaks to Her Perfect Apprentice Beneath the Arches

Jillian Tamaki We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists—and played by the rules. Five rules by Michael …

Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
Jillian Tamaki

We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists—and played by the rules.


Five rules

by Michael Lista

  1. An architectural achievement features in the poem.
  2. Someone eats a fruit in the poem.
  3. A kitchen appliance must be used in the poem.
  4. The first half of the poem and the second half must disagree.
  5. The last sentence of the poem musn’t end.

Step one: understand the universe.
The trick is to slip into a trance, to stay
in a somnambulant state while smiling.

Do a little soft shoe. Bend your head.
Then excavate the audience for parts.
Get in there and eat their hearts out.

But don’t listen to me. I remember
a time when fame was not particularly
prized, though stages were reserved

for the fearless. It was us against them
back then. Now I don’t know. I want
to go home and study the viscous slick

on the surface of my coffee before I quit.
Take my face paint and hot plate, finish
the dish of small fruits in the freezer.

I’d like it if we could be friends. Friend,
please leave me to gather my gear.
I never believed the show would end—

This appeared in the July/August 2011 issue.

Damian Rogers
Damian Rogers is a former poetry editor at The Walrus and the author of the forthcoming memoir An Alphabet for Joanna. This essay is adapted from a speech she gave at The Walrus Talks Living Better last fall in Toronto.

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Jennifer Hollett I have been digging into the pages of The Walrus Summer Reading issue and remarking at all of the contributions from our former and current Fellows. It reminds me that every issue of The Walrus is a result of a culmination of efforts (including lengthy fact-checking) from the editorial team, the emerging journalists they train, and the generous supporters who make all of this happen.

Through The Walrus Editorial Fellowship Program, we have the privilege of training the next generation of professionals who are passionate about the integrity of journalism. In the Summer Reading issue, 2021 Cannonbury Fellow Connor Garel wrote a piece on Frankie Perez and the art of breaking. Tajja Isen contributed an excerpt from her first book, Some of my Best Friends. Isen, who also began her career at The Walrus as a Cannonbury Fellow, is currently Editor-in-Chief at Catapult magazine.

Our 2022 Chawkers Fellow, Mashal Butt, was instrumental in making sure we got the facts straight in our Summer Reading issue, having fact-checked six features, including Sarah Totton’s short story “The Click.” And, you can look forward to a cover story on housing affordability by our 2022 Justice Fund Writer in Residence, JS Rutgers. (Rutgers is now a climate reporter for The Narwhal.)

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Jennifer Hollett
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