“Writing Woman” by Elizabeth Bolton

Third prize poetry winner of the Hart House Literary Contest in 2020 was Elizabeth Bolton, a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at U of T.

This is what the judges – poets Prathna Lor, Kate Cayley and Ingrid Ruthig – said about Bolton’s poem:

“While building meaning through structure, language, and the sounds and images of lines like ‘the nighttime grocery’s flicker-lit linoleum’, ‘Writing Woman’ also retains mystery. Incantatory, ‘the wound’ morphs from object to persona, leaving us to contemplate the weight of truth.”

Where to find the Hart House Review

If you are interested in reading issues of the Hart House Review from previous years, you can find them in the Hart House Library, which is located on the second floor of Hart House, on the U of T St George campus.

When you enter the library, go to the little nook on the right hand side. Like all other publications in the library, these are only available for reading in the library.

Before the pandemic, we held launch events at the Hart House twice a year, when visitors could pick up their own copy of the Review. If we have remaining copies after the launch, we leave them in the Hart House Library for readers to pick up.

We are currently working to catch up with delayed issues from last year and we are hoping to be able to host events again later this year – pandemic restrictions permitting.

In the meantime, do visit the Hart House Library and have a look at our previous issues, if you get a chance to. (Make sure to check first the current requirements to enter Hart House.) This is especially a good idea if you are thinking of submitting or applying for a volunteer position with the HHR.

“‘Lara’ as Men, Boys, and Guys” by Mina Ivosev

Second prize prose winner of the Hart House Literary Contest in 2020 was Mina Ivosev, who studies toward a Master’s in creative writing at U of T.

This is what the judges Antanas Sileika and A.M. Dellamonica said about Ivosev’s short story:

“This is a terrific series of vignettes about Lara learning to navigate the perks and considerable perils of contemporary feminine existence, and discovering more about herself with each boy, guy, and man. The way her life goes forward, as symbolized by her careers’ evolution, tells us she is getting older and wiser and more sure of herself; it works nicely.”


When Lara is twenty-one she sleeps with her boss, Paul, from the café where she works. It happens a total of four times, every Wednesday of September from 3:45 to 4:45 PM, which is when his daughter has piano lessons and Lara’s roommates have class. Paul is sixteen years older than her, married, and looks a little like Big Bird when he’s naked; she tells him this once when they are lying on the floor of her bedroom after sex (Paul insists that the bed can be seen through the window, for which she has never bothered to buy curtains), and although she thinks this is funny, the type of thing lovers say to each other, he frowns and tells her she has no waist. After that, she tries not to talk until he speaks first. This is her first relationship with a man (although the difference between ‘man’ and ‘guy’ is not entirely clear to her yet, she is confident that Paul is not a ‘guy’), but she is still a girl.

            Paul is the third person she’s slept with. The second person was a guy she met through a dating app (she had been visibly disappointed when he turned out to be four inches shorter than her, and slept with him to prove it didn’t bother her), and the first person was a boy (not a guy) she met on a cruise when she was seventeen: his name was Andriy and he was from Ukraine and one afternoon when the boat had docked and their parents got off to swim in the beach Lara and Andriy locked themselves in his cabin and lost their virginities to each other. Only afterwards did they realize the condom, which Andriy had stolen from his older brother back home, was expired. A week after she flew back to Toronto and the bleeding didn’t stop, she went to her doctor and cried as she told him everything. He nodded a lot and didn’t smile and spoke to her in a level voice. Just before she left he offered her the jar of lollipops, the first time he had done so in four years. She took the cherry one.

            Although she has spent most of her life thinking about it, she did not once consider the question of love with either the boy or the guy. She thinks about it for the first time with Paul, and it seems like an important question, either because the answer should matter to her or because it should matter to him. On the last Wednesday of September, as she is watching him fumble with his clothes (he is always fumbling, tripping, running, in a rush either to come see her or to leave after), she asks him. He stops moving and looks at her for such a long time that Lara’s skin starts to break out in goosebumps. Then his phone rings and he looks at the device as if it’s been delivered to him through divine intervention. After he leaves, Lara decides that a guy becomes a man, like a girl becomes a woman, when they fall in love.

            When she comes into work that Friday, Paul calls her into his office in the basement beneath the café and tells her that he’s going to have to let her go. He looks somewhere at her feet when he says this and Lara can’t help shifting her weight. For some reason, he begins to nod slowly, and Lara is reminded of her old family doctor, who is no longer her family doctor because he is dead; her new doctor is a Korean woman who keeps candy canes in her office instead of lollipops.        

Lara goes to the bathroom to change back into her t-shirt, leaves her uniform next to the sink, and walks home. A month later, she finds a job at a shoe store.


In the seventh grade, Lara and her friend Jin make a Dream Boy. They do this by drawing a line down the middle of a piece of paper, the right side of which they leave blank while they fill the left side with a list of traits: hair, smarts, face (subdivided into nose, lips, eyes, and eyebrows), humour, style (subdivided into clothing and attitude), hands, voice, et cetera. Then they discuss the boys in their grade and decide who has what best trait. They choose Liam for his blue-green eyes, Chris for his doll-like nose, and Evan’s messy-with-the-slightest-touch-of-gel dirty blonde hair just barely beats Leon’s Prince Charming-esque brown curls. During recess, the other girls in their class learn about the Dream Boy and they have ideas too: Sean for clothing style; Thom (the only baritone in the entire boys’ choir) for his voice; Peter for his walk, Julie adds, which wasn’t even a category but now that she’s mentioned it everyone agrees it’s important. They spend a week building their ransom note of a Dream Boy and when it is done they tape it to Lara’s locker, wipe their mouths with Cassie’s lip-gloss, and each kiss it. Later that day, when the whole Visual Arts class is tasked with making a diorama of a northern Canadian landscape, Chris jokes and says that Julie’s clay model of a polar bear looks like a rat and immediately Jin tells him to shut up, because all he won was best nose, which isn’t much at all. Julie laughs so hard she accidentally spits all over her polar bear-rat.

Not long after, the list on Lara’s locker is torn down. The girls are sad for a while, and then they forget about the Dream Boy.

            In the twelfth grade, they make a new one.


After Paul, Lara starts going out. She goes out with some girlfriends from her program who help her do her eyeliner and lend her their lacey black bralettes (That is your top, one of the girls tells Lara, rolling her eyes). There are many guys at the clubs and bars they go to and all Lara has to do is look one in the eye. There is a guy who wants her to dance with another girl. There is a guy who doesn’t speak English and when they dance he tries to hold both her hands. There is a guy she doesn’t want to kiss who she kisses anyway because it is easier. There is a guy she goes home with who makes them both grilled cheeses before they go to bed and in the morning, he brings her a plate of bacon and eggs. He walks her home and she wears his zip-up over her bralette and when she gives it back to him at the door of her apartment she feels like crying, because she doesn’t want to let him go.  

There is another guy she goes home with who walks her back to her apartment the next morning and asks for her number. His name is Ryan and he is a year younger than her and is getting a degree in Renaissance history. He texts her that day and they meet up the next, which is Sunday, and she stays at his apartment until Tuesday. During that time, they learn the following about each other: he loves Audrey Hepburn and she loves fast food; he’s never tried pumpkin pie and she hates cut flowers; he never wants to leave Toronto and she wishes she had studied architecture; she’s the first person he’s slept with; he’s the closest thing she’s had to a boyfriend.

One day, she tells him about Paul. They are sitting in a park, watching the squirrels run, and she is moved but confused to see how upset Ryan becomes. She touches the center of his wrist with a dandelion and tells him that he is as soft as the yolk of a freshly cracked egg. He tells her that he is in love with her.


In the eleventh grade, Lara’s class goes on a ski trip. It takes three hours to drive up to the resort and although it is well below freezing, Lara, along with all the other girls, are dressed in slim coats and skinny jeans and try to talk their way out of having to wear a helmet. Everyone’s jacket zippers are clipped with day passes and the students are outfitted with skis, boots, and poles. They trudge to the ski lifts and argue over who will ride with whom.

            Lara has a crush on a boy. The boy is Mark, who in the seventh grade was kind of fat and had won the Dream Boy trait for best laugh, and is now eight inches taller and is the first boy to have facial hair that actually looks pretty good. A few months before, they were paired to improvise a skit in drama class (remember the key to improv is ‘yes and,’ Mr. Ettel had stressed) and when Mr. Ettel said ‘go,’ Mark wrapped his arms around her waist and said that this was the best honeymoon a girl like him could ever ask for (Lara was so flustered she missed the key word and replied with, Anything for my beloved daughter). Since then, she has been noticing Mark, and she has been waiting for this trip, which is when (she is sure) something will finally happen. Whenever she is not zipping down the hills, standing frozen on top of her skis from either fear or thrill or cold, she is scanning the faces around her, looking for him.

            She doesn’t know when or how he appears behind her on the ski lift to the black diamonds, but suddenly he is there and then they ride in the lift together. Her heart races as they talk and complain about the cold and the expensive food. When they are just past halfway up the hill the lift jerks to a stop and Lara’s gut is thrust into the railing she’s been holding onto. She watches Mark slip his skis, one at a time, out of the foothold. They dangle above the mass of trees below, the out of bounds zone. Try it, he says.

            She does. It makes her nervous to feel how heavy her feet are weighed down by the skis and boots, how badly they want the rest of her body to follow gravity. She pushes herself further into the seat, closer to Mark. She accidentally pushes his elbow and so he shoves her back, lightly. This time, she elbows him on purpose and smiles to show that she’s flirting. Touching is electrifying. He shoves her again, harder, and she laughs but feels something slip from her throat to her stomach as their lift sways. Don’t, she says, and he, laughing, grabs her vagina.

            They stop shoving each other. They are still smiling, but now whatever has slipped to Lara’s stomach has slipped back up her throat and is threatening to spill out. They sit and Lara stares at the trees below and after another moment the lift starts to move again. Once they reach the top, they glide onto the hill and Mark asks if she wants to try the double black diamond, the one that looks like a giant sheet of white bubble wrap. Without a second thought, she says yes.


In January, they go to her friend’s place for a party. Lara has a few cups of beer and takes shots with her friend’s friends who she has never met before and will not ever see again. She forgets that he is there, standing by a bookshelf filled with empty beer bottles and studying the jacket of a forgotten paperback for longer than he needs to. He sends her several texts, asking to leave. When they finally do it’s nearly two in the morning and Lara is no longer drunk but feels sick and spends half an hour throwing up in the toilet in his apartment. They get into bed around three and after a moment of lying there on her side, when she is thinking of other things, she hears him say, “You haven’t touched me today.”

            Ryan is as soft as a yolk that has broken. The liquid that has spilled from the center is amassing exponentially, and threatens to drown her. He wants to stay in bed for longer, go to sleep earlier; he wants to hold her hand when they eat dinner; he wants her to kiss every part of his face. He wants to smother her, or she to smother him. She starts to think about Paul when Ryan and her make love (they don’t have sex anymore). When he cries it is impossible to feel sympathy and desire at the same time. When he cries the sympathy inside her swells with the fill of his tears and when it shrinks back the space that is left for desire is that much smaller.

A month after the party, Lara collects her toothbrush, spare bra, and a box of tampons into a canvas bag, and moves this small sliver of her life out of Ryan’s apartment and back into her own. She calls those friends from her program, and they go out again.


Many years later, she will think of that party and she will remember things she had forgotten from that night: studying a poster of a sailboat on a lake taped to the front of a door; smelling a bowl of eggplant curry someone had left half-eaten on the kitchen table; kissing the exchange student from Colombia, just once, in the darkened bathroom. She will remember Ryan standing by the bookshelf, the way his brow was furrowed not because he was upset but because he was reading and concentrating, and at that moment Lara will be able to picture him as he would look now (she will not have seen him since she left), his shoulders and gut grown wider, his posture a little worse, sitting in a small yellow house and reading a book on Renaissance history with eyes curious and willing. Lara, all those years later, will gasp a little too loudly, causing those around her to turn (she will be in an audience, watching a musical), and she will choke out sobs just as the actress finishes her song.


Lara becomes a woman a few months after she turns twenty-two, when she is riding the subway home after work (she quit the shoe store and found a job as a receptionist in a dentist’s office). There is a man/guy/boy standing near the doors and staring at her; she can’t be sure which one he is, mainly because she doesn’t look back (she thinks of playing hide-and-seek as a child: if I can’t see you, you can’t see me). She is focusing on a piece of blue gum stuck between the seats when the subway suddenly stops halfway through the tunnel, and as Lara is pushed back into her seat she is reminded of that ski trip in the eleventh grade, how cold it had been, how expensive the food, how serene and terrifying it had felt to ride the ski lift. She thinks of Mark and feels — still — a flush of desire and fear and anger. She is thrown out of the memory when she hears the conductor announce a delay at track level and although she is once again on a subway in Toronto and not on a ski lift in the past and although she is five years too late, the anger that has lain dormant for so long begins, for the first time, to inflate. It inflates until she is so angry that she gets up out of her seat and walks over to the man/guy/boy and shoves him, hard. His arms fly up as he falls backwards and smashes his head on the corner of the seat behind him, and as he collapses onto the subway floor — unconscious, and possibly dead — Lara thinks that he looks exactly like a child, just finished making a snow angel.


But that doesn’t happen.

            What happens is that Lara gets so angry that her anger inflates into a balloon, a lovely red balloon, the skin of which is shiny and taut and smells not of rubber, but of burnt toast. After the initial moment of surprise passes, she removes the shoelace of her sneaker, ties the balloon to her right wrist, and carries it home. She brings it to work the next day, and has to gently push it aside whenever it floats between her and the patients who come to her desk to check in for their appointments. The patients, naturally, don’t notice; they stare right through it.

She will bring it to supermarkets and to parties, to funerals and to bed. Although it will grow smaller everyday, everyday it will look the same as it had the day before, until one afternoon Lara will glance up and to her right and it won’t be there. She will feel the spark of panic for just a moment until she turns around and sees it trailing at her feet like a sickly dog, just barely hovering above the broken glass scattered over the sidewalk. Eventually, the balloon will be small enough that she will remove the shoelace and carry it around in her pocket instead. She will wait for it to finally pop, but it won’t. The balloon lasts forever.

There will be hundreds of balloons; she will carry them all. Each time, once the balloon has shrunken to the size of her fist, she will cup it tenderly in her hands and be amazed that so little material could ever fit so much.

“Medusa Smile” by Victoria Mbabazi

Second prize poetry winner of the Hart House Literary Contest in 2020 was Victoria Mbabazi, a UTSC graduate currently living in Brooklyn, New York.

This is what the judges – poets Prathna Lor, Kate Cayley and Ingrid Ruthig – said about Mbabazi’s poem:

“‘Medusa Smile’ is a love poem that upends the love poem. Deftly negotiating tricky and very familiar territory with an impressive, tongue-in-cheek command of romantic cliché, the poem manages to combine erotic frankness, genuine pain, surprising wit and deep feeling.”

Medusa Smile 

by Victoria Mbabazi

I’d hoped she’d fall in love 

in my cleavage or 

at the curve of my hips

I’ve been told that’s

how it happens you 

fall in love fucking 

that is when the choir 

rises and the credits

roll happily ever

whatever the fuck 

I don’t fall in love I 

fall in anxiety I 

crash watching her 

make mac and cheese 

wondering what key 

the echo in the back 

of my mind is in  

what makes me feel like 

I’m dying when

she looks at me like 

my heart is in her 

teeth knowing I’ll

bleed out happily 

altogether I can’t 

be still for a girl 

that isn’t mine and

yet she looked at me 

wolf in love’s clothing 

like I was all hers God

I believed her too

So what is the Hart House Review?

The Hart House Review is a literary and art journal published by the Hart House Literary and Library Committee since 1991 and printed by Coach House Press in Toronto.

The HHR aims to publish new writing and visual art by both emerging and established authors and artists in the form of poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, and visual art in all mediums that can translate into print. In the journal, we publish the winners of the annual Hart House Literary Contest.  

Past contributors to the HHR include Reza Baraheni, George Elliot Clarke, Lynn Crosbie, Howard Davies, Camilla Gibb, Nadine Gordimer, Sheila Heti, Jim Johnstone, Daniel MacIvor, Lee Maracle, Andrew McEwan, Rohinton Mistry, Albert F. Moritz, Simon Ortiz, John Reibetanz, Ray Robertson, Colm Tóibín, Priscilla Uppal, Myna Wallin, Kira Wronska Dorward, Carleton Wilson, Jacob Wren, and Rachel Zolf.

On our editorial board we have a diverse mix of undergraduates, graduates, and alumni, who are all volunteers with a particular interest in literature and art.

We recruit new volunteers for our editorial board and we seek new submissions of prose, poetry and art each year. If this is something you would be interested in, follow us here and on our social media!

“A Portrait of Madame Bovary on a Subway Window” by Veronica Spada

“A Portrait of Madame Bovary on a Subway Window” by Veronica Spada

First prize prose winner of the Hart House Literary Contest in 2020 was Veronica Spada, a student of English and Philosophy at the University of Toronto. 

This is what the judges Antanas Sileika and A.M. Dellamonica said about Spada’s short story:

“We particularly enjoyed the title and a playful way with imagery are the first things we notice in this, and the specificity of the setting—like the Knox College gargoyle, adds to the effect. There were lots of evocative details and the point of view made good observations.”

A Portrait of Madame Bovary on the Subway Window

by Veronica Spada

I age fifty years in the blemished subway window. With leather-gloved fingers, I touch the tawny pockets of my skin, my cheeks, the brownish piles of a baker’s sweating dough. Something rare in the visual mesmerizes me. My dough is kneaded, transformed.

My picture in the window could speak with the accent of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her scarf is made of lambswool, her fortune born from her charm. She wears gloss serums under her eyes and mink pelts over her shoulders.

A man shaped like a snowbank smiles around his cigarette at my strange image.

I remove my glove to ensure he sees my wedding band.

The train enters the station; the light obliterates the reflection of the woman’s famous head. Now I see a mosaic wall and businessmen in leather shoes. I deposit my ring into my skirt pocket and return my glove to my naked hand.

On the Queen’s Park Station platform, a raisin-eyed accordionist and under-dressed trumpeter play Si Tu Vois Ma Mère. Gossamer mist embalms me while I swing my skirt. Snow lunges down the stairwell and decorates my hair. I throw the musicians pennies from Heaven. I’ve been told Heaven is beneath the pockets of my skirt.

I’m reflected on the yellowed sliding door of the 7-11 on Spadina Crescent. The image is a sixteen-year-old girl, a city-dwelling urchin who takes molly on Jarvis Street when the embrace of summer abandons her.

And soon I twinkle in the unwashed window of a double-parked Mercedes, a grease puddle on Huron Street, and the stained glass window of the Knox chapel. Each image quivers in the light; they laugh with the dignity of cathedral bells. I have no time for them. I’m running late.

A bloated gargoyle on the Knox edifice mocks me with a stuck-out tongue when I arrive, so I return the favour. I wait beneath his stone ledge for my would-be Beau. He promised me a book of sonnets. He promised we would read from it.

His Romanticism excites me; we could be poets.

I wait with the gargoyles and contemplate their posture.

Gradual, like mist, his silhouette forms between the church doors; I wish he would hesitate so I could paint the vague impression on my brain. He approaches my station at the lattermost pew with impatient eyes, empty-handed.

“I dropped the Shakespeare in the sewer,” he says. “So, we can’t read it. Sorry.”

“No worries,” I reply. “We’ll do something else.”

White clouds of November air pour from his sly lips, and he grows near. “Exactly.” 

“And I’ve always preferred poetry when it’s spoken.”

“You mean to say we should speak poems to each other?” he replies, wide-eyed. “Make them up right now? I can’t write poems on the spot. I can’t string words together. I’ve got nothing memorized. I’m a human being, not a character in a sonnet. People like that don’t exist.”

His impatience delights me. I laugh. “Don’t you ever recognize people from poetry?”

“I suppose,” he says. “I once met someone and realized mid-discussion it was Madame Bovary.”

“Madame Bovary! That’s terrible! Haven’t you met any others? What about Don Quixote?”

“Of course. Faustus too.”                  

“And brave Macbeth?”

“And a Karamazov.”

“And Achilles?”


“Really? You’ve met an Achilles?”

“Maybe not Achilles. Not yet. The city’s not in flames. Still, life has me like Hector’s corpse fastened to his chariot.”

“Now there’s a lovely vantage point: looking on the burning Troy, the last flicker of a crumbling city. Spectator to the crashing monuments, armoured soldiers, terrified faces, and twinkling gore.”

“A spectator,” he murmurs. He takes my scarf in his hands and unravels it. “That’s real clever.”

He embraces me, resting his chin on my shoulder, reaching towards Heaven, yet now I’m

entranced by a second gargoyle adjacent to the first. With a bloated face, it opens fat lips to reveal grey stone teeth. So, I scrunch my nose and stick out my tongue; the gargoyle and I share a good laugh at the would-be Beau’s expense.

While I laugh, I realize, on the stained glass window, the would-be Beau and I are a single shape, a mound of love entwined like the mud of a hill. I pull away until our bodies are estranged.

The would-be Beau leans to smell my hair and groans. “Why don’t we go to my apartment?”

I say, “Okay,” and we’re promptly in a streetcar on College Street with one hundred city-dwellers, our bodies compressed like an unconscious orgy. A young stranger with waist-length hair and a newspaper divides me from my Beau, who alternates between lusty grins and scowls at the warm bodies.

I refract on the thousand sliding doors and peruse the stranger’s newspaper. Graciously, the stranger tips the paper to my eye-level, so I can ogle the Calvin Klein models and imagine myself in their lace bralettes. 

When we arrive, the apartment is a sea of tatty clothing. A brown leather jacket. Bellbottom jeans. A yellow gingham dress. Scarce furniture. A cold rice cooker, a mattress, and a radio all belong to his old roommates. They come and go like phantoms, leaving single gloves and handfuls of pennies. Change litters the room, glittering like tearful eyes from the pockets of scattered blue jeans.

I wait for my Beau on the mattress while he struggles with his button-fly. I can’t see myself lying there. A bygone roommate stole the mirror from the bathroom vanity, abandoning a blank, clay wall.

My skirt on the floor is like a cadaver, and it’s all I see. Soon, the skirt is the corpse of a stranger, unknowable and bizarre. I lose it in the murky sea of clothing, so when I exit, I am swimming in a pair of his tatty blue jeans. 

In the subway window, homeward bound at one o’clock in the morning, I look eighty-years-old. Fingers brush the pouches of leathered skin beneath my eyes, the curtains of my heavy cheeks, the strange images teeming in my head, whistling like a kettle. 

The woman in the window glimmers like the dull face of a penny. Naked fingers aimlessly brush the weary flesh around the brow, the chin, the throat, the sighing mouth, the cheeks like mounds of dough.

When the train-cart plunges into the light aboveground, I am decapitated with a hand still searching for my beauty.

“I like you. But not as much as I like self-portrait island love poems.” by Eric Wang.

First prize poetry winner of the Hart House Literary Contest in 2020 was Eric Wang, a student at UTSC pursuing a major in English and creative writing.

This is what the judges – poets Prathna Lor, Kate Cayley and Ingrid Ruthig – said about Wang’s poem:

“Our winning poem, ‘I like you. But not as much as I like self-portrait island love poems’, is an exquisite lesson in playful self-love. If you’ve ever wanted to jump into a synesthetic, effervescent waterfall of language that reads like The Metamorphoses in miniature, it is this poem.”

I like you. But not as much as I like self-portrait island love poems.

by Eric Wang

I am here, waiting for you on every island

my body has become. I pluck a scuttling

crab from my belly button. I fish a yellowtail

from my waistband. I trim the furled

seaweed from my pubic hair, then I turn my belt into

a sushi train. I’m saying I’d like to be a perpetual

feeding machine, a circular ecosystem

for you to sample. My heart swells from island

gigantism. My ample biodiversity


for your arrival. Though for lack of a dove, I give you a

mallard from my sleeves, flightless and ambling,

stub-wings opened to the cumulus clouds

darkening over my head. Shelter your dry hands

in my palm-tree hair, nuzzle and shake out

a coconut. If you scalp the fruit, you can

drink. Meanwhile, I’ll work the fibrous husk

into wiring for a coconut-radio playing:

how deep is your love, how deep is your love,

how deep — too near the coast, a whale

bearing a rainbow in its spout-breath breaches.

Beaches on my chest.