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Illustration by Niki Waters @kneesandkeysart


Hi Greg (Dr. Justice). Here’s a script for you to look at. It’s called A Fish Named Ginsberg. I was wondering if you could give me any feedback and/or pass on to any publishers in the biz? It could also be a TV show? Radiodrama? Let me know!




FRED: I just got this note on Twitter: “the other people in the magazine were funny. You should be funny. Not so serious.”

EVA: So? Whose Twitter?

FRED: Someone who goes by the name “Cracker Barrel.”

EVA: And you’re listening to someone who goes by a brand of cheese?

FRED: He has a lot of followers.



DOCTOR: There’s nothing I can do. The medical term is psychosomatic. It’s all in your head. I can refer you to a psychiatrist –


DOCTOR: Unfortunately we can’t turn anyone away who complains of chest pain. Bureaucracy doesn’t align with the boy who cried wolf. (PAUSE) Are you writing this down?

FRED: I want to make sure I get the full value of your expertise.

DOCTOR: You’re still healthy, I’m afraid. If you’re after an opiate

prescription –

FRED: I only want to find out what’s wrong with my heart.

DOCTOR: Rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pain –


FRED: Yes, all of those.

DOCTOR: Anxiety. Quit the poetry. Maybe read some Mary Oliver instead of Ginsberg. Go to couple’s therapy. Get a dog. Do some yoga. Live a little. And stop coming around here.

FRED: What terrible teacher turned you off poetry?

DOCTOR: See those people in the emerg waiting area? Maybe five won’t survive the week. If I could ban you, I would. I’m not even against utilitarianism—I would give them all your organs if I could. Now I’ll get the nurse to give you a mental health booklet and get out. Don’t come back until you’ve been hit by a car. (PAUSE) Stop writing!



EVA: How was the doctor?

FRED: He said my heart is fine, my brain’s the problem.

EVA: Like cancer?

FRED: Maybe. They’re doing some tests. The doctor thought I should read Mary Oliver!

EVA: Fred, I’m being serious –

FRED: Why does everyone think I’m not taking things seriously? I’m the one with the brain cancer!

EVA: So it is cancer?

FRED: I need to work.

EVA: Fred, what words exactly did the doctor use?

FRED: Mary Oliver! I’m not shitting you on that.

EVA: You know what I mean.

FRED: And he assumed I read Ginsberg!

EVA: You’re impossible, Fred. I think you want cancer. My mother had cancer. It’s not funny.

FRED: I’m not trying to be funny!

EVA: Maybe you could get a fish?

FRED: Why would I want a fish!

EVA: I don’t know, Fred.



FRED: My wife tells me to get a fish.

DOCTOR: I thought I told you it’s not my problem?

FRED: A fish!

DOCTOR: Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or somebody else?

FRED: Why would you ask me that?

DOCTOR: If you are I can send you to psych, and that might teach you a lesson.

FRED: I’m still having chest pain.

DOCTOR: Yes, I’ve read that on your chart.

FRED: So? What are you going to do about it?

DOCTOR: I’m going to send you out into the cruel world just like every other time.

FRED: She left and told me to get a fish!

DOCTOR: I’m not a therapist. The world isn’t your oyster. We aren’t actors in your play.

FRED: You’re mixing metaphors –




AMBER: Mum wanted me to give this to you.

FRED: A fish?

AMBER: Now you’re really losing it. Yes, as you can see, this is a goldfish.

FRED: Why does she want me to have a goldfish? I don’t want a goldfish.

AMBER: You know you aren’t supposed to make your kids play your  games?

FRED: I’m sorry, you’re right. It’s just, a fish.

AMBER: Mum’s right. You’re a narcissist.

FRED: Your mother said that?

AMBER: I overheard her talking to Aunt Carrie. Aunt Carrie said she always knew it and warned her about it but now it’s too late because I exist.

FRED: Did they explain the fish?

AMBER: I don’t know, Dad, why don’t you write a memoir?

FRED: The notion that everyone’s lives are worthy of memoirs is one of the sad misconceptions of your generation.

AMBER: Whatever Dad, I feel sorry for your fish.

FRED: Are your friends still bulimic? I used to get a lot of eating disorder poems from students. Now they’ve seemed to have moved on to other issues.

AMBER: We’re all crazy like you? Is that what you want me to say?

FRED: I just thought you might –

AMBER: If the fish dies, I won’t tell mum if we don’t have to do this anymore. Oh and I’m supposed to tell you about my piano recital. I know you won’t come so whatever, I can say I told you.

FRED: Of course I’ll come!

AMBER: Don’t.

FRED: But you just –

AMBER: Don’t come.



FRED: What are you doing here? You don’t work here.

DOCTOR: I thought I would give my favourite patient a visit.

FRED: Still planning on giving away my organs?

DOCTOR: I’ve been thinking about your fish dilemma.

FRED: It’s not a dilemma –

DOCTOR: Maybe your wife feels like she is the fish.

FRED: I thought you weren’t a shrink?

DOCTOR: I’m not. And you don’t have cancer.

FRED: Now she won’t let me see my daughter!

DOCTOR: They wanted my opinion, you said I want to give away your

organs. Which, as you know, would be what we medical professionals call a paranoid delusion. They wanted my insight on how it started.

FRED: What did you tell them?

DOCTOR: I said I would talk to you first.

FRED: Isn’t there some sort of oath not to do this?

DOCTOR: Sure, we studied Mother Theresa right in-between cancer and Parkinson’s.

FRED: Please, just tell them I’m not crazy. And tell them I am a poet.

DOCTOR: I can do one or the other, not both.

FRED: Tell them I’m not crazy.

DOCTOR: If you promise to never come back here, I’ll tell them you’re an idiot, not mentally ill.

FRED: But –

DOCTOR: Ever heard of the poet who cried cancer?

FRED: No –

DOCTOR: That’s because nobody cared enough to write it.

FRED: Just get me out of here!

DOCTOR: I’ll tell them you’re an idiot and it was an honest misunderstanding.

FRED: Thank you.

DOCTOR: Don’t come back. I mean it!



FRED: I guess it’s now just you and me, fish. Am I supposed to name you? How’s Ginsberg? Let’s see what I have to mark. Yet another personal essay on sexual assault, one about learning to fart on command, aha! Cancer. No, it’s a personal essay on cancer as a metaphor. And an essay on… what?


AMBER: My dad is a poet. At least, he thinks he’s a poet. My mum’s a social worker. They don’t belong together. I’m supposed to say that they did, at one point, because that’s what created the beautiful snowflake that is me. I didn’t inherit my dad’s ego. But maybe they did belong together. Social workers take care of people. Poets exploit people. My mum is a social worker. My dad is a poet. I am the goldfish. My mum said my dad can’t take care of a fish, and she gave him one just to prove it. My dad was in a psych ward. We’ll never know why. He still tells people he has cancer. My aunt has cancer, most likely. My mum cries about it. I told my dad not to come to my piano recital because I knew he wouldn’t. I know what you’re going to say, the fish metaphor doesn’t work. That’s what my dad would say. Then he would inspect my teacher’s assignments. Say that the Mockingbird was already dead or something. They say babies are made because people love each other, but kids aren’t stupid. Not all of us, anyway.

FRED: Who wrote this? What type of sick joke is this?

AMBER: I looked up the university’s “confessions” page on Facebook. I asked if anyone was taking classes with my dad and wanted a spare paper. I had to bribe someone with a blowjob. Just joking! I found someone who was going to drop out anyway. I thought this way maybe my dad would listen. Give the student an A anyway, it’s not like you’ve never broken the rules. He thought it was funny. I don’t.

STEVE: It’s hilarious! Totally worth any price! Bring it on Fred! I feel like we’re on a first name bases now.


GINSBERG: I saw the most mediocre minds of my generation destroyed by madness.  

FRED: Ginsberg, was that you? I’m not going back to the doctor.

GINSBERG: I didn’t tell you to.

FRED: But you’re talking.

GINSBERG: Never heard of a fish poet before? Don’t get too excited.

FRED: Does my wife know?

GINSBERG: You humans really need to start thinking outside of the tank.

FRED: I’m not sure I follow?

GINSBERG: I’m stuck in this tiny tank. You’ve got the entire world and howl, howl, howl! You’re stuck in your own bubble.

FRED: How can you talk?

GINSBERG: How can you swim?

FRED: I… I think I need some aspirin.

GINSBERG: Sure thing, Fred. Get me a glass of water while you’re at it?


GINSBERG: It was a joke, Fred. Lighten up a little. Show Cracker Barrel who’s boss. Do you find my questions funny, Fred?

FRED: Excuse me?

GINSBERG: I saw it on TV once.

FRED: You’re not much of a poet.

GINSBERG: I’ve been spending too much time with you and too much time in this tank.

FRED: Where else does a goldfish go?

GINSBERG: It could be a bigger tank. And maybe with a better view.

FRED: A tank with a view?

GINSBERG: Don’t mock me. We all have our needs. I don’t think this is even big enough to be called a tank, I think it’s what you call a fishbowl.

FRED: Why don’t you sing?

GINSBERG: We`re back to the Disney fish again.

FRED: My wife used to watch this show called Say Yes to the Dress!

They would bring out all of these wedding gowns until the woman found one she loved. Sometimes I feel like people are just waiting for me to say yes to the dress.

GINSBERG: You’ve got that backwards, Fred. You’re waiting for people to say

yes to you. Yes, you do have cancer. Yes, I do sing. Yes, I do love you. Yes, you are Ginsberg –

FRED: Why does everyone think I want to be Ginsberg?

GINSBERG: Yes, yes, yes, yes… You suck their tanks dry.

FRED: I think Cracker Barrel is a student. Today he tweeted that I teach people how to sleep in uncomfortable positions. I’m going to my office.

GINSBERG: This is your office.

FRED: My other office. I Googled talking fish.

GINSBERG: Did it mention suicide?

FRED: I assume there’s an 1-800 number for that.



DOCTOR: So it appears your wish has come true, this time you had an actual heart attack.

FRED: Where’s my wife?

DOCTOR: On her way.

FRED: How did I get here?

DOCTOR: Your fish called 9-11. Just joking. Your daughter did. She is a good girl. You shouldn’t screw that up more than you already have.



FRED: Well class. This is going to be our last lecture. I’m taking a break from teaching for medical reasons. I want you to reflect on what you’ve learned here. Poetry is all about honesty. Some of you were less than honest in your assignments. Some of you wrote about other people’s lives and pretended they were your own. Some of you stole assignments. Some of you’ve probably never even read poetry. The truth is, it’s all a Ponzi scheme. You are the ones paying money to come here. You get to decide what you learn. In the real world, nobody will give two cents that you got good grades in English 104. You know how Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes hooked up? She bit his ear. That was how. None of you, I think, have the audacity to bite anyone’s ear, nor to find talking fish, nor to spend a night in the emerg for heartbreak. You go on your Facebook confessions pages to rant about professors and busses but you haven’t lived a day in your life. You aren’t funny. You’re kids in some social experiment –

STEVE: Dude, is this a joke?

FRED: Some of you will date professors’ daughters, others will date professors. Some of you may even get in trouble with the law. Some of you may fight the injustices of having to complete papers for grades that won’t give you jobs. I’m here to tell you that you’re right. It is a Ponzi scheme. Nobody becomes a poet from university. Some of you will survive, some of you won’t. Some of you will grade papers for the rest of your life only to befriend a sadistic doctor and a cruel fish. None of you will become Ginsberg. You will just survive. In real life, if the fish talks, you’re just stuck alone with your secret. There’s no singing. The fish does not sing. Are you taking notes? Fish don’t sing.


FRED: Yes, you all think I’m funny now.


FRED: Here’s your new professor. His name is Ginsberg. Your assignment is to keep him alive. Because in the end, what else matters? You can turn in any replacement assignments for those that were plagiarized or missed. You’re in luck, I hear his alphabet only goes to B. He likes jazz and a tank—or bowl—with a view.

STEVE: Is anybody recording this? Fred, you are funny.

FRED: Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a piano recital to attend.





Happy holidays. In regards to your script, it has some good lines but I’m afraid I don’t know what I can do with it. I was a friend of your father and I’m not sure what you’re looking for from me. He was a good man. Before you were born he was quite successful. The entire English department was saddened by his loss.

Maybe you should get a fish?

Dr J.


You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!   



Dr. Greg Justice

Department of English

University of Alberta

Jill M. Talbot’s bio: I won’t lie, I’m entering the Deathmatch because I’m a masochist. I’m also a Gemini, twin, adoptee, psychoanalytic dork, skidrow junkie, 11% transient Mexican, winner of a scarecrow contest in grade five, undercover spy and crazy cat lady without a cat. It’s seven truths and a lie, right? I’m also good at math. You can find me on Twatter @Jilltalbo. Though I have many books, I have no face or friends and thus no Facebook.


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    1. sclar021 ( Likes: 213 ) says:

      Actually in Ginsberg I feel like the script/subheadings are a bit of a cop out when they are so frequent, was this strategic since there are multiple perspectives or was there difficulty making the transition in a way that’s more conducive to a short story? I found the shifts too frequent and had no idea what the focus of the story was .. a fish, cancer, a poet, a daughter.. is the daughter a fish? Or a metaphor for how the dad can’t take care of her?

      The author of this one seems to go back and forth about her stance on explaining her own story, perhaps she doesn’t actually know?

    2. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      It’s experimental, the character is submitting a script. Thus those parts are in script format. It’s only a cop out if it doesn’t fit with the story. But honestly, it’s more difficult to break form, not easier. Saying “Fred is at the hospital” is just as easy, if not easier. Breaking away from typical form isn’t for everyone. No, I don’t go back and forth on meaning. I’ve explained several times why I don’t tell readers what something means. But thanks for your input.

    1. Jaon ( Likes: 457 ) says:

      Only with Fred as Virginia. He is married to Ginsberg. Or thinks he is. The fish, not the poet.

    2. Jaon ( Likes: 457 ) says:

      Only I know A Fish Called Ginsberg isn’t really about that. Except I like my version better.

  4. Tiny One ( Likes: 457 ) says:

    I liked your fish named Ginsberg. Nice name. Amber seems shallow. I would like to know more about her. Fred is too out there for me to even think about. He reminds me of someone I would rather forget.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      They’re characters not love prospects or tinder profiles so I think you’ll be OK.

  5. Grease One ( Likes: 456 ) says:

    I am not sure where this goes. I like its imaginative nature but I would like a little more closure. All in all not a bad story, though. I can see why it was chosen for Deathmatch.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      What type of closure would you like to see? I admit that I think the greatest aspect of short stories is how often they deny readers closure, but I’m interested in other opinions.

    2. Grease One ( Likes: 456 ) says:

      Bing bang boom. This happens. That happens. Cause and effect. But there are no perfect stories. I still think A Fish Called Ginsberg is wonderful.

    3. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Thanks. I can’t publish it as a story since it’s here but if I expand it as a play perhaps that would solve your concern.

    1. Egg ( Likes: 455 ) says:

      I wasn’t expecting this. What a delight! You really need to deepen this. I could see it being performed as a play.

    2. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Thanks eggo and waffles, keep your votes coming in for the only talking fish around.

  6. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

    Fred isn’t a genius. He’s mediocre. He thinks he should be a genius and like many powerful men, that’s where his insecurities come from. Many have covered this type of character because unfortunately we live in a world full of them. It’s relevant to our world. Few cover their families or give family members a voice. Are there stories about family out there? Of course. Because everyone can relate. What matters is if the work is fresh, leaves an impression, etc. In politics and in this competition we see the consequences of ego. No story is about a functional relationship because they don’t exist and they lack conflict, the driving force of good writing.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      See comment below this one. Other writers have said it’s the same old damaged genius doesn’t get along with daughter story. They’re primed to critisize though.

  7. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

    Jill — your format is creative, I’ll give it that. But I feel like all of these sections are just placeholders that really need to be fleshed out. The dialogue is dry, but that’s a matter of preference. It’s certainly not for me. It reminds me of the kind of film my husband always wants to watch that ends up putting me to sleep.

    As far as continuity, you completely lost me here:

    “FRED: Who wrote this? What type of sick joke is this?

    AMBER: I looked up the university’s “confessions” page on Facebook.”

    This scene makes it very unclear whether Amber is in the room or if her voice is in Fred’s head. Then, when he asks these questions (above) it’s again confusing if Amber is answering or if the essay continues.

    I agree with you in that there is no such thing as a unique story, but I agree with Charlotte in that damaged-genius-narcissist-dad-with-dysfunctional-daughter-relationship is way overdone.

    The best part of your story is the character of Fred. He comes to life in my mind as I read his ridiculous statements. I love his conversation with his fish. His daughter is another story — she doesn’t seem like a real person to me at all. Just a shell of her father.

    Why is this in radioplay format? I feel like if you’re going to do that, do it all the way, with scene descriptions, etc. If not, just write the story — it’s a good one.

    My final note is to get rid of the opening and closing “Hey Prof here’s a screenplay” stuff. It’s distracting and doesn’t really contribute anything to the story. The ending of Fred’s rant to his class was EPIC. A perfect ending, which was just ruined with the weak finish from Dr. J.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:


      Can you list some? I haven’t read it once so fail to see how it’s overdone. There are an infinite number of stories about cheating on a spouse, but would you critisize Munro for doing it? I doubt it. Similarly, your story has been done many times before.

      Seems like there’s a stigma about writing on family.

      Damaged relationships are a major theme in life. Sort of like saying death or love are overdone. If it’s not in your story I’m not sure what meaning is left.

    2. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      As for the beginning and ending, others said they liked it. It’s personal preference. I won’t defend it but I won’t automatically remove it either.

  8. Charlotte Joyce Kidd ( Likes: 1243 ) says:

    This is clever and has a lot of great lines, but I feel like I’ve heard the story before. It’s just kind of Birdman, right?
    It rambles and jolts back and forth, but I can still grasp the story line because the narrative is so familiar.
    Also why is it always a daughter? Do emotionally unstable fathers still manage to have good relationships with their sons?
    Still, enjoyed reading it, really respect the way you play with form (I had to read it a couple times before I remembered to actually absorb the scene headings rather than skimming over them, which added to it). You have a unique, joyless but enjoyable sense of humour. Liked the scene where the fish starts talking, and really like that the professor has a Ginsberg quote in his email signature – what a good little kick in the pants.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Umm “always a daughter”?
      You’ve read only one of my stories and it only has one daughter. There are plenty of father son stories out there. That’s kind of a ridiculous criticism. Would you rather not have a female character?
      I haven’t read this story before. I obviously can’t say it doesn’t exist. I don’t believe there is a unique arc in the universe. Those without are without meaning entirely.
      What story hasnt already been told? All stories are about relationship. There are only so many ways for relationships to fracture.

    2. Charlotte Joyce Kidd ( Likes: 1243 ) says:

      Sorry, definitely didn’t mean that your stories are always about a daughter…just that the stories of the unstable but maybe genius father descends into madness whilst ignoring family variety tend to feature a daughter. But other than Birdman (which is an excellent movie) I can’t think of examples, so maybe this story just felt familiar enough to me that I jumped to the conclusion I’d heard it too many times before.

    3. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      I looked up the Birdman plot (hadn’t seen it). The only thing I have in common with is it using animals to symbolize inner turmoil. That’s been done for all of history. I’ve got as much in common with it as your story does with Oryx and Crake. Often themes repeat because they’re important. Some argue only 37 plots exist, and it used to be less. Often women also get critisexrd for writing too much about family whereas serious writers cover space, love, war… I take a little from everything I’ve read. Great artists steal and all.

  9. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

    So few comments on stories other than the few with a huge initial voting turnout. That’s a terrible way to guage a good story (they’re supported by friends) . Good if you want to be the cool guy, I guess.

    I believed that engagement was a part of the deal. I read and commented on nearly all 16.

    1. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      I’m a cool guy. I read and commented on all the stories. Only I don’t have any friends. At least none who can read. But if you’re looking for them who can spit tobacco juice without having to open their mouth, they got your back.

      Glad to see your story made it to the quarterfinals, Jill! I was not expecting to read a screenplay nor have I any experience in reviewing one so perhaps my initial response to yours was a little flippant. I get like that when confronted with something new. I suppose it must be related to some sort of weird coping mechanism I picked up as a child.

      So I am still working at trying to figure out what you are telling me with this story. Is it about father issues? That’s what I am getting. A girl who had a distant father, one who made all sorts of promises that were never kept. Hmm. That strikes just a little to close to home, to be honest.

    2. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      I don’t like telling people what a story is about because I think that’s for the reader to come up with.

    3. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Also I dont consider it a script and certainly not a screenplay. A lot of short stories experiment with form. Nabakov has a novel with a third that’s a poem, there are stories in the form of emails or comment sections (deathmatch resembles one!), and all sorts of other fugurations. I took a risk, sure.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      You made it this far! And not encouraging other writers isn’t much fun. It’s nice to be honest but… meh.

  10. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

    At the time I decided to just answer Broken Pencil’s question. But it seems appropriate to include my actual bio…

    Jill M. Talbot’s writing has appeared in CV2, The Fiddlehead, Geist, Rattle, PRISM, The Stinging Fly, and others. Jill won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award and the Malahat Far Horizons Award. Jill lives in Vancouver, BC.

  11. Joshua Cochran ( Likes: 28 ) says:

    What a lovely love fest! Let’s all hold hands and tell each other how wonderful we are.

    Not fiction. A tightly wound story that made me realize I was reading. No being swept away here. But I can see a cat voting for it… and a lot of friends. Repeatedly.

    1. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      Hey. What’re you saying? My dead cat don’t deserve no vote? You’se musta not growed up in Chicago. All the dead cats rate a vote there. But I ain’t holding no dude’s hand. Forget about it.

  12. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

    What thoughts I have for you tonight. I admit it. I howled at this. No, really. But like dear old Doc J, I have no idea what I can do with it. After all, even though I once had a cat named Chomsky, God rest his precious furry soul (the cat, not the cat) I have never much cottened onto fish even be they gold. Oh, I take that back. I did have a bobber once with a fish attached. After all, you did mention suicide.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      What you can do with it? What is it you expect to be able to do with stories?
      If something makes me laugh, if I enjoy it, that’s enough for me.
      Make Chomsky proud. He would know what to do with a good story.

    2. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      I did suggest to Chomsky he vote for your story but then he reminded me dead cats can’t vote. Except in Chicago, of course. Good luck.

    3. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      They said I have to put him in a bag clearly labeled dead cat. Searching the cupboards now. Will keep you apprised.

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