This Changes Nothing, Double Production

Those of you with more substantial lives may have missed the interesting conversation stemming from Mike Lista’s newest column at the National Post. The thesis, in brief, is that the death of a certain percentage of the nation’s literary magazine, though bad for those magazines and the people who read and write them, might be good for the national literature as a whole.

If you’d like me to give you a reader to bring you up to date, I’d recommend first hitting the source, and then maybe Laurie Fuhr’s rebuttal, which is the best and the most nuanced (not that being the “most nuanced” rebuttal is difficult when poets are talking about economics). In fairness to Mike, please note that Laurie’s not hemmed in by column length. That matters.

You should read both opinions. You should do this because you’re plural thinkers willing and able to consider multiple opinions. You’re Vox Pop readers. You’re not distracted by the simple braying of other web-based sources of literary information I could mention but won’t, because I’m on vacation and in a good mood.

Of course, I have some thoughts on the issue. Feel free to add your own.

1. I’m relieved, and excited, to hear a model of Canadian literature that does not treat the possibility of losing a few journals as a Pompeii moment. To clarify, I disagree with the statement I’ve heard before that “we have more journals than we need.” That’s not really what’s happening here. I will say: we have more journals than we’re using.

2. This really is point 1b, but whatever…The lit. journals I regularly read are: Arc, CNQ, Open Letter, and Poetry is Dead. I venture into others, but those are my big four. I would argue that all four cover distinct aesthetic and cultural territory, and while there is (blessed!) overlap between the four, I don’t think I’d struggle to sell them to anybody as *different* magazines, with separate audiences, politics, and intentions.

3. Lista’s prediction of the future of literary publishing uses a model of commodity economics that I don’t feel is prescient. “Literary magazine” is not the product here. However, to defend him against his more voracious critics, that product is also not the more general “literacy”. One thing I can be certain about is that (not to pick on them, I’m choosing them at random…) “The Fiddlehead” is not an agent of public literacy. People who read The Fiddlehead are already leading highly literate lives. NOW Magazine (or The Coast, or whatever the alt-weekly is in your city) is an agent of public literacy, as its readership may or may not be reading everyday otherwise. The Fiddlehead is an entertainment for a literate sub-population. It’s not increasing the country’s number of readers.

Anyway, “Literary magazine” is not a commodity in the same way that “pork bellies” are a commodity. We don’t care what kind of pork belly it is and where it comes from, we consider all pork bellies equal in the tally. A view that assumes that if we have a third as many magazines, they’d have three times as many readers, neglects the qualitative dimension of reading as much as it neglects purely economic factors like serial consumption, collaboration, and product-mixing.

4. I think that the magazines most likely to survive without any external funding are the ones that can identify themselves as unique offerers of content. I’m sorry for these cold, clinical words, by the way. But, I’d argue that we need them. I feel that all four of the magazines I mentioned in #2 are unique. I also feel like we have, maybe, 6-10 journals in this country that are well-supported by institutions and government, and are not unique content providers. What’s the difference (aesthetically, politically, editorially) between Grain and Prairie Fire? I like both Grain and Prairie Fire, but this is likely because I like both poems and short stories and Canadian lit. I like the non-unique content they offer. If asked, Which do I like more? I’d fail to even understand the question. There’s no difference between them. And very limited difference between them and The Antigonish, Fiddlehead, The Malahat, et al. Don’t believe me? Do this: tear the cover off of all the back issues on your book shelf, and throw them in a bag. Now pull one journal out of the bag, open to, say, page 40, and start reading. What journal are you reading? Answer me quickly. Don’t look at the spine.

5. Variety can’t be measured quantitatively. To that end: “We have a diverse literary culture in Canada, as evidence by our forty-seven literary journals” is a bogus statement. We only have a diverse literary culture in this country if we are using those forty-seven (a made up number, likely hyperbolic) in the service of diversity. Moore and company have evil in their hearts, but at least a sliver of their brain-dead lexicon (“eliminate redundancies”) is valid to our situation. All we are is a house of redundancy.

6. It’s dangerous, as both Lista and Fuhr have done (and, full disclosure, I’m about to do) to try and predict the future. Nobody will get it right. That being said, here’s my concern about where the funding changes might take us….

Imagine I’m correct that the beige standard of mainstream literary publishing (I’ll call it the “I just want to publish good writing” effect) is what dies out in ten years, this is in no way good news for the remaining journals. And it’s worse news for the writers, even those who still get published, and even those who, like myself, were always suspicious of the journals’ advertised role in the creative ecology of the country, anyway.

It is in the nature of threatened organizations (governments, companies, families, eg) to revert to a more conservative approach. We tighten up. We focus inwardly. I’m concerned that the best way to weather a new economic obstacle is to “shore up support”. Thus we retreat to our tribes and our bastions. If Open Letter find themselves to be the country’s lone remaining avant garde literary journal (and I pick them only because I like them the most and I’m familiar with them, who knows if that’s how it would happen) then they suddenly inherit the readership and the burden of that singularity. They move from being a journal of avant garde Canadian writing to a journal of the avant garde Canadian writer. I’m not sure what would happen next, but imagine that one-off stabs at crossover aesthetics (like the brilliant recent “Humour” issue) become things of the past. The same retreat/defense maneuver plays out around the comparable aesthetic milieus at Arc and CNQ. In twenty years, is it conceivable that anyone is published in more than two of these three magazines? Wait, is that even happening now?

I’m leaving Poetry is Dead out of this part of the conversation because A. Methinks they don’t get any funding already and B. They are pirates. And pirates will always survive somewhere, wedged under the national floorboards, in basements and study halls, with nothing but their youth and their I-dont-give-a-fuck to guide them.

7. People who read this blog will see the scenario described in #6 as my version of the hellish, post-apocalyptic nightmare of Beyond Thunderdome. It’s in this view of a potential future that I disagree with my friend Mike, as grateful as I am that somebody would take on the sacred cow of periodicals funding in the first place. I don’t see how the Moore model fosters a national literary culture, unless that nation is Yugoslavia.

But I don’t know. This is important to say: I’ve thought about it, even written about it a bit (again, on vacation, while watching the news and listening to a relative’s story about her teaching job–so mind the typos, kids) and I don’t know. None of us know the future. But I think that we should probably all be scared.

Explore posts in the same categories: Book Industry, Canadian Literature, Fellow Bloggers, Journals, Poems in the Wider World

38 Comments on “This Changes Nothing, Double Production”

  1. Jacob, there’s always a spot on our pirate ship for you.

  2. […] positioning itself as an alternative to what Jacob McArthur Mooney describes as the “beige standard of mainstream literary publishing“. From the outset, Ian Williams, Vicki Sloot and I envisioned MM as means to foster emerging […]

  3. voxpopulism Says:

    Arr!, I mean, Okay!

  4. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Thanks for your attention to this Jacob. However, I’m not trying to predict the future. For me, from the inside, it’s a little more apparent that if you remove A. Some lit mags, you will get B. Fewer lit mags, and that C. It’ll diminish audience for those that remain, since we all function as marketing for each other, plus D. It will hurt the book publishing industry too, since we cultivate their writers and advertise their books, not to mention hurting E. Writers and F. stalling the further development of Canadian Literature. The math is so simple, we don’t need future goggles to see the answer. And I can express it in lower wordcount if pressed. :) Thanks!

  5. voxpopulism Says:

    Hi Laurie.

    Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for your detailed and complex rebuttal.

    Some considerations. I offer these knowing there’s a lot of passion among the publishing community on this issue, and certainly ulterior motives on the part of the government responsible for the legislation. What I’m talking about (and, I think, Michael was trying to illuminate) is more side effect than anything.

    (Your) A and B: I’m not sure how this works. I know that journals advertise for each other, and that’s something that points to the communitarian ideals of the publishing industry, but they also, like it or not, compete for resources (readers). If the theory that reading one journal improves readership of any other journal holds water, than why are journals the only people who do it? Why isn’t it true of any other luxury? Why do jewelers not advertise for other jewelers on their receipts?

    D. This I don’t really believe. I don’t think that this “cultivation” theory really holds water. How about novelists? That’s a big chunk of the literary community right there (economically speaking, the overwhelming majority of it) and they go unserved by the journal community, except for the occasional excerpting. And let’s not pretend that short stories are the “cultivation” mechanism of novelists. They are not the same art form. And when we pretend they are, we get poor short stories.

    And re: future-telling, I don’t mean to be a pest but, the first thing (after thank you) you told me is that you won’t try to predict the future. Then the next nine things you said were a list of events that you maintain will happen in a specific order based on their causal relationship.


  6. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Hi Jacob, I’m not sure it’s useful to go granular and separate the terms like effects and side effects. The effect of Michael’s suppositions in a venue like the National Post and the viral consequences could be a significant blow to confidence in an already troubled industry, and that’s worth getting concerned about; on top of funding, we now have a PR nightmare on our hands if people who feel like their magazines are doomed anyway give up the good fight, if writers stop submitting to them, if readers stop buying them.

    As explained, literary journals experience challenges affording advertising. Therefore the industry has adapted and there’s a lot of ad swapping rather than purchasing. If you pick up one magazine, you find out about others, and if you pick up one of those other magazines, you’ll find out about more. Jewelry companies can afford to take out ads, so they do. It’s not a useful comparison. The audience for one magazine is the potential audience for all the other magazines. There’s also the fact that lit mag readers are more loyal to writers than they are to specific magazines. They choose one magazine over another at a particular time because they are interested in one writer over another, and these magazines share a similar pool of writers submitting work. Simply put, it’s as though all mags were issues of the same magazine rather than separate magazines. They’re not competing for audience; they’re already one audience, which we’re building together. If there are fewer magazines doing the behind the scenes work of attracting and building that audience, there will be less audience members. Perhaps in the very short term, if mags fold, members of their audience would migrate to those magazines that still exist. But in the longer term as those readers disappear due to a shift in interests, death, and myriad other reasons why a subscriber is not forever, if there aren’t many magazines based all over Canada interesting new readers in their communities, the audience is going to diminish significantly for those who remain.

    On point D., are you kidding? The novel industry is autonomous from the magazine industry? A publisher looks at many things when considering who to publish. They don’t like unsolicited submissions, and they’re wary of manuscript submissions from authors who have no publishing credits. They love it when an author has been out there publishing and making a name for themselves ahead of looking to publish a novel; that way, there is already some potential audience for the novel. It’s good business sense and its the way it works. The way writers get publishing credits is by publishing in literary magazines, whether a short story or poem or novel excerpt. There are bound to be a few exceptions, but I’m certain literary magazines play a sizable role in cultivating writers. Through magazine’s choices about the work they publish, writers gain confidence and choose to continue publishing. At Calgary’s Wordfest this past fall, I asked a panel of writers whether small magazines had bearing on their careers. Mystery novelist Peter Robinson surprised us by saying he started out writing poetry and publishing in small magazines. Life of Pi author Yann Martel said that if he hadn’t had work published in the Malahat Review, his first publication credit, he’s not sure if he would have continued writing. As an editor I hear these stories all the time, and I’m sure these novelists are not alone.

    Future telling or not, yes we’re trying to imagine what could happen. But I don’t think I need to look too deep into a scrying ball to see the detriments of culling lit mags. As filling Station’s editor, I constantly experience the value of literary magazines in people’s lives. I get feedback all the time from all stakeholders; I attend professional development conferences; we have received consultations from experts in the industry, not to mention ground-level editors and writers working at these magazines. This seems to give me a pretty clear picture of the industry we’re dealing with. Given that I can provide a rebuttal, from a position of insider experience, to each of Michael Lista’s points, what I’m saying is that my version of a grim magazineless future (if we let it be so) seems more likely than Lista’s happy one when addressing facts, and that it scares the hell out of me.

    Simply saying we can’t predict the future is not an excuse for not taking action and trying to do what seems most likely to create the best future possible. The present and future are not independent of one another. True also of the stance we choose to take. Realize your opinion influences others, decide which future you want to see, and take a stand. Or, sit back calmly and see what happens, but if you don’t like what happens, you could have some regrets.

  7. Shane Neilson Says:


    The first thing I thought when I read Michael’s column in the Post was: what would the writer just starting out think? I remember my first publication, and I know that I desperately needed it for validation (as a writer.) It wasn’t a great way to think, I know, but that’s the way the world works for most of us: seeing the work in print is, that first time, unforgettable. And ratifying. If there were fewer journals, then there’d be fewer opportunities for fledgling writers. It’s not hard to, for a moment, look into the future in that regard. So, I’m on the side of keeping what we have.

    Furthermore, I confess I haven’t read the ancient journals Micheal mentions in his article. Of course I am aware of their existence… the Montreal hagiography is hard to avoid. But I wonder if he has as well. Sure, the success stories are famous. But I suspect, and I admit this is only a suspicion, that the amount of shit they published back then was the same proportion of shit that our current magazines publish. Knowing that Layton and Page et al frolicked in those journals suggest a golden age, but I suspect that the journals like Preview just got to the shitpile first. I’ve read books about the history of Poetry (Chicago), for example. It’s filled with laments about how the most influential journal in the English poetry has historically, except for a few famous names, published inferior work. I was at Travis Lane’s house a few years ago, having tea. Travis is, for my money, the best living poet in Atlantic Canada, a place whose poetry I know you love. And Travis had a copy of Poetry on her coffee table. What did she say, unprovoked, when she saw me glance at her latest issue? She said, in her gracious way, that Poetry was merely a name, resting on the laurels of a name.
    Furthermore, I propose that if the Canlit magazine ecology were to shrink, it would shrink to scale. Imagining some kind of new golden age where the best would flourish is optimistic. Trying to strengthen journals that are by definition more exclusive in nature is fortifies the gates against the beginning barbarians. Al Purdy, whom I know Paul reveres, was famous for purposely submitting his poems to little magazines, of course when he was unknown, by necessity, but also when he was the most famous poet in Canada. Purdy sought the little magazines out and supported them with his own work. He believed in them. And oft said that if it weren’t for them, he’d never have persisted as a writer. If there was only the Canadian equivalents of Poetry and The Paris Review about, then Purdy would never have survived as a writer.
    As for your “Big Four”, I have to wonder what angle you’re working. Arc and CNQ are legitimate choices for criticism- less so for creative writing. They do important work, work that no other journal in Canada does. And one would be hard-pressed not to open them and pick them out of a lineup according to that old “de-cover them and try to tell them apart” game.
    Open Letter, well, I’ll give you a mulligan on that one. But Poetry Is Dead? How could someone who -I’ll grant- does think about poetry widely name it as a journal they’d elect to some kind of superiority? I’ve looked at this journal. I see you’ve been published by it, but that’s not fair to use as a disqualification, as I myself am proud to have been published by the likes of Arc and CNQ. Honestly, I’ve looked at Poetry is Dead and cannot fathom what you see in it. This is a journal that endorses McPoems! You say that they’re pirates there. If so, then the only thing they could successfully plunder is a canoe.

    I can’t help but think that those who feel Canadian magazines need a pruning are eating the shit Stephen Harper, whom I’ll probably vote for (but certainly not because of this particular issue) is feeding them. He’s feeding you that shit with his cringe-inducing smile, and you’re sure, even before you taste it, that you’ll like it.


  8. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Shane, hi! I know your comments were aimed at Jacob, but I want to say I agree with much of what you’re saying except that I can’t believe anyone in the arts would vote Harper (yikes, politics), and about Poetry Is Dead, which I find much more charming than offensive. On top of PID, Daniel’s great work in Vancouver volunteering and giving creative writing workshops for Geist prove his dedication and allow me to forgive those few editorial choices I might not agree with. Plus, I sure do appreciate the humour we can still tap into at a time like this with PID around. If Christian or Carmine showed up instead, it wouldn’t be easy to laugh. Voyageurs, paddle faster! You’re not getting these here beaver pelts, Zomparelli.

  9. Oh Shane. Loosen up.

  10. I somehow missed out on what “Poetry is Dead” is. But regardless: Shane… Shane Shane Shane…. Harper? I see you as 80% poet and 20% doctor. How could you? :)

  11. Heather Cadsby Says:

    Veering off, I offer thoughts and a bit of history about magazine editing.

    I don’t believe reducing the number of literary journals will improve the calibre of editors. Literary magazines are only as unique as their editors. “Event” changed when Elizabeth Bachinsky took over from Gillian Harding-Russell. Anita Lahey moved “Arc” in new directions when she became leader. More recently “Grain” is in process under Sylvia Legris who took over from Gerald Hill. There is even something to be said for having the genre editor change every few years. “Poetry Toronto” (never on any top 10 list and not a lit mag per se) had a section devoted to poems. The editor remained constant but the poetry editor changed from time to time. For example Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, bpNichol, Miriam Waddington made choices reflecting preferences.This is not to say having the same poetry editor in place for years is wrong. But that’s another debate.

  12. To use a wildlife conservation metaphor, I see the small magazines as an integral part of the habitat for the biodiversity of Canadian literature. Very plainly, diversity is good, habitat loss is bad.

    And Heather makes a good point about editorship. Event has blossomed with Bachinsky and company on board; it’s likely to become, in a short period of time, my favourite Canadian literary magazine.

  13. voxpopulism Says:

    “I see the small magazines as an integral part of the habitat for the biodiversity of Canadian literature. Very plainly, diversity is good, habitat loss is bad.”

    Sure, but to allow the metaphor to run its course, if the only kind of tree in your forest was the jackpine, your going to foster an abundance of snowy owls (or whatever uses jackpines) and sadly fewer parakeets. The loss of a handful of jackpines in the jackpine forest is not really a loss of “biodiversity”, is it?

    Sidenote: I’m writing this on the Megabus. The Megabus has free wi-fi. Your move, Greyhound Canada.

  14. […] responsible for the “Michael Lista is wrong” meme — while Jacob McArthur Mooney adds his two cents over at his blog Vox Populism, a debate that’s continued in the comments section. […]

  15. Except the jackpines are not static. They morph into bamboo and date palms and maple trees depending on the editor. Fewer magazines still adds up to less diversity, even if sometimes they seem alike, they all change and diverge and converge differently over time.

  16. voxpopulism Says:

    Hmm. To my eye, they’ve been morphing into slightly different-looking jackpines. But perhaps I’m not reading the right magazines. I’m reading (though not always *regularly* reading) all the ones mentioned above.

    I’d like to point out to that my initial point, way above there, was that I DISagreed with Mike’s assertions and I feel that fewer lit. magazines is a bad thing for the literary community, though I seem to be alone in WHY i feel that would be the case.

    I’m in the middle-ground on this issue, then, because I’m also unwillingly to define “diversity” by the number of funded literary magazines we manage to keep afloat at the same time. What I liked about the initial column was how it confronted that simplification.

    …I just wish it didn’t confront it with a simplification of its own. I’m pro-unsimplification, all around.

  17. Chris Banks Says:

    I don’t think The Antigonish Review, The Malahat Review or The Fiddlehead are anything alike. Sure, if you rip the covers off of them and skim through them as you would reading a magazine in a doctor’s office, then yeah, they might look a little alike. Poem. Poem. Short Story. Poem. Poem. But surely this sameness you are finding is only cosmetic.

    For instance, The Fiddlehead publishes both Canadian and International poets. Imagine reading both Nick Thran and Marvin Bell in the same issue! I love that! I would hate to see it disappear from the publishing landscape.

    Also, I think John Barton and Peter Sanger, who are the poetry editors of The Malahat Review and The Antigonish Review respectively, do not publish the same kinds of poetry as each other.They publish a wide swath of poets whereas CNQ publishes mainly its own in-house poets associated with Biblioasis and Signal Editions.

    As for jack-pines which are incredibly resilient to fire and devastation, perhaps more jack-pines right about now is not such a bad thing.

  18. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Paul V, the same metaphor occurred to me as I lay awake the other night after writing my blog post.. clearly, letting endangered species die (or killing them off) does not benefit the other animals, since they’re all connected to the same ecosystem. This is so true for lit mags for all the reasons I’ve been on about. If you see my Letter to the Editor in tomorrow’s National Post, you’ll think I’ve ripped you off, but no – I guess we treeplanters think alike.
    Sadly, The Little Prince thinks we’re all a bunch of deadly baobabs trying to choke off his rose(s). This PR situation isn’t going to help us survive if people are out there believing Lista’s right.
    Readers, if you’re reading this conversation and you believe as many of us do that the survival of many, not just a few, literary magazines is important to Canada, please email I will post the best comments on our new blog at and send you a free magazine.

  19. voxpopulism Says:

    Hi Laurie.

    Sorry your above comment got stuck in pre-approval purgatory for a bit. Usually comments get placed automatically, but if you put email addies and urls in there, it tends to get sent to “pending”.

    Either that, or the seventeen-metaphor pile-up in your second paragraph, there, was too much for WordPress to handle.

    Please send me a link to your results when you start to get them in, and I’ll link to them. I hope you get a broader range of ideas back than the one you put out above (“The Little Prince”? Yikes. And also, wha?)


  20. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Hmm, a minute ago I was characterized as blustering, unsubtle, etc.; now you’ve edited that out, and you don’t like my metaphors, which is quite beside the point. Oh well. I guess if we’ve degraded to personal attacks, there’s not more to argue with me about concerning my position vs. Lista’s, which suits me fine. Throw me under the bus, but leave my lit mags alone. Oh damn, have I done it again?

  21. voxpopulism Says:


    I’m sorry if I insulted you Laurie. Please take it as friendly gesture when I say: the message you’re communicating is equal to the response you get, and the way you’re going about getting your message out there is burning off the subtlety of the situation. These are my two cents.

    And it wasn’t “a minute ago…”, it was thirty seconds after my initial reply. I changed it because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings or engage in a personal attack, though you’ll remember it was just the opinion I was attacking, not the person.

    Not throwing anyone under the bus. For the record, I think you’re both wrong. But I think we should be talking more about it.

  22. James Langer Says:

    You take that back, Mooney. As a poetry editor with The Fiddlehead, I’ve read thousands and thousands of poems by Canadians, and I’ve hand-written hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters to people I’d rather share drinks with. You think I’m setting a beige standard? I don’t get paid, and I don’t appreciate what appear to me to be unprovoked, untutored, blanket dismissals. Malahat, Antigonish, and the Fern all attempt to represent the best in Canadian and International writing regardless of style, form, or hair-colour. That’s right, pardon my old-school, open-minded eclecticism, but I don’t get to wear style blinders or draw arbitrary lines in the sand. Sure, editing a journal of cat poetry (poems written about, for, or by cats) would be a much easier gig, but The Fiddlehead has actually encouraged, even nurtured, careers that most of us value. Actually, I rather like the fact that you can’t pigeonhole us. That’s why we’ll be around another 65 years from now. Oh and, FYI, the Fiddlehead’s Summer Poetry issue (a special issue published every second year) is just about the best read in the business. That’s not bias: it’s called bragging. And thanks for the nod of approval, CB.

    But all of this getting-my-back-up has a point. You see, Jake, I think you’ve taken the low road. Lista’s a good poet and all, but his little essay has about as much foresight and discernment as a Viking berserker playing whack-a-mole. Sure, it draws attention to itself, hell it might even be fun to watch (in a scary kind of way), but it really is little more than whacking (mind your eyes).

    That essay is so far up the elephant’s ass it thinks ass tastes like ivory. It takes a clear-cut issue that should unite us, strains it through the anti-Canadian, zombie, capitalist logic of Darwinism (not to mention a pansy’s acceptance of “the hand we’ve been dealt”), and undermines our solidarity. The supply routes are cut-off, the rations are growing dear, so let’s randomly decide which of our brothers and sisters seem to be weakest and start frying them up with a side of stupidity. So here we are, promoting tribalism, sectarianism, laying out useless bent-over-the-barrel 7-point blog posts, insulting and defending The Fern, insulting one another, when we should be blasting a government that’s playing siege warfare with the literary community, the same government that’s willing to pay upwards of $16 billion to employ about 60 jet pilots, and the same government that’s up for re-election.

    Not the person but the opinion, remember, but reading a poet posting about the realities of “economic factors” makes me wonder if they have a mirror in their house or if they’ve ever slogged through the cantos that sully The Cantos.

    Hey, I know: My daughter’s underfunded daycare class takes 15 kids, but there are 30 applicants. So let’s take these 30 toddlers, give them each a board with a nail in it, and lock them in a room for the weekend. I mean, we could actually fund our daycares and literary journals, but where’s the carnage in that?

    (My apologies to readers in Quebec and Newfoundland. It wasn’t my intention to preach to your beautiful choirs.)

  23. voxpopulism Says:

    Full marks for style to the above. And some for content, too.

    I’m reading through my initial post in search of evidence that I agree with Mike’s prognosis. I agree that we should be able to have a conversation about diversity that questions, provokes, leans on, the assumption that quantity rules over how we evaluate literary publishing, but I think I was clear (even for a blog post) that I don’t believe the funding changes are going to do us any long-run favours.

    I wonder if the article isn’t in some way of victim of poor timing. I wonder if words like neo-conservative and Darwinist and this whole “us vs. them” mentality would be in play if it wasn’t for the presence of a federal election dominating our typically measured, typically broad discursive vocabulary.

    Not that James’s post wasn’t broad with vocabulary. Zowee.

  24. This whole conversation makes me think that more people should start little magazines. We need more of them, not fewer.

  25. “readers buy pedigree”
    Those three words are easily the most frightening aspect of Mr. Lista’s piece.

  26. Laurie Fuhr Says:

    Welcome, James Langer! That was awesome. Brenda, yes, the term reminds me of ‘Best in Show’. “Can I please see your Canadian Kennel Club papers Mr. Lista?” It’s dog-eat-dog out here, isn’t it.

  27. Emma Healey Says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole thing, mostly because my friend Caitlin, who’s a painter, and I have been talking a lot about a very similar issue, and have come up with a solution that’s v. similar to Mr. Lista’s.

    There are, by my count, hundreds of art galleries in Canada. All of them have various types of art on offer; and while these pieces often differ in terms of shape, size, medium, quality etc. they are all, on the most basic level, art. Now, before you jump on me – I’m not saying that we should get rid of all the art in this country. I think it’s obvious to all of us why that would be unwise. What I do think, though, is that the proliferation of galleries created for the purpose of showing all of this art is doing Canadian artists more harm than good. Who’s going to take the trouble to go out to one gallery and look at the work there when there are other galleries in that same city? It makes no sense, and this problem of choice is doing the art world more harm than good.

    What I propose we do is this: gather up all of the art and dump it into one giant gallery in the middle of the country. That way we solve a bunch of problems at once. First, nobody will ever be faced with the problem of choosing a gallery to go to, because there’s just this one place where all of the art is, so: duh. Second, the curators of this gallery will obviously be excellent because they’ll be working hard, because of how many people will be coming to look at the gallery. The curators will understand the importance of showing work by people that everyone already knows they like, because that’s what people buy. And most importantly, we will no longer have to look at art we don’t understand or like (BAD art) because the size and prestigiousness of this venue will act as a perfect filter for all that stuff. Why try to make weird experimental video when you can clearly see that watercolours are what works for people? Artists will try harder to do good work, because of how much they want to be shown in the gallery, and thus the overall quality of art in this country will skyrocket. No more mediocre work in tiny galleries all over the place – once we get this problem of supply and demand fixed up we’ll have all the people who have so far been messing around in a bunch of separate little places heading straight for our obviously, objectively excellent venue.

    And that is how we will fix art. (You’re welcome.)

  28. voxpopulism Says:

    Sounds like a modest proposal, to me.

    Thx, Emma.

  29. James Langer Says:

    Every time I read this post’s title, it cracks me up. Thanks, Jake.

    Anyhoo, this seems to be winding down, and maybe it should, but I just want to address a few things before it does.
    I know you don’t hold the same position as Lista on this matter, Jake. But you do sort of riff on his scenario, which scores you a few “aiding and abetting” points. That said, I think I may have crossed the line in a few places in my response above, which scores me a few “blog-rage” points of my own. We’re good, as usual, right?

    And, for those who work with a literary journal, there is no way Lista’s article could have been well timed. It doesn’t matter if there’s an election on the horizon or not. We’ve had the pitchforks sharpened and the torches lit for some time.

    Here’s my main problem with both Lista’s and your response to the problem (and Fuhr’s, to some extent, although she’s really in defence mode). Now understand, I grew up surrounded by union men and spent my time among the ranks, so, right or wrong, I often read things through that lens. But when something has been forced on you or when something has been forcibly taken from you, All Time Stops. You don’t predict the future because there is No Future. The time is out of joint. The ghosts don’t sleep until things are set to rights. If you start predicting the future, you’ve accepted your lot and your losses. If you talk about a future of living without, then you have chosen that future. You make the decision.

    The danger in Lista’s essay is his passive acceptance of the CPF regulations. He’s accepted the new rules as though they have been written in stone (they can just as easily be re-written). He crossed the picket line, so to speak. And he’s done so publically, which is a real buzz-kill, and it will affect how people think about the matter, because capitulation is a virus.

    Personally, I don’t accept the new funding rules. What we need to do is try to sustain as many of our journals as possible until funding returns. Only then can the clocks start moving again.


  30. Another writer just pointed me in the direction of this discussion. As I am currently running a small lit journal that is in production, I’m short on time. But I wanted to thank James for pointing out that nothing is written in stone as far as funding is concerned. I, too, would like to see writers stand up for small literary journals. That’s where we all got our breaks, tried out new work, discovered literary loves that stayed with us for years. We know the value in these journals. Why don’t we take a more pro-active stance? If I knew what that was now…

    I wonder how we can best support one another?

    I plan to attend the small magazine component at MagNet this year. Perhaps we can put out the call for anyone who can make it to meet? I’d love to talk with other editors, writers, managing editors, etc and work together, rather than all of us treading water alone.

    Shoshanna Wingate
    Riddle Fence

  31. Souverian Says:


  32. Chris Banks Says:

    I stand corrected. CNQ publishes mainly poetry by Biblioasis, Signal Editions and now M&S authors.

  33. voxpopulism Says:

    Methinks our friend Nick was the poet in the previous issue, Chris. They publish a lot of different kinds of people.

  34. voxpopulism Says:

    Your photoshop skills. I want them.

  35. Rob Taylor Says:

    Nope, you want this:

    It’s much more fun.

  36. […] On a related note, Michael Lista argues that literary magazines should fold. It generated responses from a number of people, most notably Laurie Fuhr, Michael Lithgow, and Vox Populism. […]

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