Archive for the ‘Journals’ category

Here Are Two Things You Could Be Reading

September 29, 2011

Hi kids.

I’m busily packing and organizing and generally shrinking my life into a backpack. But, if you’re bored out there, two things you might like:

1. Spencer Gordon’s essay on Nick Thran’s new book, Earworm, in this issue of the Maple Tree Lit Supplement, is a great example of top-level writing about creative matters. It manages to use the same sort of moody, pop-culturally inflected, intellectualism of the book within its discussion of the book. The piece references Mike Lista’s review in the Post and noted ex-VoxPop roommate Jeff’s mention at OBTO. The three pieces are fine to excellent as independents, though I worry that as a trio they sound a touch like a review of hot new bands from a 1993 issue of NME. Lots of talk of cult support and insider knowledge and hipster identifiers, almost as much as the talk of the poems themselves. As a big fan of the book, I don’t want to see it get a “fad” label, you know? And how many of those bands from NME were still being listened to in 1994? Really, really, good poetry books by people who are around 30 are so rare, compared to really good musical albums by the same demographic, that I want to protect that flame long enough to share it with untapped readers for a long time, I don’t want it’s reaction to have the sonorous, and quickly-forgotten, quality of fireworks.

But Spencer’s piece doesn’t do that, and neither did Jeff’s or Mike’s (these things take more than one writer), and I have faith that good poetry can burn fast AND burn long. His review is a thoughtful, exceptionally well-constructed piece of prose for which the author was paid, I believe, thirty bucks.

2. Russell Smith’s column in the Globe today is all about how you’re not a real writer unless you make your thirty bucks and if you don’t hold out for that $1.50-an-hour rate you’re doing a disservice to the older guard among us and are basically a scab. I’ve had this argument with a lot of different people over the years and my position, typically centralist and uninteresting, is this: I don’t feel like my occasional propensity to write public content for free (as I’m doing right now as I type this, and as I’ve done more regularly in the past) undercuts my ability to land the occasional paid gig, because the work I put out for free is a fundamentally different product than the work I get paid for. The latter is written to an editorial standard separate from my own nature and preferences, and the former is unedited, or at best only edited by the original creator.

Obviously, this distinction doesn’t hold water where Smith gets into talking about HuffPo and whatnot, but I would still want to ask, where is the paid market that matches the tone and reach of that unpaid one, that has been shuttered by being undercut by the bloggers? Any comparison between HuffPo and failed magazines I can think of demands a highly selective memory when recalling the magazine’s editorial composition. I wouldn’t want to work for HuffPo because I couldn’t imagine being that bored on purpose. If the rationale offered for doing so is a careerist one, that’s fine, but I’m not a journalist so I don’t feel compelled to put myself through anything in the interest of career. In fact, my major foothold as a writer is as a poet, and being a poet is (by definitions economic, sociological, intellectual, and cultural) the exact opposite of having a career. Maybe this is why my reaction to this whole debate above is to yawn at its mutual preciousness.



Two Quick Hitters: CNQ,

April 6, 2011

Hello boys and girls.

I got my contributor’s copy of the new CNQ today. Hot shit, that’s a beautiful-looking magazine. You should get a copy from your local salesperson. Here’s the link with the names of contributors more famous and worthy than my own. My contribution, for the record, consists of three poems from Folk. One is about RADAR, one is about naming conventions, and one is about geography. I hope you like them.

Also, I just saw a link to George Murray’s new science project, This could be something. The introduction is incredibly ambitious and very passionate: “I’m sick of borders. I’m sick of silos. Bunkers, too. Don’t even get me started on garrisons. I’m sick of the various poetries and poets I read and admire fighting and carping about each other instead of collaborating constructively (however that is interpreted between artists) to generate new poetic possibilities. I’m sick of judgments and systems of criticism that involve aesthetic preference over intellectual accomplishment, that reward attendance and loyalty over risk and depth, that spend more time tromping on the art and experiments of others than perfecting their own. I’m sick of lack of space for difference, or at least for difference within the same pages.”

If you’re against that sentiment, you’re against motherhood. But, you’re probably also not reading this blog, at least not with my permission. It’s an idea born of innumerable late-night barroom tirades, and I’ve heard it attached to more than a couple start-up literary projects in my short time involved with the community. The problem has historically been that everyone has slightly different definitions for what all those above words mean (and that’s a good thing, for what it’s worth, both for poetry and for poets). However, if anyone has the plural focus, and the wide net of friends, to pull it off, it’d be George. Should be worth watching, I wish the dude well.


Poetry Foundation, n+1, go Prynne

March 30, 2011

Apparently n+1 is doing a longer thing on JH Prynne, maybe the most interesting poet of those I’ve come across naively over the last five years or so. I read one of his poems for the blog recently, here.

The essayist tips her board and drops into the abyss thusly: “I knew, for example, that he was not only a scholar but also a poet, and not only a poet but a famously obscure and difficult poet. Some people said he was the most important British poet since Wordsworth. Other people said that he was terrible. Since I did not know anything about poetry, nor did I read it, nor did it strike me as a vibrant part of contemporary literature, the actual poetic aspect of Prynne mythology did not interest me in the least. At the time I just wanted to know what people were so interested in.”

And later: “Prynne’s verifiable biography was complemented by a great deal of hearsay. It was said that Prynne had been one of the first readers of Stephen Hawking’s The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (Hawking had also been a fellow at Caius) because he was smart enough to give a well-informed critique. I was told that Prynne was celebrated in China, because he wrote poetry in Chinese, and that translations of his anthology Poems had sold fifty thousand copies there. In China, Prynne is known by his Chinese name: Pu Ling-en. I heard that Prynne was of the opinion that the only two countries with well-formed poetic traditions were England and China, though China’s was far better established, and that Prynne considered American poetry to be rudimentary and infantile in comparison. I read on a blog that the animated character of Jeremy Hilary Boob, a.k.a. the rhyming “Nowhere Man” in the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine, was perhaps based on Prynne—except that J.H. Boob had a PhD appended to his name. There were rumors that Prynne held parties in his chambers at Caius where poetry would be debated late into the night and deep existential topics would be broached, like which books of poetry it was acceptable to roll joints on (Pope, no; Keats, yes). People said that Prynne’s poetry was perhaps the only poetry wholly resistant to scansion. They said that he spoke with a lisp. They said that he was an avid philologist, and had a giant file devoted to the word “dust,” and believed that it was imperative to learn Anglo-Saxon.”

You can read the larger excerpt here. The rest of the piece will be in the next issue of n+1 magazine. I’ve ordered mine.

Edit: The essayist’s name, for the record, is Emily Witt. Shame on me for not IDing her on the first pass…

This Changes Nothing, Double Production

March 27, 2011

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.

ARC is Looking for a New Editor

December 10, 2010

Anita Lahey, who pretty much holds the mantle, in my mind, of Canada’s best poetry reviewer, is stepping down from her post as editor of Arc: Canada’s National Poetry Magazine.

Whoever gets this job will be in a position to reframe the conversation about Canadian poetry in a way of their choosing. That sounds like a job for someone who reads Vox Populism.

Here’s a link to the job posting. Or, you could just cast your eyes slightly downwards:


The Arc Poetry Society seeks applications for the part-time contract position of Editor of Arc Poetry Magazine commencing April 1, 2011. Reporting to the Board of Directors, Arc’s editor will ensure that the content of Arc Poetry Magazine is selected and presented to maintain a consistently high standard for the publication.


■ Previous magazine editorial experience, including planning and assigning content; editing content; and taking issues to press

■ Ability to build on the magazine’s distinct aesthetic with input and guidance from an Editorial Board

■ Previous project planning and scheduling experience, combined with attention to detail and follow-through

■ Flexibility, excellent interpersonal skills and a high level of professionalism

■ Must reside within the National Capital Region, or within a two hour drive of same. We will consider applicants willing to relocate.

■ Familiarity with copyright issues


■ Previous experience working in some capacity with a literary magazine

■ Strong knowledge of contemporary Canadian poetry and the national literary community

The Editor will work in consultation and liaison with the Editorial Board, and with the support and administrative assistance of the Managing Editor. Duties include

■ generating content and themes for issues, including reviews, essays, interviews and explorations of issues, ideas and trends in poetry, with input and guidance from the editorial board

■ managing the editorial process from conception and assignment to production and press

■ making final decisions on submitted content based on feedback from the Editorial board

■ maintaining and raising the profile of the magazine

■ maintaining an active presence and fostering relationships in the literary community

■ providing updates and contributions to Arc’s website

■ recruiting reviewers and contributors to the magazine

■ liaison with writers including deadlines, fees, permissions, rights, etc

■ editing all content, and requesting changes and rewrites where necessary

■ writing an editor’s note for each issue of the magazine;

■ contributing to visual art selection activities

■ working with managing editor, art director and layout contractor on production of each issue

■ ensuring that all rights, permissions, and other consents are secured with respect to all magazine content

■ relaying all necessary information to the Managing Editor to allow for accurate and timely payment of all contracts, writers’ fees, and other obligations pertaining to production

■ attending Editorial Board Meetings

■ attending occasional seminars, conferences and trade fairs

■ attendance at all magazine events, including launch and awards events

This is an annual renewable contract position, and compensation is based on a flat fee of $5,000 per issue. Arc currently publishes three times per year (2 regular issues, plus a themed “annual”) subject to funding.

Applications must include:

■ cover letter

■ cv

■ non-fiction writing sample (no more than 1000 words)

Please submit questions or complete applications to:


Coles Review in Print

November 24, 2010

Hi kids.

I have it on good authority that the December issue of Quill & Quire is making its way to the nation’s better magazine stands this week. It contains my featured review of the new Don Coles collection, Where We Might Have Been. Kudos to Beattie and company at The Quill for making their monthly Feature Review column available to the oft-backpaged republic of poetry. They only do this once every few years, and we appreciate the nod whenever they do.

I liked the book okay. But really, you should read it, and figure things out for yourself. If a version of the review ever gets published online, I’ll be sure to link to it. Also in this issue: Michael Lista’s starred review of George Murray’s very star-able collected aphorisms, an Emma Donoghue profile, and the magazine’s usual “Best of the Year” lists.

The New Puritan

November 15, 2010

I have three poems from Folk now up at the deliciously well-designed online lit magazine The Puritan. Other contributors include Gary Barwin, Kelli Deeth, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, and Nicholas Lea, among others.

I’ve said it before, but this is fine-lookin’ online journal, an object lesson for those who think no such things exist.