Matrix, Spring 2009, Issue 82 – It’s only natural that I start with Montreal-based Matrix when writing about the Canadian lit magazines I read. It really represents the stuff I love in these types of publications: a healthy mix of emerging and established writers, a variety of styles, a good undercurrent of energy infusing the whole thing and an overall respect for the literary community. Plus it has comics. The Spring 2009 issue is the anxiety issue, edited by Mikhail Iossel and John Goldbach and has short stories and poems based around the theme of anxiety. For instance, Josip Novakovich writes about a character buying beta blockers in Saint Petersburg and Jeff Parker’s main character in “Calmth” is trying to figure out how to feed a bald, screaming baby. In addition to the anxiety stuff, I particularly liked the featured poetry of Nick Thran (who summarizes the book I’m currently reading perfectly in his poem “Letter to L From Spencer Ave”: “…I’ve been reading Bolano’s The Savage Detectives / and L. you would love it; desperate young poets/ too frail for this world, barreling through Mexico and Europe toward/ an awareness, I think, that they’ll have to make some other life.” ) There are also featured interviews with Catherine Hunter and Jacob Wren, who are asked questions like “when was the last time you ate a pear?” and “are public readings part of or counter to your creative progress?”, i.e. questions I’m sincerely interested in knowing the answers to.

Oh, and speaking of Canadian magazines, there’s a great post on the Descant blog about the importance of these publications. Kerry Clare writes, “Behind every rejection I’ve ever received is someone who folded a piece of paper into three and licked the envelope shut. Considering the number of rejections I’ve received, that licking and folding has required an enormous amount of manpower, and I am just one ordinary Canadian. From this you may begin to understand the amount of resources necessary to produce a magazine. And that there is really nothing small about these literary magazines after all, except their readership. If you consider 5000 small, that is, and I’m not sure that I actually do.”

Yeah.

More on Canadian magazines

With all of this brouhaha around Canadian magazines, I thought it would be a good idea if I actually started writing about them. I read many Canadian literary magazines. I enjoy them, obviously, because I like new short fiction and I like poetry and I like reading reviews of books. I also read them because I’m a writer, and I would like to get published, and in order to get published I need to know what kind of stuff specific journals are looking for. I don’t want to submit a coming of age story about a girl in the suburbs to a magazine that focuses on experimental poetry. That would be embarrassing. And a waste of an editor’s time.

I get some magazines delivered right to my mailbox – stuff like The Malahat Review, Room Magazine, Geist, This Magazine, Matrix – and others I pick up along the way at bookstores (i.e. Book City or Pages in Toronto, Paragraphe in Montreal, but in a pinch Chapters or Indigo generally has a copy or two of certain lit mags in their shelves) or events like Expozine or The Blue Met.

Many of my subscriptions stem from the fact that at a point in time I entered one of those literary magazine contests. The subscription fee doubles as the entrance fee for the contest and I know, I know, people get whiny about this. Sometimes I do too. But, then I got over it. If you don’t want to pay to enter the contest, you don’t have to. These magazines accept submissions on a regular basis anyway and all you have to pay for is the stamp to mail the manuscript (most magazines archaically do not accept electronic submissions, although my guess is that it also has to do with weeding out email happy burgeoning writers who would bombard their inboxes with multiple submissions if given the chance). But with these contests you get the advantage of getting a subscription and finding out in a timely fashion if you’re going to be published. And working with a deadline in mind is usually good motivation to get that story done and mailed off.

I’ve also read articles about people complaining about the whole “contest” thing in Canadian literary magazines, how they tend to be biased, how judging is not done blind, etc. My first cynical reaction is, well, duh. Unfortunately, like most arts, writing depends heavily on who you know. Sometimes it’s slimy, and sometimes it just makes sense: no one gets paid very much (or anything) for reading submissions. If a writer comes approved by another writer, chances are their writing is readable and maybe, hopefully, good. It saves time. That doesn’t mean that it’s pointless to enter a contest or to slog through the submission process. I’ve know many people who have gotten published without having any connections.

Here’s my track record: I’ve entered many contests. I haven’t won any. I’ve been shortlisted for This Magazine’s Great Literary Hunt twice, which I’m proud of (and I don’t know anyone who works at This). Stories that I’ve entered in contests have subsequently been published in other magazines where I have never met the editorial board (i.e. “Baby Teeth”). And, as a result, I’ve got the chance to read and support a lot of magazines. Not so bad. (Here’s a good article about assessing the validity of contests: http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/contests.html)

Up until March 15, 2009, Magazines Canada is having a Buy 2 Get 1 Free deal for Canadian magazines (not just literary ones): http://secure.magazinescanada.ca/

You can also read about the Canadian magazine industry here: http://canadianmags.blogspot.com/

Ok, so now that I’ve talked about how easy it is to acquire magazines, I’ll start actually writing about what I’m reading in them.

Support your Canadian literary magazines

This is awful – funding cuts to literary magazines with a circulation of less than 5000 would be disasterous, not just for beginner writers like me who rely on these magazines for potential outlets for publication, but for the reading population in general. There is so much amazing stuff that gets published in these magazines (for instance, I was reading the latest issue of Matrix on the metro this morning, and it’s fabulous).

Here is what’s written on the Facebook site for the Coalition to Keep Canadian Heritage Support for Literary and Arts Magazines:

Canadian literary and arts magazines publishing in either English and French are in danger of losing a key federal funding source.On February 17, 2009, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore announced in a speech he made in Montreal (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/minstr/moore/disc-spch/20090217-eng.cfm) that the Canada Magazine Fund and Publishing Assistance Program will be merged to create the Canada Periodical Fund. Initiatives from this new body will come on stream in 2010. Departing from his prepared remarks, James Moore indicated that eligiblity for funding could potentially be restricted to those magazines with an annual circulation above 5000.

With a few exceptions, the circulation of virtually every Canadian literary and arts magazine, large and small, is below 5000. We have to make sure this possibility does not become an actuality, for if it does, as April 1, 2010, these important and praiseworthy magazines will no longer qualify for funding that they have been receiving for years from the CMF and PAP despite the excellent work that they undertake for the readers and writers across Canada (and around the world)! The Coalition to Keep Canadian Heritage Support for Literary and Arts Magazine feels strongly that to render these magazines ineligible for this support would be unjust. To quote Andris Taskans, editor of Prairie Fire, to do so would be “a slap in the face”—not only to the magazines themselves but to the many writers that they publish, many of whom began illustrious, international careers in these seminal if modest publcations. To do so would also be a “slap in the face” to the ordinary (and extraordinary) Canadians who read them.

By joining the Coalition, readers and writers everywhere send a strong message to the Honorable James Moore, the Department of Canadian Heritage, and the Canada Periodical Fund that we believe in our literary and arts magazines and feel that they should continue to do so by supporting them through well-deserved and sustained financial support. To do so, would be the cheapest economic stimulus package the Government of Canada could initiate. Every single dollar granted to us or paid to us by a subscriber or a newsstand buyer goes back into the economy. Put it this way, when Canadians get into their Chrysler and GM cars, they have to drive somewhere. A lot of them drive to their newsstands and bookstores to buy a literary or arts magazine.Say yes to continued Canadian Heritage funding through the Canada Periodical Fund for Canada’s arts and literary magazines!Say yes to the writers and readers of Canada!For more details about these potential funding cuts, read coverage that appeared on the Quill & Quire website on February 20 and 24, 2009 (scroll through the news section to read both stories):(http://www.quillandquire.com/omni/article.cfm?article_id=10538).

You can join the Facebook group over here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=53103444468&ref=mf