In the introduction to Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia, Susan Musgrave, the anthology’s editor, shares a personal anecdote. Shortly before his death in 2000, Al Purdy presented Musgrave with a copy of A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now. She calls the gesture an endearingly clumsy gift.
I knew when he gave me that book he wasn’t going to read it, says Musgrave by phone from her home on Haida Gwaii, where she runs the Copper Beech Guest House. (She was in the midst of making sourdough bread for her guests when I spoke to her.)
Musgrave acknowledges that Purdy, who once edited an anthology of 51 poets that included only two women, was from another generation. It was sweet, but it was his way of saying you can kind of join the club, but as a poetess, she says.
If Force Field is any indication, the club has opened up since Purdy’s heyday. Published in April by Salt Spring Island’s Mother Tongue Press, the anthology is the first of its kind since 1979’s two-volume D’Sonoqua: An Anthology of Women Poets of British Columbia, edited by Ingrid Klassen.
Musgrave, who claims she doesn’t often think about gender, credits Mother Tongue publisher Mona Fertig with the concept. She says the idea orginated during a discussion about anthologies, while Fertig was visiting Musgrave at Copper Beech.
Fertig says, After 34 years I felt it was high time for another anthology of women poets, for a bird’s eye view of the force field in this province.
An invitational call went out in 2010, resulting in an overwhelming number of submissions. Roughly 150 B.C. poets expressed interest in participating. On Salt Spring Island alone there’s probably 77 women poets, says Musgrave, laughing.
As a reader, Musgrave appreciates the breadth and variety of larger anthologies. I like to look through them, discover somebody, and move on, she says.
Organized alphabetically, Force Field recognizes established talents (such as Lorna Crozier, Marilyn Bowering, and Anne Cameron), as well as recent award winners (Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Jan Zwicky and Pat Lowther Award recipient Evelyn Lau). During the editing process, a few poets, such as Vancouver’s Rhea Tregebov, volunteered to drop out to make space for younger voices, including Joelene Heathcote and Leah Horlick, students from the University of British Columbia’s MFA program, where Musgrave is an online instructor.
Narrowing down the number of mid-range poets was where the selection process got tricky. I feel badly because the other 77 would make up a good anthology, she says. We should’ve done two parts.
As editor, Musgrave was also careful to balance poetic schools and styles, ensuring Force Field represents a broad cross-section of contemporary B.C. poetry. If I just chose poems that were my taste, then it would be my playlist, she says. [The book’s] not called Musgrave’s Favourite Poems.