All stories by Zoe Whittall
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.”
Rabble.ca is celebrating Earth week by encouraging readers to go vegan for a week. Barbara Gowdy, who has been vegetarian for 30 years and vegan for 10, has produced public service announcements in support of the cause.
- Sister of murdered reporter Anna Politkovskaya on her sister’s posthumous memoir Is Journalism Worth Dying For?
- Authors talk about the reality behind back cover blurbage
- Ex-Bookninja George Murray starts new online poetry magazine Newpoetry.ca
- David Foster Wallace’s editor explains how he put the manuscript for The Pale King together after the author’s death
Last week the $10,000 BMO Winterset Award, which celebrates excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing, was presented to author Russell Wangersky for his novel The Glass Harmonica (Thomas Allen) at a ceremony in St. John’s. Wangersky beat out Samuel Thomas Martin for This Ramshackle Tabernacle (Breakwater Books) and Craig Francis Power for Blood Relatives (Pedlar Press).
The award was established to honour the memory of Sandra Fraser Gwyn, a St. John’s-born social historian, prize-winning author, and passionate promoter of Newfoundland and Labrador arts.
Russell Wangersky’s previous book of fiction, a 2006 short story collection The Hour of Bad Decisions was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize; shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for first book from Canada and the Caribbean; and was a finalist for the 2006 Winterset Award.
In addition to the exclamations about the fall of our government, many writers and publishing folk on Twitter are discussing this NaPo blog post by poet Michael Lista, “Why Literary Magazines Should Fold”. Most tweets began with an almost embarrassed admission that they agreed with him.
It turns out a lot of us think that weeding the overgrown garden of literary journals might make the remaining plants grow healthier. With fewer magazines, content would improve, including writing with more eloquent metaphors than those describing overgrown gardens. Lista writes:
The problem with the market for literary journals now is that there’s too much supply for too little demand. The demand is there, to be sure, and isn’t in danger of diminishment should a number of these journals fold; quite the opposite. A culling will improve quality on both sides of the editorial table; the quality of submissions will increase as places to publish become more scarce, as will the calibre of the editors. And if we move from having a couple dozen journals to a handful, the readership that now is so thinly spread will coalesce around the remaining organs. The standard of the whole enterprise will rise. A magazine’s most important asset, let’s keep in mind, is its exclusivity; writers want to be published by magazines that are tough to get into, and readers buy pedigree.
Barely related musings on the writing life from around the web:
- Hollywood whitewashes the film version of YA trilogy The Hunger Games
- Poster girl for self-publishing admits it has its limits
- Love Me. Love Me? Love me! Writers and self-promotion
- Paula McLain on the benefits of waiting tables while writing
- Michael Crummey on Melville and selling a book about NFLD to the U.S.
- A.L. Kennedy on starting out as a writer
Margaret Atwood is interviewed by Rosalind Porter for The Globe and Mail’s Time to Lead discussion on the state of Canadian publishing. She puts a lot of big issues into perspective, and reminds readers not to overlook the author. Porter asks Atwood if she thinks that with all the discussion going on about the digital revolution there is a tendency to forget that the author is what keeps the business going. This is her response:
Sure, people sit there putting words on the page, and some of them make a lot of money for their publishers and others create huge losses because the publishers placed their bets wrong. When people say publishing is a business – actually it’s not quite a business. It’s part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It’s not like any other business, and that’s why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, “Right, I’m going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,” two years later you find they’re bald because they’ve torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, “It’s not like selling beer. It’s not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.” You’re selling one book – not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let’s say, “Graham Greene” almost like a brand. You’re selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It’s very specific.
- The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders’ Arrival City “couldn’t be more timely” according to The New York Times
- How I wish this were an Onion headline
- Novelist Alison Pick proves some authors are still loyal to their publishers in Open Book Toronto’s Questionless Books interview
- Ten Canadians make the LAMBDA Literary Awards shortlist
- Looking at earthquakes through literature
- Margaret Atwood on e-books
Emma Donoghue’s Room continues to dominate this awards season, picking up the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book from the Caribbean and Canada. Room also won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Award.
Proving that it may indeed be the year of the debut short fiction collection, Montreal author Katrina Best won the Best First Book award for her collection Bird Eat Bird published by Toronto’s Insomniac Press. Best beat out Giller-shortlisted authors Alexander MacLeod (Light Lifting) and Sarah Selecky (This Cake Is for the Party) as well as winner of the Man Asian Booker Prize, Miguel Syjuco (Ilustrado).
The winners of all Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes will gather at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this May.