Friday, October 24, 2008


Last night, the writers festival hosted a birthday party for Ottawa’s own Arc Poetry Magazine, with readings by Toronto poet Roo Borson, Vancouver’s Sonnet L’Abbe, Kingston author Steven Heighton and east coast poet Mary Dalton, showcasing thirty years of literary publishing through four poets representing various elements of Arc’s past. Calling herself “the ghost of Christmas past,” Borson started with various poems of hers published in Arc over the years, including issue #5, and the fifteenth anniversary issue, and reading a poem by journal co-founder Christopher Levenson. The magazine has come quite a long way since 1978, when three Carleton University professors—Christopher Levenson, Tom Henighan and Michael Grarowski—produced a photocopied and stapled journal of poetry from their English department offices, and over the years, other editors and editorial board members of the journal have included writers such as Rita Donovan, Nadine McInnis, John Barton, Michael Eady, Andre Alexis, John Bell, Colin Morton, Holly Kritsch, Mark Frutkin, Paul Tyler, Jennifer Dales, Susan McMaster, Sandra Nichols, John Buschek, Mike Feuerstack, Sharon Hawkins, Cheryl Sutherland and plenty of others. But one thing I wondered: of all the editors over the years, why was the only former editor in the audience (that I was aware of) was Colin Morton? Where were all of the rest of them, most of whom still live and work in the city?

With roughly ten on the current editorial board, it was good to see all of the current group there for the celebration, including Anita Lahey, Rhonda Douglas, Deanna Young, Sandra Ridley, and many writers around town that don’t come out to that many events, including Henry Beissel, Carmine Starnino (in from Montreal), Chris Jennings, Una McDonnell and fiction writer Patrick Kavanaugh, as well as many of the usual suspects—Amanda Earl, Pearl Pirie, Emily Falvey, Max Middle, Charles Earl, Marcus McCann, Monty Reid, Christine McNair, Shane Rhodes and David Emery. How many poets can you fit into a single room? Borson’s reading also included poems by D.G. Jones and Jan Conn, who have also appeared in various issues over the years. Anita Lahey, current editor of the journal, talked about owning the backlist (I have some, but not nearly as many back issues as I would like), “a treasure trail of the last thirty years of CanLit,” and read a fragment of an issue from issue #7 with P.K. Page, conducted by Levenson, Eady and two others in a café formerly housed in the Lord Elgin Hotel back in 1981, which, by itself, might actually have been the highlight of the event for me. Mary Dalton, for the thirtieth anniversary issue, had written a thirty line poem made up of the thirtieth line of thirty different poems, resulting in an interesting collage, and Sonnet L’Abbe made a point of reading from both of her published works, one published before she turned thirty, and the other after.

It was good that Steven Heighton was there, soon to arrive in January as writer-in-residence for the spring term at the University of Ottawa, and easily my favourite writer of the group. The Kingston poet and fiction writer (with a poetry collection and novel out, perhaps, in 2009 or 2010) read from a translation he’d done by a Russian poet, a poem originally published in 1830 (that was Heighton’s consideration of “30”), and a poem by Elise Partridge, as well as a few others of his own, including the title poem of his previous poetry collection, The Address Book.

Much of whatever complaints I might have with Arc Poetry Magazine are, I admit, stylistic, and the journal has always held an interesting position with the writers and publishers of poetry in the City of Ottawa over the years, being almost the official thread in a two-thread town, with a disconnected secondary thread including writers not enough to specifically group, including (among many others), William Hawkins, Michael Dennis, Dennis Tourbin, Rob Manery and Louis Cabri, jwcurry and Max Middle, representing a different stylistic kind of work. The non-metaphor-driven verse line, for lack of better terminology. But still, thirty years is a long time, and a pretty damn impressive accomplishment. I look forward to seeing what else the journal does over the next thirty years. Or maybe I’m just in it for all of the cake.

No comments: