Friday, December 02, 2005

Brick: A Literary Journal, Toronto

Another of the few journals I try to pick up regularly is Toronto's BRICK: A LITERARY JOURNAL. If anyone asks, yes, the journal and the press were connected at one time, with the press founded by poet Don McKay (originally under Applegarth Follies (publisher of McKay's Long Sault) (I think there might have been another name in there too), which then merged with Nairn before it became Brick Books), and the journal (originally "a journal of reviews") by Jean McKay (Don's first wife) and Stan Dragland, where they eventually merged for a while, and eventually split again.

From writing in our time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003) : "Began as Nairn books, edited by Stan Dragland. Don McKay became an editor and co-publisher in 1977; Truus Dragland and Jean McKay also helped with editing and production. Became Brick books in 1981 'to foster interesting, ambitious, and compelling work by Canadian poets, both new and established.'" (p 10-11).

At some point, the reins of the journal were taken over by Linda Spalding, who has been running since with Michael Ondaatje (Linda's partner) along with more recent additions Esta Spalding (Linda's daughter) and current publisher Michael Redhill (no relation), along with the even more recent Michael Helm (they should just change the name of the magazine to Michael). The press, Brick Books, publishing poetry for thirty-some years, is still run by Dragland and Don McKay, with an editorial board made up of five or so regular readers, including the two of them, as well as Jan Zwicky, Gary Draper and Barry Dempster. The day-to-day aspects of the press are run out of London, Ontario by the most lovely Kitty Lewis, Don's sister. (There, are we all caught up now?) (Though I've probably got most of that wrong; I expect I'll get a number of emails correcting me, but at least you get a rough sense of it all.)

Working a journal of reviews international in scope, the most recent issue, #76 (winter 2005) is new in my mailbox over the past week, and includes pieces by Dionne Brand (The sweet science in Toronto), Esta Spalding (An interview with David Sedaris), David Sedaris, Oliver Sacks (A friendship with Thom Gunn), August Kleinzahler (The 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize speech), Geoff Dyer (W. S. Sebald and Thomas Bernhard), Maya Jaggi (An interview with Toni Morrison), Darren Wershler-Henry (A certain type of dog), William Faulkner (Unpublished advice from the master), Fanny Howe (For Robert Creeley), Damian Rogers (Four poems), Eleanor Wachtel (An interview with Tomás Eloy Martinez) and the late Norman Levine (A letter to Brick and an early short story). Brick magazine has always served as an intelligent journal of pieces on writing and writers, an almost general-interest (literary) publication, that holds standards of interesting and compelling writing over fame, and manages to take poetry as serious as it takes fiction. The pieces by Norman Levine are a particularly compelling tribute, as publisher Redhill explains in his introductory note:

"As readers, we always want to do what we can to make an underappreciated writer better know, preferably in his or her lifetime. Norman Levine, the Canadian short-story writer, had always been known as a "writer's writer" but deserved much more. Two issues ago, we published a tribute to him in the form of a couple of drawings by Michael Winter. The drawings lovingly depicted houses Norman had once lived in. We sent him a couple of copies of the magazine, and on June 8, he wrote to us directly saying he had an idea: Would we like to reprint the first short story he ever wrote, something called "A Sabbath Walk," which appeared in 1956 in an Indian literary magazine? We received this letter on June 20, six days after Norman Levine died.

With the co-operation of Levine's daughter Cassie Flint, we have done just what he suggested, and we present in this issue of Brick Norman Levine's first published short story, a work that has all the hallmarks of his later writing: his sense of time and place, his grasp of human nature, and his quiet, understated style. It was the first gesture in a luminous writing career, and we hope that it will inspire our readers to seek out Norman Levine's books ― such as Canada Made Me and Champagne Barn ― and pass them around. We could not write back to him, so this is our reply, with thanks to him for the suggestion." (p 8)

What I've always admired about Brick: A Literary Journal was not only its seriousness, but its range, and its not-so-seriousness, including strange drawings and photographs, and regular pieces by apologist Cecily Möös (real or imagined, she has now apparently moved on to Denmark). The previous issue, for example, had a moving tribute to the late American poet Robert Creeley, as well as one of those irregular but most brilliant personal essays by Toronto writer Kent Nussey (when will someone be brave enough to collect all of these essays, which have been appearing in Brick here and there for years, into a collection?).

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