Sunday, May 17, 2009

the new quarterly #110

I’ve been reading through the most recent issue of The New Quarterly lately, another in the shortlist of Canadian literary journals I’ve become rather fond of, with the benefit of the fact that my girlfriend is a subscriber, featuring impressive new works by Elizabeth Hay, Soraya Peerbaye and Asher Ghaffar. I’m always amazed at just how much I like in each issue, reminded of just how much many literary journals don’t really appeal to me these days. There was even this poem by Patricia Young, in the midst of six others of her works.

Over Lunch I Ask Three Friends What Their
Mothers Said To them About Sex

It was a funny way for God to arrange things.

Would you like to see my diaphragm?

Here’s the book on chickens. (Patricia Young)

Ottawa writer Elizabeth Hay has an interview in this issue, conducted by Hannah Albert, alongside two creative non-fiction pieces, a form I’ve longed for her to return to. Her “city as redhead” essay on Ottawa is one I’ve been fortunate enough to already read, submitted to Chaudiere Books some time ago for an anthology of Ottawa writers writing on parts of their city (the book is still building, currently). In the interview, she talks further on her part of our shared city:
My children hate Ottawa. I defend it, sometimes tepidly. I’ve never fallen in love with Ottawa. I am fond of it. One longs to fall in love with a place. My children would say I’m settling for too little and they may be right. I am comfortable here and there are views that soothe and delight me. If you stand on Pretoria Bridge and look down the canal in the winter, you could be in a painting by Breughel. Close to Ottawa, very accessible, are lovely woods and fabulous swimming lakes. And the city itself is fairly slow-paced and relatively quiet, which suits me. Also, history-filled.
A few years ago, before she relocated to Toronto, poet Soraya Peerbaye took a poetry workshop I was running at Collected Works. She was already well-developed in her craft, and needed (I thought) someone outside of her immediate circle to tell her how good she already was.

You are sure of nothing except lunar phases, and rainfall.

The transcript ends at the edge of the eelgrass meadow:
you measure the exact salinity; the mineral composition,
from the water you take from her, against

a thin white line hemming a girl’s jacket.

Everything resists interpretation.

You read silt, how it accumulates on the green blade,
the side sheltered from the current. (Soraya Peerbaye)

It’s very good to see her moving out into further publishing, with already a few significant publications, from TNQ to Red Silk, as well as a first poetry collection forthcoming from Goose Lane Editions. When might this book finally appear? She is included in the current issue alongside Joan MacLeod and Heather Spears, each writing about the murder of BC teen Reena Virk, from Heather Spears’ poems, a section of the play The Shape of a Girl by MacLeod, and excerpts from Peerbaye’s “Tell.” As she writes in her part of Grace Johnstone’s interview/article “Writing Against Absence”:

Soraya: I am reading other writers who have responded to that question [of witnessing and the artist’s responsibility to the historical record] through their life’s work, and I don’t feel I can add to their profound insight. The only thing I can say is that the “historical record” is a tricky concept. It is not neutral; it comes from a particular morality. In [relation to the story of Reena Virk’s death], I feel a responsibility to the transcript—to the record of the witnesses’ words—whether they lied or told the truth, whether they remained silent.
I won’t write out the whole piece, but Asher Ghaffar’s poem “The Master Bedroom” is magnificent, and worth the price of the issue alone. Listen to this, stanza four of five:

He is getting married, so the painters
arrived, or his mother is getting married
because she is arranging his marriage.
He is already married to the walls
they’re scraping. His mother is getting
married without his consent and he is being
scraped without the wall’s consent.

The issue also begins with an appeal to write to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Hon. James Moore, to keep literary journal funding going, and journals themselves alive. Even if you don’t care for some of these magazines specifically, you should do this.

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