Indie Literary Market: The Best in Small Press

Come Out to Meet the Micro-, Small-, and Indie Presses // Jess Taylor for The Meet the Presses Collective

The Indie Literary Market

This Saturday marks the 2014 Indie Literary Market, put together by the Meet the Presses collective. The weekend after INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair–where local indie publishers competed with more big budget publishers while sequestered in pavilion corners only to spend the day Tweeting about it–indie and micropress publishers have a day for themselves! On November 22, 2014, members of the public are invited to the Tranzac to interact with micro and small press publishers carefully selected by the collective to participate. The event is free and will run all day from 11:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The event also celebrates achievements by writers who publish using micropress platforms; the winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award will be announced at 2 p.m. during the fair and awarded with a commemorative plaque and $4000, twice the amount of last year’s prize. The publisher of the winning chapbook also receives $500. Judges Kevin McPherson Eckhoff and Sandra Ridley selected this year’s shortlist, which included one of The Puritan’s past associate poetry editors, Mat Laporte, who was nominated for his Odourless Press chapbook, Life Savings. Other finalists included Jason Christie for Government (above/ground), Christine McNair for pleasantries and other misdemeanours (Apt 9.), matt robinson for a fist made and then un-made (Gaspereau Press), Christine Leclerc for Oilywood (Nomados), and Phil Hall for X  (Thee Hellbox). Continue reading

Play Chess, Write a Poem: Introducing the ChessBard

New Digital Poetry Project by Aaron Tucker and Jody Miller // E Martin Nolan

Reunion
The famous game that inspired ChessBard

In 1968, John Cage and Marcel Duchamp played a chess match. Duchamp, by that time, was considered a chess master, and Cage was his student. Duchamp won handily—but that wasn’t the point. The match took place in front of a live audience at Ryerson University, and they played on a board designed by Lowell Cross to transform the moves of the match into a musical performance. The event was titled Reunion.

According to Chris Jefferson and Ian Miguel, “the squares of the chessboard acted as switches” that controlled the way in which the musical inputs would be output through speakers to the audience. Jefferson and Miguel describe this control mechanism as “fixed but random.” Cross himself described the connection between the board and the musical outputs it controlled as “arbitrary, unplanned, and quasi-random.”

Cross reports that “the Toronto Newspaper critics were unanimous in their indignation about Reunion.” That’s not surprising, given that the musical result of the experiment mirrored the indirect process of composition. Cage and Duchamp were controlling one thing—the chess match—through which they indirectly controlled another—the sounds. This is not a formula aimed to impress music critics, but in Cross’s words it agreed with Cage’s “aesthetics of indeterminacy” and his “wish to remove his personality from his art.” Cross, who sympathized with Cage’s aesthetic, nevertheless concluded that “the ultimate realization of the work was inconclusive.” But he finds value in how “elegantly” the project realized Cage’s quest for “purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play.” Continue reading

“Vibrantly Different Everywhere”: Matthew R. Loney on the Western Traveller

E Martin Nolan Interviews the Author of That Savage Water // E Martin Nolan

traveller
Loney’s travellers close the distance of high-end tourism

Matthew R. Loney is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. As a graduate of the University of Toronto’s M.A. in Creative Writing program (2009) and avid traveler, he has combined these passions into a collection of short stories, That Savage Water.

E Martin NolanThat Savage Water focuses around traveller-adventurers, many of whom celebrate (implicitly or explicitly) the otherness they encounter. That is not to say those encounters are not complicated (one guy thinks he’s about to find enlightenment by the Ganges, but his spiritual mentor turns out to be less than trustworthy). A lot of literary writers would hesitate to so openly embrace this spirit of adventure, given the complicated history and politics of the postcolonial realms to which your characters journey. Did you wrestle with this tension? How did the history of Western power in these regions weigh on you as you wrote these stories?

Matthew R. Loney: I was aware of the perils of voice-appropriation, the dangers of trespassing on narrative territory that didn’t belong to me, but I found these restrictions, especially when applied to stories set abroad, actually fed into a pro-colonial separation of local and foreigner. Postcolonialism suggests that Western writers shouldn’t even try to write from the voice of a different culture, that when or if we do, it will be self-serving and inaccurate. On one hand, postcolonial history was telling me that all I could write would be romanticized reflections that would serve to fulfill my own nostalgia for counter-Western fantasies, projections of my own desires for the exotic, and therefore I would minimize those people I met into token and reduced caricatures of my own ideals. Continue reading

A Warning to Toronto Writers: Networks Don’t Make Literature

Where You Live, Who You Know, What You Write // Julienne Isaacs

writers
The Toronto writer’s Sunset Strip

It doesn’t matter where you live: being human is difficult. The writer’s task is to transcribe the difficulty.

On a recent trip to Toronto, I was told half a dozen times by both strangers and friends that nothing would aid my career more than a move to that great Canadian literary Mecca. For a few days I waffled, wondering if a successful career could truly be contingent upon residence in a single city. Toronto is to Canada what New York is to the US. Living in the GTA would grant me the luxury of direct access to half of the publications to which I regularly contribute, as well as those I can only dream of writing for.

Apparently, Toronto is “the centre of English Canadian Literature.”

As reported in the Toronto Star this October, the Toronto Foundation’s 2014 Vital Signs Report found that “Toronto’s creative workforce has grown by 34 per cent since 2001, more than twice the growth of the overall labour force.” Additionally, professional employment in arts and culture industries in Toronto “has increased more than 16 per cent since 2011. Toronto is home to 66 per cent more artists than any other Canadian city, and 1 in 4 of the country’s creative industry jobs.” Continue reading

“Goblin Lovers and Failures”: A Review of Bourbon & Eventide by Mike Spry

Spry’s Slim Poetry Delivers Novel-Length Hopelessness // Jason Freure

Spry
Mike Spry

Mike Spry’s Bourbon & Eventide may be the saddest book of poetry to launch in Canada this year. With both wit and tenderness, this 56-page collection strings together tercets to tell the story of a relationship falling apart from the beginning. Bourbon & Eventide continues some of the same themes of obsession and disappointment tackled in Spry’s first book of poetry, JACK, with a focus and economy that compresses a novel’s worth of narrative into 168 lines. Spry, whose poem “The Follicular” appeared in The Puritan Compendium I, is making failed romance his own undisputed poetic territory.

Many of Spry’s poems end in the bleak punch lines that let the reader know this relationship was dead-on-arrival.  Fortunately, Spry carefully balances his jokes with a nostalgic lyricism. Where his last lines are longer and more sombre, he creates a tranquil kind of despair. At other times, a punch line buried in the middle of a poem becomes an occasion to reflect on how sad it is to be the butt of the poet’s joke.  Continue reading

The Town Crier Presents: Naben Ruthnum’s “Doctor Burke and Family”

A Toronto Ghost Story // Naben Ruthnum

Burke
The house of Doctor Burke on Dunn Avenue

In the spirit of the somewhat macabre history of the 17th century Puritan settlements in North America, The Town Crier presents its first-ever fiction offering in the form of a short story rooted in the Canadian Gothic tradition. Just in time for Hallowe’en, this twilight tale from Journey Prize winner Naben Ruthum promises shivers up your back and whispers in your ear.

We ask you, then, to dim the lights and enjoy the peculiar story of “Doctor Burke and Family.”

Naben Ruthnum won the 2013 Journey Prize. He is currently living in Toronto and working on a novel.

* * *

There was only one funeral. Dr. Burke requested that Madeline’s body be kept cold until the baby’s fate was certain—an easy enough task in December. Owen died five days after his mother, and two days after that, they were deposited in coffins of pine timber. Cut, the funeral director promised, from the same log.

“I’m surprised he didn’t toss the little one in with the mother,” said Mrs. Combs, the domestic who’d accompanied Madeline on the move from England to Toronto. Miles Tripp had sat next to Mrs. Combs at the funeral, after Burke had left the church, with the reverend still speaking and a minimal spread of cold victuals lying untouched in the next room.

“Burke is devastated, I’m sure,” Tripp said, stunned by the hatred in the old woman’s voice. “You musn’t say that.”

“Musn’t I? He killed her. Been killing her for a year. You think she wanted to leave London for this place? The ice, then that awful heat, then the ice again?” There was a Gladstone bag next to Mrs. Combs, and she sorted through it with her thick hands as she spoke, coming out with a folded sheet that she pushed into an inner pocket of her coat. Continue reading

“Get Excited!”: A Conversation with Charles Yao of Little Brother

About Talent, “Oatmeal-y Good-for-You” CanLit, and the Importance of Excitement // Gavin Tomson

LB5-for-Gavin
Little Brother No. 5

For a new and relatively small Toronto-based literary magazine, Little Brother has been extraordinarily successful. The magazine, which recently launched its fifth issue, has published work by the likes of Jeet Heer, Haley Mlotek, Mariko Tamaki, and Andrew Kaufman. Sarah Nicole Prickett wrote about Little Brother (and Hazlitt) in The Globe and Mail—a rare honour for a Canadian lit mag. Jess Taylor’s story “Paul,” in issue three, won the Gold National Magazine Award for Fiction, beating older and more-established writers, such as Michael Winter, Jessica Westhead, and Pasha Malla. Dazed & Confused listed LB as one of “the best alt-lit reads from Canada right now”  (though Little Brother doesn’t really publish alt-lit).

I met LB’s co-founder and art director, artist and graphic designer Charles Yao, to talk about the magazine and retrieve a few copies. Shortly thereafter, we had the following online conversation.

Gavin Tomson: How did Little Brother get its start?

Charles Yao: Emily [Keeler] used the money she got from a freelance assignment to make the first Little Brother. That was in August 2012. The plan was that she’d solicit the writing (we didn’t—and still don’t—do open submissions, per se), and I would take care of the art directing. Those are our individual strengths, so it was a good match. We also live below this great printer named JP King, who runs Paper Pusher. He literally lives above us. He printed the first issue on his Risograph. I have a video of us hand-collating the first issue! Continue reading

Adam See’s Political Convictions in the Classroom

On The Merits of Controversial Progressiveness // André Forget

political
Do students already agree with See’s political views?

Adam See, adjunct instructor at Brooklyn College, wrote an open letter to his students in the October issue of The Walrus in which he explains his philosophy of teaching. Specifically, he speaks about how he cannot pretend—and more importantly, shouldn’t pretend—to be objective about his progressive political convictions. His argument, a reasonably convincing one, is that because nothing is neutral and students have been receiving political programming since day one, it is important for him to be honest about who he is and what he believes, and to challenge his students’ own orthodoxies.

The piece, while well-written and earnest, is essentially leftist boilerplate about the importance of critical thinking, the kind of thing most people who hold a bachelor’s degree in the humanities are all quite familiar with. These platitudes struck me as being slightly troubling. When See encourages his students to “live loudly and actively. Piss people off. Challenge institutions,” he is clearly speaking about very specific people and institutions;  one does not imagine he would take kindly to bigotry, homophobia, a challenging of CWILA’s legitimacy, or any number of other freely expressed views, nor should he.

Continue reading

Writing and Place at IFOA Weekly

Authors Discuss Toronto, Egypt, and Vietnam in Their Books // Caryn Cathcart

place
Toronto becomes a place of dedication in Al-Solaylee’s Intolerable

The concept of place is not limited to geography. It also encompasses culture, character, history, politics, perspective, language, and inspiration. In fact, place can exist entirely beyond geography—it’s found in distant mythologies, online communities, and even the ever-fickle human memory. It is no surprise that the theme of writing and place proved incredibly rich for IFOA Weekly’s latest Open Book Literary Salon.

The free event, which took place on October 8th at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre,
featured a roundtable discussion between Camilla Gibb, Kamal Al-Solaylee, and Steven Heighton. Freelance books columnist, editor, and publicist Becky Toyne moderated.

Toyne opened the evening with a simple question: Where, for you, is home?
Gibb, who was born in London, England, but raised in Canada, called Toronto her home. She explained that when her roots were severed from London, the idea of home—that critical reference point—became distorted. Only through raising her daughter in Toronto has Gibb been able to adopt the city as her home. Conversely, when Al-Solaylee first moved to Toronto, he fell in love with the city immediately. He described the experience as a true romance, similar to how people often fall for Paris. Though he described today’s Toronto as a more hostile, alien place, his book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes (HarperCollins Canada), is dedicated to the city he calls home. Lastly, Heighton explained that he had been raised in Toronto but had also lived in Japan. To answer Toyne’s question, then, he provided an excellent Mavis Gallant anecdote. When Gallant was asked if she considered herself a Canadian writer despite having lived outside the country for most of her life, she answered, “I will remain Canadian even if Canada ceases to exist.” This statement applied nicely to the situation of each writer. Continue reading

Author Notes: Kasia Juno

Puritan Authors Discuss Their Craft // Kasia Juno

Kasia Juno
Natasha Avseenko Swimming with the Belugas

Puritan contributor Kasia Juno, whose poetry appears in our most recent issue, Summer 2014, discusses coldness, comfort, and the practice of “drawing through” one’s writing.

Mid-winter, I was sitting in an unheated flat in Berlin, thinking: This must be the coldest place on earth. But when I Googled “the coldest place on Earth,” it turned out to be in Antarctica, at the Vostok research station. Canada only comes in seventh on the coldness scale: there are recorded temperatures of minus 63 degrees Celsius in Snag, Yukon in February, 1947.

But back to Antarctica. Who lives there? I asked myself. And how do they survive? Same questions people asked me about Berlin (there are no jobs in Europe). As those of you who have watched penguin documentaries will know—Antarctica is a desert, an endless winter desert. There is no reprieve, no compassion. That is why penguin documentaries are some of the most depressing things to watch. Don’t watch them in Berlin, mid-winter. Continue reading