One hundred issues of any journal, literary or otherwise, is a remarkable achievement, and even moreso, one might argue, for one specifically dedicated to poetry. I doubt that any of the original trio of founding co-editors—Christopher Levenson, Tom Henighan or Michael Gnarowski—ever imagined we’d still be discussing that very first issue this far down the road, let alone the fact that the journal is still going (and going strong, I might add). It would be interesting to hear what any of them might think of the journal’s longevity, some forty-five springs since they produced their debut, or even what their original ideas or models were. Were they following particular threads that had emerged within Canada, or more established American or British models?
When Manahil Bandukwala first suggested I maybe write something up on that first issue, I wondered: does she realize that I was only eight years old when that first issue launched, and didn’t encounter the journal at until I was into my twenties? Honestly, given Robert Hogg was not only published in the debut issue but was teaching at Carleton alongside those original three, it would have been interesting to hear his take on that period. Perhaps he had heard that “Some guys in the department are starting a poetry magazine.” “Oh, really?” he might have said. I mean, we all know how that stuff works out. “Hopefully they can get a few issues out, at least. Perhaps a few drinks at a launch, possibly at Mike’s Place, or Le Hibou.” But such possibilities for that kind of storytelling, alas, are behind us.
It becomes interesting to think of what else was happening simultaneously, whether in Ottawa or beyond. On Fourth Avenue, in the Glebe, Ottawa poet and future novelist Blaine Marchand, for example, was co-running SPARKS, a chapbook-sized monthly poetry journal/literary calendar that, much like Bywords, founded more than a decade later, was modeled on the monthly poetry journal/literary calendar Poetry Toronto. Ottawa poet and troublemaker William Hawkins was still around, a few years into what would become four decades of driving for Blue Line Cab, and poet and translator George Johnston was still teaching at Carleton. Carol Shields lived just down the street, soon to relocate after a decade teaching, writing, and raising her children, writing occasionally for the Glebe Report. As well, it is strange to think of the area around Carleton University during the era of the first few issues of Arc that included neighbourhood children Richard Sanger, Stephen Henighan and Sara Cassidy, most if not all of whom eventually saw their names featured within the pages of Arc Poetry Magazine.
Beyond the city’s boundaries, Montreal’s Vehicule Poets were two years into their gestetnered monthly, mouse eggs. Writers News Manitoba was founded in Winnipeg that same year, but it would be another five years before the journal became Prairie Fire. Grain magazine was already two years old; Matrix magazine had been founded by members of the English Department at Champlain Regional College a year prior to that, and The Capilano Review was already six years old, founded by Pierre Coupey through Capilano College in 1972. One might suspect that many of these journals remained regional considerations across those years, with outreach predominantly through word-of-mouth, poets informing other poets through a network of letters and reading tours. Were any of these journals even distributed to stores? How did these journals, and these writers, discover each other?
I’m not even sure where I picked up a copy of Arc’s first issue. That first issue of Arc is side-stapled, 8 ½ x 11, and runs the same size and shape as most of our issues of The Peter F. Yacht Club, Victor Coleman and Michael Boughn’s Toronto-based COUGH, issues of bill bissett’s infamous blewointment, or the late 1990s Vancouver occasional, TADS, run by a gathering of mentors and students, from George Stanley, Renee Rodin and George Bowering to Chris Turnbull, Wayde Compton and Jason le Heup. There’s a particularly charming and even universally-rough quality to this first issue, one that seems to contradict the crafted material within, from poems by Don Coles, Carol Shields and Sid Marty to criticism by D.G. Jones and Douglas Barbour. I’d be curious to see what issue two might have looked like, or issue three, not having glimpsed a further issue until the numbers were well into their teens. And by then, it held in the hand like an inexpensively-produced paperback.
Either way, happy anniversary, Arc Poetry Magazine. I am curious to see where you might be by issue one hundred and fifty, or even two hundred. Or am I getting ahead of myself?
(update provided in 2023)
rob mclennan lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles include the poetry collections the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022) and World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics (periodicityjournal.