In this newsletter: September's Arc Award of Awesomeness prompt and July's winner; an interview with poets Dane Swan, Sennah Yee & Nasra Adem; submission deadlines for 13 publications; a review of Jenna Butler's Magnetic North; new & exciting titles to watch for; upcoming virtual events
Celebrating Canadians In Conversation with Dane Swan, Sennah Yee, and Nasra Adem
In the anticipated forthcoming anthology, Changing the Face of Canadian Literature, editor Dane Swan brings together diverse Canadian authors, with a focus on BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled writers, to celebrate and acknowledge their work in writing fiction, poetry, and essays. That’s what this anthology is: It’s a celebration. A moment to cry out, “Look how many of us have a voice! There are stories, and poetry in this country that are about people like me! I am not alone!” The anthology boasts an illustrious list of contributors, including Nasra Adem, Sennah Yee, Jael Richardson, Ian Keteku, Doretta Lau, Kaie Kellough, Ayelet Tsabari, Ashley Hynd, Klara du Plessis, Danila Botha, Alessandra Naccarato, Doyali Islam, and many more brilliant writers.
Today, Dane Swan, Sennah Yee, and Nasra Adem have a conversation about inspiration, poetic friction, de-centring whiteness, and pushing boundaries.
Dane Swan is a Bermuda-born, Toronto-based spoken word artist, former slam poet, musician, author, and emerging editor. A former remedial English student, he is now an author of both fiction and poetry. Dane's second poetry collection, A Mingus Lullaby, was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in 2017.
NASRA is a queer, Muslim, Oromo multidisciplinary artist living in Amiskwaciywaskahikan (Edmonton) on Treaty 6 territory. They were the Youth Poet Laureate of Edmonton from 2016 to 2017 and are the founder of Black Arts Matter—Alberta’s interdisciplinary Black arts festival. In 2017 they were the recipient of the Mayor’s Emerging Artist Award and have taken their poetry across Turtle Island to spaces such as New York Fashion Week, Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, Women’s March YEG and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. NASRA’s first poetry chapbook A God Dance in Human Clothwith Glass Buffalo Publishing was the co-recipient of the BP Nichols National Chapbook award in 2019. NASRA believes that art is not art unless it is active, and uses their voice and event-planning skills to push for structural change for marginalized people. Their newly released EP “Salve” is their latest call to healing; a blend of herbs, poetics and sound.
Dane asks Sennah: Discovering my dad's vinyl record of the dub poem “Five Nights Of Bleeding” by Linton Kwesi Johnson as a teenager had a profound impact on me becoming a poet when I got older. Is there an inanimate object, or piece of music that has influenced or inspired your writing? If so, what is it, and how?
Sennah: I remember this purple plastic binder in my childhood bedroom that was filled with printed poems, and accompanying illustrations hand-drawn by two of my older cousins, who I think were in their preteens at the time. The cover had balloons, flowers, and perfect cursive writing! I thought it was so inspiring and cool that they created this thing together, and you could hold it in your hands, share it, and go back to it. In fact, just the other week I was at my parents' and I saw it on a shelf in the basement! I remember making a similar binder of poetry later for school when I was 10, and feeling so proud and excited. I loved snapping the 3 binder rings together as I assembled each poem.
In terms of music — and also speaking of dads! — my dad is a huge Leonard Cohen fan, and I love how his music moves my dad. We got to see him together in concert, and he did a spoken word version of "A Thousand Kisses Deep," and you could hear a pin drop in the stadium. We had goosebumps and were almost moved to tears. At that time I hadn't yet gone to poetry readings or anything, so that definitely made a big and lasting impression on me on how powerful both the written and spoken word could be.
Sennah asks Nasra: Sometimes I intentionally repeat myself across different pieces to further explore something, other times I surprise myself and forget that I've already done so! What do you find yourself revisiting often in your own work? Themes, imagery, stylistic choices, anything else! Why do you think these are recurring?
Nasra: I love the repetition that surprises me! It reveals a deeper connection to the idea than I might’ve originally thought and discovering the layers to my work is always exciting. I feel like I use a lot of natural imagery, water especially. Because of its ability to take on different forms and communicate different ideas. I talk about my Blackness in the same way. Expressing the breadth of how it shows up in the world from my perspective and from the perspectives placed on to me. It’s important for me to explore how my Blackness interacts with my connection to the land and nature, as an African Indigenous person. To show how sacred and expansive they are and the ways they mirror each other’s teachings. I’m always asking myself how ELSE my freedom could look, and looking to nature’s ever changing embodiments helps me vision that.
Nasra asks Dane: I was recently offered alternate language for the phrase "minority" (referring to anyone non-white) which was: People of the Global Majority. It was refreshing to have language that uses a global scope to recognize the true positionality of people of colour in relation to white people. It de-centres whiteness. I'm curious about what you believe it looks like for people of the global majority to continue to centre our narratives in ways that aren't reactions to white dominant culture.
How do we write as if we already got free?
Dane: What a great question! People of the Global Majority! I love it! I think it starts with expanding the narratives that we write about and how we do so. I believe that genres like Afro-Futurism are part of that. But there are certain sub-genres of literature that we rarely challenge ourselves to write within. People of the Global Majority should take on the challenge to write slow-burning dramas, postmodern experimental poetry and every other sub-genre.
The goal needs to be to create our own sub-genres, push sub-genres inspired by our various cultures AND firmly put our fingerprints on sub-genres that we rarely challenge ourselves to touch. When we feel free to write in anyway, unafraid of being unpublished because our writing isn't narrow enough to please those who publish us, then we can control the narrative of our literature rather than have a literature that is centred around and reactive to white dominant culture.
Nasra asks Sennah: Sometimes in the pursuit of framing an idea poetically, conflicting emotions/perspectives on that idea can come up. Privilege, positionality, oppression, grief, gratitude etc. How do you engage with the friction of your emotions/perspectives while writing? How do you engage with the whole picture?
Sennah: This is something I'll always want to work on, both in my writing and life in general! As much as conflicting emotions/perspectives can be a source of grief and confusion, channeling that into writing gives me great comfort, because it's a way of processing them. And then to be able to share this process with others and feel like it is seen/understood, that's very special.
I love how you describe it as "friction" — that's a perfect way of putting it! When writing, I like the idea of making the friction the centrepiece in an otherwise mundane/everyday backdrop, because it invites both myself and the reader to sit and soak in that kind of conflicting space.
I think I used to feel compelled to "fix" this friction by the end of the piece — wrap things up in a nice bow or make things easily digestible. But I'm realizing more lately how that conflict I'm teasing out doesn't — and maybe even shouldn't — have to be resolved within the work, because it is part of something bigger. I often frame ideas on a mostly micro level in my poetic work — I think because I've always had a kind of "the devil is in the details" kind of mindset. While there is value in that, I'd really like to grow towards engaging with the richness of the bigger picture, too.
Sennah asks Dane: How would you describe your personal philosophy/approach to editing, and how does it compare to that of your writing? What did you learn while editing this anthology?
Dane: Hi Sennah, great question!
As a writer, I feel that a part of my job is to push boundaries. To expand what people are willing to read and write. I think a good editor's job is to act as a frame. To allow someone like me to have a canvas, but to also give us parameters to stay within, so that our work can be purchased by an audience.
My editing philosophy is heavily influenced by my experiences as a writer. I hate when it feels like I'm reading an editor's poetry, rather than the poet's. There's nothing worse than seeing an editor's fingerprints on someone else's writing. It's really easy to spot. From my perspective, that's all ego.
In the brief time I've worked as an editor, most of the people that I've worked with are better writers than me. My job is to show them the perspective of a publisher. What our/their concerns with a work is. How something could be written more efficiently and let the author know if a piece meets the high standard that the rest of their writing sets. If a poem isn't good enough, I feel much more comfortable telling the author to scrap the poem than trying to shape a bad poem into something passable.
The other thing I believe is that the editing process should be enjoyable. Obviously, it can't be 100% fun. However, if I situate things so that the author has final say in most cases if I create a structure that doesn't drag on, that puts less stress on the author. The last thing an author should feel is that they must make certain changes to a piece, or their work will not get published. That kind of ultimatum happens all the time. What if there was a better solution that the author could have found if given a chance?
Dane asks Nasra: When I was a slightly younger poet, I definitely had an inferiority complex when people started inviting me to read at events, or send them my poetry. As young writers who actively present your work to wide audiences, what advice do you have for potential young, or young at heart poets who want to share their work, but lack the courage to do so?
Nasra: Courage is a practice. Audacity is a practice. Believing in yourself is a practice. I tell the young people I work with that “fake it till you make it” is a tried and true resource. As long as the poetry matters to you, as long as it is serving you, it’ll reach someone. We deserve to express ourselves and speak our truths no matter how “good” or “refined” it is. Especially young BIPOC writers. Our stories have been intentionally marginalized and the only ones who can reverse that is us. All honest poetry is good poetry in my opinion. As long as it is your truth, it’s yours to tell! ∞
Changing the Face of Canadian Literature: A Diverse Canadian Anthology, ed. By Dane Swan (Guernica Editions, 2020), will be available for purchase today, September 1, direct from the publisher, or ask your local bookstore.
ARC AWARD OF AWESOMENESS
Congratulations to July's winner Ying Lee for the poem, “Mr. T in Your Pocket”!
Congrats also to runners up Chris Banks for “The Personal is Political” , Amanda Earl for “My Charlotte,” and Pamela Yuen-Elkerbout for “Your Body is Not a Prop for Unpacking.”
Submit to the Arc Award of Awesomeness for a chance at half at the cash and a fancy vintage vintage doo-dad! And all the clout!
September's prompt is: New Beginnings
This prompt is selfishly motivated by the fact that our Editor, Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, is going to give birth in early October and wants to read about new beginnings. Deadline is Sept 30, 2020, 11:59 p.m. EST. Submission fee is 2$ per poem. More details here.
…Have you ever seen more beautiful covers side by side? (Click the covers for more info)
Psst… We are always looking for reviews of poetry collections — we pay $80 CAN for a brief 500-word review. Ask about our advanced reading copies available for review and send us a pitch! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
POETRY TWEET OF THE MONTH
I love the reverse look up dictionary. When I'm handwriting drafts I can draw a sketch as a placeholder but I get really slowed down typing trying to signify a word. https://onelook.com/thesaurus/#AmWriting
K.B. THORS REVIEWS JENNA BUTLER'S MAGNETIC NORTH
Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard is a finely drawn follow-up to Jenna Butler’s critically acclaimed poetry books, ecocriticism, and award-winning ecological writing about farming off the grid. With a poet’s ear and the observant attention of an environmental steward, Magnetic North is an intimate, breathtaking trek from the boreal forest to the Arctic Ocean—and back again. Human survival and impact are cast against sublime landscapes in this meditative, timely travelogue.