A few weeks ago I got a forwarded e-mail from one of my Canadian poet friends who runs a non-judgmental informational clearing house for Canada’s always fractious and sometimes downright strange poetry community. The community is strange because it has several thousand practitioners, several dozen readers, and several million squabbles going on at any one time, most of which are of the sort common among frogs squalling over the lilypads in a drought-stressed swamp a raft of dumptrucks are backing up toward.
The e-mail had been forwarded from an, um, new literary magazine, and it outlined the magazine’s editorial policy and a call for submissions. The “um” is because there wasn’t much new about the magazine, although there was a depressing abundance of evidence that the back of Canadian Literature’s turnip truck was looking fresh and new to whoever drafted the announcement. What caught my eye initially was the new magazine’s declaration, in the first sentence, that it had “75% Canadian content”, as if this was ontological and epistemologically simple as pie to achieve and then maintain. From there the announcement went on to perpetrate so many other acts of pompous simple-mindedness (and simple-minded pompousness) that what began as curiosity on my part turned to annoyance. Before long I found myself translating its blue-eyed daftness into their real-world implications, and pointing out the complexities this new magazine was so obliviously trampling in its eagerness to gain attention.
Now, I’m sure whoever edits this magazine is a swell young poet and a nice person, and I can assure you that I bear him no ill-will (I assume it’s a male because women are generally too wary for this sort of silliness). Swellness aside, the young editor-poet needs to pay much closer attention to what it is he’s doing and thinking, because it is the cultural tension between those two things that poetry most gainfully inhabits. And he needs to dispel some of the fog his ego and his ambitions are churning out, even if it's only for his own edification.
In what follows, I’ve changed the name of the magazine in order to avoid possible prosecution, but otherwise I’ve left its infomercial unaltered. The magazine was titled with an unexplained four-letter acronym, so I made up another and instantly forgot what it represented—as I suspect the editor of the real magazine might have—hence the absent explanation of what his acronym represents.
For a few hours, I called it “NMFG”, after a magazine I once edited. Then I remembered that my co-editors and I at NMFG always knew exactly what “NMFG” meant. One issue might have been about “No Money From the Government”, and in the next, in which the writers involved were busily hacking at the ankles of their mentors and role models, it might have meant “Now My Father’s Gone”. In most issues, we talked openly about what we were trying to communicate, even when all we were up to was, as with most poets past, present and future, indulging our fatuous desire to be famous while gazing into our navels. Still, NMFG had the small virtue of constantly and programmatically reminding itself that its ultimate goal—like that of poetry—was to communicate some sort of specific content to other people. That was the mild sort of intellectual fastidiousness we practiced with our acronym, and we learned as much from that exercise as we did from the poems and essays we published. “BAGE”, as I’m going to call this “new” magazine, seems considerably less focused than that. It seems content to ask for writers to submit to its, um, editorial authority, as if the conferring of that favour were similar to having God herself stroke your cheek and call you Larry.
As a public service, I’ve translated as much of its call for submissive behaviors as I could make heads or tails of into less ambiguous English. Below, you’ll find the infomercial sent to me, word-for-word except for the altered acronym and a couple of other items I changed for obvious reasons. After that, you’ll find what I think the magazine’s informercial really meant—or was trying to avoid saying in plain English.
There is a precedent to this, hence the title. Many years ago, while Stan Persky was editing the last few issues of the Vancouver literary magazine Tish, he got a submission from the ambitious editor of another magazine. The cover letter, which was on his magazine’s letterhead, listed all the other magazines who’d accepted the editor’s poems, and contained a nice, neat space for Tish. Stan published the poem and the letter under the title “Always Glad to Help a Fella on the Make.”
BAGE – Call for Submissions: Ongoing.
BAGE is a new quarterly literary journal with a 75% Canadian content. It is mainly an online journal. The goal of the magazine is to promote Canadian writing, both mainstream and the not-so-prominent. There is a special interest in new writing. There are several Canadian journals, mostly print, in the market already. Nevertheless, the conception of BAGE has been occasioned by the fact that some writers, especially those aspiring or on the fringes sometimes do not know where to turn with their material. BAGE is a platform for old and fresh voices, and has a mandate to short-circuit a tendency towards elitism in Canadiana.
This does not, however, mean that quality will be sacrificed to quantity. Our emphasis on inclusion is conditional; contributions should be robust and of high quality. While celebrating the old, we wish to pave a way for the new and exciting. As such we will be cooperating with other Canadian initiatives with the same goals in different communities across the country. Although BAGE’s emphasis is on Canadian writing, it nevertheless will hold a conversation with the world by featuring some writing from around the globe.
BAGE also provides a platform for dialogue or interviews on any topic between and amongst Canadian writers, while featuring their work and, reporting on literary events, landmarks or festivals in Canada and around the world – with an emphasis on their Canadian composition. BAGE has some of Canadas [sic] most exciting writers on its editorial and advisory board, (names suppressed to protect the innocent) with (name suppressed) as Managing Editor.
Prospective contributors should browse our site at www.BAGE.ca and target their submissions to specific sections of the journal: Poetry, Essays, Creative Non-Fiction, Reviews, Roundtable, Impressions, Festival of Life, and Drama.
All Contributions and enquiries should be sent to submissions@BAGE.ca.
While some materials will be solicited directly, unsolicited submissions are welcome. Since BAGE is a quarterly, it will come out four times a year, and response time will fall within the four months preceding an upcoming issue. Essays of a broad range of subjects should be in a relaxed non-academic, free-flowing style, without footnotes or superscripts. Fiction includes short stories and excerpts from longer prose work in progress; creative non-fiction comprises travelogues and other kinds of literary non-fiction. Poetry should be of high quality and not more than 60 lines of between 4 and 6 poems or one long poem of not more than 120 lines. Excerpts of drama between 3 and 4 pages are encouraged. The Roundtable section is in the interview or dialogue format between two or more Canadian writers. Contributors can propose a topic of discussion to us and find a respondent writer or writers to take part in that conversation. Publishers especially small presses are welcome to take part in the Impressions section, discussing the history of the making of a particular book, its reception, fate and challenges, with pictures of the book cover; and the histories of their own presses. This is apart from a general discussion of the history of the Canadian book and printing industry up to such recent developments like online publishing technologies. Review copies of literary works by publishers should be sent to (address suppressed for obvious reasons).
Literary festivals and reading series may contact us to announce their events. We welcome unsolicited images capturing literary events in pictures for the Festival of Life section. Pictures should be of a high resolution and in colour. All textual contributions should be in word document format, and photos should be sent as jpeg. Contributors should attach their pictures and a short bio; in the case of publishers, we would appreciate a jpeg attachment of institutional logos and a brief history of the publisher and their major areas of operation.
So that’s what they said. Now, here’s what I think it actually means:
BAGE is the same sort of quarterly literary journal ambitious literary and academic entrepreneurs across Canada have been inventing to ramp up their careers for more than half a century. BAGE will purport to have 75% Canadian content but without making even a half-hearted attempt to define what “Canadian content” entails, and without noting whether that’s a limit, minimum, or an idealistic goal. In any case, it’s likely that the mention of Canadian content is there primarily in order to capture university and government grants, and that whenever the 75 % limit/goal isn’t scrutinized and abrogating it will further the editor’s career, well, fly it off the end of the nearest dock, bub.
BAGE will be an online journal. Does this sound like a virtue—contemporary technology and all that? In reality, it means that it’ll be run out of a website, but it may print off just enough print copies to satisfy library journal requests and granting agencies’ technophobic requirement to maintain a print presence. The official goal of the magazine will be to promote Canadian writing, both mainstream and the not-so-prominent, which is to say, the editor will publish the work of anyone he thinks will enhance his prestige and further his career, regardless of race, gender, class, creed, degree of decrepitude and/or literary talent, and that he will maintain an institutionally-acceptable balance of minority writers without regard to literary talent. The magazine will purport to have a “special” interest in new writing, which, somewhat confusingly, may mean that the editor either isn’t aware that “New Writing” is a defunct literary movement, or hasn’t mastered capitalizing proper nouns. It is also possible that what he means by “new writing” is that it simply hasn’t been used before (sort of like those “new material” stickers on those pillows people buy at Walmart that assure consumers that the manufacturer isn’t recycling barnyard straw or plutonium wipes. Most likely of all, it means writing from anyone still alive, unless special circumstances pertain (i.e. publishing the work of a dead writer will further the career of the editor or result in funding from the dead writer’s promotional apparatus, usually consisting of academics who prefer their writers recently dead because the archives aren’t yet settled and which thus enable bibliographic ahah!s and other tenure-building treats, or the writer’s forever-grieving family’s attempts to enhance his/her reputation).
The editor of BAGE admits that there are several Canadian journals, mostly print, in the market already, which is a backhanded way of reminding prospective writers that a.) BAGE is culturally superfluous; and b.) that the editor is unaware that no one actually reads literary journals, and that he doesn’t know that he could easily say there are 4000 avidly read and collected Canadian literary journals and no one except a few grizzled veterans of the League of Canadian Poets would be the wiser. c.) he’s excessively fond of stating the obvious.
“Nevertheless”, (to use an antiquated bureaucratic slider,) the conception of BAGE has been occasioned by the fact that some writers, especially those who are so awful they haven’t had anything accepted for publication by existing magazines or are otherwise recent residents of Dogpatch (but nevertheless happen to be friends of the editor) sometimes do not know where to turn with their um, literature. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a good illustration of people with “literature” they can’t get anyone fully conscious to read or praise them for, and the implication is that the editor’s friends and intended clientele fall within this talent category if not exact devotional dispensation.
BAGE will be a platform for old and fresh voices, and presumably also for loud or soft voices, (and no doubt also for those able only to use sign language or bang their heads on their desks and of course it will also be a platform for cows wanting to continue to give milk, mothers who wish to nurse their babies, and other radically decisive categorizations. BAGE has a mandate from its editor to short-circuit an undefined tendency towards “elitism” in “Canadiana” and to replace it with elitisms more supportive of the Editor’s prejudices.
This does not, however, mean that Quality will be sacrificed to Quantity–unless it is expedient or deemed career-building for the editor. BAGE’s emphasis on inclusion is conditional; contributions should be “robust” and “of high quality”, the definition of which the editor will decide on when he figures out what “robust” means to the nest of teeth-picking half-educated poufters he’s trying to flummox with high-sounding words and concepts. While celebrating the old, BAGE supposes it can pave a way for the new and exciting, (see also cows giving milk and mothers nursing children). Since it only intends to do a little paving toward the new and exciting, I guess one can deduce that its true outlook is fairly reactionary, and/or that the editor believes that good intentions are more meaningful than accuracy of statement. As such BAGE will be cooperating with other Canadian initiatives with the same goals in different communities across the country, provided that they publish the editor’s poems and/or provide grant monies. Funds from foreign governments likewise are welcomed, unless it involves flagrant money laundering or storing automatic weapons for the donors. Although BAGE’s emphasis is on Canadian writing, it “nevertheless” will “hold a conversation with the world” by featuring foreign writing of any subject matter that won’t offend the editor’s parents and the funding agencies or deliver espionage or terrorist code from around the globe, also provided that the foreigners suck up to the editor and are themselves editors of magazines that will publish the editor of BAGE.
BAGE also try to provide a platform (now getting crowded) for dialogue or interviews on any topic between and amongst Canadian writers except for Lorna Crozier and Pat Lane talking about their sexual proclivities, or other Creative writing faculty poets pontificating on pension sizes and appropriateness, while featuring their work.
BAGE will also report on literary events, landmarks or festivals in Canada and around the world – with an emphasis on their Canadian composition—whatever that means. BAGE has some of Canada’s most self-excited and self-promoting writers on its editorial and advisory board, including (names withheld to protect the guilty), with (name withheld to protect the ambitious) as Managing Editor. (Name withheld) was appointed managing editor because he was paying attention when the phone call asking for participation came, and unlike the others, does not have a secretary to screen him from the overly-eager and fawning.
Prospective contributors should browse the magazine’s site at www.BAGE.ca and target their submissions to specific sections of the journal so the editor doesn’t have to exercise critical discrimination or sort his e-mail. Genres such as Poetry, Essays, Creative Non-Fiction, Reviews, Roundtable, Impressions, Festival of Life, Drama, and Things You Found In Your Poo are all acceptable. All Contributions and enquiries should be sent to submissions@BAGE.ca, and will be read after your name has been Googled to discover whether you’re worth the trouble.
While some materials will be solicited by the editor, unsolicited submissions are officially but not actually welcomed. All submissions accompanied by a subscription cheque or outright monetary donation will be officially welcomed until the cheque or money order has been detached from it, but even then will do much better than submissions without cheques. Since BAGE is a quarterly, response time will fall within the four months preceding an upcoming issue at least 25 percent of the time—unless your submission will immediately enhance the prestige of the editor or buy him a good lunch. Essays of a broad range of subjects that won’t offend the editor’s parents should be in a relaxed non-academic, free-flowing style (terms of the preceding definition will be published in the editor’s last will and testament) and without footnotes or superscripts, (thus translating all discursive materials into Blog-level opinion purges).
Fiction can include short stories, excerpts from longer prose work in progress and, unofficially, everything else including lurid descriptions of Things Found in Your Poo; we’re open to anything written in a known human language, but are particularly open to writing that is barely comprehensible but which makes BAGE look good, buys its editor lunch, or connects him to an offshore magazine with an editor as eager to roll the log.
Creative non-fiction, which the editor is eminently ill-prepared to define, can comprise travelogues and other kinds of literary non-fiction, and if you noticed that a tautology was just perpetrated, nyah, nyah, nitpicker. Actually, don’t send Creative non-fiction unless you’re a close associate of the editor.
Poetry should be of high quality (at least as good as John Keats but without all the long words) and not more than 60 lines of between 4 and 6 poems or one long poem of not more than 120 lines. Someday, the editors will figure out what they mean by “High quality” and will let you know at that time. Meanwhile, go fly until the last will and testament is read.
Excerpts of drama between 3 and 4 pages are encouraged, but will not actually be published, silly, unless you’re as famous as Michael Ondaatje.
The Roundtable section of BAGE will be in interview or dialogue format between two or more Canadian writers, and never mind that dialogue is only possible between two persons. Contributors can propose a topic of discussion to us and find a respondent writer or writers to take part in that conversation. Anything at all is fine, provided that you don’t expect the editor to transcribe it. These same persons can also leap in front of public transit vehicles, and will have the same likelihood of publication unless they can demonstrate career utility to the editor.
Publishers, especially small presses eventually willing to publish a chapbook by the editor are welcome to take part in the Impressions section, discussing the history of the making of a particular book, its reception, fate and challenges, with pictures of the book cover; and the histories of their own presses plus how they feel about the Queen. These “impressions”, which we hope no one will recognize as “advertorials” will get published when and if said publisher also buys an add in the magazine or agrees to publish a chapbook by the editor.
This is apart from a general discussion of the history of the Canadian book and printing industry up to such recent developments as online publishing technologies and the reinvention of the wheel, which the editor and his little brother Mel have been thinking about since, um, last Saturday. Review copies of literary works by publishers should be sent to (address withheld), or so the editor sincerely hopes because he intends to use them as Christmas gifts.
Literary festivals and reading series may contact us to announce their events. Send money with your announcements, or a participant invitation for the editor. BAGE also welcomes unsolicited images capturing literary events in pictures for the Festival of Life section, unless they involve nude photographs of P.K. Page, Ann Michaels, and/or John Metcalfe at his typewriter. Pictures should be of a high resolution and in colour unless accompanied by money. All textual contributions should be in Microsoft Word document format, and photos should be sent in the J-PEG format. Contributors should attach their author photos and a short bio; in the case of publishers, we would appreciate a J-PEG attachment of institutional logos and a brief history of the publisher and their major areas of operation, since these are the most lucrative fund-raising targets available to us.
Toronto, Sept. 10, 2008.