Monday, January 7, 2008

Arc etc.

It's been a while. I've been away for a bit and generally disinclined to be public in any way, shape or form, which often happens to me around this time of year. But I'm coming round, eh.

Spent a couple days on Lasqueti Island at New Year's with Rachel and her mum, doing what I like doing best at New Year's: nothing special. I usually find New Year's disappointing; there's too much expectation that it's going to be a fantastic time.

Got the new issue of Arc the other day, which includes three short reviews by yours truly. But the highlight is Carmine Starnino's longer review of Margaret Atwood's The Door. As anyone who read the "Runaway Jury" at (sadly, but understandably, on hiatus for this year) knows, Carmine doesn't think much of the book. But he also is quite generous in his praise for Atwood's much better early work and uses it as a very effective foil to demonstrate the shoddiness of her latest. Another highlight is a poem by Matthew Tierney called "Love Triangle." Very witty piece of work in abab quatrains, a lot of fun. I'm a bit surprised. I've met Matthew on a few occasions and he's a super nice guy; up till now I've always wanted to like his poetry more than I have. Another good one is the issue is Margaret Avison's "Death," reprinted from her collected poems; presumably it's in here as a memorial gesture, but it's not explained.

"The Poem of the Year" falls, as usual, far short of being the poem of the year. The first prize winner isn't bad, but I find Elmslie makes things more explicit and explained than they should be. The second prize poem stinks. The third one has some okay lines, but doesn't add up to much. The first honourable mention I quit reading as it was just going on and on in a prosy drone. The second hon mention was alright, but nothing special. The third h.m. ended well, but I thought it could've started on the tenth of its fourteen lines and been a better poem for it; also, it has very long lines the length of which seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with rhythm, just some purposeless visual effect. The only poem in the magazine I would've picked for a prize is Peter Norman's mesmeric "Up Near Wawa," chosen by Rob Winger as an "Editor's Choice."

Arc is one of my favourite publications to work for because they're very well-run and the editors don't try to interfere with a reviewer's judgments. They've also got the best website of any Canadian lit-mag. But, especially considering it comes out only twice a year, I'm usually nonplussed by the poems in it. I wonder what the result might be if this journal and others like it put one critically minded editor in charge of poem selection instead of doing it by volunteer committee. Maybe they just don't get enough submissions and they really do go with the best they get. I kinda doubt it, tho. And I have to wonder if any good poems get cut out of the contest in the pre-screening for the POTY. Maybe two good poems is all one can reasonably expect in a lit mag. Maybe one issue a year is all a poetry-exclusive magazine should do.

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