25th Trillium Award

Profile on Arc Poetry Magazine

Share |
Arc Poetry table at Hintonburg ArtsPark

by rob mclennan

This month, Ottawa?s Arc Poetry Magazine releases its seventy-fifth issue, a collaboration with Australian journal Cordite Poetry Review, featuring a healthy selection of poems by some four dozen Australian poets, some of whom are publishing in a Canadian journal for the first time, including Kate Middleton, Eleanor Jackson, Corey Wakeling, Felicity Plunkett, L.K. Holt, Bonny Cassidy, Kate Fagan and Duncan Hose. As Cordite?s Kent MacCarter and Arc?s Shane Rhodes open their collaborative ?Editor?s Note?:

An unlikely place to intersect, or even be, at all?Brisbane, Australia?for Shane Rhodes (Canadian, poetry editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and the 2013 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence) and Kent MacCarter (native Montanan and Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review). Our peripatetic natures could have dictated that we?d be just as likely to meet in Winnipeg or Albuquerque or Brussels or Granada? or, most likely, never at all. Yet such a place was the 2013 Queensland Poetry Festival, which brought poems from around the world (in addition to Shane, there were four other Canadians at the festival) and across Australia to converge on the Judith Wright Centre for Performing Arts (itself named after a notable Queensland poet) for three days of nothing but poetry. Sun and heat radiated on and through Brisbane?s stilted homes and Jacarandas, and the festival?s concentration on global poets created a tropical environment for ideas. We began discussing the possibility of a joint Arc/Cordite issue somewhere near the book table where both of us were calculating the maximum poetry purchase against national and international baggage allowances.

This isn?t the first collaborative issue Arc has produced, after the ?QuArc? issue co-produced with The New Quarterly in 2011. What becomes interesting to see, in both projects, is the way in which Arc works to ?investigate links? as a true collaborator, expanding its already strong purpose for presenting new poetry, reviews, essays and other commentary, as well as hosting web-only content for a variety of overflow. Founded in 1978 by Carleton University professors Christopher Levenson, Michael Gnarowski and Tom Henighan, the final of the three original editors, Levenson (who has a title currently shortlisted for the Governor General?s Award for Poetry), left the magazine in 1988. Over the years, the journal has shifted a predominantly-localized focus to feature writing from across the country, and each shift in editors has resulted in an expansion of the journal and its mandate, from the original editors to co-editors John Barton and Rita Donovan, to Anita Lahey?s tenure as editor, and now, this current collaborative administration. In addition, Arc now administers a series of awards, managing to put a great deal of money directly into the hands of poets, including the Archibald Lampman Award, the Diana Brebner Prize, the Poem of the Year Contest, the Confederation Poets Prize and the Critics? Desk Award.

On October 26, the collaborative issue was launched as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival with readings by Australian poets Bonny Cassidy and Natalie Harkin, alongside Toronto poet Paul Vermeersch and Vera Wabegijig, a Nishnaabe writer living in Nepean.

Questions posed to members of the Arc Poetry Magazine board were answered by Frances Boyle, Monty Reid and Shane Rhodes, with additional assistance by Brecken Hancock and Chris Jennings.

rob mclennan:

The journal made quite a noticeable shift from the years of editors John Barton and Rita Donovan to Anita Lahey, most noticeably one of scope and design. Since Lahey moved on, Arc has moved to functioning more collaboratively, adding titles such as Poetry Editor, Associate Poetry Editor, Prose Editor and Reviews Editor. What was the reason for this shift from single-editor to a more collaborative group, and what do you think this has achieved?

Frances Boyle:

Arc has long had a collaborative approach ? co-editors John Barton and Rita Donovan (and Nadine McInnis who was co-editor with John before Rita) were supported by a small but very engaged editorial team. After Anita Lahey became editor, additional positions ? including Managing Editor, Reviews Editor and Poetry Editor ? were added, and the board at large was expanded. Volunteers beyond the board, including some outside the Ottawa area, became involved in various capacities, including as first-readers or as ?champions? of Arc in their communities. All editorial work was channelled via Anita in collaboration with the various volunteer players, and that structure continued through Katia Grubisic?s time as editor.

In recent years, Arc has been lucky enough to be able to fund some part-time paid positions, which are needed in part because our operations now go beyond the print magazine to a variety of other projects, as you mention in your next question. When Katia moved on two years ago, we decided to go back to centreing the main editorial work with two co-editors from the board (Prose Editor and Poetry Editor), with the business and production sides of the magazine remaining with the professionals (currently Monty Reid, Managing Editor, and Chris Johnson, Coordinating Editor). The proliferation of other titles is just our effort to name and recognize some of the important roles that volunteer board members play, and have long played. Much of our work is now done via email, so collaboration and communication among the multiple players are not only important, they are vital. The collaborative approach enables Arc to be more inclusive, and allows more voices to be heard in magazine selection and decision-making.


Arc has expanded to include a writer-in-residence, an annual special issue, numerous contests and awards and a lively presence of reviews both in print and online. How and why did this expansion occur, and do you worry it might distract away from the work of the journal itself?

Monty Reid:

Part of Arc?s mandate has always been ?...to organize and administer awards, contests, public readings and events that nurture and promote the composition and appreciation of poetry.? That comes from our incorporation documents. Involvement in these kinds of activities has long been part of Arc?s repertoire of activities ? the range of them tends to rise and fall depending on our financial and human resources.

The expansion you note has been gradual and most of it took place five or more years ago. The past several years we have focused on consolidating and tweaking the things we do, hoping to make them more effective and more available to the poetry community without incurring any substantial new costs. For instance, Arc has been online for 10 years, but it's only recently that we?ve been able to integrate all our online platforms and have them reinforce each other and support the magazine itself.

We try to ensure that our other activities both serve a useful purpose in themselves but also drive attention to the magazine. Our Poem-of-the-Year contest, with its $5000 top prize, offers money and publication opportunity to poets across the country, but also functions as our biggest subscription drive of the year.

We?re also conscious of our age. Arc has been around for 36 years now, and any literary magazine with that lifespan needs to take care that it's not growing set in its ways or irrelevant. So we make a conscious effort to try things a little beyond the regular publication schedule. The collaborations, like the upcoming one with the Australian magazine Cordite, or readings, or translations, or YouTube features all help to keep us fresh.

It?s true that we need to be wary of over-extending ourselves. Even though we have a very stable operation, our resources are limited and largely dependent on continued volunteer passion and engagement. It can be tempting to get caught up in the readings and workshops and contests, all of which have an immediacy about them that our 3000 annual submissions don't always have. But our experience to date is that all of those other activities are beneficial to the magazine, so we'll keep on exploring them.


Over the past few years, Arc has featured a series of special issues, including a recent issue on ?The North.? There have been some journals over the years that have produced special issues to the point that it almost distracts away from the purpose of what a literary journal should be doing: presenting the best writing possible. What do you think the idea of special issues brings to the conversation of literary culture, and how do you see the feature progressing? Where might Arc go next?

Shane Rhodes:

Special issues have allowed Arc to explore ideas, themes or relationships that we wouldn?t be able to in the regular issues. Prime examples of this include our "QuArc" issue (where we collaborated with The New Quarterly to put together an issue of poetry focused on science), our "North" issue (which allowed us to explore all the poetic angles of the North with a concentration on writing from the North) and our current collaboration with Australia?s Cordite magazine to do a double exposé of Australian and Canadian poetry. Another thing that is interesting about Arc?s approach to the special issues is that, originally, the special issue was above and beyond what Arc was already doing ? back in 2009 when we decided to start doing this (under the leadership of Anita Lahey), we were only publishing two issues of Arc per year; now, we have two issues a year plus one special project. So the special issue has allowed us to keep on with the steady work of Arc while also trying something new. I think special projects like this are vital to a magazine like Arc ? they let us be a bit more creative with the mandate and let us push into areas we want to explore.


This fall, Arc Poetry Magazine and Cordite Poetry Review have collaborated on a single project featuring poets from both Canada and Australia, including a special issue launch for Arc at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. How did the collaboration originate, and how successful do you feel it has been?


The collaboration with Cordite Poetry Review happened when Shane Rhodes, Arc?s Poetry Editor since 2010, was appointed the 2013 Queensland Poet in Residence in Brisbane, Australia. During the 2013 Queensland Poetry Festival, Shane and Kent MacCarter (Cordite?s managing editor) met up and discussed the possibility of doing a poetic exchange ? where Cordite would take control and supply Arc with content that was all things poetic and Australian for an issue and Arc would do the same with Cordite. From that initial discussion followed a few months of back and forth communication as each magazine honed its selection of poetry and we figured out the finer points of international collaborations.

Putting the Arc-Cordite issues together has been great fun and has really allowed the editors of both magazines to learn much more about the poetry being written in each country ? we hope readers will appreciate the effort and also use this as an opportunity to learn a bit about what is going on ?down under? and ?over top.? As an added bonus to this, Arc has also been able to get travel money together to bring a couple of our Australian contributors (Natalie Harkin and Bonny Cassidy) over for the launch of the special issue at this year?s Ottawa International Writers Festival, and to deliver master-class workshops while they are here.

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014 and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search

Dundurn Press

Humber Writer's School Ad

University of Guelph Creative Writing

Humber Scapa

Humber Literary Review