On Blurring Genre: antilang.

As we start vetting pieces for antilang. no. 3 and soundbite vol. 2 (check out our call for submissions & guidelines!), we want to draw attention to an important aspect of our mandate: work that blends and blurs the lines of genre. Unlike many literary journals and magazines, the ALP’s publications aren’t divided up into genre sections. We also don’t ask you to identify the genre of your writing when you submit it. Finally, we made sure to solicit some hybrid creators for our inaugural issue to lead by example (like Geoff Pevlin’s delightful translation poems and Larissa Lai’s activist-inclined language play). As a result of these practices, we received a huge spectrum of forms and genres for antilang. no. 2 and soundbite no. 1 when we opened for general submissions.

Of course, we can’t take credit for the idea. Challenges to and deconstructions of ‘traditional’ (read dominant) notions of literary genre go back as far as the traditions and genres themselves, but are especially seen in the writings of marginalized groups (i.e., those displaced/silenced by said dominating traditions). What’s interesting is that in contemporary times the challenging of genres has become subtle and fluid, particularly through blurred middle grounds and hybridity. Consider this excerpt from Robert Kroetsch’s The Hornbooks of Rita K: “When I tell you that I love you I’m trying to tell you that I love you” (97).

Now consider the closing of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach:

I lie on the sand.
The clamshells are hard
against my back. I am no longer
cold. I am so light I could just
drift away. Close, very close, a b’gwus howls–
not quite human, not quite wolf,
but something in between.

The howl echoes off the mountains.
In the distance,
I hear the sound of a speedboat. (374)

Note the absent line breaks from Kroetsch’s “[hornbook #73],” whereas we’ve added line breaks to what was, originally, a single paragraph in Robinson’s novel. And yet, the passage from Monkey Beach seems, or feels, to read more ‘poetically’ than Kroetsch’s, whose line(s) behave like a straightforward statement or piece of dialogue. The telling poem and the novel’s imagistic end reveal the folly of commonly held beliefs about the differences between prose and poetry: that poetry is inaccessible (thanks, modernists!) and that novels are expected to deliver plot and therefore closure. Monkey Beach gives us the opposite of both: accessible concrete images and total uncertainty regarding Lisa’s fate. Hornbooks gives us a self-evident fact, a description with built-in implied plot and closure, for what more can be told on the topic?

A piece in antilang. no. 2 that brilliantly befuddles these typical expectations of genres is Melinda Jane – The Poet Mj’s “Kit” (pg. 25). While ‘clearly’ a poem at first glance, we lovingly call it a micro-novel written in verse. Not only is it broken into chapters rather than numbered or titled sections, “Kit” is a long (relative to our mandate) narrative that features all the staples of a novel: multiple characters and settings, prosaic descriptions, (indirect) dialogue, and, that slipperiest of all fiction ‘requirements,’ plot. How could the short lines full of imagery belong to a novel? How could they not?

3, (antilang. no.) 2, (soundbite vol.) 1, LAUNCH!

We promised you more good. short. writing., and we hope you enjoy!

Check out our latest issue of antilang. and our inaugural issue of soundbite

Thanks for all your support, and lots of love from the ALP team!

(and don’t worry, you can still read antilang. no. 1 in our archive)

On Putting Together Issue 2

If you’ve followed us since Issue 1, then you know that our inaugural issue was solicitation-only, and that we used that model to put established authors beside emerging writers. You already know we like work that b(l)ends genres and operates on multiple levels, according to varying types of readers. And putting together the first issue was relatively easy–we already knew so many amazing writers that we wanted to feature together.

So, what about issue 2? For the second issue (coming this September!) we opened for submissions from all over the world. We received some repeat submitters who appeared in Issue 1 (spoiler alert–they are also in issue 2), but this upcoming issue is not a repeat of what we’ve already done. We considered every submission and accepted it purely on the merit of the work, though as we did so, we made sure to push ourselves and our understandings of ‘merit.’ We read cover letters and when we were unsure of a piece, we considered it in light of what the cover letter said the piece was doing and the positionality of the author. This is important, because we are editors, but that does not mean we are infallible. We are also white and in a heterosexual relationship, and regardless of how much we strive to be allies, we are not subject to the same forms of oppression and marginalisation as many of the writers who submitted work to us are. We read your pieces, and we grew. And the magazine has also grown to encompass and support these voices.

If you have submitted work to us, then you know our policy is to help edit pieces–most of the work in our issues has received edits (though some comes to us in its best form). And in doing this editing, we opened our dialogue with our submitters. At times, we would suggest a change to be made (usually a line to be cut, because we are about concision), and the submitter would correct us, would point out the importance of including that line, even if it was, technically, a redundancy. Because although we (being university-educated as readers) could ascertain the message of a piece, the inclusion of that line opens the piece to people not as well-trained in reading. Thank you. To all our submitters who expressed concern that their pieces would not have the same, or as broad, resonance if they followed our edits, thank you. You have helped us become better editors, and we are grateful that you entrusted your work to us and had the courage to correct us. And we are so happy that so many writers–including those who corrected us–agreed with our edits. We believe every piece in Issue 2 is as strong as it can be, and that is what we strive for. Good. Short. Writing.

So, now that it’s edited, how do we put it together? Well, we start with a huge list of our submitters and their pieces on an excel spreadsheet. Then Allie writes it out by hand because she doesn’t understand technology and she highlights the names according to prose vs verse (ish–there are genre blurring pieces, so this is done by feel). We agree on a piece to start the issue–the tone we want to set. And from there we find the thematically linked pieces. For issue 2 this means the (loosely) place-based pieces. We start making lists of names with arrows to indicate different groupings of themes and which pieces flow together best and rearrange so that each grouping leads into the next intuitively. This process involves a lot of back and forth of names and titles and general confusion between the hand-written order and the master copy Jordan compiles on the computer. We found three main themes for this up coming issue: place, deconstruction of form, and intersectional feminism, with five ‘random’ pieces to round out the issue (there is a similarity to the ‘randomness,’ but we haven’t come up with the right adjective for it).

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Keep an eye open for our upcoming previews, because we’re going to start launching Issue 2 previews in the next few days!

The Acrobatics of Bureaucracy

Hello! If you follow our Instagram page then you might’ve heard that we’ve been working on figuring out how to acquire money so we can pay our contributors (woohoo!). Seems like a simple goal, right? Set up a bank account, be available to receive donations, apply for grants—then use this money to first pay contributors (the ones who took a chance on us for issue no. 1 and the contributors going forward) and second to cover printing costs and other expenses associated with running the magazine. But turns out, that’s the problem: we anticipate running a deficit (or, best case scenario, breaking even). Once money is involved, the systems in our Western world are all geared toward people who want to make money, not people who want to use money to facilitate sharing art. We digress…

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We spent several hours researching how to incorporate as a non-profit, and the implications of doing so, which included being on the phone with: two branches of the CRA, the federal government that deals with the incorporation of all companies, the bank, CCA, AFA, and SAB. As you can imagine, each of these phone calls involved being on-hold for a tremendous amount of time. Suffice it to say, it was a long week.

But, it was not for naught… we are officially registered with the federal government as a non-profit corporation and we have our own bank account (which is currently empty, but will hopefully accumulate some funds for paying our authors)!

So, why did we bother going through all this effort? Two reasons: 1) (as you can guess) we believe in paying artists for their work and want to back this belief with money, and 2) we’re hemorrhaging money on this endeavour, and we want to stay afloat (even though incorporating was another expense, it enables us to receive donations as a legitimate publisher instead of as two cool people doing a thing). And we’re really going to need donations, because we have to exists as a corporation for at least a year (among other expectations) before we can qualify for most provincial funding (but don’t fret—we’ll start shamelessly begging for help soon).

Thanks to everyone who has supported us this far (from sending us your submissions, to joining us at our launches, to sharing/ liking our social media posts)—you all rock, and we couldn’t have made it to this milestone without you!

On Genre (Stories Can Be Good Short Writing Too)

It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well.

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

-Margaret Atwood

Pointed, political, immediately recognizable.

The Sweetest Little Song

You go your way
I’ll go your way too

-Leonard Cohen

Less well known, but beautiful in both its simplicity and its message.

All haiku
Are good short writing
Aren’t they?

-me right now

The genre of poetry seems inherently ideal for good short writing: haiku, sonnets, epigrams, rondeaus — they all beg to be brief and, considering they’ve been around for centuries, they’d better be good!

It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well. So, in hopes of remedying this generic imbalance, let’s unpack an extremely pithy piece of fiction.

Whenever I’m teaching undergrads a text, no matter what length, I always get them to ask the same three questions. What does it say? What does it mean? And what does it do? And when you combine these questions and move through them cyclically you get what we call close reading.

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The piece I’m going to unpack is the “baby shoes” flash fiction often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The are several stories behind the story, as is often the case, but the one I’ve heard is that Hemingway and some buddies were at a bar chatting about writing. One thing led to another and they decided to have a contest to see who could write the shortest short story. Hemingway obviously won because he’s Ernest Fricken Hemingway. His story was only six words long and has become a literary legend: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ugh, gets me every time! Six words and I’m like “nope, I’m tapped out!” So let’s take a look at what’s going on in this piece.

First, what does it say? Well, it says there are some baby shoes for sale and that they’ve never been worn. Phew, one down, two to go! What does it mean? It means the baby doesn’t need the shoes… so the baby probably died. What does it do? It punches you right in the feels. Why? And this is where we wonder. This is where we’re curios. And so, this is when we go back to “what does it mean?” and read a little more closely.

“For sale: baby shoes never worn.” It’s definitely in the last two words that you get the emotion, the weight of the implications, the subtext of the dead infant. But what do the other words mean? What do shoes do rather than clothes? Clothes could be for any baby at any stage while shoes are something you buy in a specific size and in anticipation of a specific action: walking. Were it baby clothes for sale the child might have been stillborn. Shoes suggest that the baby was born, that it was alive, and that it died before being able to walk.

The difference is the implied loss of potential life vs the implied loss of an infant; a life stolen away just before it could start acting on its own. And what about the opening words? The shoes are for sale, the parents or guardians did not give them to a friend or to someone in need, because they themselves are in need. They can’t afford to be charitable, they need the money from the shoes even though the child who was supposed to wear them died quite recently.

So now back to the third question: what does the story do? It hits us where it hurts. Why? Because it draws on what a lot of people would call universal themes, like existential dread and the fear of losing a child. “Think of the children” is a common cliché and rhetorical tactic; you can’t help but think of Helen Lovejoy on The Simpsons: “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

But what does this do? Asking the question again and again is how you get to the social implications of the text, how you connect media to culture. There are tons of different avenues you can pursue here, and some will be more productive than others, but let’s just talk through one as an example.

American literary critic Lee Edelman unpacks the “think of the children” trope in his chapter “The Future is Kid’s Stuff” from his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Edelman argues that all politics are heteronormative because, whether you’re conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, all policy is made with the future generation in mind and therefore privileges straight reproductive people.

Following Edelman’s theories, you could argue that the baby shoes story reinforces heteronormative politics by appealing to the public’s emotion through the “think of the children” cliché. Alternatively, you could argue that the story’s casual tone and classified ad format expresses a disregard for the child, both the literal one who died and the figure of the child in the cliché, and that the story is actually about money and the struggles of the lower class caused by the expectation that families will have children. Both readings are viable and largely depend on whether you read the story as impassioning or as detached.

The final question that I always ask is “So what?” After you’ve argued what something says, what it means, what it does, and what that function does, take a step back and think about the implications and consequences of your own readings and interpretations. The baby shoes story either reinforces or challenges heteronormative family structures and “think of the children” rhetoric. So what?

So, you have to decide your position on what the story does (and there are a lot more than these two options or this one topic) and you have to ask why you read it as doing that. Then ask “so what?” again. How does your position on this issue, which stems from your reading of a six word story, affect the way you think about politics, about health care, about the economy, about society’s expectations concerning sexuality and family?

This is what we call close reading. And as we all know, reading occurs after writing, so while you can’t anticipate every reading, you can see what might be done with six simple words. We hope this energizes your good short prose writing and that you send it our way!

Happy Mothers’ Day!

We want to wish all the moms (and pet mommas) out there a very happy mothers’ day, and we especially want to recognise our antilang. moms! Both our moms (Kathy and Lori) encouraged us as we talked about this project around dinner tables, offered suggestions and opinions on fonts and logo design, and were among our first readers. Our moms live in different cities, which worked out for our double launch this spring, as Kathy came to the Calgary launch and Lori came to our Saskatoon readings. And since our launch, our moms have been shamelessly promoting us via sharing all our posts on Fb and talking us up to their friends.

We can never say it enough: Thank you, Mom(s)! You rock!
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If you know us, you’ll be able to tell which mom is whose!

On Cover Letters & Bios

Hello! As you know, antilang. is now open for submissions for issue 2. And, if you’ve clicked our submittable button, you’ll see that there’s a section for leaving a cover letter. But what does a cover letter for a literary magazine entail? If you’re just starting to send out your work, the cover letter and bio can be the worst part of submitting. Thoughts of “but I’m not that interesting,” “now they’ll know I’m an amateur,” and “I just like writing” leap into your mind, and leave you staring at a blank screen until you panic and abandon the whole endeavour. Right?

But we want to see your work! So we’ve created a helpful guide to get you started on your cover letter and bio.

  1. Don’t stress over the cover letter! We care about your work first.
  2. Begin your cover letter like you would a paper letter: a block in the top left corner with your name and contact info (mailing address, email address), then date and address the letter (“To the Editors” works for a generic letter, but you can personalise it with “To Allie & Jordan”)
  3. Begin with “Please consider my [word/page-count] story, [“title”]” OR “Please consider my poems [“title”], [“title”], [“title”]” OR “Please consider my short work of mixed genre, [“title”]” (you get the point–be polite, and identify your work).
  4. Follow this up with a quick explanation (about one-sentence) of how your piece is a good fit for us (this is not mandatory, but we hear other publishers like this, and it’s good practice indicate how your work fits with what a magazine likes to publish–it demonstrates that you have read the magazine)
  5. Bio (belongs in a separate paragraph and should be fittingly concise (~30 words). Clearly label it as your bio by starting: “Bio: [your bio here]”. Most bios include: your name; what you’re studying (if still in school); if you have any previous publications, then list the magazine names; any completed degrees. As we encourage anyone who feels comfortable to disclose any intersectional/minority identities, then you can include this alongside your name. Your bio can also contain your preferred genre of writing. Alternatively, we love clever anti-bios (example: “Allie pretends to write poetry” OR “Jordan studies the intersection of the housing market and avocado imports”). Check out the end of antilang. no. 1 to see a range of bios!
  6. End with “Thank you for your consideration, [your name]”

Now that you know how to do a cover letter, you’ll send us your work, right?

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(Fun fact: this anti-bio appeared in a chapbook of collected poetry by the advanced poetry class at the UofC in 2015)

On Juvenilia: A Decade of Short Writing

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Sooo deep… and look at that font!

Clearly I had yet to become a fan of Tolkien, but what strikes me is that a decade prior to co-founding a magazine of literary brevity I had already rallied to concision.

Just over a decade ago, a creative, ambitious, and “super deep” adolescent named Jordan Bolay self-published a book of poetry titled Once Upon a Mind. It’s about as abstract, angsty, and melodramatically poetic as the title suggests (complete with randomly capitalized nouns onto which I was trying to impose deeper meaning, a rejection of sensible punctuation, and a proto-hipster refusal to capitalize the pronoun “I”). I’d all but forgotten about the book until recently, when some friends busted out their copy at a house party, showed it to my partner, and had her read from it as they recorded a video, which they promptly sent to me so that I might experience the spectacle despite being in another province at the time.

A few weeks later I came across it again, this time in the archives of my hometown’s newspaper, which had written an article promoting the book’s launch (I won’t bore you with the odd chain of events and happenstance that lead to this rediscovery). It’s through this article that I realized I had just missed the publication’s 10th anniversary and that the date nearly coincided with antilang.’s inaugural issue launch. More to my delight, I read that when asked why I chose poetry as my medium, I had responded: “You write simply with a small amount of really powerful descriptive words. My favourite thing about poetry is you create a lot of imagery without writing 20 pages.”

Clearly I had yet to become a fan of Tolkien, but what strikes me is that a decade prior to co-founding a magazine of literary brevity I had already rallied to concision. Perhaps not to good writing, but to short writing. I was two-thirds of the way there, and while it took me a decade to find good short writing in others, I’m still not sure I’ve made it the last third of the way myself (I have, for instance, yet to publish another book, save in the role as co-editor of antilang.).

I leave you now, in an act of ultimate bravery (or perhaps just incurable folly), with a piece of juvenilia from Once Upon a Mind (I notice now that this short poem is very Kroetschian, another delightful surprise as Kroetsch is one of the subjects of my ongoing dissertation research):

As i wrote

As i wrote
more and more
i came to realize
two things
Firstly
that a lot of my poems
can hardly be
considered poetry
And secondly
that i like them
a lot better that way

You know you wanna click that button!

Do you love to click buttons? Of course you do, it’s half the reason any of us are on the internet! Well, we’ve got a fancy new button for you to click on our submission guidelines page, which will lead you to our Submittable page where you can click a plethora of new buttons.

And while you’re there, you might as well submit a piece of good short writing to be considered for issue no. 2. Oh yeah, did we forget to mention we’re now accepting general submissions for our next issue!? Click the links above or the button below, brush up on our guidelines (they’re newly revised) and send us your best in brevity.

We can’t wait to read your wonderful writing!

submit

No. 1 Lives Online!

Who says no one lives online? antilang. no. 1 lives online!

Our inaugural issue is live, and best of all it’s free! Read it, share it, tell us what you think about, and stay tuned as we get ready to open for general submissions for no. 2.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this publication possible! We hope you enjoy this beautiful magazine that we have all created together.

alpfix