On Blind Review: Or, The Problem of Pretend Objectivity

Anyone who submits to lit mags should be familiar with the term ‘blind review.’ This is usually accompanied with directions to remove your name and identifying info from all pages of your submission, except for the cover letter (which should be in a separate document). This way only the editor that receives the incoming submissions has access to the names/identities associated with the submitted pieces (and, ideally, the mag has a high volume of submissions, so the editor that does see names couldn’t possibly be bothered to remember them anyway). That editor then sends the works along to section editors/readers and they are reviewed without bias toward gender, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other label or minority identifier that someone could judge the author for.

In a perfect world, that’s all well and good, and certainly the intent behind blind review has its merits, but in practice, this allows terrible people to be published. You might think, “But, if their work is good, doesn’t it deserve publication?” To which we cite Kate Leth:

We think this says it all, but to clarify, in every artistic community there are abusers who get away with having a platform for their work because of the fallacy of ‘artistic merit.’ (No need to name them here, but we’re sure we can all name a few actors or musicians who fit this description). The world of Can Lit and writing globally is not immune. We believe in encouraging emerging writers, and so we also believe that these writers have the potential to become even better than the so-called greats who get published despite their personal failings and the harm they cause their communities. Obviously, we strive to publish good writing, but we do so without allowing shitty people into our community.

So no, we don’t blind review. We leave names and bios on our submissions so that we (and our guest editors) can see who wrote the work submitted. How does this impact our review process? Well, we have some people we will always reject because we know, through whisper networks, that they have abused their positions of power, exploited and crutched on their ‘renown,’ or made people of certain groups feel uncomfortable (at best) and caused serious mental/physical harm (at worst). This doesn’t mean you have to hold the exact same values as us to get published in antilang. or soundbite, but it does mean that you have to genuinely believe all humans are deserving of human rights, respect, and dignity. That seems like a low bar, but apparently it’s not. We also extend this beyond social justice concerns to encompass issues specific to lit mags, for example, plagiarism. If someone has plagiarised in the past, we don’t accept their work, even if it is an original piece. Yes, people can change, but we don’t have to forgive and forget.

But how do we know if someone is a shitty person? To be honest, we can usually tell from the cover letter or the piece itself, but we also do a quick google search of our short listed submitters. Does this mean you spend more time researching submitters than on reviewing their work (AKA, on your job)? No, because most of our submitters are amazing people! We can tell from their cover letters, their bios, their pieces, that they care about people! Many of our submitters mention their activist work in their letter and treat all their characters with dignity (even if they are not great people in the text—there is a quality about the writing that shows its a comment on an individual, not an entire group of people). And we love this—we love that our submitters (at least, the overwhelming majority) are compassionate and considerate.

antilang. Preview: Tasnuva Hayden’s “Low Tide”

Tasnuva Hayden is an emerging Canadian writer of Bengali descent, residing in Calgary, Alberta. She studied creative writing, linguistics, and engineering at the University of Calgary. Her creative writing has appeared in NōD Magazine, J’aipur Journal, chapbooks, and anthologies. She is also the Fiction Editor at filling Station—Canada’s experimental literary magazine.

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Lose yourself in the ethereal images in Tasnuva’s story, continued here (pages 59-61).

antilang. Preview: Emma Tilley’s “The Cysterhood”

Emma Tilley has a BA in Creative Writing from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. Her debut chapbook will be published by Rahlia’s Ghost Press in 2019. She has this epistolary story and a flash fiction in antilang. no. 3.

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We have a confession– this piece made our editors cry the first time we read it. So, find some tissues and continue reading it here (pages 45-47)

antilang. Preview: Kitty Hardy’s “Elope”

Kitty Hardy writes from the solitude of Alberta’s boreal forest. This is her first fiction publication, though her poems have appeared in NōD Magazine and From the Other Side. Kitty also runs the fabulous Kitty’s Bohemian Boutique, an online store for upcycled clothing and accessories (check it out– there’s free shipping on now!)

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If you’re in the mood for an upcycled fairy tale, then find the full story here (pages 55-58)!

New Work from 32 Contributors!

We’re so excited to launch our latest issues of antilang. and soundbite! Check out some amazing short work from established and emerging writers across Canada and beyond.

Read antilang. no. 3 and listen to soundbite vol. 2 and tell us what you think!

antilang. Preview: Lisa Baird’s “When I think of him now”

Lisa Baird’s pointedly pithy poem is our final antilang. preview, meaning no. 3 is just around the corner! “When I think of him now” is the first of Lisa’s three poems in the issue.baird previewLisa Baird is a poet & a queer white settler living on Attawandaron/Mississaugas of the New Credit territory (Guelph, ON). She’d rather write poems than bios. www.lisabaird.ca.

Contest Winner: Erin Vance’s “Twelve Weeks and the Virgin Mary Cries for Me”

I have a champagne flute in my hand. The bubbles have gone flat. The liquid is warm. I scan the modest crowd for my date. He is handsome but I don’t love him. I wear a gold dress like the Goddess Brigid.

Sláinte! A man smacks his pint of Beamish into my champagne flute as he grins at me and then rushes past. Most of the drink spills onto my dress.

Cliona! Finish your drink and come dance with me! Clare rushes over and kisses my cheek. I pour what is left of the champagne into my mouth and grin, my cheeks puffed out. Clare laughs and tugs me towards the dance floor. It’s so great to see you out, Clio! It’s been what, two, three months? I thought you’d followed Beck to Canada!

Twelve weeks and seven days. Tomorrow it will be thirteen weeks. I haven’t seen Clare for around ten. Beck left eight weeks ago.

I’ve been really busy with classes is all! Clare laughs, stumbling backwards into a man with long hair gathered into a bun. He turns around and smiles, grabbing her around the waist. She keeps facing me while they dance together.

And it looks like someone’s in the honeymoon phase with a new man!

What’s his name? Darren?

Brendan, actually.

He’s cute.

We’ve only been on one date, it’s nothing serious.

Whoever helps you get over Beck is A+ in my books, Clio! She winks, and swivels to grab the man by the cheeks and kiss him hard on the mouth. He looks surprised when she pulls away and she throws her head so far back that she can wink at me. Clare dissolves into giggles.

I’ve got to go to the toilet. See you later, Clare. Stay safe, okay?

The toilet is quiet. It smells of vomit but at least its quiet. I check my phone. The only message is from my mum. Happy New Years, sweetheart! Play safe! I open Instagram. A little red circle tells me @BecktheWreck has posted a new story. I debate whether to click on it, knowing he’ll be able to see that I’ve viewed it. He unfollowed me when he went home to Toronto. I scroll through posts of friends and family celebrating the New Year. Glittery dresses, champagne flutes, kissing couples, my best friend Asha posing with her cat for a New Years kiss. I click on Beck’s Instagram story. He is smoking a joint in his bedroom with a redheaded girl. She smiles at him. I used to smile at him like that, I think. Back in TO where I can ring in the New Year with 5 ounces of premium legal Mary Jane! He laughs and adjusts the camera. This is Mary Jane! The girl laughs. It’s Catherine, you dummy! I watch the video four times. I pause it when Beck’s smile is wide. I cry in the bathroom at 11:05pm on New Years Eve.

My phone beeps. An email reminding me of my appointment at Reproductive Choices Clinic in the morning. I know they will probably turn me away. I know I should have let someone who can actually qualify take the appointment. But, just like I know I should tell Beck about the baby, I ignore it and hang my head between my legs.

-X-

I wake up and Brendan is open-mouthed, snoring next to me. I roll over and scroll through Instagram, stopping on a photo of Beck and the redhead, kissing while confetti falls around them. It’s captioned Third NYE with the love of my life. So happy we found our way back to each other in 2018. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2019. #blessed #couplegoals I want to comment on it. More than that I want to message him and tell him how angry I am. My appointment is in an hour on the other side of Dublin, though. I tell Brendan he can let himself out and eat whatever’s in the fridge. He grunts and rolls over.

I hold my wool coat close around me and lean into the wind. I pass St. Brigid’s Primary School. I stop at a stained glass window depicting the Saint.

Please. I whisper, before carrying on towards The Liffey.

At a newsagent by Beckett Bridge, papers have Abortion Legal Today! Splashed across the cover.

-X-

Quite frankly, Ms. Boyle, I am shocked that you would book an appointment for an abortion, knowing you would not be eligible, therefore taking this time away from a deserving woman who is eligible. I know this is upsetting but there is nothing we can do. I can direct you to Marie Stopes in the United Kingdom if you’d like. I know it isn’t ideal but you would have ten more weeks to make the trip and get the funds together. Perhaps the father can help out with the cost?

The nurse hands me a pamphlet and I leave the clinic. I cry and I think about all of the statues of the Virgin Mary weeping. She was probably weeping because she couldn’t get an abortion, either. Protesters flock me as I leave the clinic. Do you really want to start the New Year with murder, ma’am? A few women with signs chant Reinstate the Eighth!

I spit at the stained glass image of Brigid as I walk past the primary school. A little girl playing in the playground runs over to me.

You can’t spit at things! That’s not allowed! The girl is six or seven years old. I wonder if her parents wanted her. As I walk back to my flat I wonder about every child and parent I see. I wonder how many children were actually wanted. I wonder how many women chose to be mothers. I stop at a Macdonald’s and order a large fries. I open Instagram.

My girlfriends are posting about the first day of abortion access.

#WeLegalizedIt #ProChoice.

Beck is posting about the dispensary in his neighbourhood.

#WeLegalizedIt #ProCannabis.

My cousins are posting photos of their kids asleep before midnight on New Years Eve.

Clare is posting photos from the party the night before. In one I am clutching my stomach and grimacing at the camera.

I click on the messages tab.

Hey, Beck. It’s been awhile. Text me when you can. 00353 1 830 0700. C. I don’t expect him to message me back, but I need the money to cross the border and get the abortion. He bought the condoms, after all.

As I finish my fries and lick the salt from my fingers I wonder about the redhead. I wonder if she’s ever been pregnant. I Google “abortion in Canada.” No legal restrictions on abortion at any stage. Outside, a group of girls with pink pussy hats hold up signs that say We did it! In big letters above a photo of Savita Halappanavar. In October I saw on Instagram a photo that Beck’s best friend posted of the two of them outside of a dispensary in Toronto, holding little baggies of weed. It was captioned We did it!

I wonder if there is anything wrong with the fetus that could warrant an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder what the chances are of a medical emergency that would warrant an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder if the herb mix I saw for sale online could actually induce a miscarriage after twelve weeks. I wonder if Beck will message me back. I wonder if I’ll be able to tell him. I haven’t told him in any of the twelve weeks I’ve known. I wonder if the Virgin Mary wept because she could not get an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder if God is laughing at me, spitting on St. Brigid, comparing myself to the Virgin Mary, and just a week shy of being able to get an abortion in Dublin. I wonder if God is laughing at my bank balance and the extra 800-euro I need to make in order to go to England to get an abortion after twelve weeks.

I throw up in the MacDonald’s bathroom.

Why Write?

Turn on any news program or open any social media app and the world comes in. And you realise, that right now, the world is ugly. Fascism dominates, and with it all the ugly -isms and -phobias that generate and feed on hate. When people aren’t killing or hurting each other, they’re destroying the planet. When you see all this, hopelessness becomes inevitable. The words “thoughts and prayers” ring too hollow and you don’t know what to do, what you could do, to make a difference. You aren’t a politician, you aren’t a scientist, and words feel too feeble. Why write?

At the ALP, we’ve been quiet as these tragedies continue. We’ve been hurting. And we’ve been asking ourselves: why write? Why dedicate our lives to writing?

We have two answers: beauty and empathy. We write to create something beautiful in an ugly world. To remind ourselves and others that beauty does exist. And that taking the time to notice beauty and to appreciate it enough to write it is important. This takes us back, to a time before, when we didn’t see the ugly in the world. Who didn’t start writing poetry out of love? You fall in love, that first time you have a crush on someone, so young, and you can’t help but write it. And maybe those first love poems weren’t the best poems, but they tried to capture something beautiful. So, why write? To get back to that.

But what if you didn’t start with love poems? What if you saw the ugly in the world and started writing your anger? Who didn’t, as they wrote love poems, not also write angsty poems about injustice? Even if that injustice was only your parents disallowing you to be with the one you loved, it was still felt, deep enough to write. And this brings us to empathy, because sometimes you can’t write only beauty. Sometimes you must write anger and hurt. Why? Why write? Because you feel a pain so acute that you must communicate it. In this communication we find community–other people with the same pain or other people wanting the same change. That’s what writing does: communicates.

We can’t understand the suffering of other people or the planet. Those hurts are too big. So we put it in writing. We use our craft to create characters, worlds, and we invite readers to know these people, to start to know each other. We begin to recognise others and ourselves, and we start to understand how to support each other.

So, while our mission at the ALP is to curate good. short. writing., what we mean by this is that we want to bring people together. We believe that through writing we can remember to notice beauty. And we can connect to each other, regardless of our backgrounds, to create a community of writers and readers, aware of our differences, and supportive, nonetheless.

All the speeches and rhetoric used for destruction can be turned around. We can use story and poetry and memory, delivered through well-chosen words to understand each other and to create something better.

Why write? Because it gives us hope.

Introducing our New Art Director!

Hello, we know we’ve been a bit quiet since our launch and opening for submissions, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t hard at work behind the scenes. It’s time to share with you something we’ve had in the works for a little while: we now have an Art Director!

Lissa McFarland has been involved with The ALP since it’s inception–starting with designing our first logo and the cover for antilang. no. 1. But she’s not just a visual artist–you can read her creative non-fiction prose poetry in antilang. no. 2 (pages 64-7) and listen to her read poetry in soundbite vol. 1 (9:02-10:16).

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As Art Director, Lissa will be taking over our Instagram account (and if you follow her personal or artist pages, then you know her comments are amazing). In addition to this, she will be on the hunt for a Canadian artist for the cover of antilang. no. 3 and involved with layouts and designs for both publications as necessary. She might even write us a blog post or two about how she sees visual art fitting into our mandate of good. short. writing.

A proud member of Calgary’s queer community, Lissa will also be involved in helping us become better editors for submissions that deal with subject positions we do not have access to. We have always striven to be inclusive and to help facilitate a safe space for our contributors, but we know that sometimes when we recommend cutting a phrase or switching a word, those edits could have the effect of lessening the voices we want to give space to. In the past, our contributors have been understanding with us and have explained why certain edits are not productive for their pieces. We hope that by working with Lissa, we can become better so that our contributors don’t have to put themselves in positions they might find uncomfortable (we can’t ignore power dynamics, even though we are trying to eliminate them).

antilang. Preview: Anastasia Jill’s “Kick it”

We’re coming at you with another preview with just 2 days until our antilang. launch!

Anastasia Jill (Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the southern United States. She is a current editor for the Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, Ambit Magazine, apt, Into the Void Magazine, 2River, and more.

Read her poem “Kick it” here and be sure to check out soundbite for more of her work (also launching September 5th)!

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