canthius: an interview with Claire Farley

this interview was conducted over email from February to March 2016

Claire Farley lives and works in Ottawa where she is a writer for the NDP and co-editor of Canthius, a feminist literary journal. Her poetry has been published in some mark made, The Apeiron Review, The Minetta Review, ottawater, The Peter F. Yacht Club, (parenthetical), and by above/ground press.

Canthius is a new Canadian literary journal publishing poetry and short fiction by women and queer-identified writers, the first issue of which appeared in the fall of 2015. Published bi-annually out of Ottawa and Toronto, Canthius is (for now) a print-only journal, but you can find articles about literature and feminism, interviews with contributors, and other banter on their blog.

Q: How did canthius begin?

A: Cira Nickel and I had just finished a Master’s program in English at Ryerson and I think we were both really missing the default community that comes with a small program like that. Discussing literature with each other had been our full-time job for the past year and, as I’m sure you can imagine, it was really hard to make the transition to office life (to the “real world” as people kept saying). We were having wine with some friends in Toronto and I suggested that we quit complaining and start a project together – to keep ourselves busy, to stay connected with each other, to help us build or integrate into a community of like-minded people outside the confines of a classroom. I think it’s hard for people who are involved in the literary arts academically to transition into a community outside the university, at least this has been daunting for me. We had both worked as editorial assistants for various journals (lit and otherwise) so we thought, why not!

A few glasses of wine later, we decided that we wanted to publish women writers in particular. We thought that it would be meaningful to us to explore our feminism through a project like this at this point in our lives, and it really has been. We also knew that this would include gender queer writers – the point for us was both to just have an outlet to do what we liked (engage with writing with a feminist bent) and to challenge ourselves to broaden these interests by connecting with writers who we think are often overlooked by mainstream publishers. That second part has been a challenge, but a welcome one that keeps us interested in this project because we’re always learning better ways to do this.

After a few more glasses of wine, we had a name (actually a mis-spelling of canthus as a result of the vat of wine I’d consumed).

And in the morning, we were still really into the idea. So we got to work.

Q: What did you see as the first tasks?

A: Well, the first big task was to generate interest in submissions. We set up a super basic website and starting tweeting to say “hey, we’re doing this, wanna join in?” We also reached out to a few women writers that we knew—Julie Morrissy, Sharon Thesen, Sonia Di Placido—to invite them participate. They were all really helpful in getting the word out. Another thing we got right to was writing and posting blog posts to the website. We knew that we wanted the journal to be print-only because making a beautiful, tangible object is half the fun, but we needed web content to share to get people interested in the project.

Q: How do you decide which to put in the journal and which to put online? Is the journal the focus, with the online content remaining supplemental?

A: The print journal is absolutely the focus. We only very recently started putting work from the journal itself online. Though, I’d say that the content on our blog can be considered supplemental to the print journal. We’ve posted interviews with contributors, and tend to use it as a forum to discuss anything related to feminism and the literary arts. With time the online and offline pieces will hopefully be in more conversation with one another then they currently are, but for the moment our efforts are definitely concentrated on the print journal.

Q: Do you see the space of the journal as a way for you to engage with particular conversations around feminism and poetry, or as a way to engage with particular conversations you feel might be lacking in feminism and poetry? Or both?

A: Hm, I think that it’s more about engaging in conversations that are missing from public literary space in general. We think that intersectional feminism is a really good starting point for talking about representational justice in the literary arts more broadly. There will always be arguments for and against creating separate spaces for women writers (and transgender and genderqueer writers) but I still think that dedicating a space to voices that are traditionally marginalised in public literary spaces (print journals, readings) is positive and productive because it not only gives those voices public space to be heard but also to interact with one another.

What I find so interesting about the feminist poets that I love – Lisa Robertson, Rita Wong, NourbeSe Philip, Erin Mouré, Sina Queyras, etc. – is that their work is about so much more than what would traditionally be considered “feminism” or “women’s issues.” This is something that Cira and I are both looking for when we read submissions, a diversity of ideas and approaches to what can be considered “feminist” writing. I think its good to expand the mandate of feminism in meaningful way (like intersectionality has done) especially when the term is being so diluted by pop culture. I wouldn’t say that this conversation is missing in feminist poetry circles (Room does an amazing job of connecting this with literature too, of course) but if we can participate in the conversation in a positive and honest way, then all the better.

Q: I know you’re still in the early days of the journal – putting together the second issue as we speak, for example – but how effectively do you feel you’ve been accomplishing your initial goals? What do you feel the journal might still be lacking, if anything? How do you see the journal evolving?

A: Our first issue was seriously lacking in diversity. When Cira and I watched a video from our launch in Toronto we were a little shocked at how white-washed the room was. By talking to women of colour in the poetry community, I think that we’re doing a bit better for our second issue but this will always be an aspect of the journal where Cira and I, as two cis white women, will be lacking and will need to reach out and listen to improve.

We also have a $3.50 fee for submissions, which we’d like to do away with as soon as possible. We want to publish a beautiful book that our contributors can be proud to be a part of, but unfortunately this is expensive and we pay for it all out of pocket. Our goal is to a) get rid of the submission fee and b) pay contributors as soon as we can.

Q: Have you funding options at all for the journal, or do you see the journal fueled predominantly through sales, launches and out-of-pocket? I know you’ve participated in a couple of small press fairs in Toronto and Ottawa, and launched the first issue in Toronto as well. How, otherwise, are you attempting to distribute the journal?

A: Funding is definitely something we’re going to pursue. For most grants, it seems that you need two published issues to apply and we’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as the second issue is printed. We have a few great stockists in Ottawa and Toronto (Victoire, Goods Shop, The Likely General) but we haven’t had any luck getting the magazine into small bookstores, all of our inquiry letters unfortunately went unanswered. Maybe we’ll have more luck once we have more than one issue to show for ourselves. We did sell through our first print run, though. Most of our sales were at the small press fairs and online. We’re also offering subscriptions for both 2016 issues on our website to help us get ahead of the production costs for these issues.

Q: Good to know you’ve already run through a printing! How many copies did you produce of the first issue? What kind of response have you had to the journal so far?

A: We printed 250 copies, about 50 of which went at our launch in Toronto. We’re excited to see if people who bought the first issue out of curiosity, or to support Cira and I, will have enjoyed it enough to buy a second! I think that the response to the journal has been mostly positive. We were warmly welcomed to the lit mag community by editors of Room and Arc, which meant a lot to us. It’s also been nice to see friends who are interested in feminist issues buy a magazine featuring primarily poetry and engage with it closely. And, I think that featuring Winnie Truong’s work on the cover was interesting to a lot of people. But, we have also received some criticism. I understand that some find a project that divides along gender lines problematic – we know that not everyone wishes to identify this way. We respect that perspective but we still think that the project is worthwhile and has been meaningful to us and others. We have also been criticized for not paying writers for their work and we couldn’t agree more with that one – we’re working on it!

Q: What can we look forward to for the second issue, and when is it scheduled to release? Are you planning any launches around it?

A: Our second issue should be ready by late-April, maybe early-May, and I think it’s gonna be great! It will feature an excerpt from a new long-form work by Sandra Ridley; From the Root editor Whitney French has contributed a cyborg-themed piece; and, I’m especially excited that Chuqiao Yang has new work in the issue too. Oh! And we’ll also be including photos of Toronto-based artist Mary Grisey’s newest installation piece. Mary’s work really set the tone for the poetry and fiction in this issue­ – it’s very organic and very beautiful.

We’ll be hosting a launch in Ottawa this time, probably at Grey Area gallery on Parkdale. We launched the first issue in Toronto and so not many Ottawa folk were there to celebrate. It’ll be a grand ‘ol time – please join us!

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