Office Chatter: Fall/Winter edition

Since Catherine has abandoned her post (the funding for her position expired), office chatter hasn’t been the same. I don’t know if Maddy just has poorer spying skills than Catherine, or if we just suddenly stopped being interesting when both Catherine and Sandra left, but it’s taken us longer than usual to compile enough silly quips to post.

And so,  I present to you the October/November/December edition of Office Chatter, starring a slightly different cast of characters, including Dylan, our newest Volunteer Extraordinaire, and Brent, our Board Treasurer. The good news is that Catherine plans to return to the office (as Volunteer Extraordinaire) in the near future, at which point I’m sure we’ll become wildly entertaining.

With Context

Dylan, entering contact information into our submissions database: “RR#2… I guess she lives on the robot side of town. ”

Kim, trying to hang art on the wall: “Where oh where is that literary award statue that I sometimes use to drive a nail?”

No Context Needed

Melissa: “Great, now my eye balls are sweating.”

Symon: “In other exciting news I got my first rejection letter. It says only nice things except that they don’t like my sense of humour. That’s okay though, because I have others. I’m going to keep all my rejection notices and when I’m rich and famous I’ll publish them in a book titled ‘Humourless.’”

Brent: What is the origin of spring chicken? It’s not biological is it?

Melissa: “Hey it’s Ice cream Monday! Oh no wait, today’s Wednesday. Life is so disappointing.”

Context Can’t Save You Now!

Melissa: “The New Quarterly: office of a thousand paper bags.”

Dylan: “When it comes to poetry, I have a predatory mindset. I find the weakest poets and pick them off…and slowly accumulate the good stuff for my herd.”

Madhulika: “I really wish I wasn’t wearing any pants right now.”

Melissa: “Political poetry puts everyone in a bad mood.”

Brag Time at the turn of the year, 2012

TNQ likes to show off its own, both writers and editors. For those poetry keeners who’d enjoy listening in on some literary talk while polishing off the eggnog, cleaning out the year’s clutter, strapping on cross country skis, or writing — yet again — to thank great Aunt Hilda for the fruitcake, here’s a link to a longish interview with TNQ consulting editor Amanda Jernigan on the publication of her first collection, Groundwork.

In the interest of full disclosure, Amanda is also my daughter. TNQ, like most small not-for-profits, is a family affair. The children and partners of our editors, staff, and board members are often pressed into giving a hand—hawking tickets, passing hors d’oeuvres, selling bingo cards, sweeping their way out of event venues. So when the members of this extended family step into their own creative lives, it’s a pleasure to give a hand in turn.

In the case of this interview, I’m giving two hands—two hands clapping. Amanda reads beautifully (mom’s honour!) and is a thoughtful explicator of her own poetic process. Though I have to say, my ears perked up when, in addition to drawing out the story of the poems’ genesis and arrangement, the interviewer, Hamilton poet Bernadette Rule, dared go where mothers fear to tread. She asked how it is that, after almost fourteen years together, Amanda and longtime partner John Haney, whose woodcuts grace the collection, decided to marry (answer: it’s something to do with the peripatetic life). The things you learn on air…

In other news, Groundwork was recently included in U.S. National Public Radio’s list of the top five poetry books of 2011, as chosen by David Orr, who writes the column “On Poetry” for The New York Times Book Review. He says of the collection: “Like Devin Johnston [another of the poets on his list], the Canadian poet Amanda Jernigan possesses daunting formal skill—if you’re looking for someone who can turn out an effortless-seeming slant rhymed quatrain, Groundwork is the book for you. As the title implies, much of Jernigan’s collection is concerned with exploring the past (and the idea of the past), whether that process involves the physical work of archaeological excavation (‘The Fieldworker’) or the spiritual subtleties of myth (‘Penelope in Heavy Weather’). Jernigan has put immense effort into making her work seem delicate, and her lines have an emotional intensity that is no less memorable for being understated. And she has a light, perfecting touch, particularly at the end of poems—‘The Photographer’ concludes with the cameraman at a dig looking at a broken-off marble hand and announcing, ‘I’ll bury / it again in the small night of my camera.’”

I was also pleased to see TNQ’s lists issue (“To List is Human”) included in the list of Notable Special Issues of 2010 in this year’s Best American Essays, one of two Canadian magazines to be so honoured (the other is Prism international for their 50th Anniversary Retrospective). The lists issue was guest-edited by Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen who also created the cover illustration. Lists have been a recurrent formal element in her own writing, and she brought together a varied collection of list-based poems and stories — funny, provocative, and poignant. Lists, like similes, work through juxtaposition, and reveal as much about the list-maker and the times as about the things so catalogued. The issue, alas, has long-since sold out, but, for those who missed it, is still to be found on library shelves across Canada (and as a digital edition).

In a final cross-border exchange, I ventured some answers to Aaron Gilbreath’s questions about the resurgence of the essay form in Canada and the U.S. for the Iowa Review. I was surprised to find myself the resident expert, but The New Quarterly has, for some time, been moving toward publishing more non-fiction, initially to provide a context for the fiction and poetry that is our stock-in-trade but increasingly, through our personal essay contest and occasional features, to satisfy our interest in the genre itself.

Watch for two new entries in our “Writer-at-Large” series—travel writing in the loosest sense of the word—in the upcoming (winter) issue: Susan Olding’s “A Pilgrimage to Hampstead, or Household Pets of the Great and Lesser Poets,” an intricately braided essay about cats and other familiars, infertility, literary tourism, and Keats; and Pam Bustin’s “Ground: Hanoi to Hiroshima in the Wake of 9/11,” an account of a different sort of tourism, her travels to the sites of some of the last century’s worst genocides in order to discover something of their afterlife in the moral imagination. What is the purpose and efficacy of such witnessing? As the old Pete Seeger song asks, “when will we ever learn?” It’s a question we’re still asking.

Cuddly book stand.

I hope that the holidays have treated you well. As for me, I spent much of the week in bed, subject to the delirious effects of fever. Here is a photo of a puppy.

via reddit

Mary Kim on How the Earth Moves Poetry

Part of the fun of adjudicating TNQ’s writing contests is that the process is completely anonymous. Each entry is given a number, and the writer behind the words remains a mystery until after the winner has been chosen.  Now that we’ve named our winners, however, we’d like to get to know the writers a little better. A number of the judges of both contests have interviewed the winners and runners-up, so you can become better acquainted with both writer and adjudicator as well. This first interview, with OV Contest runner-up Mary Kim (Kim Yong-Hi), was conducted by OV judge Carey Ann Jernigan.

The winners of the NB OV contest and our Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest can be found in TNQ # 120.


It was delight to read “Las Frutillas,” Mary Kim’s second place winner in the 2011 Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest. The poem is set in a marketplace in Chile, a day after the 2010 terremoto (earthquake) in Concepcion.

CJ: I found the poem tenderly sad and vivid in its imagery. (I could as much as taste the strawberries, and wince at the accompanying memory of an earthquake past.) The last time I travelled to Chile myself, I came over land from Peru. It was there that I woke in the night to the room gently trembling … a kind of slow and growing movement that I felt both awed by and powerless in front of.  The point at which a gentle trembling shifts into a violent, destroying force is horrific for me to contemplate: a terror born from the same world that makes the sky beautiful or sustains those who live beneath it.

MK: I’m happy to hear that the tone I was aiming for came through in this poem. There was so much I wanted to capture of that moment, that walk down Tobalaba Canal scented with strawberries only a day after the quake: the quiet buzz, the disbelief, the stories shared, the surreality. Santiago was actually not very damaged, as I saw walking around the city that day; but the stories in the news and from friends and their family members of the devastation in Concepcion were very sad indeed. In Santiago I was awestruck by everyone’s ability to get back to work, whether it be mobilizing the community to help victims down south, or to carry on providing for their families. It was interesting to see how accustomed they were to these colossal shifts (throughout their lives and recent history indeed), and the man selling strawberries in the park was no different; there was no time for nonsense—one must carry on or give up, and that was out of the question. I’ve often been told that this is where Latin American magic realism comes from—moments like these where the reality can be so terrifying are where Latinos find their humour and a philosophy to give strength to their daily lives.

CJ:My Mom says that the name you are publishing this poem under, Kim Yong-Hi, honours your grandmother. Would you tell us a bit about her?

MK: Yes, my grandmother and mother really. They were both immigrants to this country (Canada), and brought with them wisdom and many tales from the old country (Korea) that shaped my aesthetic and desire to read and share stories. I was probably the furthest away from them I will ever be, living in South America, and yet felt the closest to them; I reflected on one of the biggest shifts (immigration) they made in their lives and the somewhat analogous experience I had in living as an expat, and understood a lot of their internal logic for the first time in my life. It also helped that there were many social similarities between South Korea and Chile—eerily familiar, in fact. There were many social aspects that I could write about for pages, but as one example, I had grown up hearing about the war and the socio-political aftermath in Korea; living in Chile where something similar had happened, though more recently, was a big eye-opener for me. Again, colossal shifting and then how people gather together to find strength, humour, creativity and healing is a major theme.

CJ: Did you indeed have a home destroyed? Can you describe it to us? Did you go there afterwards? What were those days and weeks like?

MK: I didn’t have a home destroyed. I was fortunate enough to be living in a newer part of Santiago; after an 8.0 in 1985 (which ‘Loreto’ in the poem recalls), the city put out very strict regulations on earthquake construction and so Stgo didn’t experience as much damage this time around as did the epicentre of the quake in Concepcion. I did go down there much later afterward, and spent some time with some families who had relocated out to fincas (farms) in the country while their homes were being rebuilt. Again, the strength and humour were so humbling to witness. They spent more time helping those less fortunate in neighbouring areas than worrying about when they could move back home. I visited Pen’co actually (also mentioned in the poem), a wildly arranged suburb of Concepcion by the ocean, where domesticated horses grazed on patches of grass by the road and families continued selling fruits from their carts. Other than some water damage, most of the homes had been rebuilt already and daily life carried on as best they could make it; it was inspiring and perspective-shifting. Asi es la vida: shoddy condos/adobe homes may fall; families/communities are resilient.

Rebecca Rosenblum shares her favourite work from TNQ

When it came time to invite writers to read at our 30th birthday party, Rebecca Rosenblum was one of the first who came to mind. Not just because Rebecca is an outstanding and a longstanding TNQ cheer-leader, but because when I mentioned at the Eden Mills Writers Festival that I was planning such an event, Rebecca demanded to be invited. Unfortunately, when the date was set, she was in BC promoting her latest collection, The Big Dream. She sent me this proxy piece to read on her behalf at the event, and I decided that I’d rather save it for the blog.

I asked each of the writers to spend some time introducing themselves and their relationship to the magazine, then choose their favourite piece we’ve published in the last 30 years to share.  Rebecca chose Elizabeth Hay’s “Last Poems,” which incidentally won our Edna Award in 2010.


My name is Rebecca Rosenblum and I am touring with my second book, which is awesome, but also being sad that I could not attend the TNQ birthday party.

I sent The New Quarterly my first submission, “Fruit Factory,” on March 5, 2006. I say “first” as in the first time I ever sent TNQ a story, but according to my somewhat confused Excel spreadsheet, I think that actually might have been my first submission ever. I had been writing for a decade, but certainly had no idea what I was doing. When I brought my stories to my mentor, Leon Rooke, later that summer, he asked me where I was submitting them. At some of my responses, he just shook his head, but when I said I’d sent “Fruit Factory” to The New Quarterly, he said, “Oh, that would be a good home for it.”

A home is truly what I feel I’ve found for my work at this literary journal—a place where people are comfortable and kind to each other, and never let each other get away with anything lame. I consider myself so lucky to have been edited by Kim Jernigan, and received her carefully considered critiques. I consider myself lucky to have been included in the same pages as marvelous writers that I admire—Russell Smith, Cynthia Flood, Alexander MacLeod, Kathleen Winter, and of course Mr. Rooke, among many others.

What I love about The New Quarterly is that this journal of the highest, most challenging literary standards is put out by some of the nicest people in the world. Who says discerning judgement has to go with snark? When I came to read for the Salon des Refuses journal [tnq# 107], Kim let me stay at her house and the TNQ board organized a pot luck party for the readers. Kim, Melissa and Rosalynn Tyo met me for coffee when I was lonely in Waterloo, and there is always a hug available when I stop by the TNQ booth at Eden Mills or Word on the Street.

The excerpt I have chosen is from Elizabeth Hay’s “The Last Poems” in issue 110. It’s a dark piece, but full of hope and beauty, and I read it at just the right time—in the middle of the night. I hope you enjoy it, and enjoy the magazine. Read in good health.

On August 14 the newspaper said we had had forty-two days and forty-two nights of unbroken heat, of temperatures above ninety during the day and above eight during the night. Ice cream sales had fallen off, but shish kebab and hot dog sellers were doing a roaring business. Salt. Everyone wanted the salt. On August 15 it was 100 degrees and the next few days were almost as bad.

Then on August 19 everything changed and nothing was the same again. In the evening strong cool breezes swept through the apartment and blew the smell of my nightgown into my face. I went to the kitchen window and opened it as wide as it would go and I stuck my head out into cool tumbling darkness and the sound of crickets, ummutable, a late-summer sound I’ve heard all my life, and I was overcome with joy at the northern turn the world had taken.

I lay down and pickup up my book. The scent of those pages came into my face. Then a new surge of breezes blew through the room, stirring my nightgown once again. The book was Emoke by Josef Skvorecky. It began, “A story happens and fades and no one tells it.” The words dovetailed with the cool air and I felt stories stirring all around me and in my soul, so close I could touch them with my hand.

Thank You to everyone who has made our first 30 years possible

Thank you to all who have made our first 30 years possible.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same can be said of a literary magazine.

On the front lines, of course, are the editors, all dedicated volunteers, and the office staff lead, these days, by Managing Editor Melissa Krone, with stalwart support from our co-op student Madhulika Saxena. Standing behind them is the Board which oversees the magazine’s finances and helps to build its resources.

One of the wonderful things about The New Quarterly is that people tend to stick around even after their formal duties are up. We want to give special thanks to former Board member Carolyn Pegg and her husband Bill. Carolyn’s parting gift to the magazine was to apply for us to sponsor a monthly Bingo through the KW gaming commission. This has become our most reliable fundraiser, and Carolyn and Bill are there every month to oversee our session. Former Board Chair Savio Wong continues to organize the volunteers who serve at the Bingo sessions and to cover more than his share of them. Thanks to him and to Kim Boucher, Sue McEwan and all the editors and board members who take their turn.

I read recently that the average lifespan of a literary magazine is 7 years, but that magazines that are associated with universities have a better chance at survival. Though it has always maintained editorial autonomy and operates as an independent not-for-profit, TNQ has enjoyed, from its early years, the support of St. Jerome’s University, which provides our office space at no cost and makes a small annual donation. Our connection to the university has also allowed us to benefit from the varied talents of its staff and coop students. We want particularly to thank SJU President David Perrin and former President Michael Higgins for their support of Canadian writers and writing.

The most important funding that a magazine receives is from those governmental agencies dedicated to supporting the arts and artists who help shape our sense of what it is to be Canadian and who bring us much of the joy in life. In our case, those sustaining grantors are the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council without whom we couldn’t pay our writers or put ink to paper. Particular thanks to Peter Schneider and John Degen, the literature officers at the CC and OAC, for lifting our spirits and cheering us on.

And speaking of ink on paper, our thanks to St. Jacob’s Printery, a great exemplum of the virtues of going local, for their care and craftsmanship and their many kindnesses to the magazine.

We’d also like to thank the local funders who have helped us with special projects in recent years. These include The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation through the Musagetes Fund and the Hilda English Memorial Fund, the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, and the City of Waterloo for support towards our summer’s QuArc issue on the intersection of the arts and sciences.

Thirty years is a long life for a magazine dependent on the kindness of strangers, the generosity of friends, and on the sustained interest and energy of its editors. About 3 years ago, we began to think about the issue of succession. Because the work of the magazine has increased alongside its reputation, we began to build towards the provision of a small honorarium for the magazine’s primary editor, one that would allow us to recruit the next generation of dedicated leadership for the magazine. Instrumental in that were two funders: The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Trillium provides capacity building grants and is one of the few funders whose grants are multi-year, allowing organizations to do long-term planning. Their three year grant to TNQ has supported a half-time position on the administrative side, freeing our managing editors (Rosalynn Tyo, until the arrival of her daughter Chelsea, and now Melissa Krone) to invest in developing our web presence, increasing our circulation and earned revenue, and exploring new funding sources and has also allowed us to invest in training a number of up _ coming young editors, one of whom, Katia Grubisic, has gone on the Editorship of Arc Poetry Magazine, and another of whom will be stepping up to the helm of TNQ in the new year.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges _ Universities supported a nine-month internship for a long-time TNQ volunteer, Catherine Muss, who has worked to support the succession by creating systems and computer programs to streamline the work of the TNQ office and editors. If anyone’s interested in hiring an incredibly capable administrator and problem solver who is also a joy to work with, please make her acquaintance!

Finally our thanks to all the wonderful writers who have cast their lot with TNQ. They are our raison d’etre. It is their talent and insight, their humour, their engagement with both words and world we celebrate in our 30th year.

A toast to our writers! A toast to our benefactors! A toast to the magazine! A toast to the years ahead!

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