Editing Modernism in Canada


Author Archive

September 4, 2011

CFP: Essay Collection on Canadian Postwar Literatures (1940’s and beyond)

Contributors are sought for a critical essay collection on Canadian postwar literatures for submission to an internationally distributed British academic press in 2012. Besides war itself the book will address themes relevant to postwar social and cultural conditions. A key aim for the volume is to extend criticism of Canada’s postwar literature beyond the often discussed First World War (without necessarily ignoring it) to consider how the Second World War, the Vietnam War, recent wars in Africa/ Bosnia/ the Middle East, and other conflicts have influenced postwar themes in Canadian literature. Recoveries of forgotten/ underappreciated works are especially welcome, as are considerations of recent works worthy of greater critical attention. Contributions on more critically established works (The Wars, Obasan, The English Patient, etc.) are welcome, provided they offer new insights. Literature in any genre may be discussed, and interdisciplinary approaches that combine literature with historiography, film, visual art, digital humanities, etc. will also be considered.

Possible approaches include (but are not limited to):

– Historically situated studies of forgotten or recent authors/ texts
– Postwar literature and poetics
– Modernism in postwar Canada
– Postwar narratives and the history of the book
– Trauma and recovery
– Diaspora and exile in postwar narratives
– Persecution and crimes against humanity
– Ecocritical or ecofeminist readings of postwar works
– Femininity/ masculity/ gender in postwar texts
– Existential or other philosophical dimensions in postwar literature
– Postwar drama and performance
– Postwar literature and other media or art forms

Please email proposals consisting of a 500-word abstract, a 100-word bio, and a brief cover message to the editor, Dr. Peter Webb, at peter.webb@gmx.com, by December 1, 2011.

Attach Word or Rich Text files and avoid fixed formats like PDF. If the proposal derives from a completed or nearly completed paper, please indicate in the email. Submissions will be assessed according to critical significance and the potential to complement others in forming a coherent volume. Accepted proposals will need to be expanded to manuscripts of 6000 – 8000 words by summer, 2012. All finished papers will be subject to final acceptance and peer review.

May 28, 2011

Proto-Modernism in The Canadian Magazine

Over the past month I have spent a great deal of time, both online and in the library, reading through old issues of The Canadian Magazine (AKA: The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature) as part of my research into war short stories for my book-in-progress, Shattered Lines: The First World War in Canadian Fiction. Some of what I’ve discovered in the magazine (beyond the war theme itself) may be of interest to scholars of Canadian modernism, especially those focused on its early development, so I thought I would provide a few observations to the EMiC blog.

The Canadian Magazine is probably not the first periodical scholars think of when they think “modernism”; the more quintessential modernist magazines like The Canadian Forum and The McGill Fortnightly Review tended to work in opposition to it. The CM‘s foundations were decidedly in the imperialist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in 1893 as a successor to earlier periodicals like The Canadian Monthly and National Review (1872-78) and The Week (1883-96), its early contributors included George Taylor Denison, George Parkin Grant, Gilbert Parker, and other old reliables of the imperialist era. It was also a major forum for the work of the Confederation poets, and both E. Pauline Johnson and L.M. Montgomery were contributors.

Where the magazine gets interesting for modernism is from around 1914-15 onwards, when the First World War appeared to shatter some of the more conservative precepts of its editorial policy. Between May and November 1916, for example, it serialized the harrowing trench narratives of the Irish author and ex-infantryman Patrick MacGill. MacGill wrote of Allied soldiers “wiped out like flies” in horrific combat, a year before Wilfrid Owen described men “who die as cattle” in his landmark antiwar poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” MacGill has no claim to being a Canadian author (he fought in the Irish Guards until being invalided out of action). Yet the fact that the CM would print his visceral war stories (quite possibly in contravention of the strict censorship rules of Canadian Chief Censor Ernest J. Chambers) is a sign that the CM had its finger on the dying pulse of civilization long before Charles Yale Harrison, Erich Maria Remarque, and other postwar antiwar writers had their say.

In 1917, the CM published a retrospective article on the recently-deceased Tom Thomson, written by his erstwhile patron, J.M. MacCallum, giving an early boost to Canadian modernist painting — and introducing Thomson, still an obscure figure at that point, to a mainstream Canadian readership.

Some interesting things happen in the 1920s as well. One finds in the issue for February 1928 a short story by Marjorie Pickthall, best known as a key proto-modernist poet; Raymond Knister, another seminal figure, contributed to the magazine before his tragic death in 1932. Also of interest to scholars of war and Atlantic Canadian writing are the many stories by Will R. Bird (best known for his war memoirs and his novels and stories of maritime life) published between the late twenties and late thirties.

I’ve found little in the CM to support a notion that it gave full-blown endorsement of modernism (though I admit not having done a systematic study of every issue since I was looking specifically for war stories). Much of what the CM published was sentimental and neo-romantic in mode, and its articles on current affairs were occasionally quite reactionary. But as a periodical on the cusp of the imperialist/ post-Conferation era and the modernist period, I’d consider it worthy of consideration for anyone interested in that transition.

– Peter Webb

POSTSCRIPT Re. ACCESSING THE CANADIAN MAGAZINE: Some angel or sage to whom I am infinitely grateful has digitized the ENTIRE run of The Canadian Magazine between 1893 and 1922 and posted it on The Internet Archive, where you can read full-text facsimiles online or download them to your desktop as PDFs. At this point the remaining issues between 1923 and 1939 (when the magazine shut down) are not digitized, but a number of good academic libraries hold them in folio format.

March 8, 2011

Editing Eli Mandel’s Selected Poems

My edition of Eli Mandel’s selected poems, From Room to Room: The Poetry of Eli Mandel, was published in January 2011 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Since this was my first editing experience and the project that got me affiliated with EMiC, I thought I would spend a few minutes writing a postmortem about it to share with other EMiC members.

The idea that got me started on the project was one that I’m sure many of you share: many of Canada’s prominent and seminal modernists have disappeared from both public and critical view over the past couple of decades; as editors we have both the opportunity and responsibility to bring some of these unsung figures back into print. I became acutely aware of Eli Mandel as part of this faded contingent when in 2008 David Carpenter asked me to write an article on Mandel (and a few of his contemporaries) for his forthcoming Literary History of Saskatchewan. When I looked around for critical material, there was almost nothing on Mandel published since 1992. All of his original monographs were out of print, and there were precious few inclusions of his work in recent anthologies.

Having had little prior experience with Mandel’s poetry—none of his work turned up on any of the courses I took in ten years of undergraduate and graduate studies, and his work is excluded from most of the teaching anthologies I have used since—I set about getting to know Mandel’s work as thoroughly as possible. Luckily, Andrew Stubbs’s and Judy Chapman’s excellent two-volume collection, The Other Harmony: The Collected Poems of Eli Mandel (2000), gave me access to virtually every poem he published, and a good many previously unpublished ones.

Knowing a little about Mandel’s reputation as a poets’ poet and having read a few of his brilliantly lucid critical essays over the years, I was actually put off a little when I started reading the poems. Many, on first or second reading, struck me as lacking in rhythm, fragmentary, pointlessly complicated, and allusive to the point of impenetrability. Heck, even Northrop Frye, the man who made Blake’s “fearful symmetry” crystal clear, admitted to finding Mandel “difficult to follow” when he reviewed the early poems in Trio (1954) in University of Toronto Quarterly. Slightly daunted but admittedly inspired by the prospect of a paid commissioned article (thanks Dave!), I stuck with Mandel’s work over a winter and spring, finding more and more ways to unravel its mysteries.

Thanks to perseverance, frequent dips into Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Christopher Smart, George Steiner, the Hebrew Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the I-CHING, and—as I’m reluctant to admit—Wikipedia (perhaps the only place one can find a synopsis of the operating capacity of an Indian-made 1980s-model Zenith 148 personal computer—an item crucial to one of Mandel’s late works) , I was able to make better sense of poems. What had seemed impenetrable at first gradually became interesting and, ultimately, fascinating. By the time it came to write the article for Dave’s book, in late 2009, I had enough command of Mandel’s complex vision to write about it competently, if not as thoroughly as I would have liked. The experience left me convinced that I should do something about getting Mandel’s work back into print in a form where new readers can discover it.

Luckily, an opportunity to join EMiC arose around the same time, and as Dean Irvine was kind enough to put me in touch with Neil Besner, General Editor of the Laurier Poetry Series, I soon had an avenue to get my Mandel project on the go. The question of copyright was soon settled when Ann Mandel, Eli’s widow and executor, responded enthusiastically to the idea of a new edition of selected poems. I was able also to enlist the contribution of Andrew Stubbs, the one bona fide Mandel expert in Canada, by commissioning him to write the Afterword to the volume.

What at first seemed a simple task of choosing and assembling poems (thanks to Mandel’s stewardship of his own work during his lifetime and Stubbs and Chapman’s attention to it after), became more complicated when I found that Mandel had approved several different published versions of some of his poems. Further, there were discrepancies in some of the first editions of his work, such as the poem “signs” which appears in the table of contents of Out of Place (1977) but on the relevant page lacks a title and appears to be the second half of a preceding poem called “the return” (this glitch tripped up even Stubbs and Chapman, who unwittingly repeated the error in The Other Harmony). What was needed was access to Mandel’s manuscripts, which were in Manitoba (I was in Montreal) and where as a busy teacher on a LTA salary I could ill-afford to go at the time.

Fortunately, help arrived in the form of Melanie Dennis Unrau, a doctoral student at U. Winnipeg who won an EMiC and SSHRC sponsored RAship under the supervision of Neil Besner. Assigned to the Mandel project by Neil, Melanie was able to visit the Mandel Fonds at U. Manitoba, dig out the manuscripts and galleys of the poems that had textual variants and problems, and scan them for me into PDF documents. Sure enough, “signs” was a separate poem from “the return,” variations in other poems could be assessed, and the Mandel volume gained an added dimension of textual reliability (thanks Melanie!).

Things were quite simple from then on. I wrote the introduction in a flurry of several days, finally confident in my assessment of Mandel’s unique and multifaceted poetic vision. The Laurier Press, who proved immensely helpful and professional throughout the process, set about the process of wrangling the often typographically idiosyncratic poems onto the page. They even acquired the rights from a European art museum to my “dream” cover for the volume: a reproduction of Henry Fuseli’s neo-gothic masterpiece, “The Nightmare,” one of the inspirations for Mandel’s early monograph Fuseli Poems (1960) and the surrealistic imagery of other early work.

The book, as I said, came out officially in January (although actually in late December, proof that Laurier folks keep their presses well-oiled). And I can safely say that, in terms of my role in bringing an important and relatively unsung poet back into public view (Eli Mandel on Amazon – now that’s progress!), I’m glad to have done something useful with my new-found editing skills. Now I’m hooked.