For some, Canada is a bastion of crisp thinking, simmering atop the Americas, quietly contented with itself. And there may be some truth to that. With their edgy provincial urbanism, 36 million Canadians inhabit 9 million square miles, not embracing progress for its own sake, opting instead for a well thought out sort of development. Glacial if you compare it to the development south of our border.
It’s not perfect: we have our bickering—west versus east, separation in Quebec—and we can be exuberant. (In fact I’ve heard some people suggest that California earthquakes are the result of rambunctious rounds of curling, and that when a Canadian dreams she sends a shiver of renewal through the continent’s spine.) If we seem smug, it is because we have watched our elder, brasher southern neighbor become the most powerful nation in the world. From our vantage point (a kind of blind spot in the North American psyche), we quietly watch America scrambling about, bumping into things, detonating bombs: generally causing a great ripple of envy and horror around the globe. And as one might imagine, if you exist next to the most powerful republic the world has known, you watch closely and learn well. You must: in many ways your fate depends on it. But our proximity to “America” (which after all, we are a part of) is only one of many forces at work on our social, cultural, and creative fabric. Geography is surely another. Canada is a country in which only 4.9% of our land is arable. Canada has nearly 50,000 square kilometers of ice—shrinking daily. There is simply more room, more space between thoughts, more time, perhaps even a greater sense of connection. Not unlike the New Yorker’s belief that they are unique in America for their compact geography, their sense of being all in a jumble, in it together—Canadians too, seem to know they are in it together in the vast expanse, entirely surrounded by powerful, often hostile forces: the US to the south, the arctic to the north.
Given these elements, it’s not surprising then, that looking at Canadian
arts & letters one finds a good deal of innovation. Though the artistic
influences run north and south as much as east and west, and internationally,
what happens with those influences within our borders is, well, just a little
Welcome to Canada. You’ll find here a strange cabinet of curiosities from established experimental icons such as Nicole Brossard and Erin Mouré, to innovative upstarts such as derek beaulieu and Jordan Scott whose whimsical textual and oral conglomerations reconstitute the most concrete imaginations. You will meet Rachel Zolf and Nathalie Stephens who force the limits of language and genre; John Barton, Todd Swift, Jeanette Lynes, and Joelle Hann who offer lyrical witness to our urban nature, and Trish Salah and Elizabeth Bachinsky who expose some of its grittier aspects. Video artists Adeena Karasick and Catherine Kidd offer new possibilities for textual performance, Allyson Clay transforms text through immersion (submersion), and Martha Eleen’s documentation of the spaces between recasts contemporary expressway views in brushstrokes. You will encounter imaginative fictions from Karen Connelly and Alayna Munce, and sometimes quirky and harsh fairy tales from Sheila Heti and Sarah Selecky, as well as odd lessons and meditations on bats and ticks, the theory of the loser class, recipes, and verbal stutters from Ken Howe, Ray Hsu, Jon Paul Fiorentino. Rob McLennan talks to Rachel Zolf and in his usual way, brings a handful of other Canadian poets into the fold. Finally, you will plunge into the heart of our urban utopian longing in Montreal, Toronto and other exotic locations through essays from Lisa Robertson and Shawn Micallef, and photographs from Gabor Szilasi. One thing that seems certain: all is well in the great white north, and none of it is predictable.