Founded in 1978 at Carleton University by Michael Gnarowski, Tom Henighan and Christopher Levenson, the current team of lead editors is Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, Nancy Jo Cullen and Emily Stewart.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is a poet, children’s writer and teacher. Her books of poetry include Status Update (2013), which was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award, and Sweet Devilry (2011), which won the Gerald Lampert Award. She was shortlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2019 and longlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2018. Tsiang’s poetry has won the Arc Poetry Magazine Reader’s Choice for Poem of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse contest, the Bliss Carman Poetry Award, and the Re-lit Award. Her work has also been featured in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry and many other anthologies. She is the editor of the poetry collection, Desperately Seeking Susans (2013).
Nancy Jo Cullen is the 4th recipient of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Best Canadian Poetry, The Journey Prize, The Puritan, Grain, filling Station, Plenitude, Prairie Fire, This Magazine, Room and Arc Poetry Magazine. She’s published 3 collections of poetry with Calgary’s Frontenac House books.
Emily Stewart is a graduate of two publishing programs and lives in Ottawa, where she founded Shelf Potential, which offers editing and creative services to indie authors and publishers. She has written for Arc Poetry Magazine and Women Write About Comics and almost always has multiple creative projects on the go.
Tell us a bit about your magazine or publishing venue. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
Arc Poetry Magazine nurtures and promotes the composition and appreciation of poetry in Canada and abroad, with particular but not exclusive emphasis on poetry written by Canadians. In addition to publishing and distributing the work of poets, Arc organizes and administers awards, contests, public readings and other events. Arc was founded in 1978 at Carleton University by Michael Gnarowski, Tom Henighan and Christopher Levenson (who continued as Arc’s Editor until 1988), but Arc left the umbrella of Carleton University after only a few issues and became an independent not-for-profit, and more recently a registered charitable organization. We have grown and strive to continue to grow to represent the ever-changing landscape of poetry in this land that we call Canada.
What about small press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
So many talented people are doing (often free or undervalued) work running exciting small presses, whether they’re publishing online or print magazines or producing top quality chapbooks or other small press ephemera. There is a welcoming breadth of style, form, and purpose driving these small presses. Even within one publication, one issue of a magazine, or one season’s lineup of chapbooks, it’s not unusual to find formal poetry beside confessional verse beside smart and cutting political poetry. Small presses always seem to be the place where poets go to experiment, and this experimentation is pushing Canadian poetry forward.
How does your magazine or publishing venue work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
Arc does it’s best to engage with our local Ottawa literary community every chance we get, whether it’s by exhibiting at the Ottawa Small Press Fair or partnering with the local literary festivals—the Ottawa International Writers Festival and VERSeFest, Ottawa’s international poetry festival—to host events with readings from local and national poets. We make an effort to recognize the strength of our local poets by offering two awards specifically for Ottawa poets: the Archibald Lampman Award recognizes an outstanding book of English-language poetry by an author living in the National Capital Region, and the Diana Brebner Prize is awarded yearly for the best poem written by a National Capital Region poet who has not yet been published in book form. Another offering we have for emerging poets across Canada is our Poet-in-Residence program, that includes a mentorship opportunity for emerging poets to work with influential Canadian poets.
Tell us about three of your publications. What makes them special, needed, and/or unique?
Every Fall, Arc publishes a themed issue of the magazine.
In Fall 2019 we published Arc 90, an issue filled with writing that seeks to explore every facet of labour and livelihood. From Tom Wayman’s essay on “work writing,” to Amber Dawn’s long poem about sex work, to an interview between John Elizabeth Stintzi and Joelle Barron on their multiple responsibilities as writers/community builders/family members, this issue probes the center of so many of our lives: work.
In recognition of 150 years post-Confederation, Arc 84 (Fall 2017) collected an issue of poems concerned with Reconciliation, Decolonization, and Nation(s). Guest edited by Armand Garnett Ruffo—Band Member of the Chapleau Fox Lake First Nation and Kingston-based Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Literature—this themed issue contains a wide range of established and award-winning poets as well as newer rising voices.
Fall 2015 saw Arc 78, a special issue featuring work from spoken word artists and critical essays on the craft of spoken word. The issue was curated by Tanya Evanson—Montreal-based poet, performer, and director of the Spoken Word program at The Banff Centre—and included supplementary online content, such as audio recordings and videos of some contributors’ performances.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the magazine or publishing venue?
We are very grateful for our funders—the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Ottawa—and the actions they took to ensure that arts organizations were supported throughout this global pandemic. Arc is also a member of Magazines Canada, who have done an incredible job in staying on top of retail store closures and re-openings so our issues can be distributed across Canada, as well as in advocating for magazine publishers during the days of uncertainty before the announcements of relief and support from the government. Because of those organizations, we are lucky to operate in a manner close to business as usual, with our various projects and activities ongoing without too much disruption.
Arc 90 "Labour and Livelihood"