Meet This Magazine‘s new Poetry Editor, David Ly, and Fiction Editor, Jenny Ferguson. Jenny Ferguson is Métis, an activist, feminist, auntie, teacher, and accomplice with a PhD. She is the author of Border Markers (NeWest Press), a collection of linked flash fiction narratives. Jenny believes writing and teaching are political acts. David Ly is a writer and poet based in Vancouver. His poetry has appeared in range of magazines and anthologies, including The Puritan, The /temz/ Review, Prism international, Pulp Literature, The Maynard, and carte blanche. He is the author of the chapbook, Stubble Burn (Anstruther Press) and the upcoming collection Mythical Man (Anstruther Books, 2020). Here, Jenny and David interview each other about their new roles, what they’re looking for in a poem or story, and the future of CanLit.
Jenny Ferguson: I’m diving in deep with the first question. As editors, we see a lot of work, and because we see a lot of work, we see repetitions and the kind of writing that’s popular at the moment. So. What poem are you’re tired of reading and why?
David Ly: Oooh, good question. I think the poem I am tired of reading is one that is doing more than necessary to tell a story or convey a feeling. When a poem feels artificial is when I get lost and bored; a poem that tries real hard for profundity is something I will put down. I want authenticity. I want good poems in the amount of space a print magazine allows for.
What about you? When editing stories for a print publication, are you looking for anything you wouldn’t be, say, if editing a full story for a website? (besides length/word count) I’m curious to know if the format of a print magazine affects your consideration of what a short story could be or can tell!
JF: If I say, no, will you think less of me? I’ve edited for print and online before and what I’m always looking for is an excellent story. But I will say I did get a neat, experimental narrative recently that we would not have been able to layout in print even though it was under the word limit. So, on occasion, experiments in form in fiction can be harder to place in print where we have to worry about how we lay-out stories on a page.
Okay, let’s talk writers. Tell me about three Canadian or Indigenous poets who you are loving right now.
DL: Everyone needs to read Anton Pooles’ chapbook Monster 36. Anton is the master of poignant, short poetry, which is a form I find many poets have difficulty in getting right. Anton knows what he’s doing with very few words. Gwen Benaway’s poetry is breathtaking. Her piece “Awus Awus” in Asymptote is one I have been going back to often. Gwen has this way of writing unapologetically that has a special place in my heart. Lastly, Leah Horlick is a poet who I will always love. Leah’s work simply radiates off the page with magic. I will regularly pick up her collection For Your Own Good whenever I am at a block in my own writing.
Same goes for you! Who are three Canadian or Indigenous fiction writers you are in love with right now?
JF: Yilin Wang. She’s a wonderful writer in poetry, prose and translation. Read or listen to her story, “Sparrow,” up at Clarkesworld to get a taste for her work. John Elizabeth Stintzi, a dual-citizen, poet, short story writer and novelist, who just announced a novel with Arsenal Pulp Press in Spring 2020 is a star. For a sample of their work, try “The Elm Bark Beetles of Morrow Lane.”
And let me tell you, I’m about to cheat. I’m going to tell you about three Indigenous writers too. I’m so glad you mentioned Gwen Benaway. She is one of my heroes. She’s also the editor of Maiden, Mother, Crone, an anthology of fantastic short fiction by trans and trans feminine writers. Seriously, read anything and everything Gwen writes or edits. Alicia Elliott is best known for her CNF, but she’s a fiction writer too. Try “Unearth,” which was anthologized by Roxane Gay in The Best American Short Stories 2018. And if you haven’t read Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed, you can do that now.
So, David, we are both editors, readers, and writers. You’re a poet with a chapbook (Stubble Burn) and a full-length collection, Mythical Man, forthcoming. I’m curious about how your work as a writer influences your work as an editor, if at all?
DL: I like to see things done in poetry that I wouldn’t think of doing. For example, a line break that I would never think of putting in a poem I’m reading, but I see it actually working very nicely! Preservation of narrative is something I’ve learned to hold highly in my writing, having worked with editors. It’s taught me to look more critically at poems and trimming parts that take away from, or distracting from, what the poem is attempting to tell.
What about you? Is there something you haven’t seen in Canadian fiction that you would like to start seeing?
JF: I want us to keep publishing—and publish more—stories that represent the many voices inside of Canada’s colonial borders.
We’ve talked privately before about our commitment as editors to changing #CanLit. I’m wondering if you can talk about a couple of particular changes you want to see and how you plan to edit here at This Magazine in order to support one or more of these changes?
DL: I think I want to see the big important change a lot of people want to see: writing from more under-represented voices about things that make us uncomfortable because no one really talks about them enough to the point where real changes are set in motion. Making sure This Magazine includes poems from such voices is always at the front of my mind when reading submissions. I would also like to see the Canadian poetic landscape shift to speak about more truths about human relationships (not only with others, but ourselves). I really think #CanLit has things to say and sometimes they’re ugly truths, but necessary to be heard from writers, and I want to give these writers a platform.
Since you’ve written fiction, non-fiction, essays, and even poetry, how do you plan on bringing your experience with different genres to help shape the fiction editorial mandate of This Magazine to change #CanLit for the better?
JF: I care about great stories in whatever form they take. I care about stories that some others might not call stories—because they somehow alter form or don’t do the things that (mostly) white, cis-het settlers call “good craft.”
Flash fiction or fiction that blur the line between prose and poetry through language. Speculative works. Works with “unlikeable” women as protagonists. These get called out for not meeting so-called traditional literary expectations, either in length or approach or focus or genre. That’s the stuff that I’m interested in. That’s how we reshape #CanLit, or let’s be honest, throw it out and build something new.
Finally, and I know this is an unfair question, but I’m asking it anyhow. What’s the best book of #CanLit poetry that you’ve read this year?
DL: So far it’s Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean.
And last! What are three things you encourage a writer to be conscious about in writing their fiction that will make for a stronger piece?
JF: And I’m going to cheat here too. Turns out I’m in a rebellious mood today.
My singular advice: This might sound strange, but make sure that you’re telling a story. For an audience. Consider how you are storytelling. Consider how you’re audience will engage with your story on multiple levels.
Updated submission guidelines to This‘ poetry and fiction sections can be found here.