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 Poetry Magazine organizes and administers awards, contests, public readings and other events.
Chris Johnson (he/they) is the Managing Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine. He currently lives in Ottawa, which is located on unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation. Their recent chapbooks include Listen, Partisan! (Frog Hollow Press, 2016) and Gravenhurst (above/ground press, 2019). @ceeeejohnson
Q: Tell me about your journal. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?
Arc Poetry Magazine has a history that stretches back way further than my time with them. Arc was founded in 1978 at Carleton University by Michael Gnarowski, Tom Henighan and Christopher Levenson (who continued as Arc’s Editor until 1988). The circumstances of their decision to start the magazine plays out in a similar fashion to how Canthius began: like-minded friends gathered and began chatting about art and politics and how they can contribute to the conversation. The only note I have ever found about the origin of the magazine’s name is from a blog post by Henighan, who said it was Gnarowski’s idea to start a magazine that “would extend an ‘arc’ to encompass Canadian contributions, while by no means shutting the door on any writer because of [their] background, origins, political or aesthetic affiliations.”
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. With a history going back more than 40 years, the magazine has seen a number of editors, and in 2018 Frances Boyle did an incredible job recording the expansive list of editors and editorial board members since Arc’s inception. Anyone who is interested can find those lists (Part 1 and Part 2) along with some details about our current team here: http://arcpoetry.ca/about/
Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?
I’m fairly certain Arc has had a table at every Ottawa small press fair since I joined the magazine in 2014, and it’s possible that Arc has been at most fairs for the past decade if not the entire 26-year history of the Ottawa small press fair. As others have said in previous interviews from this series, the fair is a great opportunity not only for friends in the community to gather and catch up, but also for new small press publishers or zinesters or independent authors to engage with new potential audiences while proudly exhibiting their creative creations.
Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?
Arc publishes three issues a year, in Spring, Summer, and Fall. Occasionally this production schedule lines up with the timing of the fair so we have a new issue fresh from the printer. Fortunately, our Spring 2020 issue was printed and mailed out to contributors and subscribers in late March right before the quarantine shut everything down, though we did very much miss the chance to bring the issue to the Spring fair.
Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?
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.
Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?
We have not held any virtual launches during these strange and uncertain times. Sadly, in March, the launch of our Spring issue at VERSeFest—Ottawa’s international poetry festival—was postponed, but we’re excited and eager to hear of VERSeFest’s plans to return in November!
Personally I have tried attending a few Zoom readings and enjoyed the semblance of a regular poetry reading that these events provide. In Ottawa, events like the Tree Reading Series and Margo LaPierre’s House Party Poetry Series are doing great for keeping some sort of normalcy in our literary community. Also, Arc is happy to be contributing a copy of our newest issue to Riverbed Reading Series as a prize for their favourite writing prompt during their event on Wednesday, August 19.
Arc may have some events upcoming, though! We recently announced the shortlist for the 2020 Archibald Lampman Award, and we hope to gather the shortlisted authors for a reading in early Fall. The presentation of the Lampman Award will take place at the Ottawa Book Awards during a ceremony hosted on Zoom on Wednesday, October 21.
Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?
As I mentioned, the Spring and Summer issues of Arc had production schedules that fortunately avoided the worst periods of the pandemic, yet other aspects of our operations were affected by the pandemic in ways we didn’t expect. For example, we’ve requested digital copies of review books to accommodate reviewers who were uncomfortable receiving physical mail during the height of community spread of COVID-19, and our new Arc Award of Awesomeness—originally conceived of as a fun, small contest where entries are mailed in with a $2 entry fee—was adapted slightly to allow for online entries so poets could reduce unnecessary excursions in public.
Q: What is your most recent issue? How might folk be able to order copies?
In early August we were proud to release Arc 92, our Summer 2020 issue. This issue contains the announcement of winner of our 2020 Poem of the Year Contest, along with the entire shortlist. The issue is also chock full of beautiful poetry, thoughtful essays, and mindful reviews of recent Canadian poetry collections. Folk can order copies or subscribe to Arc here: http://arcpoetry.ca/subscribe/
Q: What are you working on now?
There is lots going on! Not only are we accepting submissions to the August Arc Award of Awesomeness, but Ottawa-based poets without a full-length poetry collection can submit to the 2020 Diana Brebner Prize. This year’s judge is Susan Musgrave, and we’re excited to see submissions before the deadline on September 4th.
For Indigenous poets across Canada without a full-length poetry collection, we’ve also just started a program that facilitates free month-long mentorships with the award-winning poet Randy Lundy. These mentorships are meant to offer our country-wide community of Indigenous writers a chance to work on a select number of poems with an influential poet, and we’re thrilled to be working with Randy for this program.
We’re also finalizing work for our Fall 2020 issue, which will include an exciting feature that spotlights “up-and-coming” poets by including their poetry alongside an introduction by an “established” poet. As a teaser of what’s to come from this feature, we’ll have Lillian Allen introducing Ian Keteku, Lucas Crawford introducing Rebecca Salazar Leon, and Canisia Lubrin introducing Faith Arkorful.
Folk can keep up with Arc and all of our activities by following us on Twitter and Facebook and subscribing to our monthly newsletter.