A Mighty Small Mag: Vallum
This is the fourth in an ongoing series profiling fabulous small magazines. It’s motivated in part by curiosity—TNQ is the only magazine I’ve ever worked for—and in part by a desire to show off. Our industry is full of talented people committed to publishing great Canadian writing, art, and scholarship. Each new profile gives me a burst of energy, the energy I need to go wrestle the photocopier, decipher our financial statements, or fold renewal letters. If you like what you read about Vallum, please support them by subscribing!
What does a day at the Vallum office look like?
Well, usually Drew McKevitt, Vallum’s Circulation Manager, and I arrive at 9 and immediately answer emails, check phone messages and have a quick meeting over coffee where we discuss our various projects. She and I both make extensive to-do lists because we have to do everything from editing to cleaning during a certain day. Currently, we’re working on diversifying grant revenue, circulation campaigns, organizing readings and children’s events, hammering out financial statements, and putting together chapbook and magazine manuscripts. We are also participating in Magazines Canada’s Digital Discovery and we do a lot of unglamorous grunt work as well – we mine our database for information to try to guide us as far as circulation and promotional campaigns go, and you wear a million different hats each day. Helen Zisimatos and Joshua Auerbach, our editors-in-chief, are full-time writers outside their commitments to the magazine, so they usually are in a few hours later to provide feedback and work on editorial projects. Lunch is another chance to troubleshoot problems. A good day is when I leave on time.
Drew and I are both in our twenties and got our positions from university internships. Due to Vallum’s small staff, you learn exclusively by your mistakes, and we don’t get a lot of opportunity to always refer to those who have more expertise than we do. It’s through the professional development opportunities offered by organizations like Magazines Canada that have given us the tools to do what we do. I think “necessity is the mother of invention” is the ideal axiom for a small magazine.
How long has Vallum been in print, and what sets it apart from other mags on the shelf?
Vallum was first published in 2001 and was launched at the well-known Montreal venue Casa del Popolo. Back then, buying a Vallum got you a free beer! Can’t beat that with a stick!
Vallum distinguishes itself by being a publication devoted solely to poetry that is, as we say, “engaging and brave”. We do not publish short fiction or non-fiction except for a short prose section in every issue that is dedicated to engaging with poetry through reviews, essays and interviews. We have many celeb rated poets who send us work, but we always make space for new writers. We also include several examples of visual art in our pages. Vallum also distinguishes itself with international promotion of Canadian poets. Issue 6:1 had over 85% Canadian content, and we sold hundreds of copies in U.S. stores. We aren’t in a business that measures success by dollars, but raising the profile of our writers internationally is immensely satisfying.
What are some of the things that Vallum does to support Canadian writers, besides publishing them?
We nominate our writers extensively for prizes, and have readings in the Montreal area to allow local poets to get exposure for their work. However, I think the most important thing we do is to promote poetry and writing for children through workshops in the classroom and elsewhere. We talk a lot about fostering a creative environment for a Canadian culture to grow, and the fact is, a love of reading and literature starts in the classroom. I was lucky enough to have Richard B. Wright as a teacher when I was in high school, and his obvious passion for his work inspired me. I hope that working with an active poet provides similar stimulation for young people and also inspires them to seek out Canadian writers and poets.
Consumer mags measure their success in sales figures, but for not-for-profit niche mags like ours, these are hardly the most important metric. How do you define success at Vallum?
Getting the fax machine to work.
More seriously, I know we are doing well when we get positive feedback. We recently got several emails telling us we had great customer service, which some people have scoffed at as being unglamorous but I think its evidence of hard work and professionalism. We all have to be accountable for our business as well as our cultural practices.
We are also proud to be publishing the best of the knowns and unknowns out of this wee Montreal office. We have just published an immensely well received chapbook by Jan Zwicky, and we are seeing work from Lorna Crozier, George Elliott Clarke and A. F. Moritz as well. Furthermore, we are getting so many great submissions from people who may not have a Griffin Prize, but do have serious talent. For our upcoming issue we received in excess of two thousand individual submissions. The final selection process is ridiculously fierce, and it makes me feel reassured that we are seeing great poetry for our readers.