Welcome To This Issue

New Directions 

Diane Schoemperlen’s “A Cool Wind Off The Water” is the first in what will be an occasional series of essays on contemporary Canadian writing and the writing life. The series, to be called “New Directions,” will be a mix of new ideas and old ones newly articulated – personal, anecdotal, at times polemic, but always lively and unpretentious.

We adopted “new directions” as our tag line back in 1985 in an effort to distinguish ourselves from a host of other literary magazines, all of which aspired, in one way or another, to the “new.” We began with an editorial announcing our interest in new writers and new forms of writing and followed with a special issue on magic realism as it was then being reinterpreted in the Canadian context. However, there was nothing missionary in our intent. We are not the sort of editors who have a vision of what Canadian literature ought to be and the determination to make it be that, worrying at the heels of Canadian writers like a shelty dog, urging along the reluctant middle, reeling in the determined stray, until all are comfortably corralled in some new “ism.” Our intention was simply to indicate a certain receptivity to work which, in one way or another, stretched the boundaries of conventional realism.

We should have known it wouldn’t work – not for a want of adventurous new writing but because of something resolutely old fashioned in ourselves. I have always found that a photograph of the most spectacular scenery will pale on me in time if there is no one I know in the foreground. Similarly, I have difficulty sustaining interest in a story if the characters don’t compel it. Working against our collective commitment to the new was a host of ingrained predilections, as idiosyncratic as our editors themselves: a softness for corning-of-age stories, for poems which appeal to our political conscience, for black humour, for anything to do with baseball, for work set in the small west coastal towns of our childhood, or for stories which one of our editors ruefully calls “middle aged.” And though we delight in the eclectic mix that appears in these pages, we sometimes feel, guiltily, that we are not living up to our billing.

So a new tactic. We began to toss about the idea of publishing a series of essays on new directions, a forum not for ourselves but for our writers and readers to discuss changes in their perspectives either on their own writing or Canadian writing generally. At about the same time, I happened on a musty volume of The New Directions Anthology on my father’s bookshelf. Although my own undergraduate education had been fuelled by New Directions paperbacks, that pioneering American press founded in the 1930s by James Laughlin (and irreverently dubbed “Nude Erections” by Ezra Pound, one of its early contributors) had not been in our minds when we adopted the new directions tag line. But paging through the anthology, I found, sure enough, an essay titled “new directions,” a Marxist rant on the unhappy relationship between aesthetics and capitalism which sounded eerily like the current Canadian debate on state funding for the arts. So there are no new directions but probably plenty of the other kind.

Another serendipitous accident led me to an article on Laughlin himself in the March 23rd New Yorker. He had what seems to us the two most desirable attributes for an editor – manic energy and independent means – and he spoke about his work with the combination of humility and arrogance we sometimes recognize in ourselves. In a letter to Dylan Thomas, he says, “I hope you will take it upon yourself to educate me about the things that I publish. If you think a lot of the things in NEW DIRECTIONS are awful please tell me so, and why. I want to be helped. I am not proud about this, or very sensitive. What I have is good intentions. And I need help from the gifted to see that I don’t waste my good intentions on bad writing …. ” Elsewhere, however, he says, ” … if an author was terribly difficult I just dropped him. I tended to want people to do just what I wanted and how I wanted to do things.”

So, in this first of our essays on new directions. Diane Schoemperlen educates us on what writers and the writing life are really like. We invite other essays, diabtribes, explorations, but as for the fiction and poetry we publish, we will probably continue to please our own erratic sense of what’s good.

– Kim Jernigan

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