A Canadian acquaintance recently bemoaned the state of American small publishing to me: why, even in San Francisco – clearly the New New York of the Lulu.com era – is it impossible to find work in publishing? I had no answer for him. Canadians are indeed a lucky bunch. For a land with such a sparse prospective audience, there is an abundance of funding for the arts. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to find it more exuberant about its own import. The New Quarterly has devoted an issue to the topic of “The Artist as Activist.”
The nonfiction articles are warming: jazz musician Steve Kirby appears to have singlehandedly rebuilt the musical landscape of Winnipeg. Immigrant children in Toronto express their creativity by cutting hair. Grown men forge into the woods to regain a connection with their spirit-animals, and are taken seriously. Even literary magazine editors get awarded with canoe trips. People of the south, take notice: Canada is fun!
Maybe it has to do with history: the dour scribes of America’s infancy remained engrossed in eradicating the relevance of all artistic licenses with their fire-and-brimstone sermons. Canada got John Galt – a jocular gentleman whose penchant for founding towns was equaled only by his industriousness as an author of popular novels. Two hundred years later, the ramifications of this choice are still with us: when a gaggle of evangelical Christians annex a Nicaraguan school and turn it into a hospital/conversion center, it’s a Canadian (Nicola Ross) who assumes the role of a bemused cultural correspondent.
In Ross’s article, as in several others, it isn’t clear whether the artist is really an activist. Indeed, Canadians seem a trifle woozy in warm weather. The fiction certainly prefers aesthetic shade: Janice Goveas’s “Cough,” a brief sketch of a woman venturing south in the hopes of helping a band of hidden Mexican revolutionaries gain asylum, tends to rest on its descriptive laurels – literally. Ditches become “busy” with wildflowers; a street vendor is described as: “A white light, hung on a tree and fuelled by a propane tank, lights the vendor’s gnarly hands as he quickly folds together meat and bread to sell to the shadows that sidle up to his stall.” This occasional hesitation in no way dilutes the potency of the articles in The New Quarterly, which consistently justifies any international shipping charges. [www.tnq.ca]