I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t say it enough. I just don’t think there is a magazine published on this side of the border that can compare with the Canadian magazines. Grain is published in Saskatchewan and like the many marvelous literary journals produced across the vast and exquisite land to my north, it is exceptionally good. The theme of this issue is “Conversation,” which I understand to mean dialogue, relationship(s), images that reverberate and connect, and language in the service of vision, understanding, and meaningfulness. Editor Sylvia Legris traces the word’s roots to “the act of living with” or to keep company. Grain is all this and more.
I began to turn back the corners of pages I found especially worthwhile to which I would refer in this woefully inadequate review, and by the time I’d reached the end of the magazine (about 100 pages), I’d turned back every single page in the issue. I’d marked beautiful, deceptively simple poems by Tim Lilburn; evocative prose poems, ostensibly about Nova Scotia, by Sue Goyette with some of the issue’s most memorable lines (“the lack of caressable verbs”); a smart, edgy story by Dani Couture (“Mechanical Baby”); insightful interviews by Eleanor Wachtel with Xi Chuan and Kyle Botner with Wang Jiaxin, along with their provocative poetry; “Unsent Letter” by Warren Heti, excerpted from his epic-like “The Metamorphosis of Agriope,” Myrna Kotash’s “Letter to George Ryga” an argument/treatise about contemporary conditions in the Ukraine; the surprisingly mature poems of seventeen-year old poet Chuqiao (Teresa) Yang, spare and lovely; a pleasurable family memoir in numbered segments by Steven Hayward, “Aunt Daisy’s Secret Sauce for Hamburgers”; and Melanie Bell’s utterly gorgeous poem “Letters from Inuvik” (“The ancestors gash fish with a half-moon ulu. Thunk-thunk. Thunk-thunk. One half of the circle of life is the space where it ends, your finger on the notch where it began, the rest sliced away.”).
I didn’t turn back the cover despite my intention to single it out, so as not to ruin Beijing-based artist Jiang Jie’s extraordinary, larger than life image, a photograph of a sculpture from her series “BE,” a baby’s head so finely and realistically rendered it essentially becomes surreal. In her introductory note, Editor Legris astutely says of this strangely disturbing work: “The all-seeing, seeming to follow-you-around-the-room eyes of Jiang’s babies arouse feelings of peacefulness tempered with paranoia.” All the work in Grain will follow you around for days after you’ve closed the cover, and the turned-back pages will arouse, not feelings of paranoia, but admiration, pleasure, and awe.