Rhythms of Discovery

THERE ARE RHYTHMS in the life of a magazine, rhythms that govern how it begins, who it draws, where it leads, and when it does these things all over again. As it must, if it is to stay alive. It must begin again, draw again, seek fresh perspectives and horizons it has not yet seen. But how to find them? where? It seeks its readers by following its writers, making a magazine somehow a “journal” in that other sense of the word as well: the explorer’s record book, sent home from the frontier with charts and sketches, memories of the past, glimpses of the unfamiliar, and tales of the miraculous. Do we promise that? Only to try.

With this issue, Canadian Literature turns 1oo and steps into its second quarter-century. It is by no means the longest-lived of Canadian magazines, but it is the oldest critical quarterly to have taken Canadian writers and writing as its sole topic; and because of its subject, the most miraculous thing about it may well for some people be the fact of its survival at all. For there were many in 1959 — despite the fact that the newly established Canada Council and the newly published Massey Report were at the time calling for greater attention to Canadian culture — who watched the founding of Canadian Literature with disbelief. (Wouldn’t the journal run out of material, they said, and anyway who would read it? who would write? was there a Canadian literature? didn’t we already have somewhere an essay on Leacock?) But after the first issues there was no dearth of material, nor any lack of contributors with original minds and articulate styles. And there was an audience. Canada’s major writers and major critics have written for the journal. Over twenty-five years they have educated us how to read Canadian writing, and required us to expect more from it, to value the traditions we have inherited and to appreciate the writers writing among us now. And in this issue — in all their variety, expressing points of view that often conflict with each other, points of view with which this journal sometimes does not editorially agree — many of Canada’s major current writers reflect on people, politics, art, and language. In the prose and poetry assembled here is a glimpse (yet only a glimpse, though through several sets of eyes) of the plural character of modern Canadian literature, and of the several subjects which currently preoccupy Canadian writers’ minds.

Looking back at the way Canadian Literature began, it is easy to attribute courage, faith, and foresight to the founders. But theirs was also an act of deliberate planning and sheer determination. Some of them had been affiliated with other journals and were concerned at the time to draw attention to Canadian writing: Roy Daniells had helped found the Manitoba Arts Review before leaving Winnipeg for Vancouver; George Woodcock had edited Now before returning to Canada, and had recently been arguing in the Dalhousie Review for a journal of Canadian letters; Earle Birney had years earlier edited the Canadian Author and Bookman and was enthusiastic about the founding of a new Canadian arts magazine. Canadian Literature grew out of the concerted discussions of these and several other members of the University of British Columbia faculty, particularly Geoffrey Andrew and Stanley Read of the English Department, and Neal Harlow of the Library. A grant from the Koerner Foundation enabled the journal to begin production; the University invited George Woodcock to be the first editor; and then followed the years of discovery. There were many other people, of course, whose taste, judgment, and energy have enlivened and guided the magazine — among whom are the successive members of the production and editorial staff: Donald Stephens, Ronald Sutherland, Herbert Rosengarten, Laurie Ricou, with the assistance of Inglis W. Bell, Basil Stuart-Stubbs, Tina Harrison, Henny Winterton, Beverly Westbrook, and others still. But it is George Woodcock to whom so much of the journal’s development is due. It was his editorial skills which built the magazine over its first eighteen years, his judgments which so personally affected its contents, and his critical expectations which have so markedly touched the recent course of Canadian criticism. In those eighteen years, the journal helped trace the growth and describe the subjects of Canadian writing, helped refine readers’ sense of artistic accomplishment and focus attention on the waves of talent that emerged in the 1920’s, the 1940’s, the 1960’s.

And now the journal is twenty-five. To celebrate, we are focusing in this issue less on the historical achievements of the past than on the fact that literature is a live art, happening around us in the present. And we are focusing less on theories of criticism than on the creative practice of writers themselves — their poems, their journals, their glimpses of the literary craft, and their views of the world around them. It has been one of the characteristics of Canadian Literature since its beginning that writers and critics have shared the pages, repeatedly integrating the twin processes of reading and writing. Here they range widely across subjects and forms, seeking self, seeking shape in the worlds they see and dream — they are map-makers all, reporting home on the territories of the mind, the memories of possibility, the miracles of language.

It is a pleasure to acknowledge here publicly the support the journal has received over the years: from the contributors and the readers first of all, who by their enthusiasm have helped create an audience for Canadian writing; from the University of British Columbia, which has published the journal as one tangible expression of its concern for the university’s role in community education; from the SSHRCC, which has long assisted Canadian Literature financially; and from several organizations for their special help in financing this anniversary publication: the Koerner Foundation, the McLean Foundation, the Samuel & Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation, the Canada Council, the UBC Alumni Association. It is a pleasure, too, to acknowledge the skills of Robert Reid, who designed the typeface of Canadian Literature; of George Kuthan, whose prints graced the magazine’s early issues (and several of which are reprinted here); and of Charles Morriss, Richard Morriss, and Ron Smith, whose love for the art of printing has given the journal its visual appeal. We are grateful for the contributions they all have made to the journal’s continuity.

We acknowledge the past. We celebrate the present.

Yet it is the future that draws us forward. While celebrating our heritage and the artistic talents around us, we live as readers and writers with an eye scanning the next horizon; always there is a possibility yet to come. It is this vitality that leads a journal on, to follow the rhythms of discovery into its next quarter-century : the urge still to tell of memory and imagination, and to seek new ways to send home maps and tales.


Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.