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June 7, 2011

Descant 110: Birthing

I am an unabashed devotee of small magazines, but secondhand back issues for sale always strikes me as a bit pathetic. Sort of like the used National Geographics in Nikolski, where they never managed to sell a single issue. Does anybody really want to buy a copy of The Fiddlehead from 2003? Every year, the Victoria College Book Sale seems to hope so, but I don’t imagine they have much luck. Or maybe they do–I don’t know. I just think that magazines are meant to be a bit ephemeral.

Not all of them, however, and here’s the proof. Here also is the proof behind that claim that small magazines are where our finest writers get their starts. Ages ago, I bought the Descant 110: Birthing, which was published in 2000. (Clarity note: I am not pregnant. Am reading it now because I’ve made it through the C books in my to-be-reads, and Descant starts with D). I picked it up at a used bookstore because the topic was interesting, and then I bought it because of the writers inside– most of whom hadn’t published books at time the issue was published. Who’s who? Jonathan Garfinkel, Laisha Rosnau, Michelle Berry, Jonathan Bennett and Stephen Marche. Also, Diana Kiesners, now of The Accordian Diaries.

It was an absolutely stellar issue, one of those wonderful thematic ones whose points in common just seem like a coincidence. One of my two favourite pieces was “Hardiness Zones” by JA McCormack, which was way too awesome and assured to have been written by a writer going nowhere. Some googling cleared it up: JA is Judith McCormack, who published The Rule of Last Clear Chance 3 years later, and also a chapbook with Biblioasis. She is also a lawyer, and a law professor, which might explain what’s she’s been up to in years since. (But I want to read her books now).

And then Diana Kiesner’s weird, wonderful and absolutely perfect essay “Long History of a Small Idea” about the practical considerations surrounding getting a poem written on the surface of an egg. And thank goodness the history is long, because it’s also funny, erudite, and full of practical advice should I ever require a poem written on the surface of an egg: “It is the making of something out of nothing; also of nothing (an abstraction) out of something (a perfectly good food source).” Totally weird, and absolutely masterful.

Anyway, this secondhand magazine is going to live on my shelf forevermore. So I guess anything is now officially possible.

Update: Do forgive. I have spent this week quite ill, sleepless and braindead, therefore I forgot to remark upon another exceptional piece in this issue. But then I just read Sarah Henstra’s blog post about clowns, which mentioned her vocal teacher Fides Krucker, who wrote the essay in question– this amazing piece linking the sounds of childhbirth with vocal training, how being a singer helped her in childbirth, and how having given birth made her a better singer. Remarkable for the way the writer describes sounds, and body. Once again, like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

2 thoughts on “Descant 110: Birthing”

  1. Sheree says:

    I once had a relationship with a clown. I mean a professional clown. I loved how he juggled ping ping balls with his mouth. He knew a lot of magic. (:

  2. Lovely! My short story “Broken Water” is in that edition (I was just Googling it to look up the publication date). It was the first piece I ever published.

    I’ve never forgotten the Michelle Berry piece in that issue ~ the image of a woman refusing to give birth really stayed with me.

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