Longing and Snow Shovels: CanLit as Mission Impossible


By Shawn Syms

“All I want to write these days is short fiction and poetry. Novels are impossible,” says supremely experienced Canadian novelist, poet and short fiction writer Steven Heighton in conversation with Winnipeg wunderkind Struan Sinclair in this issue of the Winnipeg Review.

Well, here at TWR, we are big fans of short fiction, and poetry—and the impossible. As Sinclair says in response to Heighton, “reading and writing well requires the investment of attention.” We’re proud to say that in this issue, our band of astute critical contributors have made that investment—and have applied their incisive minds to an astonishing and challenging batch of Canadian literary fiction as the spring publishing season lurches into life.

Anyone who thinks CanLit is all about longing and snow shovels clearly has not yet dipped into the current volume of this publication. We dissect works that feature a lascivious seventeenth-century butcher and an African grey parrot that speaks fluent Yiddish—and those are just from the larger presses!

We also discuss plots in which politicized pianists plan to persecute bilious billionaires and scabrous skinheads plow down a wayward lion. In our excerpted work by Kris Bertin, duelling garbagemen uncover stashed blankets and nighties soaked in blood. Our New Work feature by exciting newcomer Cindy Matthews explores cancers both real and imagined. Did we mention our appreciation of poetry? We’re proud this month to feature a new poem by Steven Heighton that meditates on life, death and fishing.

The pages our diverse reviewers flip through this quarter not only experiment in form and content, but sometimes disrupt expected market patterns as well. The multifarious experimental scribe and noted small-press denizen Gary Barwin has cracked the mainstream by landing his curious and provocative novel Yiddish for Pirates with Random House Canada. And Andrew F. Sullivan, who stormed review pages across the country with his debut collection with Winnipeg’s own ARP Books, has taken to US indie darling Dzanc Books for his first novel Waste.

Might such developments mean more mobility for Canadian literary writers who can’t stop pushing boundaries? The jury is out—but regardless, we at the Winnipeg Review just cannot shut up about Canada’s cultural output in all of its manners and meanings. And we invite you to join the conversation by using the “Post a Comment” link at the bottom of every single page.

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From the Editor's Desk

Shawn Syms

Shawn Syms is an associate editor of the Winnipeg Review.