- Editing Modernity: Women and Little-Magazine Cultures in Canada, 1916-1956
Dean Irvine's exploration of the mechanisms of little-magazine production in Canada is a work of impeccable scholarship and a welcome addition to the body of texts that lay emphasis on the work of women in the production and dissemination of progressive writing, particularly poetry, in numerous minority publications. It draws on an extraordinary number of Canadian archival records, and also the records of a large number of cultural organizations such as the Canadian Arts Council, the Canadian Broadcasting Association, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and the National Film Board of Canada. This provides an excellent position from [End Page 491] which Irvine is able to contrast the editorial ethos of little magazines against the official view of the arts put forward by these organizations. Also addressed are the involvement of Canadian left-wing organizations such as the 1931 League for Social Reconstruction, the Young Communist League, and theWomen's Labor League, with the always-tenuous finance and uneasy survival of left-wing Canadian magazines of the 1930s such as New Frontier, Masses, and Right Hand, Left Hand. Irvine also discusses the way that the Massey Commission Report of 1951 was received by editors of an assortment of Canadian minority magazines, some leftist, some anti-modern, some nationalist.
Irvine's essays, for the most part, concentrate on the work of women. The title is slightly misleading, since not all of the women poets who receive his attention are editors. The chapter entitled 'Marginal Modernisms: Victoria Vancouver Ottawa, 1935-1953,' for instance, contains a section on Contemporary Verse, which was edited by a man, Alan Crawley. Given that four women founded the magazine, 'it may seem unfair,' writes Irvine, 'to ask in hindsight why none of Livesay, Marriott, Ferne, or McLaren even contemplated taking on the editorship herself, or even collectively.' He does, however, suggest many reasons, some connected to the reputation of the Canadian Authors Association whence it was founded. The chapter continues with a contrast between the ethos of Contemporary Verse and that of Canadian Poetry Magazine (edited by Earle Birney) and teases out the relationship of both magazines to the long-running American magazine Poetry, edited by Harriet Monroe. Irvine's readings, particularly that of the poets Dorothy Livesay and Anne Marriott, are scrupulously taken within a context of economic survival, not only of the magazines in which they were published but within their own lives: 'Economic pressures also governed Marriott's prolonged decline in poetic production after 1945.'
Besides Irvine's detailed readings of these four more well-known poets, there are interesting accounts of the work of little-known editors such as Eleanor Godfrey, Myra Lazechko-Haas, and Yvonne Agazarian, and a wealth of excellent detail on the contribution of women to the editorial policy of a variety of short- and long-running magazines. What would have been useful here is more of a sense of each magazine as a whole, either in appearance or in content; illustrations, normally essential to works that deal with print culture, would also have been extremely helpful. There is also surprisingly little account of the placement and juxtaposition of the work of other contributors in each publication, which would have enhanced the reader's understanding of the character of each particular magazine. That said, it is clear that Irvine's work is indispensable to a broader understanding of Canadian modernism in general, and of the contributions of Canadian women poets in particular. [End Page 492]
Victoria Kingham, Department of English and Humanities, De Montfort University