Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Celebrating Forty Years of Canadian Poetry with Arc

It was with warmth and familiarity that attendees of Arc Poetry Magazine’s 40th anniversary launch were greeted on Tuesday evening. As everyone waited for the stage to get set up, people milled about embracing old colleagues, discussing shared interests, and reminiscing over poems and memories past. Once everyone took their seats, the founding director of the Writer’s Festival, Neil Wilson, took the stage to open the event by thanking the countless people who work to make each event such a joyous success, before inviting Arc Magazine’s associate poetry editor, Frances Boyle, up to host the evening and introduce the featured authors.


First up was Ashley Hynd, whose first-ever publication was in Arc Magazine one year ago. Hynd’s poetry focuses upon reclamation and accountability, and her readings covered broader Indigenous issues as well as more familial experiences. Her work was a delight to listen to, as it was both poignantly personal and specific as well as deeply thought-provoking. Hynd’s reflections on her childhood and family held in them a sense of nostalgia that seemed to echo throughout the evening’s readings.


Next, poet Mary di Michele took the stage to read a selection of her work. A long-time contributor to Arc, she admitted she does not remember the date of her first contribution, but it was clear that she treasures her relationship with the magazine. Di Michele shared poems that spoke of the timeless realities of motherhood, as she compared her own trials and triumphs to those of the Greek lyric poet Sappho. Di Michele also paid homage to a late friend with her poem “Forgetfulness,” and to her father in “The Montreal Book of the Dead.”  Both poems imagine a world where those who have passed on are still living among us. Through her beautiful words, Di Michele kept in theme with the evening, by bringing the past into the present.


Halfway through the evening, Boyle changed the pace by announcing Deborah-Anne Tunney as the winner of Arc’s Diana Brebner Prize, for her poem, Our World. The audience was then treated to a reading by Tunney, in which she reflected on the days of her youth not like a moment in time, but more like another place, as she declared, “Somewhere I’m still young.”


When Carolyn Smart took her turn, she reflected on her first time reading for Arc in 1983 with her late friend Bronwen Wallace. She recalled how Wallace used to open her readings by sharing the work of someone else, and in a touching nod to this tradition, she read one of Wallace’s poems before sharing some of her own. The poems she shared from Careen once again blurred the line between the past and present as she read from the perspectives of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde.


At the end of the evening, the crowd was addressed by Robert Hogg, whose poetry was featured in the first issue of Arc. As Hogg read some of the work that was first printed forty years ago, he said that the messages he wrote back then still felt, in some ways, quite pertinent. Perhaps, then, this is the effect of poetry, and the role Arc plays—to preserve the temporary and make it timeless. Hogg’s reading also demonstrated how poetry can carry emotions and experiences into the next moment, where they can resonate with the common collective. As Hogg read his distinctly rural poems, he reflected on how things have changed and how they have remained the same. In his poem Summer of ’63, he made the audience feel as if they too were experiencing the immortal bohemian lifestyle of Hogg and his friends in the 60s, before admitting that most of the people in the poem had now passed on.


Over all, it was a pleasant night of poetry and nostalgia. After nearly half a century, the pivotal role that Arc has played in the lives of countless Canadian writers is clear. From the sample of featured authors, it is evident that the publication provides a platform from which a diverse group of people can have their voices heard. Arc creates a sense of community within the Canadian literary community that is cherished and well-deserving of such a wonderful celebration.