by the Editors
"WHAT WAS CANADIAN literature?' wondered Esquire columnist Stephen Marche, and with fuse duly lit, Partisan kicked off with a bang last April. Marche's essay posited that "Canadian literature, in the sense of a literature shaped by the Canadian nation and shaping the nation, is over." Fighting words—later to be discussed on the inaugural episode of Maclean's books podcast Bibliopod. It was a fitting opening salvo for a literary and arts magazine with an international orientation, a magazine whose trajectory begins in Toronto, but whose editors and contributors span Canada, the United States, and the UK. Put another way: we care about CanLit (whatever that was), but we also care about the Darknet, boxing, and Britpop. And we'll take an infuriating list (one that re-skins Yeats as a "UK poet") over a listless essay any day.
Not every Partisan piece had the impact of Marche's, but many of them dispatched ripples (and ruffled feathers). "This isn’t what is sometimes called a 'safe space,'" we wrote in our opening editorial, our one-and-only trigger warning. "It’s a roof for writers who avoid such jargon to pursue difficult ideas and, as George Orwell put it, 'let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.'" To wit, our contributors bravely wondered if Frederick Seidel is overrated; compared Joan Didion to kale; lost their belief in "literature"; critiqued Jonathan Franzen; critiqued those who critique Jonathan Franzen; lamented the deplorable state of translation in Canada; asked if Canadian playwrights need to be better read; bulldozed the Best American Poetry franchise; humbly offered an alternative to some boring CBC list; and cocked an ear at the deafening silence that was emitted by many poets when Scott Griffin's ties to a Saudi arms deal were exposed.
But be careful what you wish for, or, at least, commission; our contributors held us to our word and dared to have opinions. Stewart Cole took issue with a book by one of our favourite poets, Robyn Sarah, a book that would go on to win Sarah her first Governor General's Award. (We interviewed her here.) Although he found much to admire in Sarah's effort, he also found himself, as a reader, "amid a clangour of bad choices, or worse—alternate possibilities not even weighed, as though in the latter part of the book this eminent poet has come to trust herself a bit too much, to not take seriously her obligation to defend herself to herself." More fighting words, though stylishly put over, and backed, as in all of Cole's writing, with an army of proof points. We had no choice but to submit and publish. (For more of Cole, here he is wrestling with Ken Babstock.)
But while some of our pieces took fierce positions and made noise, other essays (and more essays than our detractors prefer to countenance) brought attention to cult concerns, like a forgotten silent film star, the Canadian modernist Jay Macpherson, the American poet Daniel Brown, neglected Canadian novels, and the category of minor figures in general. Perhaps, then, Partisan was a safe space in 2015—at least, for the undeservedly obscure and forgotten. One thing's for sure: this was the year we couldn't shut up about Daryl Hine.
The magazine was blessed by the presence of big names, including Marche, William Logan, Ange Mlinko, Daisy Fried, Stephen Burt, Molly Peacock, A.E. Stallings, Mary Dalton, Matthew Zapruder, Karen Solie, Eric Ormsby, David Biespiel, Laurent Binet, and Stephen Metcalf, among many others. (We're especially proud of our interview with Metcalf; it's the first major print interview with Slate's critic-at-large, who offers a masterclass in critical thinking about criticism.) Partisan was also lucky to provide the backdrop to a number of rising, blazing stars, like Brooke Clark, Phoebe Maltz Bovy, Suzannah Showler (our new manager editor) and Jack Hanson (our contributing editor).
Thanks for reading Partisan this year, and stay tuned; we have big plans for 2016, which include ensuring the sustainability of this labour of love and expanding our pool of partisans to include more diverse voices willing to take strong, stylish positions about literature and culture.
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