Published by The Canary Press
Edited by Robert Skinner and Andy Josselyn
Price: $12 AUD
Subscriptions: 1 year (4 issues) is $40 within Australia, $60 international
59 pages, magazine
Literature can bring you many things. But first and foremost, it should bring pleasure.
—The Canary Press
A new Australian literary magazine is a cause for celebration. A new Australian literary magazine with the stated aim of “publishing stories that are so damn good that people can’t resist them”? Yes, please. A quick browse of the website and the magazine’s editorial reveals a self-deprecating wit and quirky ethos on the part of the editors, Robert Skinner and Andy Josselyn, yet underlying this is an earnest dedication to story. They are serious about fiction, but believe first and foremost that it should bring pleasure. The editorial also delivers a warning: we’re planning on going for a long time.
Andy and Robert met in a creative writing class in Adelaide and are now publishing The Canary Press independently from Melbourne. Andy is American, which might explain the high proportion of American writers in the magazine. The contributors are mostly from Australia and the US, but also elsewhere, and it will be interesting to see if this helps the magazine to grow an international readership. Even if it doesn’t, it’s refreshing to see more international contributors in an Australia literary mag. The gender breakdown seems a bit boy-heavy, but I feel uncomfortable judging this from the first issue with just a handful of contributors. Let’s just move on to the stories.
The content ranges from ultra-short, one page flash fiction pieces to longer stories of 5-10 pages. Each story is paired with illustrations commissioned by art editor Gustavo Ortega Rojos, following the same aesthetic as the gorgeously off-beat cover, which he illustrated himself. The shorter pieces are a joy to read; quick nuggets of fiction that you can fit into the briefest of spare moments. The magazine opens with Eric Dittmar’s very short piece “A Storm Trooper Remembers”, in which we find Lord Vader battling bees in his helmet (bonnet?). It’s fun, but another single-page story, “Hold the Pickles” by Michael J. Coene is truly funny, following an evening in the family life of an embattled father and husband who just wants some peace and quiet.
From the selection of short pieces, there is one exception that can’t be digested like pleasurable literary candy. Josephine Rowe, author of Tarcutta Wake (UQP), has contributed a single page story, “King Serpy”, which needed a close second read before I properly appreciated it. Perhaps I was distracted on the first go, expecting something lighter, but the lack of capitalisation, long dense paragraphs and luxurious imagery flowed over my head without really sinking in. I returned to the start, trying to work out what had just happened, and on this closer reading I was deeply moved: so much so, that I’ve since read it a third time. This story is a real gem. It’s just a single page of the magazine, but worth spending some quality time with. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly pleasurable (going back to the journal’s mission statement), but for me, being surprised and moved by a piece like this is what reading literary magazines is all about.
The longer stories provide even more satisfaction. “Hoax Mermaid” by Adelehin Ijasan (a medical doctor and writer who lives in Nigeria) is framed from a Harvard dorm room but quickly flashes back to the central story of a fantastical community corrupted by greed. In “Snare”, by Melbournian Tony Birch, the stuttering teen protagonist is a “skinny, freckle-faced motherfucka skip” who faces and conquers bullying in the outer suburbs. Each of these stories has its merits, but I particularly enjoyed “Frances Pinkweather”, by Batya Ungar-Sargon of Brooklyn. This is the longest story, exceeding 10 pages, and is concerned with a literary love triangle of sorts. It’s not so much the plot but the narrator’s wry, crackling voice that keeps the pages turning quickly: “I pictured her as a swallower, while I pictured myself as a vomiter”.
There’s lots more to enjoy in this first issue of The Canary Press, including letters to the editor and a narrative non-fiction travel column by Rowan Dignam, “Of Mines & Monkeys”, written from his experience in Cambodia. Overall this magazine succeeds as a fresh new voice in the lit mag scene, and in delivering fiction as pleasure. So am I bothered by their threat to keep going for a long time? Let’s just say I’ve purchased a subscription: bring it on.
When he isn’t being a frustrated software developer, Daniel Young is a reader, writer, student and the editor of Tincture Journal. You can find him drunk-tweeting on twitter @jazir1979.