Since 1973, Saskatchewan’s Grain: the journal of eclectic writing has been publishing new and emerging writers. The Fall 2015 issue entitled “Who’s Knocking?” complied by guest editor Alice Kuiper, begins with a quote from Thomas Edison:
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.
Kuiper continues her preface with a story about one contributor, a poet who had not responded to emails, had no online presence, and was eventually discovered in a correctional institution. She describes how they worked on edits over the phone and the resulting poem, “The Frostbitten Bell” by Pascal Poirier, a carpenter incarcerated for drug crimes, has his first published piece:
Lining the street, street lamps light the mist
From mouths of long-dead singers
All those frozen children
A constant, incomprehensible choir
The poem, like the issue, is wise, sweet, and brave. At Grain, no corners are cut. How many editors or magazines would take the time to hunt down a missing first-time poet and put effort into editing, type-setting, and printing? In this lightning-flash internet-clicking age, not many. No timely response. No publication.
Sharon Bala’s revealing and passionate story “The Frog” follows a young Canadian couple’s trip to Cappadocia to visit the woman’s family. The male gets food poisoning and spends days in bed. The woman is faced with stepping back in time and juggling traditional family loyalties with being a modern academic at a Canadian University. “You look good in a headscarf, he’d told her. She’d rolled her eyes and said, Don’t you start.” Halfway through the tight narrative, a revolution erupts in Istanbul and the woman wants to join the historic riot in the city. Her brother, family-head and provider, forbids her to participate in the protest; having funded her university degrees, he is not easily disobeyed. Her Canadian boyfriend has taken the trip to ask for her hand—or actually her brother’s permission—in marriage. He is torn between wanting to help her attend the dangerous riot, or side with the brother and tradition and try and keep his wife-to-be safe. The scenes are a tug-of-war between the BBC reporting decisive world issues—Will Turkey join the EU and modern world?—and traditional family commitments, time-honored dinners, safety, marriage, children. Bala’s storytelling skills are superb. “The Frog” is memorable, both on the sentence level and thematically, and Sharon Bala is worth putting on your author to-watch list.
Besides being wise, sweet, and brave, Grain is not averse to risk-taking. “Prospect” by Estonian writer Eugene Dubnov, translated from Russian by Justin Lumley, reads like a Chekov original from another era. Carrie Mac’s “The Beach” tells a simple story of a despondent housewife who stops to help the victim of a brutal car accident and ends up winning two tickets to Acapulco and a fun-filled week at an all-exclusive. Tim Lehnert’s “The Jade Dragon” catalogues a young man’s coming-of-age, entering the urban multicultural world from a rural childhood, where his only connection to new and exciting cultures is by visiting the local Chinese restaurant. The narrator’s yearning jumps off the page.
Between high-quality fiction, Grain publishes an array of poems: formal verse, prose poems, shape poems, experiments, and art. The featured artist Lora Northway is deeply engaged in community and youth development. Her paintings emanate that feeling of North that is so common in Canada and Scandinavia. One suggestion to the editors might be to spread the art throughout the issue, as the art comes at the beginning and might be forgotten by the time readers dive into one of the longer stories.
In Dani Couture’s poem “Red-Eye,” there is an outstanding line packed in amongst the collage of impressive images, which sums up reading this eclectic issue: “He’s here to show me a trick. How life can be / turned off like a light switch if your finger is / a crowbar.”
Grain is working hard to bring writers to readers. From slickly polished narratives to poems shaped like calendars, from Istanbul to rural Ontario, this magazine is wise, sweet, and brave, and hopefully will be funded and publishing for more than another 43 years. Their work is vital and necessary.