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Nesting on the Cliff
This is the first in an irregular series of reviews of regional literary magazines in Canada.

A tickle-ace is a small, graceful gull known in Canada as a kittiwake. It spends its life at sea, but nests on Newfoundland cliffs. And like other Newfoundlanders, it is experiencing hard times because it depends on fish for a living, but survives, precariously. The literary journal TickleAce has survived a good many years, through more than thirty issues, with the help of private donors, funding agencies, and even the City of St. John's. It was not the first literary journal in Newfoundland. Protocol was published as long ago as 1946. The Newfoundland Quarterly has been publishing some poetry and literary prose for a century or more. But TickleAce is much the most professional, comparing favourably in print, layout, and illustration, as well as in content, with other regional and national journals across Canada.
As might be expected in a province with such artists as Mary Pratt, Christopher Pratt, David Blackwood, and Gerald Squires (among many), visual art is strong in Newfoundland, and TickleAce makes an effort to represent it with excellent front and back cover illustrations from paintings, and black-and-white reproductions inside, featuring one artist per issue. Black-and-white reproductions of such things as watercolours and dyes on silk lose a great deal, of course, but you nevertheless get a feeling of what the artist is all about, and the fineness of the technique. The selections are well done, and made me wish I could see the originals. As with the prose, you feel that this is the work of accomplished artists, whether they ever get to be acclaimed as "world-class" or not.
TickleAce is well produced, visually pleasing, professional in every respect. It is not entirely immune to literary trends, but at least there is only a little postmodernist deconstructionism. The stories tend to have shape, form, and structure, even-quite often-a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some of the writers have been practising their craft for a long time, and improving as they go. Bernice Morgan, for instance, had been writing away, unrecognized, for more than thirty years before she published her first novel, the highly successful Random Passage. Geraldine Chafe Rubia, Percy Janes, and Helen Fogwill Porter have been at it fully as long. Perhaps this makes for greater respect for tradition than in the more strenuously avant-garde publications, and that, surely, is a good thing.
There does, however, seem to be more than a trace of deconstruction in TickleAce as a whole: bits and pieces of English major stuff and creative writing seminars tend to fly off in all directions at once-sometimes just a paragraph or two of dissociated prose. Much of what is set out as poetry is in fact prose, and fairly readable prose at that. I discovered that I was enjoying a lot of it in spite of its being arbitrarily chopped into short lines instead of being set out in traditional paragraphs. There is some real poetry there, too. Not much, of course. Real poets aren't that plentiful. In fact, this journal is relatively free of the kind of "poetry" all too common in Canada, consisting of nothing but a few vague ideas jotted down without structure, grammar, punctuation, or even imagery, and of no interest to anyone except the writer. The editors have some standards, though they tend to be lax.
Unlike most current poetry, which often has no more verbal decoration than a grocery list, TickleAce dares to publish compositions in regular metres (including the iambic pentameters beloved of Shakespeare) and occasionally even with internal and external rhymes. Not that this is at all common; much more frequent is this sort of thing, by Agnes Walsh:

you drive the truck
with a couple of two-by-four
and a spare tire in the back.

Still, the tradition of English-language poetry is there, though you may have to dig for it in the work of such aging academics as Philip Gardner and Alastair Macdonald, none of whom is a major poet, either.
The fiction I find more interesting, and it varies, as you'd expect, but some of it is very good indeed-sound, well-crafted short stories that would not be out of place in any established writer's collection. It makes you believe that the Canadian short story really does have a future, even if its public is small. Some of the best writing in Canada today is being done in Newfoundland-not only satire and humour, and not only for television-and this journal is perhaps its primary showcase. There's a reason for regional publication, even if your writing isn't regional. As one writer remarks, when you live in St. John's and publish with a small mainland press, you won't be able to find your own book in the bookstores. If you publish regionally, you at least get to see yourself in print, and your friends are able to buy your work.
On the whole, the writing is very good indeed. Am I a disinterested judge? Perhaps not; though I have lived in Nova Scotia for the past twenty years, and have never contributed to TickleAce, I was myself a founder of the Newf-cult movement that began around 1970 and has been gathering momentum ever since. Some of those publishing today were students in my first creative writing class, so I watch their progress with a certain sense of pride. I may not have taught them anything, but I may have helped them believe they could do it.
Of the first thirty contributors I checked out, twenty were Newfoundlanders, so TickleAce may be considered fairly representative of contemporary Newfoundland writing, art, and criticism. Some of the writers were born in villages not only without libraries, but without roads, electricity, or a public water supply, but, perhaps through contact with Memorial University's truly excellent English department, they show as much sophistication as contributors to Canadian Fiction Magazine or The New Quarterly. Moreover, coming from a place where life is lived perpetually on the edge, they have much more to say than some of their mainland contemporaries.
To my way of thinking, too much space is devoted to interviews-space that might better be used for one or two additional short stories-and to my way of thinking the reviews are too long, too many, and sometimes lacking in any real critical sense. But then, criticism is perhaps the weakest element in Canada's literary culture.

 Harold Horwood is the author, most recently, of Evening Light (Pottersfield).


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