There’s real beauty in people joining together to create a space for the underrepresented, their writing, and in the individuals who work tirelessly to publish them. Beautiful from cover to cover, Canthius, a biannual non-profit feminist and literary art magazine, is part of a growing chorus that champions diversity in poetry and prose. Its contributions to the literary movement and Ottawa are immeasurable.
Puneet Dutt, Cira Nickel, and Claire Farley (@mcrfarley) met in 2015 and bonded over a shared interest in poetry and publishing. An idea sparked. The three “talked about the possibility of starting a magazine and brainstormed names one night over a bottle of wine. In the morning, Puneet tweeted a call for submissions and the rest is history,” says the magazine’s Managing Editor, Claire Farley, adding that hard work, funding, and community support is what has kept Canthius going.
Canthius approached Toronto-based illustrator Alisha Davidson to design their logo based on her work’s body positivity that “depicts womxn’s bodies in all their diversity and intimacy,” says Farley. This paired perfectly with Canthius’s goal to promote and recognize a multiplicity of voices and experiences and make Ottawa’s literary scene and Canada’s body of literature more varied and plentiful.
Over the years the collective has changed, but has always been inspired by Room magazine, Belladonna* press, and other feminist publications and collectives. Today, the Canthius collective includes Manahil Bandukwala (@manaaaahil), Puneet Dutt, Claire Farley, Ashley Hynd, Sarah MacDonell (@sarah_macdonell), Leah MacLean-Evans, and Chuqiao Yang.
The team also includes several local writers who regularly contribute reviews of poetry collections and chapbooks to the Canthius website, among them Frances Boyle, Conyer Clayton, and Jennifer Pederson (@pandora888). As Canthius continues to grow, Farley says, “we want to engage writers and community members who help us fulfill our feminist publishing mandate in a sensitive and thoughtful manner.”
Each issue is celebrated locally with a reading to bring the community together. Last summer, Canthius collaborated with A.R.T. in Action (@artinactionott) and Birling on an outdoor event where poetry was read in the skate shop’s backyard under the big willow tree. Farley recalls how special it was to hear poems outdoors. She says both occasions were opportunities to build and sustain community, “a way of thanking and hosting the community that sustains us.”
“Canthius is possible because of many other feminist-oriented literary publications and organizations who were putting in the work long before we joined the scene, in some cases for decades. No one publication sustains a community and it’s really important for us to position ourselves within a growing chorus rather than as an individual initiative.”
Not-for-profits have to be creative and there’s no shortage of creativity here. When the Ford government cut arts funding, Canthius and many other independent magazines lost their opportunity to apply for Ontario Arts Council (OAC) funding, which the magazine had been receiving since 2017. In search of a new primary revenue source, the team did online fundraising, subscription sales, and held a family BBQ reading event. The literary and wider communities helped, as did MPP Jill Andrew, who publicly advocated for arts funding to be reinstated. In 2020, as a result of this advocacy work, the OAC began accepting funding applications from independent magazines again. Imagination and combined action kept Canthius going.
Priscila Uppal Memorial Award for Poetry
This year, Canthius introduced an annual poetry award in honour of writer, academic, and mentor Priscila Uppal, who died of synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2018. As Meaghan Strimas, a poet and close friend of Uppal’s, writes in a recent interview on the Canthius website, “To be taken seriously by a person like Priscila meant something. Her interest in other people’s process and work was genuine and her drive to create was contagious. She led by example, and she didn’t believe in quitting.” Canthius received over 100 submissions to the inaugural contest—an amazing response.
The next issue
Canthius is busy putting together a Board of Directors and working on their next issue, which will come out in the early fall and will feature the two poets that were awarded the Priscila Uppal Award—Rebekah Rempel and Halle Gulbrandsen—as well as new writing from Canisia Lubrin (@canisialu), Lee Maracle (@MaracleLee), Tracy Wai de Boer (@tracywaideboer), Carolyn Nakagawa (@cynakagawa), Barbara Tran, AJ Dexter, Mónica Gomery, Kathy Mak, Qurat Dar, Christine McNair (@christinemcnair), Annick MacAskill, and Shazia Hafiz Ramji (@Shazia_R). The issue’s featured visual artist is Toronto-based tattoo artist Thomarya “Tee” Fergus.
Issue after issue, Canthius is giving women, non-binary, trans, BIPOC, and other underrepresented authors a platform to be heard. At the same time, Farley says they’re improving: “We are committed to constantly learning and adjusting and doing our best to carve out an encouraging and intersectional feminist space that seeks to reflect Canada’s, and Ottawa’s, full diversity.”
Canthius is a feminist literary arts magazine and non-profit that celebrates poetry and prose by women, transgender men, nonbinary, Two-Spirit, and genderqueer/gender non-conforming writers. The magazine is published bi-annually on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabeg and the traditional territory of the Ojibway and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. You’ll find more information and great feminist literary content at www.canthius.com and @canthius on Twitter.