Culture & Conversation

The Birth of Weijia

I vividly remember the first time I read a poem in front of an audience. It was back in grade 10, part of a creative writing class that was an elective in high school. Standing up in front of my peers and reciting my thoughts out loud felt like the most ambitious thing I had ever done. I literally burst into tears out of relief and satisfaction afterwards, then taking my seat back down amongst my peers. There was a certain power I had felt in my vulnerability.

In my mind, an effective reading is emblematic of a community that has come together to listen. The presence of the literary reading is a healthy symbol of artistry and one that Weijia Quarterly, a new Mile End-based quarterly of writing and art, succesfully embodied with its current launch.

Weijia Quarterly, curated and edited by Sarah Brunning and Sonya Mandus, celebrated its inaugural launch on February 22, 2013 at La Brique, a loft space in the Mile End just north of the train tracks.

The reading featured eight local writers, a charismatic MC, six musical acts and a dj. Yes, the launch was ambitious in scale, but the reading managed to pack the room, drawing close to 200 attendees throughout the night.

A specific article comes to my mind on the topic of the reading. In On a Lifetime of Poetry Readings, published in the New Yorker, Donald Hall muses: “It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public,” he writes, citing Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams,Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore as early examples. Back then, Hall writes, famous poets read aloud only two or three times a year.

Late in the fifties, poetry readings erupted suddenly and numerously. “Probably it was because of Dylan Thomas’s readings,” Hall writes. “His popularity was not only on account of his voice or his verse. Thomas was a star, and most people came to his readings because of the Tales of Master Dylan—vast drunkenness, creative obscenity at parties, botched seductions, nightly comas—but if people attended because of his celebrity, at least they were going to a poetry reading.”

The launch included readings from Brunning herself, Roland Pemberton, Ali Pinkney, Trevor Barton, Jay Winston Ritchie, Matthew E. Duffy, Devon Welsh, Amy Carlberg, P. A.Karneef and myself with musical performances from Majical Cloudz, PAULA, Alex Calder, Some Ember, Prince Innocence and Agor.

“Weijia exists in direct response to the lack of a contemporary, non-academic publication for writers and artists working in Montreal,” said Sarah Brunning, one of the two editors, in an email correspondance. “Weijia exists in direct response to the fact that writers here are rockstars or secret writers causing shit every weekend. There is a community of these creators who operate in the centre of the Montreal music scene, doing amazing readings but have no physical home for their work.”

Three of the readers featured at the launch have established touring, musical projects: Welsh as Majical Cloudz, Karneef as Karneef and Pemberton as Cadence Weapon. At 26, Pemberton is a three-time Polaris prize nominee and former Poet Laureate to Edmonton, AB.

While heavily focused on writing, Weijia extends far and beyond literature. With fiction composing the first third of the quarterly and poetry composing the last third, the centre of the quarterly itself is a succulent heap of visual art.

Its content and corresponding Tumblr features interviews from local poets, filmmakers, songwriters, visual artists, painters, designers, photographers, videographers and more.

“I drove to Toronto with my boyfriend to pick up the printed copies from the publisher. It was during that record snowstorm and the highway was a literal white out,” Brunning told me. “Every kilometre there was another car crash. It took 10 hours to get in to town, but when we got there and saw the books all I could think was, ‘No shit we didn’t die. We couldn’t have.’”

With 200 copies printed, Weijia Quaterly is a 117-page perfect-bound book featuring the work of 26 writers and artists, most living in and around the Mile End. Designed by Julian Garcia, the publication is now stocked at Drawn & Quarterly and Oxford.

Weijia is accepting submissions for their second issue. Submit writing and art to: weijiaquarterly.submittable.com/submit

Check back for more of my musings next week, and if you haven’t yet read my first posting from last week, you can check that out in the meantime over here.

If you have any comments, questions or literary reading postings, please feel free to contact me at ashley.e.opheim@gmail.com with subject line THIS IS HAPPENING.

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