Plenitude!: it’s a brand new magazine of the queer and literary sort, based out of Victoria. If you’ve been missing queer short fiction and poetry in your life—especially poetry—you should be pumped right about now! When I received an email from editor Andrea Routley letting me know about this exciting new venue for queer writers (and readers) I jumped at the chance to review the first issue. There’s a wide variety of work in Plenitude, and it certainly lives up to the promise of plenty in its title. I have a healthy distrust of the term “literary”—I happen to love a lot of writing that might be deemed ‘paraliterary’ in Samuel Delany’s words—but I’m pleased to say that literary in this case means thoughtful, diverse, remarkable work. I’m going to highlight some of the writing by/about queer women I especially liked, but I enjoyed the magazine as a whole, including the queer men’s content; I especially was intrigued by Peter Knegt’s “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Have Sex In Gay Art Porn,” which is as fascinating and awesome as it sounds. In no particular order, here are some of the pieces I loved:
The first prose entry that really caught my eye, Theodosia Henney’s story “How Do You Know the Bride?,” is quite short even as far as short stories go, but it manages to pack a lot into such a small space. The protagonist is a woman who is a bridesmaid at her ex-lover’s wedding, masquerading as “the kind [of woman] who falls in love with men and says ‘I do.’” The story asks how we negotiate our queerness in such heteronormative spaces: how do we explain the kinds of queer family we create to a world that doesn’t recognize them? How can the protagonist ever explain how she knows the bride?
Toronto-based Nancy Jo Cullen’s hilarious story aptly titled “Valerie’s Bush” features another intriguing character: an older woman freshly emerging from a break-up. Valerie decides to put a little twist on the break-up haircut, and instead goes for a complete bikini wax. As in, totally bare. This uncharacteristically impulsive decision leads her to finally be able to symbolically let go of her ex. “Valerie’s Bush” almost made me want to do something equally mad. Almost.
Similarly lighter in tone is University of Windsor–based Susan Holbrook’s poem “Concession Road.” In it, a queer woman contemplates how subversive she is perceived to be after moving with her partner to a rural area, when “relatively speaking she was a square” in Vancouver’s East End.
My favourite poetry in the collection, however, was that which was more sensual and intense, like UBC PhD candidate Emilia Nielson’s gorgeous series of six poems, “Sensorial.” These poems are firmly rooted in west coast landscapes, scattered with details like salmonberries, arbutus trees, ferries, and ravens. The sensuality and splendour of the natural landscape the poems so beautifully evoke is mirrored by that of the human body, of the erotic, of “Spread and winged, my hand /searching the small of your back.”
Alex Leslie’s breathtaking series “A Body Changing Hands” is a prose poem: it has the same kind of line breaks as prose on the page, but lacks conventional punctuation and sentence structure, as you would expect in a poem. The run-on sentences beautifully evoke the urgency of desire that the poem is initially dealing with. The speaker tells her lover: “But you aren’t a boy are you boy oh boy oh boy. Your hips clobber quick turns. They know you by your shyness, your visible teeth.” But the poem moves beyond that preliminary wanting, to that feeling of loss after desire is satisfied. Then comes paranoia, especially when you are queer and think: “Everybody is this room knows what you are feeling. Everybody in this building knows what you are wanting. There is a conspiracy in the water supply your fantasies circulate with wings and indexed search terms everybody has a mimeograph of your first encounter your last dream.” Finally, a kind of “symbiosis” occurs: where does one lover begin and the other end? “When you meet your match two chameleons melt into each other and overlap” and you wonder: “Are you here or there. Both and more.” Leslie recently had a collection of short stories, People Who Disappear, published by Freehand Books; it’s definitely being added to my to-read list!
Leah Horlick’s poem “What I talk about when I talk about fear” is simply brilliant, pulling apart that intricate web of sexism, transphobia, and homophobia that haunts queer women in public spaces. At the centrepiece of the poem is that simultaneously terrifying, telling, and amusing question: “Are you a boy or a girl?” The poem is also gorgeous in terms of form, its two sections effortlessly bleeding into one another. Had the timing been right, it would have been a fabulous addition to Amber Dawn’s Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, which I reviewed last week. Also a UBC grad student, Horlick’s first book of poetry is coming out this fall: it’s called Riot Lung and is being published by Thistledown Press. See my review of Riot Lung here!
If I’ve piqued your interest about Plenitude—and I hope I have—you can consider subscribing annually for only ten dollars!, which gets you electronic copies of two issues. You can still get the inaugural issue if you subscribe now!