Cover of book: The Canary Press, Issue 4

The Canary Press, Issue 4

Let’s not discuss the funding model of literary magazines or use the words “vibrant” or “emerging”. No condescending head-pats about youngsters being “experimental”, and please, no discussion of its “purpose”, which, I suspect, is the same as that of any other kind of reading material. Instead, let’s actually examine concept and content.

This fourth issue of The Canary Press is built around stories written by eight-year-olds reinterpreted as short stories by a variety of authors. It’s a clever idea, sweet but not saccharine, and gives plenty of scope for invention. Margo Lanagan’s “Blood of an Englishman”, about the finding and ignoring of a magic lamp, is not her best work, but, like sex and pizza, for me there’s no such thing as bad Lanagan. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s “Ummi”, about a young girl missing her mother, is as touching as you would expect from one of our most empathic writers. The two standouts are Ryan O’Neill’s “Four Kinds of Erasures” – written in the fragmented style he favours, it’s at once sad, funny and intelligent – and Joshua Osto’s wonderful and gripping dystopian story of murder and mayhem, “The Train”.

There’s also the short but arresting “Restaurant” by William Broom, and the fearless “Unaccompanied Minors” by Ruth Wyer, among others. The final story is the classic “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx, first published in 1997. It’s a brave choice, not linked to the theme, and it might have only highlighted the different between Proulx and almost anyone else, anywhere. Instead it reinforces the journal’s commitment to quality and is a savvy way to broaden the readership. For “Brokeback Mountain” alone, The Canary Press is worth the $12.

In publishing stories from acclaimed writers Proulx, Lanagan, Clarke and O’Neill, the editors could be accused of missing an opportunity to introduce new, genuinely unknown voices. But here the point seems to be to boldly stamp all its selections as stories of high quality. And I’ve never read Wyer, Osto, Verity Russo or Ben Walter before.

I’m left with a plea on behalf of older eyes: the illustrations are gorgeous and the energetic design mostly works to enhance the stories, except for some faint small-point italics and black ink on dark pages that almost made me give up. We’re not all in our 20s, but we’re keen. The Canary Press’s readership has the potential to be wider than they know.  LS

Canary Press, 55pp, $12

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 28, 2014 as "The Canary Press, Issue 4".

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