Room is Canada’s oldest Literary Journal dating back to 1975 when a collection of like-minded woman decided to gather the female voices in literature and give them a place to showcase their work. Currently published by the West Coast Feminist Literary Magazine Society, the journal prides itself in being a “forum for women writers, including trans* persons, gender-variant and two-spirit women, and women of non-binary sexual orientations.”
Room accepts original submissions from woman only and frequently chooses to keep their editions attuned to a theme so be mindful of this when considering submitting to them. Because they publish quarterly, adequate time to research what they are looking for in regards to future editions is not difficult to ascertain.
In Translation, Volume 38.1, is Room’s first publication for 2015 and they have come out strong. Without reading a word I had a good feeling about it as it sat in my hands weighted with the promise of a lot of material along with a striking cover that had the art lover inside me clapping. This particular volume has a theme, as explained by Rachel Thompson in the Editor’s Letter, she writes:
“In this issue of Room we explore literature translated from languages other than English, and the act of translation in all its senses.”
The journal is sensual in its obscurity to define language as something separate yet oddly exactly the same in the sense that it is the one thing that binds us as humans together. In other words, through communication, no matter the language, we are one despite the varying degrees the translated words spoken in various dialects, accents and tongues. The journal conveys this with its memorable artwork, interview, fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and a play written by Erin Moure, a Montreal based poet and translator. I will get back to this little nugget which was probably my favorite piece.
The look and feel of it right off tells you the pages within won’t disappoint but lets start with the look. Visually the journal is truly a work of art in and of itself. The benefit of this particular volume is that throughout its pages you are graced with delicious appetizers for the eye in the remarkable, even breath-taking imagery provided by Meryl McMaster, an Ontario based artist whose digital prints not only graces the cover but is sprinkled throughout the journal. Along with Ms. McMaster’s work, the eyes are fortunate to enjoy the work of Amy Goh, originally from Singapore she specializes is black and white illustrations and Christina Tjandra, a free hand artist whose Indonesian culture is expressed magnificently as well.
Now let’s dive right into the feel.As I mentioned before, the journal has a little bit of everything. The poetry is strong and mostly written free-verse and juxtaposition-ed nicely with several works of art, almost to give visual aid to the words on the counter page. The opening poem, “Pregnant”, by Souvankham Thammavongsa sets the theme to the entire work by showing us that the word pregnant in the Lao language opens up the mind to a different way of seeing the word through this interesting translation leaving the reader to ponder the translation if only for a moment as it leaves you anxious to turn the page for more.
As mentioned before, the Room, has a wide variety of well written material. The read in general is easy, slows well and while diverse in the writing level with seasoned to beginning writers throughout, the collective is obviously chosen with care and consideration of the theme of the volume in terms of context. Two standouts for me personally was the poem entitled, “Notes From Across the Atlantic”, by Jane Iordakiyeva. She takes you into her personal world of the unknown in a different country than her native one and you truly feel her “voice” when she says “I miss the conversation, but I cannot say that I need you”, with a matter of fact tone that is telling of her underlying true feelings of being just fine in the foreign country she writes from.
The gem of this particular volume for me was “from Kanycta” by Erin Moure. A play that is written in both french and English in a way that the two languages seem to battle for stage presence, leaving the reader breathless between feelings of sadness and utter joy with the banter of the cast of characters (living and not) and there is no winner in the battle, they equally share the spotlight. I found it to be refreshing to read and also challenging and I love a good challenge, especially one that pays off in the end.
The 128-page journal consists of more that just the written word for creative purposes but also has a section that reviews books of fiction and poetry collections. Following this, the reader gets a treat in a section called Book Mate where the reader gets the privilege to get a behind the scenes introduction to part of the Room team. In this issue we were introduced to Sheida Azimi, Room’s poetry coordinator via a short question and answer section I enjoyed. This is a true bonus to writers reviewing the journal for possible submission as it gives you a connection to someone on staff. There is also a few pages of advertising and contest announcements. This particular issue reveals that Room itself is holding a contest for cover art and a call for submission from woman of color.
This journal gets a well-deserved 5 star rating without a bit of hesitation. With forty years behind them and no doubt some high hills and bumpy roads to overcome in the past, they have certainly mastered the art of a good literary magazine in my opinion.
Overall, this journal delivered some damn fine writing by talented and diverse female contributors and kudos to the editors with regard to choosing just the right work to fit this puzzle together in a way that results in a fine collective.
Joanne C. Spencer