Pumping up Calgary’s literary scene

By Dean Hetherington

Filling Station is a magazine in Calgary. Perhaps you have heard of it. Perhaps not. But if you’re interested in literature or getting your fiction and poetry published, filling Station is one of the few voices that publish creative works for up-and-coming writers, artists, critics, etc. In its five years of publication, names such as Fred Wah, Nicole Markotic, George Bowering, and Ashok Mathur have graced its pages–a who’s who of the Calgary literary scene. More than that, filling Station is a society where young writers (many of whom attend the University of Calgary) and successful writers (those aforementioned) can meet.

History in Brief
Filling Station’s roots begin with the birth of TISH, created by eventual U of C professor Fred Wah, George Bowering, Frank Davey, James Reid, and David Dawson. These five writers were influenced by a series of lectures by Robert Duncan in July, 1961. His lectures on small American magazines such as Origin, The Black Mountain Review, and The Floating Bear pushed these writers from thought to action. The purpose of TISH was to publish poetry and essays between its five members. In the following months, TISH found its format and a growing place within the Vancouver poetry scene. Then, something strange occurred–TISH created its own scene, which in turn, propelled the careers of its five editors. These five went from obscurity to legendary status in the process of about 30 years.

As Davey reflects in TISH anthology 1-19, "Whatever else may be said of TISH, it has participated in the changes which have been occurring in our cultural and literary consciousness."
These writers then went their respective directions. In the same spirit of TISH, small magazines appeared wherever these writers lectured and taught.

Fast forward a couple of decades: Fred Wah comes to Calgary to teach creative writing. Under both his and Rob Brander’s suggestion, some students from Wah’s creative writing program created a small local writing collective called the Fiat Fabuli. It was at collective member Tom Muir’s cabin that filling Station‘s purpose and name were created. The magazine was designed to give a fresh new voice to writing in Calgary. They wanted a voice that would differ from Sanskrit (which evolved eventually into Orange) and Dandelion.

They wanted a place where they could discuss literature that exceeded the bounds of other magazine’s conservative objectives. Many of filling Station‘s founding members still reside in Calgary and are heavily involved with local writing. Some of them have moved away to pursue other projects. Participants from both projects will be releasing books in the upcoming year.

Present Day
Currently filling Station exists as one of the few voices for writers in Calgary. Teachers and students at the U of C see the importance of having local magazines.

"I think even if young writers do not get published in those magazines, they are there and saying this is the kind of writing going on right now," said Nicole Markotic, U of C English Professor and contributor.

"When I started writing, the only magazine in Calgary was Dandelion and they didn’t necessarily focus on Calgary. I just think that filling Station, in grave ink, and [the soon to be resurrected] Dandelion are saying that this is what’s happening around you."

For students, filling Station is an outlet in a constantly threatened field. As government funding of public universities decreases and large organizations gain control of the publishing industry, students need forums that discuss writing outside of the mainstream.

U of C English Graduate student and filling Station‘s new poetry co-editor, Darren Matthies, agrees.

"On the downside we’ve seen a decrease of available funding and an increasing commidification and corporatization of ‘book’ and ‘author,’ i.e. Chapters and Amazon.com buying new talent," said Matthies.

"A locally published literary magazine gives emerging writers opportunities for getting published, puts Calgary on the map, and gives readers and writers exposure to experimental forms, other voices and the world of literature in general."

Through a constantly revolving collective, filling Station‘s members put in a lot of time and effort to create the magazine. The average length of membership is usually between one to two years. These members run events, write reviews, interview writers and generally devote part of their lives for the magazine’s creation. The process behind fiction and poetry review is always open-minded and fully cooperative.

"I think filling Station‘s editorial vision, which includes a balance of writers local and international, emerging and established, an insistence on quality cutting edge material, the magazine’s layout and design, and the events and readings filling Station puts on make for a distinctive voice on many levels," said Matthies.

"Most of the reactions to filling Station are positive–even people that wouldn’t normally read filling Station or anything remotely like it."

The Future
Filling Station is at a crossroads. As the new issues suggest, there is an enhanced focus on renowned international writers such as Paula Taveres and Coral Bracho. Still, through the filter of local contributors, these international artists are portrayed in ways appealing to the Canadian, Albertan and Calgarian readers/writers. As time passes there is a feeling amongst filling Station members that Canadian writing and filling Station itself can grow with age and experience.

"I know where I’d like to see filling Station in the future," said Matthies. "An increased readership, which necessitates perhaps a larger print run to keep up with it, international distribution, payment for contributors, office space, paid staff and a helicopter. I don’t know."

Filling Station’s future is not predetermined–the collective members and the readership cannot predict the changes Canadian writing will experience. However, it is a safe bet it will be somewhere in the process of those changes.

Those interested in volunteering and/or submitting to filling Station can contact the magazine at:
c/o filling Station,
p.o. Box 22135
Bankers Hall
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

filling Station can also be contacted via e-mail at: housepre@telusplanet.net.

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