Sina Queyras put down Lemon Hound on May 11
After a decade in publishing, Lemon Hound said thanks & so long on May 11th, much to the shock and disbelief of myself and many others. Even the date, 5/11 has a disastrous ring to it. I’ve never really felt a sense of literary mourning for something this way and I know I’m not alone. It’s not that there are so few places that can fill the void Lemon Hound leaves behind—it’s that there are virtually none like it. How will we reclaim this space?
I’ve been following Lemon Hound since it was Sina Queyras’ personal blog, itself a valuable literary archive. In 2012, the blog transformed into an innovative feminist journal of arts and letters featuring editors, curators, and collaborators like Christian Bök, Zoe Whittal, Ken Babstock, Helen Guri, and Lisa Robertson. Alongside these and other influential names, Lemon Hound published unsolicited work, often by first-time or emerging authors, while upholding a focus on diversity and writing by women. Though Queyras published a variety of quality writing by men, she is not one to downplay her priorities (“Gentlemen Welcome with Escort” reads Lemon Hound’s twitter description).
The quip is exemplary of the sort of wit and mettle Lemon Hound, a public extension of Queyras’ poetic persona, is known for. I was intrigued to read that Queyras, “the poet who will say anything,” described herself as shy and that she admitted to being afraid of doing readings before creating a public space for herself on her blog. In 2012, I took Queyras’ poetry workshop at Concordia University and during the first week I was asked to stand up and read a poem in front of the class. After two rushed and mumbling lines I was abruptly cut off and asked to restart. The fear of being cut off a second time dwarfed the initial fear of reading, which now seemed easier somehow. After a steadier and more thoughtful delivery, Queyras praised my on the fly improvement. Not incredible, but it was a lot better. It was a mentoring moment you can’t get from professors in bars.
How many readings have I been to now where I wish someone could cut the poet off and have them start again? Or assign them the homework of going home, practicing into their webcam (I’ve found it to be an effective method), and returning to read at the next installment? In another workshop, Queyras had students write author introductions and read them in front of the class while she filmed on her phone. Later the clips would be uploaded to a private YouTube account so we could watch and scrutinize ourselves the way an audience would, and refine our deliveries accordingly. Harsh or not, there’s a valuable lesson here that’s applicable beyond the walls of the classroom: get out of your comfort zone. Hurl yourself out if you can manage it. If you’ve invested anything, invest everything. It’s not only how Lemon Hound came to exist, but how it came to thrive in its ambitious reincarnation as a diverse literary force. Promoters and detractors of the self-proclaimed “bitch,” with her sardonic humour and brazen directness, cannot deny that Lemon Hound existed to champion innovative work and to form new discourses better equipped to reflect on challenging writing. The whole endeavour was executed with a sense of raw investment and excitement hard to find in even the most esteemed, well-nourished publications.
When taking important risks, I think women have more at stake than men. Women in arts and letters struggle with issues of representation, with being taken seriously, with erasure or utter indifference, with an insultingly gendered appraisal of their work. Zoe Whittal’s poem “Unequal To Me” culls lines from reviews of women’s books lifted from respected, well-funded cultural entities like The National Post and The Globe & Mail and then swaps the pronouns with their masculine equivalent. The effect is so zany it hurts—in a way that’s both funny but ultimately heavy with injustice. Rachel Rose’s recent chapbook from BookThug, Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, wrestles these issues into a chokehold, stating plainly: “No critic in the Great White North has ever told a male/writer to stop indulging in verbal heavy petting.”
In a post published on The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, on 5/11, Queyras reflected on the whole experience of the blog, how she maintained it against all odds and without any institutional or financial support. Ultimately Queyras warns that no matter how scary or draining it may seem, “if you never risk speaking in public, to a public, then you may feel safe in your practice, but you may also feel alone and anonymous and mute.” Thirteen Ways of Looking At CanLit negotiates the space of fear and hesitation when the speaker asks herself, after her work is torn apart by a misogynistic male reviewer, why she “[chooses] the gauze of silence.” She answers her own question: “I was never so cocksure/I didn’t call myself an expert/I wanted to be kind.” I think many women writers share the same concerns; I am often plagued by self-doubt. No matter how you define an ‘expert,’ I’m probably not it, and I value kindness over snark. I wouldn’t get any satisfaction from ‘breaking a book in public’ the way Rose’s male critic does, for example.
Lemon Hound has not only demonstrated the potential of more suitable and varied models of literary criticism and discourse; it has been a call to women to get over their fear of thinking publicly and creating platforms for themselves: “[W]e aren’t going to produce a six-pack of Susan Sontags or Anne Carsons if we circle around this issue of representation so much. We need to move on and do our work.” The work is already happening; see Kathryn Mockler of The Rusty Toque, Emily M. Keeler of The National Post and Little Brother Magazine, poet Liz Howard and her reading series AvantGarden, or the work of writer and video game reviewer Natalie Zed. Women writers, queer writers, and writers of colour need to continue to professionalize, to keep being public with their work, and to feel how big their presence is and how important it will be when they finally take up enough space to not only exist, but to flex.