Issue #20 of Front & Centre marks the magazine’s tenth anniversary and to celebrate editor/publisher Matthew Firth includes a free beer ticket so that you can have a beer with him sometime.
I’ve been a follower of the publication for a few years now. It’s published by Firth’s small press, Black Bile Press, which also publishes chapbooks. Black Bile is located in Ottawa and is run by Firth without any kind of government funding.
Firth’s own writing style is plain-spoken, unadorned and gritty and that’s the style of F&C. The other editor of F&C is Bill Brown, a talented Ottawa short fiction writer. Short stories published in F&C tend to deal with the down and outers, the poor, the marginalized, the mentally unstable, those in broken marriages and so forth. In addition there are the reviews. Firth and Brown are the primary review writers but on occasion, other frequent contributors to the magazine write the reviews. The reviews are usually about short fiction, sometimes a novel or two, mostly from the small press world. Some of the books are fairly obscure in mainstream literature. The reviews can be biting. Firth and gang do not put up with anything syrupy or sentimental. The reviews though sometimes harsh are honest and unpretentious. Front&Centre has introduced me to a variety of writers who I’ve never heard of because they aren’t reviewed or published in mainstream fiction.
One of the things I noticed in Issue #20 is that many of the contributors have also been published by The Puritan, a former local literary prose journal, now based in Toronto. I recently spoke with an F&C writer who asked me if there was something in the water in Ottawa because of the fact that we have so many good small press publishers here. Front&Centre is definitely a striking example of good publishing and writing.
Issue #20 of F&C is my favourite so far. Of particular note was Bill Brown’s story “Opera Quiz” about a man’s relationship with his Thai boy toy who perhaps is more than just a boy toy after all. Brown’s writing is smooth and definitely not sentimental, with its references to golden showers and ass play. That’s one of the things I love about F&C, it doesn’t shy away from sex. That’s one of my issues with mainstream literature and if you’re a regular reader you’ve heard me remark on that time and again, so I won’t harp on that again.
Other particularly noteworthy stories in Issue #20 were “the Devil” by Turkish writer Jansek Berkok Shami, a fable-like tale about a woman whose marriage has ended. The Devil takes bones from her skull and uses them to make chess pieces. Quirky stuff.
My favourite story of the issue is Kingston writer Christina Decarie’s” Hot Ketchup and Vinegar” about a homeless woman who is helped out by a hippie. Her savouring of the fries he gives her made me want to rush out and buy a bag. Decarie’s story is an example of what I mean by not sentimental. She’s portraying a poor, downtrodden homeless woman, but she doesn’t resort to clichés and she doesn’t let us feel sorry for the woman. There’s compassion but not condescension. I’ve seen Decarie’s fiction before in the Puritan and now I intend to go back and read it some more.
As I mentioned Black Bile Press also publishes short fiction in chapbook form. The latest batch included three chapbooks, and the most memorable of these for me was Edmonton writer Mark McCawley’s “Sick Lazy Fuck” about a man who ends up committed in a mental ward. Like with Decarie’s story, you get inside the head of the main character/narrator. His life sucks and he’s just going through the motions trying to cope. This means not flushing the toilet after a bowel movement when the nurse gives him a hard time and letting the resident nympho patient fuck him every chance she gets.
If you’re looking for good fiction, honest reviews and a hell of a good magazine, you should get yourself a subscription to Front&Centre and buy a bunch of gift subscriptions for your buddies, so that it’ll be around for another ten years. You can also find single copies at Venus Envy from time to time and from the Bywords.ca online store.
A toast to Matthew Firth who devotes time I know he doesn’t really have to Front&Centre. And to Bill Brown, co-editor. Thanks for all you do. And I do plan on claiming my beer in exchange for that red ticket tucked into the issue, but I promise to order something cheap and domestic.
oh and a ps...this year i've been reading a lot of short stories, in particular taking a dip into the Penguin Anthology and the New Quarterly/Canadian Notes and Queries and been bored, bored, bored. yep, more stories about winter, more taking tea with Grandma, endless references to World War 2 again. F&C gives me hope. nuff said.