Culture  Beatniks at the BBQ

Steps Magazine's backyard reading launches their new season

The great Leonard Cohen allegedly took his first steps as a poet on the pages of McGill University’s literary magazine, The Forge. Whether or not this myth is more fiction than fact at McGill,  the university has kept up with its tradition of creative writing by being the home of three creative writing magazines: The Scrivener Creative Review, The Veg and Steps Magazine.

A month prior to the release of their upcoming issue, the Steps editors have taken an unusual approach to poetry readings by hosting a BBQ reading in the backyard of one of the editors’ homes.

Under an ideal setting of starry skies and faint blue lights twisting around a clothes line, ten artists with different approaches to creative writing, along with a crowd of friends and fans squeeze together amongst randomly dispersed chairs, bowls of chips, and a large grill. The readings were done in three parts with intermissions in between, giving the audience time to think about the readings, eat and talk, and allows me time to speak with the editors.

“Why did you decide on hosting a BBQ poetry reading?” I asked editor in chief Ryan Healey.

“Because we prefer our readers cooked medium well in a closed space (laughing). Well, for one thing, it’s hard to make money out of poetry, and this seemed to be a good way to get donations. The campus can also be a more difficult setting to host poetry readings,” he replied.

“What would you say the creative writing scene is like in Montreal and at McGill?”

“There’s a palpable writing community, but it’s sometimes dwarfed by Montreal’s much stronger music scene. With music so predominant, with more visceral, capital-F Force, we have to hold readings on lighter, chiller Sundays (instead of more profitable Friday, Saturday nights) to stay afloat. This is my pet aesthetic war, but that’s the medium we’re coping with.” After spending a summer in New York, you realize that the scene there is much better than here. Independent bookstores host regular readings, and the scene is also advertised more widely in New York. The community in Montreal is divided into a few close-knit groups. As for the universities, Concordia has a stronger creative writing scene than McGill, since it has a fine arts program.”

After a little over two hours of poems, short stories, reflections on perhaps not the finest traits of personality and translations from Arabic, the reading came to an end and the audience slowly started to leave.

“I went here because my roommate is reading tonight,” said Matt May, who doesn’t consider himself an avid reader of poetry. “I like the sense [in poetry readings] of peoples’ personality showing in a way that you can’t get otherwise. People who get nervous and start doing small talk, and overall very different styles of reading.“

The editors are always looking for new contributors–so if you’re aspiring to become the new Atwood or Ondaatje, or if you’re just interested in those 15 minutes of literary fame, send your pieces to The deadline is October 1 and the next issue will be released around Halloween.