Look on their works, ye Manitobans, and rejoice!

CV2 maintains the tradition of verse with vim and vigor

Chelsea Peters is the editor of CV2, Canada’s oldest poetry magazine. (Supplied photo)

For decades, Contemporary Verse 2 has positioned itself as a bastion of the poetry scene. The published poetry quarterly, headquartered in the ArtSpace building on Arthur Street, is the oldest of its kind in Canada.

Along with the widely distributed magazine, the non-profit charitable organization offers a variety of programming, including workshops, poetry readings and launches for poets from all over the country.

“We do quite a bit, but the magazine is what we’re most known for, and that’s our main focus,” editor Chelsea Peters says. Peters began as a volunteer in 2017 and worked up to her current post.

The publication has undergone many transmutations in its history. Founded by Winnipeg-based poet Dorothy Livesay in 1975, CVII was a response to a perceived dearth of Canadian-focused poetic discourse. The magazine was a successor of sorts to Contemporary Verse, another poetry journal from the ’40s and early ’50s.

After dropping its Roman numeral for a “2” and moving beyond its roots as an avenue for criticism in the mid-1980s, the journal continued to evolve. After a brief flash-fiction phase, they realized poetry should be their focal point. With the help of then-editor Clarise Foster, they became a quarterly poetry mag in 2021.

“Experiences like that showed us that it’s best to focus on one thing and try to do it well, but at the same time, evolution is always crucial and necessary,” Peters says.

Today, CV2 remains committed to the proselytization of poetry as a medium and uplifting emerging voices – particularly those local and of equity-seeking communities.

Located in the heart of the Exchange District, the publication is afforded a unique position in the arts community.

“We’re surrounded by artists. We’re so lucky to feel that energy all the time. Even if you wanted to get away from it, you couldn’t,” Peters says.

Peters emphasizes a desire to encourage “diversity of experiences, voices and styles.” The Foster Poetry Prize for emerging writers recently widened its criteria for submissions. Citing engaging conversations happening on Twitter, the CV2 team opted to drop age restrictions in their contests.

“Now that contest is open to emerging writers of any age, and the only stipulation is that they haven’t yet published a full-length book of poetry,” Peters says.

The magazine also makes a point of publishing local writers and involving them in launches, as well as reaching out to University of Manitoba art-school graduates for their cover art.

The team at CV2 endeavours to keep the storied tradition of Canadian poetry alive, but that doesn’t mean they’re afraid to push boundaries and court controversy.

“We did an issue this past winter called the Daddy Issue, which ended up being very popular but started out a little bit controversial,” Peters says. “We got a fair amount of pushback from some readers saying that they were going to unsubscribe, and that the theme was sexist and all of these kinds of things, but we really believed in it.”

In the end, a little controversy went a long way. The Daddy Issue was their most-sold volume by far.

“What we learned from that is that CV2 has to try to go to the places that scare us and pursue those relentlessly and feel confident even as we are exploring something unknown,” Peters says.

Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)

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