The creative writing program at EWU has, over the years, boasted an impressive roster of instructors, including Ursula Hegi, John Keeble and Nance Van Winckel. Its Master of Fine Arts Program (MFA) has become one of the most respected in American higher ed institutions. And its literary magazine, Willow Springs, accepts submissions from all over the United States. Which, it turns out, is one of the drawbacks for EWU students. While MFA students edit and lay out the magazine, Willow Springs does not accept student work. For students who wish to publish, there needs to be another option.
Enter Candlelight Bard, a new literary magazine that debuts tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Founded by graduate student Jennifer Reid, Candlelight Bard isn't the first such publication, but it is the newest.
"We're not the first student literary magazine -- actually, there was String Town, which I think is still publishing. But I've been wanting to do a literary magazine of my own for a long time, but I've never had the time or the inclination," says Reid. "And then I took an editing class, and we had to do one and I decided now is as good a time as any."
Five months in the making, Candlelight Bard is comprised of poetry, but Reid thinks future volumes will include short stories as well.
"It doesn't have any specific theme, at least not yet," says Reid. "I'm not opposed to anything being in there, as long as it's fresh and captivating."
The fledgling effort contains both student work and submissions solicited from nationally recognized poets. While the first volume is a slim, unassuming work, the poems inside are remarkable, sometimes surprising literary nuggets. Still, any comment on literary merit isn't quite the point, yet. The most important thing here is that a handful of MFA students and poets are endeavoring to add their voices to the mix, meeting challenges both practical and creative.
"One of the biggest challenges was just laying it out," says Reid. "But also, worrying about not having the monetary wherewithal to keep it going. It's something most small literary magazines struggle with."
Like other small literary magazines, Candlelight Bard exists to give new writers a chance to publish, while giving the founders an arena in which to experiment with how to present new work.
"I think it's pretty important for writers to seek out publication and to see what's out there," says Reid. "For me, it's a selfish tool, I like to see what other people are doing."
For all its faux medieval trappings, Candlelight Bard seems very much influenced by the West. Poems about lonely traffic lights, about depressing rural towns and the exhilaration of hanging one's foot out the window during an interminable car trip are very much informed by life in the West. Reid, originally from Wisconsin, has found that the big skies, rugged terrain and bracing air of the West are a tonic for the writerly soul.
"There's something about the West that, when you're a writer, is a little self-serving," says Reid. "The consciousness of the West is geared toward the self, actualizing the self, making something of yourself."
More specifically, both Reid, and poet Jason Olsen (whose work is published in Candlelight Bard) have found that Spokane is a surprisingly good place in which to be real.
"You can come here and be yourself," says Reid. "It's a place of no pretense."
"I'm from Las Vegas, and that's a city that puts on so many masks," agrees Olsen. "It's refreshing that nobody here does that as much."
Is it the old adage that Spokane is a good place to be if you're trying to get any kind of work done because there's not much going on here to distract the would-be artist or writer?
"It's good sometimes not to have too many outside influences," laughs Olsen.
Reid and Olsen have even found that other students in the MFA program have felt, well, called to the Inland Northwest.
"This is going to sound weird, but a lot of the people in the program are from outside the area and I just have this strong feeling sometimes that we're meant to be here," says Reid.
"You get a real kinship, a real sense of community here," says Olsen. "We all have such a hodgepodge of different styles, and that's why I think it works."
Although this is just Candlelight Bard's first volume and its official launch, Reid and Olsen are already looking forward to the next issue. Reid hopes future issues will include fiction, photography and original art. Olsen is particularly looking forward to seeing it continue. "It's growing at a steady pace," says Olsen. "It's alive."
& & & lt;i & The Candlelight Bard authors read tonight, Thursday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main. Call: 838-0206. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &