The following interview was featured in Sapling #466, a literary magazine published by Black Lawrence Press. The interview appears here courtesy of Paul Lisson, Fiona Kinsella, Shane Neilson, and Black Lawrence Press.

This week Sapling talks with Fiona Kinsella, Paul Lisson, and Shane Neilson,
editors, Hamilton Arts & Letters (HAL).

Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with HAL magazine?

HAL: Produced on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wyandot, Haudenosaunee, and Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations. This territory is mutually covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy, the Ojibway, and other allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine (HAL) is proudly local, but determinedly serves writers and readers across Canada and beyond.


  • provide a platform for a range of creative voices from different artistic disciplines, generations, and cultural backgrounds
  • believe that Indigenous writers and artists are creating some of the most exciting and important work in Canada
  • believe Hamilton has been enriched by waves of immigration
  • recognize the history, creativity, and courage of sexually diverse communities
  • recognize the inherent, equal, and inalienable worth of every individual. HAL has a strong dis/ability rights focus
  • create a vital meeting place for the exchange of ideas

The Publishing Editor of HAL is a librarian and archivist. HAL is the first online magazine to be funded by the Ontario Arts Council and among the first to be funded by the Canada Council. We made the magazine FREE in order to connect with the maximum number of readers. And the place is haunted. There be ghosts here. Three years ago HAL co-founder Peter Stevens died following a fierce battle with cancer. Peter was funny, brilliant, and a visionary. Those qualities are particularly reflected in some of the early issues of the magazine. HAL Editor David Forsee died in 2017. David was a fabulous storyteller notable for his writing on Canada’s far North; his archival CBC recordings of Stories from Baffin Island Children and Nunavut Singing ; his reminiscences of Garnet Angeconeb (Wa Wa Ta radio network founder). This is David and Peter’s legacy.

Sapling: How did your name come about?

Paul: In 2006-07 there was no publication in Hamilton featuring a mix of poetry, prose, essay, criticism, art, and the general exchange of ideas; no journal acting as a broad outlet for creative people in the city, so the decision was made to launch HAL.

Fiona: In other words, artists and writers in Hamilton had to send their best work elsewhere, out of town. We said ENOUGH. Let’s invite the world to stand alongside what’s best here. Artists and Writers – Arts & Letters. Hamilton.

Shane:  We think local by reaching out and appealing to Hamilton-based artists, writers, editors, and readers. Because we publish in a particular community, and because we know this community, we believe that our material makes the grade worldwide. Our local-focus is more of a loose scaffold to build upon and around, though. We deliberately shift perspectives from issue to issue, relying upon guest editors in order to increase the collaborative opportunities between different artistic communities. Our identity is dual, really. On the one hand, we are a magazine made by Hamiltonians, for Hamiltonians; but we are equally a magazine that appeals to and involves the rest of Ontario and the rest of Canada and beyond. Our Hamilton-based guest editors routinely involve expert contributors from both nearby and far away to contribute on our theme-based issue structure.

We are an inclusive magazine. We have a strong dis/ability rights focus and routinely publish persons who self-identify with dis/ability. Partly stemming from our settler residence upon the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and our physical proximity to the Six Nations reserve, we are sensitive to the concerns of First Nations and we seek out Indigenous writers for publication. We publish Black and Asian writers. We publish non-heteronormative writers.

Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions? Any deal breakers?

HAL: HAL is online and free. It saddens us to receive submissions from writers who have never read the magazine or looked at our mandate. Close attention makes that clear. We don’t want to be a box ticked off in someone’s next 100 submissions. This is feedback that could be provided to every single submitter to every single magazine: read the mandate and submission guidelines. It shows.
A writer who recognizes that the magazine has a different format from other online journals, with a more seamless reading experience, strong contextualization of each piece with a contributors’ bio and introductory notes; and a way to move from screen to screen without a sense of fluidity, (the pause between pages), will want to grab hold of that very specific opportunity. There is an enormous and rich variety of work in tone, styles, formats, perspectives.

Sapling: Where do you imagine HAL to be headed over the next couple years? What’s on the horizon?

HAL: HAL’s list of subscribers has doubled year over year. Through analytics we know that there are thousands of people reading the magazine who haven’t subscribed. We hope they will join us and sign up.

We are working on an issue with Guest Editor Rick Monture, (Mohawk nation, Turtle clan) and Guest Poetry Editor Johannah Bird (Anishinaabe Euro-Canadian and a member of Peguis First Nation in Treaty 1 territory) and featuring Kaitlin Debicki, Kanien’keha:ka, wolf clan. We hope this relationship continues and expands and informs what we’re doing moving forward.

We continue our dis/ability activism in 2019 as we present the Second AbleHamilton Poetry Festival, among the first such festivals devoted to disability poetics in Canada. The festival will find a life in print by forming the basis for issue 12.2 that will offer the best prose criticism, poetry, and art Hamilton and Canada has to offer by and about persons with dis/ability.

And we look forward to working with New York based poet Sima Rabinowitz on a science themed issue. (See below.)

Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?

Paul: The hardest part is saying no to work that deserves to be published. A rejection is not a stamp of disapproval. As a collective we are necessarily limited as to the amount of material we can publish.

Fiona: The best part is when we launch and the work just takes off. Our latest online book, Defy the Silence, poems by Rasha Omran in the original Arabic and translated into Italian and English, was featured by Pen Canada. Then in October 2018 ArabLit selected it as a top ten Arabic book in translation ( Defy the Silence has now been read in 39 countries and 172 cities. Kim Echlin brought this project to us and we’re incredibly proud of it. As Kim says, “an edition of Rasha Omran’s poetry in Arabic, English, and Italian embraces the rich potential of our cultures ‘side by side.’ Translation has always been an act that defies incomprehension and fear. This trilingual edition is our resistance.”

Shane: The hardest part of an editor’s job is responding in time to good submissions. Sometimes we’re scooped, and we hate that. We understand how things are now and that we can sometimes hear, to our chagrin that a poet’s submissions have been taken elsewhere after spending only a week in our inbox.

Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books which books would you want to have with you?

Paul: The Blue Notebook by Daniil Kharms translated by Matvei Yankelevich. Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn NY. Ugly Duckling makes beautiful books and this one is a highlight. Poetic fragments from the absurdist master who was arrested for anti-Soviet activities and starved to death in prison in 1942. Available online for free at the Presse’s website, but I have the paper version and I treasure it.

Fiona: The Perfect Archive by my husband Paul Lisson, forthcoming from Guernica Editions.

Shane: Alden Nowlan’s The Wanton Troopers. Alden Nowlan’s Collected Poems. A future book hopefully done someday before I’m ever on that desert island: George Elliott Clarke’s Collected Poems.

Sapling: Just for fun (because we like fun and the number three) if HAL was a person what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?

Fiona: I need a coffee.
Paul: Do we have any coffee?
Shane (on the phone): I’m on my way over, and I’ve got coffee.


Fiona Kinsella is a mixed media artist and a painter based in Hamilton, Ontario. Her work has been exhibited across Canada, and in the United States & Europe. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, RUMI Galleries, b contemporary gallery, The Assembly Gallery; and group shows at Galerie McClure, Montreal, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Art Toronto, and the Biennale Internationale du lin de Portneuf, QC. Fiona’s practice has been recognized provincially and nationally with grants awarded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Fiona is co-editor of Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine.


Paul Lisson – poet and archivist. Winner: Hamilton Art Award for Visual Art and Writing (1997) and for Arts Administration (2017). Winner: McMaster University Rand Memorial Prize for Accomplishment in Print. Paul was, for many years, the Librarian in the Programming Department at the Hamilton Public Library and organized hundreds of concerts, exhibitions, and talks. Co-founder with Fiona Kinsella and Peter Stevens (1963-2015) of Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine. Co-founder of the Short Works Prize for Hamilton writers. Paul’s full-length book of poems, The Perfect Archive, will be published by Guernica Editions in 2019.


Shane Neilson is a poet, critic, and memoirist. He was born in New Brunswick and much of his writing reflects this origin. At present he works as a family physician and is a Vanier Scholar completing his PhD in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. Shane is editor of Frog Hollow Press based out of Victoria, BC and is self-appointed “Manifestoist Editor” at Anstruther Press of Toronto, ON. The author of several books, most recently he published Dysphoria(PQL), a book of poems about how mental illness is regulated. In 2016 he edited Heart on Fist, a selected prose volume (Palimpsest Press), and Witch of the Inner Wood, a collected long poems (Goose Lane Editions) by Travis Lane. In 2017 Shane won the sixth annual Walrus Poetry Prize, juried by Margaret Atwood, Jordan Abel, and Carmine Starnino. The prize was founded and generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation.

In Fall 2019, HAL will publish one of the first Canadian literary magazine issues devoted to disability poetics. A team of editors with both physical and mental disability will attract scholarly articles from professors, poems from prominent members of the poetry disability community,  reviews of books by poets with disability, and memoirs of poets with disability concerning their writing life.

HAL will work with poet Sima Rabinowitz on a Science Themed Issue for Spring 2021. Science is a creative human endeavor. From ancient depictions of scientists and scientific phenomena to contemporary graphic novel formats, the people and ideas of science continue to capture our imaginations. The science themed issue will include poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, hybrid forms, and artwork on STEM themes (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) broadly defined – work that incorporates ideas, language, characters, main or sub-themes, images, and artwork related to STEM.


For more info: