A Conversation with Norman Cristofoli

After 23 years of editing the Canadian small-press journal, Labour of Love, Norman Cristofoli is throwing in the towel. Leah Angstman sits down with him to find out why he’s closing up shop, how the literary scene has changed, and what’s next for the writer.


NORMAN CRISTOFOLI has published seven chapbooks of his poetry and prose and has produced one CD of poetry/musical collaborations that include his work and a number of other Toronto-based spoken word artists and musicians, as well as a second CD of his own spoken word pieces with musical accompaniment. He has published Labour of Love since 1993; and over the past 20 years, Norman has organized and produced a number of variety shows for spoken word and music that include the Coffeehouse Cabaret, The Best Originals, The Smiling Buddha Cabaret, and monthly ‘Salons’ in his home for spoken word performers and musicians. He also produces the This Week’s Shows weekly email listing of spoken word events in the greater Toronto area.


LEAH ANGSTMAN: You started at the same time as Alternating Current, back in 1993. You’ve been a staple of the small press scene for all this time, and I have many of your journal backissues sitting on my shelf. How, when, and why did you start Labour of Love?

NORMAN CRISTOFOLI: I was wandering through Europe in 1984 and ’85. When I was in London, I stopped in at the Poetry Society, and they gave me a pamphlet that listed small press poetry magazines throughout Great Britain. As I wandered from town to town, I would stop in at the addresses listed, and I found a variety of magazines of different qualities. Some were well-produced, glossy-printed publications, and some were badly pasted-together photocopies.

Even the badly photocopied mags had a readership, however, just in the local town, and it would feature work by Mike the butcher, Dorothy the barmaid, etc. But the point was, that the work was being read.

When I returned to Canada (which was a dry desert of literary magazines at that time), I decided that I was going to put together my own badly photocopied mag.


Tell people a little bit about what the journal was, in case they aren’t familiar.

Labour of Love is a literary journal that features, poetry, prose, very short stories and artistic images (photos, paintings, ink drawings, etc.). It has a small international distribution and a larger local market in the greater Toronto area.


You’ve decided, after 23 years, that Volume 41 will be your last issue. How did you reach this decision? What brought you to this point?

I decided at the beginning that Labour of Love would always be a free publication, as long as I could afford it. I wanted people to be able to delve into the arts (both submitting of work, and enjoying the work of the artists) without having ‘money’ as the prime goal or even affecting the intent.

I also had a passion to publish a magazine for the Canadian market, one that would accept writers who didn’t have established names. It was the work that mattered, not the name of the artist. Many modern Canadian poets first got their works published in Labour of Love, and then went on to fine writing careers.

I decided to end the magazine because the passion to continue has faded within me. It is now more of a responsibility than a passion. I decided that it was time for me to move on. With the advent of the Internet and digital publications, there are many other Canadian journals for artists to share their work.

Another reason is the cost of mailing has risen considerably. The price of postage has quadrupled in the past two years, and the costs have become a financial burden to keep the magazine as ‘free.’

Lastly, I have many writing and artistic projects of my own that I want to focus on, and that’s where my energies will now go.


Talk for a little bit about the closure and what it means to you.

I am not sad, but I do feel a sense of relief. Each issue takes quite a bit of time to put together. Reviewing all the submissions, corresponding with the writers and artists, laying out the magazine, printing, collating, stapling, folding and cutting each copy. Then the preparing of the mailing and distribution.

I have accomplished what I wanted to do with the magazine, and now it’s over. No regrets, but a lot of memories of the great parties whenever a new issue was released. The party for the last issued is this coming Saturday, July 2, 2016, and it will be a huge blast, with five featured musical bands, readers from this issue and previous issues plus an open stage for other spoken word performers and musicians to participate, as well.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and now I’m moving on.


You’ve mentioned that the magazine was free to readers. One of the problems of the literary world is that we never talk about money and how we can sustain ourselves as writers or publishers. Did you take advertisements or have sponsors? How did you monetize Labour of Love, or was it funded as its name suggests?

I covered all the costs of the magazine. However, the name Labour of Love did not derive as being MY labor of love. The name came because the art of writing poetry is a labor of love.

Few if any poets are ever going to make enough money to live on their work, but they still write because it’s who they are, and their work is their love’s labor.


What will you miss most about publishing Labour of Love?

My youth.


What’s your biggest regret with the publication over the years? Biggest joy? What’s the one thing you think you truly got right with this journal?

There are no regrets. There are many joys.

I’ve had writers (local and abroad) tell me that once they saw their work published in Labour of Love, they gained the confidence to embrace the art, and then went on to eventually publish their own books, perform in front of wide audiences, and tour.

I’ve received many thanks over the years for seeing some quality in their work and taking a chance on publishing them. Even if they didn’t get very far, they at least had some respect for themselves as writers.

Are you starting up a new project in its place, or just kicking back? Will you continue to publish other chapbooks, or your own chaps?

Many new projects of my own. I’ve published a number of chapbooks for local writers, and I may still publish one or two when I see someone who has an obvious talent, but I’ll manly be working on my own work.


What has changed in the lit scene since you started publishing?

The digital revolution.

It is easy for anyone to put together a chapbook and print it. That is both good and bad. It allows for some truly talented people to get their work out without having to succumb to the whippings that many publishers put you through, but it also means that someone doesn’t have to strive to get better. They can be complacent with their work and pump out book after book of crap.


Where do you see the future of indie publishing headed?

There are more and more online journals, and even Facebook is becoming a place for writers to share their work. However, as stated above, none of this forces a writer to want to get better. I see less and less quality work, because they are taking the easy way to get their fifteen minutes.


How do the Canadian and American markets differ in terms of literary journals, and do you find a supportive audience in Canada? Is there good governmental backing or support for the arts in Canada?

There are wide differences everywhere, including locally. There are publications that are punk, classical, intellectual, abstract, genre specific, and some that just don’t care as long as you pay for it.

I enjoy most of them.


What message do you think is important to get out to indie publishers today? What advice would you give young editors, publishers, poets, and/or writers?

For the editors — don’t allow the writers to submit poor work. Be honest with them, for that’s the only way that they will get better. They will either learn to become better writers, or they will give up. Either way, that’s their choice. The editors only need to concern themselves with producing a good product, and that will attract better writers.

For the writers — first learn how to live, and then write. The writing has to come from somewhere within you, and if there’s very little inside, then there ain’t much to come out.

Also for the writers — and this is a quote from one of my poems:

You first have to get the idea of being ‘an artist’ out of your head, then you can create the art.

You just released the final issue of Labour of Love, Volume 41. How has the reception been for it?

I’ve only distributed a few copies so far, as I’m still putting them together, but the word of the release party has already spread and it should be a big affair.


How can people purchase the final issue?

All they need to do is send me an email, and I’ll work out the postage costs with them. Email norman.cristofoli {at} gmail.com.


You’ve explained that you, yourself, are a writer and that you’ll be moving on to do some of your own projects. What’s next for Norman Cristofoli?

I am publishing three large volumes of my work (1983 to 1993, 1994 to 2004, and 2005 to 2015), plus I have two CDs of my work combined with music that was written by many of my musician friends, and I’ll be working on a third. I will also be publishing a play that I have just completed.

They will all be turned into ebooks, as well, and everything will be available through a website that is being developed for me.

I will then go on tours and promote it all.

While on tour, I’ll probably write a poem or two.