Thursday, November 21, 2019

the ottawa small press book fair 25th anniversary: what was at the first fair?

Given this weekend celebrates the 25th anniversary of the ottawa small press book fair (the fair itself on Saturday; pre-fair reading on Friday), I thought it might be fun to look through a few of the items/presses that would have been at that first Ottawa event, way back in October 1994 in the lobby of the National Archives of Canada on Wellington Street. James Spyker and I originally founded the Ottawa fair, modelled on what little we know of the infamous Toronto Small Press Book Fair (an event begun in 1987, emerging out of the Meet the Presses monthly events).

Not long after our first fair, James Spyker (who produced the first catalogue, as well as creating the original logo) relocated to Toronto. A year later, I organized a second event, relocating the fair into the great hall of the Glebe Community Centre. We enjoyed the Archives space well enough, but we hadn’t any foot traffic at all, so anyone who came through were highly deliberate; the corridors were empty, with the occasional archivist wandering through to the elevator. Now this was in the days when room 156 of the building was well-known to hold multiple literary readings and launches, before the Harper Years clamped down on literary events in the building; I’d been to a reading and launch of a collection of John Metcalf’s essays the same year, for example, in those same corridors. In the early and mid-1990s, I even organized/hosted numerous poetry readings there myself. But the weekend traffic simply didn’t exist.

It was only a decade or so back that the fair moved onto Elgin Street, where it has since lived at the Jack Purcell Community Centre. The Glebe Centre was being closed for a full year for the sake of renovations, so I couldn’t do anything there. And Elgin Street has better walk-by traffic (and actually includes the event on their notice-boards, something Glebe wouldn’t do). And we have coffee.

And did I mention that the first few fairs were weekend-long? The fairs were both Saturday and Sunday from noon to five, as I would host an exhibitor-friendly small pot-luck gathering in whatever hovel-apartment I happened to be living in at the time: I requested locals bring food, and out-of-towners bring drink (with the logic that out-of-towners then didn’t have to spent too much money on feeding themselves, and we could actually hold an event where we could get to know each other better). I remember first interacting with Mike O’Connor (editor/publisher of Insomniac Press), for example, and two of his authors sitting on my furniture-less apartment floor back on Fifth Avenue during one of those gatherings.

I can’t remember when we first held our first pre-fair reading. I would say somewhere in the “fifteen years ago” range, or thereabouts. Perhaps roughly when I moved The Factory Reading Series (established January 1993) to the Carleton Tavern in the Parkdale neighbourhood, nearly two decades back (someday I’ll figure out exactly when these things occurred, but I suspect circa 2000-2001). The Toronto Small Press Fair used to hold their readings immediately after the fair, but the last thing I want to do is go to a reading after standing for that many hours: I would rather eat, drink and interact with the other exhibitors. And this way, our reading is anticipatory: see what you have to look forward to tomorrow?

By spring 1996, the fair had become semi-annual—I think I had actually forgotten that the fair actually wasn’t semi-annual (it would be another couple of years before I realized I had made this shift, most likely based, yet again, on the schedule of the Toronto Small Press Fair). And, around the same time, the fair shifted from two days down to a single day. And after the debut event in October 1994, I’ve organized the remaining fairs solo. How the hell did I make it to a whole quarter century?

A full list for that first event included: above/ground press (Ottawa), Heather Ferguson and Anne Acco’s Agawa Press (Vanier), Arc: Canada’s National Poetry Magazine (Ottawa), Bardic Runes: Canada’s Magazine of Traditional and High Fantasy (Ottawa), Buckingham Press (Buckingham QC), Bywords: Poetry & Ottawa Literary Events (Ottawa), Carleton Arts Review (Ottawa) (1981-1997), James Spyker’s Committee for Steam (Ottawa), Egasta Comics (Toronto), Colin Christie and Corey Frost’s ga press (Montreal QC), Hook & Ladder (Ottawa) (1993-1997) [see my interview with them on the journal here], Hostbox (Ottawa), John Degen’s Ink Magazine (Ottawa), Insomniac Press (Toronto), IRONLUNGFISH PRESS (Kingston), Mailbox Publishing (Nepean), MPD (Ottawa), Warren D. Fulton’s Pooka Press (Ottawa), The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc. (Erin), Possibilitiis Literary Arts Magazine (Ottawa), Split/Quotation (Ottawa), Douglas Ord’s Suburban Meltdown (Nepean), Quarry Press (Kingston), Turtle Island Publications (Kingston) and The Writing Space (Toronto).

What becomes interesting on the list is numerous, from the presses I’ve long forgotten, to those that are still publishing, to those people you might not have known were involved doing literary journals or presses. Can you imagine, now, John Metcalf sitting a full weekend at a small press fair? Back when he was editor at The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc., he did just that. And where was Rob Manery and Louis Cabri’s hole magazine? I know Louis had left for Philadelphia earlier that year, but Manery was still around for another two years. It would be another year or so before John Buschek began his recently-shuttered BuschekBooks, who became one of the old standards at the fair over the following two decades. And ga press out of Montreal was doing great work! Interacting with them introduced me to a whole slew of young writers in and around Concordia University during that period, from Corey Frost’s own work to that of Judy MacInnes jnr., Stephen Edgar and Trish Salah to, eventually, Dana Bath, Andy Brown and a whole slew of others (in certain ways, the first decade or so of Brown’s Conundrum Press really picked up where ga press left off). As well, the work done since by In/words could certainly be seen as a furthering/extension of The Carleton Arts Review, as In/words emerged on campus not long after the journal finally fell apart: a publishing project directly involving and engaging Carleton University students, both as editors/publishers and writers.

The 1990s fairs saw Joe Blades and his Broken Jaw Press, Dorothy Howard with Raw Nervz Haiku, b Stephen harding with graffito: the poetry poster [see my interview with him here] and Warren Layberry with graffitifish and Bad Moon Books [see my interview with him here] but none of that had occurred yet. Not in 1994. You might not know, also, that writer and editor John Degen, who has been Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada since 2012, used to co-edit Ink magazine (1992-c. 1997). Originally founded by Degen along with Sean Schwind and Brian Hill, Degen later took the journal solo and ran with his wife, Georgina, in Toronto, before it eventually folded. It was even one of our post-fair events in the small apartment I shared with Tamara Fairchild in 1996 that prompted the name of a journal I ran for a couple of years; Brian Hill managed to forget his jacket in our living room, and days later, Tamara left me a phone message: “Brian Hill from missing jacket called.” Somehow, I already thought it was the name of a journal I’d somehow overlooked, or forgotten. And with that prompt, Missing Jacket even lasted a couple of years.

Hostbox magazine (1992-1995) was a glorious quarterly of poetry, fiction and ridiculous comics that had an enormous amount of fun attached to it, and included poetry and fiction by a number of the writers I was hanging out with during those days, including Rob Fairchild, Tamara Fairchild, James Spyker, Catherine Jenkins, Sean Johnston, Grant Shipway and jimmy s.g. ioannidis, as well as comics by P. Otis Gould (I’ve been attempting a bibliography of the journal, but no one can seem to locate issues from the first two years). As co-editor/founder Chris Pollard described Hostbox in an unfinished interview we were doing a while back, “anyway, Hostbox was an attempt to synthesize the whole punk diy philosophy with The New Yorker, which the idea to include cartoons in Hostbox was a direct lift from.”

What amazes me about that period of Ottawa literature is just how much it was all being overlooked, despite what appeared to be an enormous amount of activity for a city with limited arts funding, little book media, no provincial writer’s guild, no literary trade publishing (Oberon Press might well have existed on the moon, as far as we were concerned, given we so rarely even heard what they were up to). It was the same reason we founded the fair in the first place: at the time, I counted a dozen self-professed literary journals in Ottawa, and multiple reading series, some of which had been going on for years (TREE goes back to 1980 and Sasquatch went back to 1971, etcetera). How did we manage to get overlooked so often, and so regularly?

What has been interesting, also, has been in seeing the ongoing evolution of small press and literary writing in the city [you've seen the Ottawa literary bibliography I've been building online, yes?], with structures such as the ottawa small press fair, The TREE Reading Series and the Ottawa International Writers Festival (which began in 1997), as well as the more recent VERSeFest and VERSe Ottawa (we celebrate our tenth annual poetry festival in March), and the poetry/literary calendar, have assisted in providing a scaffolding for an increasingly-engaged community of writers, publishers, printers, editors and enthusiasts. We can do anything, I know. We already are.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

today is Rose's sixth birthday!

How did that happen! Happy Birthday, Emperor Rose! Here she is with wee sister, Aoife, a week or two ago in the new snow, just before school.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Oana Avasilichioaei, Eight Track

If this were a demonstration, voices would clamour with one tongue

If this were a vision, voices would speak prophetically about the past

If this were history, some voices would be forgotten ignored rewritten

If this were telepathy, a voice would be mystically multiplied

If this were a melodrama, voices would babble hiccup sob

If this were a circus, voices would show off their plumage then slip out of
someone’s grasp

If this were a game, some voices would have difficulty understanding the
concept of sides
(“Voices (remix)”)

Montreal poet and translator Oana Avasilichioaei’s sixth full-length collection [see myreview of her prior collection, here], Eight Track (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2019), writes on the overlap of two competing directions: the layering of audio tracks, and the increasing surveillance of both governments and corporations of our actions, movements and interactions. The book is constructed out of a series of sections, from radio scripts to a sequence of fragments to lyric theses to a series of counter-surveillance photos (photos of surveillance cameras around Montreal): “Voices (remix),” “Q & A,” “A Study in Portraiture,” “Trackers,” “If,” “On Origins (a radio drama with interference),” “Trackscapes” and “Tracking Animal (a survival + tracker’s marginalia),” as well as a “Bonus Track,” “Eight over Two (a soundtrack).” Given her performance explorations with recorded and looped sound, I am fascinated with how she turns some of those explorations back around into the text on the page, although nothing that breaks away into looped or overlapping text, a line of concrete and visual that she works up to, but never actually crosses. Avasilichioaei writes her poems, and even her photo-sequences, as poem-essays, writing through meaning, narrative and distance, targeting a sequence of ideas though both language and image. Her poems map out a range of occurrence, offering not answers per se, but making one aware of possibilities that might not have connected, or been previously known. As she writes of the poem/section “Trackscapes” in her “Liner Notes,” a poem on “The Líneas y Geoglifos de Nasca y Palpa, or the Nasca Lines, [that] li in the pampa of southern Peru, an arid plain nestled between the foothills of the Andes and the coast”:

As this is one of the driest regions in the world, the natural elements have preserved the Lines over centuries, though some have been damaged by human disregard (the Carretera Panamericana cuts through them, for example). It was only in 1994 that the The Líneas y Geoglifos de Nasca y Palpa were declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Many have speculated on their purpose, the more current thought being that they were ceremonial and related to water rituals (the Nasca left waterworks and aqueducts still used today), the cleared areas functioning as open-air temples. The wanderer Bruce Chatwin called them a “totemic map” (The Songlines) and poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña, a “libro desierto” or “desert book” (A Book of the Book).

In adding my voice/eye to those who have worked from this desert book, my intent is not to tell or document, for their story is not mine to tell. I can only visually attend to a story whose messages may have floundered in the floods and been buried in the earthquakes and wars that, by the eighth century, had decimated the Nasca. I bear presence to their abstraction, the (constantly shifting) drawings shaped by interactions between sky, environment, topography, perspective, and traces of human movement. In our world, so many meanings of track or tracking are negative, oppressive. The Líneas de Nasca stand in stark contrast to offer positive traces of human endeavour and survival. At the same time, they expose limitations of Western or Northern views and voices. They point to knowledge systems that valorize an intimate and necessary relationship to the ecosystems of the region; they trace a sense of connectedness, integrity, interconnection: an interwoven palimpsest of relationships with other people, animals, symbolic structures, the environment, and water. The lines are communal, for the required a group of people to make them, and they inspire movement and migration, necessary human acts.

Monday, November 18, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lindsay Lusby

Lindsay Lusby is the author of the poetry collection Catechesis: a postpastoral (The University of Utah Press, 2019), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, judged by Kimiko Hahn. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Blackbird Whitetail Redhand (Porkbelly Press, 2018) and Imago (dancing girl press, 2014), and the winner of the 2015 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Contest. Her poems have appeared most recently in The Cincinnati Review, Passages North, The Account, North Dakota Quarterly, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Her visual poems have appeared in Dream Pop Press and Duende. She is the Assistant Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, where she serves as assistant editor for the Literary House Press and managing editor for Cherry Tree.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Having my first full-length poetry collection out in the world has been both completely fulfilling and frantic. The manuscript has existed in some form for about six years: four years of writing, one year of sending it out to publishers, another year from acceptance to final publication. It has moved from ideas and experimentation to beautiful complete object. Seeing and holding it for the first time as the full package: the beautiful front cover, the generous blurbs on the back cover, a foreword written by a poet I deeply admire who really understood what I wanted to do with this book, then the text and visual poems exactly as I had envisioned them arranged. This perfectly-packaged object is what feels so life-changing, and that it looks and feels so much like all of the other poetry collections that I have read and loved by others. This book has made me feel real in the world in a way that all the individual poems never did. Impostor syndrome can always weasel its way in, of course, but now I have all of these lovely words from poets I greatly admire and respect to remind that I am indeed a real poet.

 I’m still figuring out what I’m writing post-book. It feels a little lonely not to have a “project” that I’m writing yet. I’m a slow writer, so I’m just taking it one poem at a time. I’m still exploring some of the same ideas and then mixing some new ones in as well. But I feel like I really figured out the kind of writer I am with this first book, so I’m continuing along that same path but with new poems and continuing to give myself permission to experiment.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I started writing poems in third grade and fell in love with them then. I can’t say for sure what first drew me to poetry, but possibly it was the pattern-building and the sonic nature of poems. These days, the things I love about poems are brevity and concision, the associative collage of influences distilled into new ideas and images. I love poetry’s transformative powers—making beautiful things out of the strange and monstrous, and vice versa. 

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I like to think of my writing process as slow and deliberate. It involves lots of note-taking, reading, research, movie-watching, and time. I have a strange process of revising while I draft each poem, so I really write one line at a time with a lot of thinking in between. I consider the images and associations I want in the poem, the sounds of the words and rhythm of the line, and maintaining those things consistently through to the last word. By the time I have a first full draft, I have usually worked on the poem for several weeks, each line probably revised 2-3 times. I just can’t continue to writing the next line until I feel like I’ve figured out the line before.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

With my first book, I knew the poems I was writing were building toward a larger project. Each individual poem was an intentional piece and all the pieces together became a book that I hope adhered into one larger poem-like structure. I think each book will be different though. Right now, I have no idea what the next one will be, but I’m writing new poems one at a time. And once I have a good handful, I’ll spread them out in front of me and try to see if there’s the thread of a book taking shape somewhere within them.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Planning for and giving readings is still pretty new to me. There are definitely parts of giving readings that I absolutely love, especially if I’m reading alongside other fantastic writers that I can listen to and then talk to about our busy, unpredictable writing lives. I love meeting other writers and making those deeper, personal connections. It’s exciting to introduce new readers to my poetry, people who probably haven’t heard of me or read any of my work before. And it’s another kind of thrill to meet and talk to people who are followers of my work. But overall, I am very much the introvert. Giving a reading and engaging in intense socializing for a day or an evening absolutely drains me and makes me crave some writing time by myself. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the writing process, which, in its solitary nature, relaxes and recharges me. But I think both of these things are necessary for a fulfilling writing life for me. I like to be on my own, but I need to feel like part of the outside world, too. I need that connection.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

All of my poems are about some kind of transformation—but I can’t really say why. I think I’m still figuring that out, piece by piece, with each new poem. I do have a fascination with how women in particular are transformed by violence, via the saints & martyrs of the Catholic church (my upbringing), fairy tales (an obsession), horror movies and true crime shows (another obsession).

I think the current questions are slightly different for each writer—important variations on the question of our humanity and what it means.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think the job of the writer is to ask the uncomfortable questions and also to admit that we don’t immediately know the answers. The job of the writer is to remind us to stop and think, to draw connections between things, and to explore the multitude of meanings there. But above all of that, to find beauty and to share it with the rest of us.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It all depends. Most of the time, it is incredibly helpful to get out of your own head and find out how your poem reads to someone who isn’t you, who doesn’t already know all of the references and connections you’re trying to make. It’s hard to know for sure if your poem is successful unless you have an outside reader who can give you feedback that you trust. The ideal scenario is to have an editor who likes and understands your poetry and style, and what you’re attempting to do. It’s the closest you can get to a clone of yourself who can evaluate your poetry with an unbiased perspective and a fresh pair of eyes.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

The best piece of writing advice I’ve heard, that I don’t follow nearly as often as I should, is not to censor your first draft. You have to silence the critic in your head when you’re getting a first draft out because there’s a lot of bad writing floating at the top. But when you get the bad writing down, you can get to the good writing underneath, maybe even hit on a piece of something great.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t really keep much of a disciplined writing routine actually. I tend to do most of my writing in the evenings after work and on the weekends, but it definitely doesn’t happen every day. I write as often as I can manage, which is never as often as I would like.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I turn to books and movies! Often I’ll return to a favorite for a reread or rewatch. Other times I’ll make a dent in the stack of new poetry collections on my nightstand and hope something shakes loose in my writing brain. I’ve also more recently turned to playing with visual poetry and collage when I’m stuck on a textual poem to exercise some adjacent creative muscles. The other tried and true reset button is going for a good, long walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

It’s a very distinct scent—damp soil, dead leaves, and moss are some the things that make the rich smell of the woods on the U.S. East Coast. I grew up in a heavily wooded neighborhood in rural Maryland, where my little brother and I would always play outside either in the woods across the street or the woods behind our house. Now, whether I’m hiking in Delaware or Pennsylvania, or even this summer down in North Carolina, the smell of the woods is exactly the same; and it immediately transports me home. It’s a deeply comforting smell.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Absolutely! So much of my inspiration for poems comes from folk and fairy tales. But more recently, I’ve been writing poems in conversations some of my favorite horror movies—and it has been so much fun! In my new poetry collection, Catechesis: a postpastoral, there are two different sections of horror movie poems in which each poem borrows for its title a line of dialogue from the films. One is about Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs and the other is in conversation with Ridley Scott’s Alien. Since the movie-lines-as-titles come before the poem is drafted, they serve as the jumping-off point for the rest of the poem; and the poems themselves tend to go in some really interesting directions. I had so much fun with these poem series that I’ve also recently started drafting some new poems in this same style, using Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I think the texts that have been the most important for my work are folk and fairy tales—I try to infuse a little bit of them into every poem I write. The other writers who have been most formative for me as both a writer and a reader are Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Kate Bernheimer, Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges, Elizabeth Bishop, Shirley Jackson, Matthea Harvey, Madeleine L’Engle, and so many more.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to find some kind of work-life-art balance, but I think that’s definitely more of a long-term project.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I really enjoy graphic design work and letterpress printing, both of which I’ve picked up through years of experience rather than formal education. I do some of this for my current job and also a little freelancing, but I’d love to do more.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I really can’t say. I just can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. It’s the only way I know to go through the world and find some semblance of wholeness.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

This past year, I’ve read Brute, by Emily Skaja and The Red Parts, by Maggie Nelson—both of which were phenomenal. This summer, I’ve been rewatching some classics that I love: Rosemary’s Baby and An American Werewolf in London.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Recently, I wrote my first lyric essay about my obsession with true crime shows. I’m hoping to write another essay soon. And, of course, I’m still writing poems—figuring out what the second book might be.