Tuesday, June 15, 2004

a bite out of ga: Montreal’s ga press

Part of an intense burst of anglo literary activity in Montreal was Colin Christie and Corey Frost’s ga press, producing small hand-made chapbooks where individual design and performance were essential to each publication. Credited by Montreal’s HOUR weekly at the end of 1994 for “starting a small-press publishing renaissance in Montreal,” each publication was willing to take risk with design, displaying how form was never separated from project or content. In many ways, ga press was simply an extension of the collaborations between Frost and Christie, including both publication and performance, whether of their own work, or the work of others. Despite ga’s short life, less than two years of activity before both Frost and Christie left Montreal, the most lasting offshoots of ga press appear to be Corey Frost’s own writing – from his self-published Tonight You’ll Have a Filthy Dream – Performances in Montreal, 1994-1999 (Backwards Versions) to his collection of anti-travel stories, My Own Devices (Conundrum Press, 2002) – and the direct influence on Andy Brown, who started his Conundrum Press almost immediately after ga’s last publication (Andy Brown was introduced to the work of ga through interviewing the two for Concordia’s student newspaper, The Link).

Vehicule Press publisher Simon Dardick was quoted in an article in HOUR in 1994 (August 4, “GA! Press: The merits of the small” by Mark Shainblum) as saying, “Corey Frost and Colin Christie are big believers in the joy and importance of doing it on your own. The founders of GA! Press, Frost and Christie are Concordia University Creative Writing students in their mid-20s, and both relished the taste of self-publishing they received within the program.”

The original idea for the press started during a fiction seminar with P. Scott Lawrence at Concordia University, where various young writers met, including Frost, Christie, Catherine Kidd, Steve Edgar, Alexis Diamond (now a playwright/librettist) and Benet Davetian (winner of a Mordecai Richler award). As Frost says, “At the end of the term we collectively decided to publish an anthology of stories by the class, to be called for example. Colin and I volunteered to design and produce. That was the birth of ga press.” During the same semester, Corey Frost was invited to participate in a private poetry-writing group by Catherine Kidd, that included Trish (then Patrick) Salah, Sina Queyras, Chris Banks, Carmine Starnino and Michelle Powers.

Corey Frost writes in an email:

I think that the most significant aspect of ga, for me, was that we were exploring the idea of publishing as performance. Colin and I talked about this a lot. We saw our role, as designers/editors/publishers, to be analogous to that of a musician interpreting a song or actor interpreting a role. The piece "Ampersand", which I later included as a comic in my chapbook Tonight You'll Have a Filthy Dream, sort of discussed this. We wanted to reach audiences directly by making our books unique and tactile, so they could feel our presence in the object. It was logical, then, for us to reach audiences even more directly by doing our "publishing" in live performance, reaching audiences even more directly with our actual presence. We never drew a distinction between the print and performance aspects of ga.

In addition, ga served as a community nexus, not just for Colin and I, for whom it was our entire lives for a short time, but for the other writers and performers in the scene who were our friends and therefore "ga" authors. The word "ga", and the concept behind it, did I think become more than the name of the press, evolving into a symptom of a thriving lit-performance scene in Montreal. The quantity of our output was, it seemed, less important that the enthusiasm and innovative attitude with which we approached that scene. Jake Brown said that it was talking to Colin and I for that Voice article (I had met Jake at Concordia) that inspired him to get involved in performance and start the Yawp series. Also index magazine was really born out of ga, and it involved a lot of different people while it lasted. It would be helpful to read the chronology section of Impure for information on some of this, or contact Andy Brown, Jake Brown, Todd Swift, Cat Kidd, Lee Gotham, Simon Dardick, Golda Fried, Judy McInnis Jnr., Chris Bell, Ian Ferrier, Trish Salah, Victoria Stanton, Vince Tinguely, etc.

Throughout the next year and a half, ga would produce a number of small items and performances, including chapbooks, books and cassettes, in a city where the line between text and performance has always been thin, including the mini-book Super Socco and Other Super Stories (June 1994) by west coast writer Judy MacInnis Jnr., published with covers cut from different cereal and laundry detergent boxes, and Chris Bell’s novel, Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha (November 1994), designed as five chapbooks bound in a paper sleeve, with each chapbook individually fingerprinted by Bell (one finger per book). They even designed and produced a miniature book to go with the first Wired on Words cassette (December 1994), (which they also designed), after being approached by Wired on Words hosts Ian Ferrier and Fortner Anderson. David McKnight, rare books librarian at McGill University’s McLennan Library, writes in an email, “My own feeling is that the ga press story is not about the press and its output because it is so tentative and frankly undistinguished. The most ambitious of the lot is the Chris Bell multi-part novel, Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha. Chris was very much hands on and interested in book design and quality. Its nicely done.” He adds, “The question – does spoken word run counter intuitively to printed format and thus seeks a home in a more suitable format: video, audio tape, digital. I’m not sure if Corey Frost intended ga to emerge as the printed outlet for the Montreal spoken word scene, but if that was his hope it never really got off the ground.”

Corey Frost writes:

Colin suggested the name "g press" because g is his middle initial, and also because we were both really into typography and we liked the little hook serif on top of the g. I suggested that this sounded too much like a specifically women's press (g for gyno), so we should add an a (a for andro), leaving us with ga, which we liked the sound of. The archeology of the name changed though, when people started asking what it meant. First we said "Colin came up with the g, Corey came up with the a" which was the truth, but then the word ga developed its own significance. To me it was like dada or fluxus, a nonsense syllable that could mean an infinite number of things, and we started referring to ourselves not as "ga press" but simply as "ga", because we wanted to be an infinite number of things, not just publishers. In the Fringe Festival show, the word ga took on a major role, and we did a couple of mock interviews in which we gave outrageous, surreal answers to the question "what is ga?" (One answer I remember from the play was "ga is three winters and one summer, in Russia, working at a bakery" or something like that. Later this got transformed into "ga is two winters and one summer in Montreal..." which it really was.)

Patchen Barss in The Montreal Gazette (July 31, 1994. “Little book offers big excitement”) wrote of Oralpalooza: “Last week, Ga Press published Oralpalooza, a collection of transcripts of performance art from the Third Stage (spoken word) at Lollapalooza. The 5-by-8-inch book had a print run of only 200 copies. But amid out-of-control profiteering, this little book held true to the original motives of the festival. [...] ‘This book tries to capture the spontaneity and motion of performance art,’ Frost says. ‘These people are performers, not just paper poets. I would like it if this book suggests to people some of the exciting and live quality of performance poetry.’ [...] But for now, Oralpalooza was the only thing I found at Lollapalooza that sincerely valued making a statement more than a buck.”

In Impure: Reinventing the Word: The theory, practice, and oral history of ‘spoken word’ in Montreal (Montreal: Conundrum Press, 2001), Victoria Stanton and Vincent Tinguely write of ga press under the chapter heading “The Oralpalooza Generation,” along with the performance group Fluffy Pagan Echoes (Ran Elfassy, Justin McCrail, Vincent Tinguely and Victoria Stanton), The Wired on Words cassettes (involving Ian Ferrier, Fortner Anderson, Ian Stephens and others), and Lee Gotham’s Enough Said series. Their introduction to the chapter, writes “In the spring of 1994, a number of anglophone writers and performers began to come together. One loosely-defined group was largely drawn from the ranks of graduating Concordia creative writing students interested in innovative means of presenting literature to their generation. These people created ga press, a chapbook publishing house, Index, a free monthly literary magazine, and Ouma Seeks Ouzo, a performance troupe. A second group, which became known as the Fluffy Pagan Echoes, was made up of five writers, poets and performance artists who were disenchanted with the format of the traditional poetry reading.” (p 163). On ga specifically, they add: “The pursuit of excellence in small-press publishing went hand-in-hand with a growing interest in the performative possibilities of text.” (p 163).

Corey Frost writes:

We also had elaborate plans for other publishing projects: Hundreds and Thousands, which was to be serialized fiction (we still talk about doing this someday), and ga press book jewelry (I made a couple of book-pendant prototypes – dana has one). However, we sort of got distracted by live performance. We appeared at Todd Swift's slam Vox Hunt as featured performers, and did a piece which developed into "Ampersand", a kind of sound-poetry skit, involving two typewriters as percussion instruments. Later we participated in another Vox Hunt thing, a benefit show that included an auction, for which we produced a one-off book: it was big, about 3 feet long, and the text was completely done with potato stamps. It was called LIT. A guy bought it for $30 or so I believe.

As far as continuity goes, Andy Brown, with his Conundrum Press (first with chapbooks, and later, full-bound books) picked up the ga ball through similar considerations with design (both Brown and Frost have done design work with Matrix magazine, and Brown currently designs as well for DC Books), and publishing a number of former ga press authors and contemporaries, including Catherine Kidd, Dana Bath and Corey Frost.

Around March 1995, Frost became editor of Index magazine, which curtailed some of their activity, and, later that same year, ga press went into haitus, as both of the main participants moved away from Montreal. As Frost writes of his beginnings with Index, “After that, I got gradually more involved in performance, with Trish and Laura and Dana and Andy in the group OUMA seeks OUZO, and also in publishing index and trying to keep it afloat. I also got married that summer and went to the Maritimes with Dana. So ga activity tailed off, and then in the fall I moved to Japan and Colin moved back to Ottawa (then Toronto, then London [UK]). The ga momentum was to be focussed on a project called "Music Stories", a more serious full-length book that Simon Dardick of Vehicule had offered to fund and put out as a co-production. We communicated on this between Japan and Ottawa, but other things got in the way. We talk about doing new projects whenever we see one another, but so far nothing.”

ga press Bibliography:

for example, anthology (Corey Frost, Colin Christie, Catherine Kidd, Steve Edgar, Alexis Diamond and others),1994
Hence, anthology, 1994
Truth, Memory and Lies, Steve Edgar, 1994
Super Socco and Other Super Stories, Judy MacInnis Jnr., 1994
Oralpalooza, anthology (Golda Fried, Ian Stephens, Jonathan Goldstein, Manchilde, Corey Frost and others), 1994
The Sentence That Thought Life Was Simple, anthology (Corey Frost with Catherine Kidd, Patrick Salah, Steve Edgar, Ibi Kaslik, Lama Mugabo, Michelle Power, Victoria Stanton and others), 1994
Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha, Chris Bell, 1994
Wired on Words Series 1, anthology (Ian Ferrier, Fortner Anderson, Julie Bruck, Lynn Suderman and others), 1994
Blister in the Sun, Sandra Jeppeson, 1994
LIT, 1995
Hundreds and Thousands, anthology, 1995
Book (title goes here), anthology (Colin Christie, Corey Frost, Patrick Salah, Laura Killam and others), 1995


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