Thursday, March 31, 2005

Robert Creeley, 1926-2005

Since the American poet Robert Creeley died yesterday in Texas, there has been a flurry of activity over email lists and on blogs, with much being said and so much more that will still be said. One of our most important poets, Robert Creeley influenced innumerable writers not just in North America, but around the world.

His is a work that I have had a hard time not dipping into again and again, every few months going back into the deceptive ease in which he wrote. The clarity of a few lines saying volumes.

One of the groups he did impact on was the Tish group in the early 1960s out of Vancouver, through his participation in the Vancouver Poetry Conference of 1963 set up by Warren Tallman, as Creeley, along with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov and Allan Ginsberg opened up a whole new range of influence to young and younger poets Fred Wah, Phyllis Webb, Daphne Marlatt, Frank Davey, William Hawkins, Roy Kiyooka and so many others. As George Bowering wrote in his collection Craft Slices (Ottawa ON: Oberon Press, 1985), "In the late sixties Creeley’s poems became tiny fragments of perception held while he was being hurried through too many fast experiences in and out of the world." More recently, during an email interview I’ve been conducting, Bowering wrote, "I am replying to you on the day that Robert Creeley died. He was our best poet, and by our I mean no quibble. He was writing poems even now."

Part of what made Creeley’s influence impressive was due to the length of it, the breadth and the line of the writing that he had been doing for decades and kept doing, as well as the stories of his mentorship to younger writers everywhere, including Bowering and Barry McKinnon and perhaps hundreds of others. Not only through the work he had done, but the work he continued to do, such as in the collection If I were writing this that appeared in late 2003 with New Directions:


If I were writing this
with prospect of encouragement
or had I begun some work
intended to be what it was

or even then and there it was what
had been started, even now
I no longer thought to wait,
had begun, had found

myself in the time and place
writing words which I knew,
could say ring, dog, hat, car,
was rushing, it felt, to keep up

with the trembling impulse,
the connivance the words contrived
even themselves to be though
I wrote them, thought they were me.

Talking recently of the scene in Prince George, an old logging town half up the province of British Columbia, poet Rob Budde says, "The influences that are more predominant here than in Winnipeg are Creeley (he’s everywhere – came up a few times for pivotal, influential readings), Spicer (via Stanley), Bowering (for some reason I can’t remember Bowering ever reading in Winnipeg), Fawcett (although that’s love/hate)." His influence was pervasive.

In 1975, in just one of many times he wrote on Robert Creeley, the late Vancouver teacher and writer Warren Tallman wrote:

Wakening from this dream I sensed it was telling me that Creeley is the least abstract of poets, most given to the natural symbol, and for this reason singular, a necessary condition for the defining mind. What can we many know, except by way of that one. True as it is that his early poems owe debts to Pound, Williams, Zukofsky and Olson, it is even truer that from the first they are singularly his own. For instance, 1953, "The Crow":

The crow in the cage in the dining-room
hates me, because I will not feed him.

And I have left nothing behind in leaving
because I killed him.

And because I hit him over the head with a stick
there is nothing I laugh at.

Sickness is the hatred of a repentance
knowing there is nothing he wants.

Because crows are in physical nature, they can be natural in the mind via a lore that we all more or less share: as the crow flies; crow-bait; scarecrow; tough old bird; crow’s nest, and of course blackness, and caw, caw, caw. Cages and dining-rooms are also natural in the mind and carry their own lore, also shared. Because crow / cage / dining-room are natural, readers will realize that Creeley is providing an off-play, a variation on ordinary experience. In dining-rooms we expect the usual: meal, husband, wife, kids, friends, a family gathering. And though there very well might be a canary, lovebirds, parakeets, even a parrot, the crow is an unlikely pet, odd. Yet odd as the symbols are in the first couplet, there is odder to come in the second and third, as we learn that he has killed the crow with a stick and left the house, leaving nothing, behind, a total breakup of whatever relationships were in the house – a terrible emptiness and isolation. It’s almost as though while he was in the house there was just himself at the table and the crow in the cage, a lock-in contention. And just because it is the dining-room, one is turned to the most natural lore, story, the man who refuses to eat crow. This is the crow in our minds, black, common, a pest, harsh-voiced, qwa, qwa, qwa, tough, unpalatable. No man wants to eat crow, especially in his own house – swallow his words.

– Warren Tallman, In The Midst. Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1992.

In 2000, during another of my Creeley phases, I started reading his poems to my daughter (then nine) during our Saturdays wandering around Ottawa, hoping that if she cared for poetry at all, she might be intrigued by his use of simple language; a simple language doing complex things. She had to admit that she liked it.

Long called the poet of the domestic, it was Creeley who helped me realize you don’t need complicated words to express complex ideas, but instead, a better understanding of simple language. That was before I started giving my daughter copies of his poetry collections. That was before we discovered that she was almost completely blind in one eye. Look, I wanted to tell her, this man had only one working eye and see what he accomplished.

Next year he would have turned eighty. Rumours of volumes of Collected Poems slated to appear. A tribute in Australia’s Jacket magazine. Wondering if Ekbert Faas has been working at all on a second volume of his Robert Creeley: A Biography, the first of which that only covered his first forty years.

Even though I wasn’t fortunate enough to have met Robert Creeley, or even to have heard him read (when he read a few years ago at Carleton University in Ottawa, I was reading in Winnipeg), I did get a response to a package of chapbooks I had sent him, a postcard of Arshile Gorky’s "The Liver is the Cock’s Comb" that I keep on the bulletin board beside my writing desk.

Dear Rob McLennan

Thanks for the great SWATCH of terrific works! George [Bowering] really stood / stands by you – and you are getting the words out in excellent spirits! Onward!

All best

And what can I end with. All that I have, which seems never enough, a poem. Not necessarily a poem written for him, but from him, written a few years ago and included in the unpublished manuscript ruins (a book of absences (the third in the paper hotel trilogy), that itself begins with a Creeley quote: Were there a fire, / it would burn now.

creeley said (sd)

"The fire is the center."
everything explodes outward.

i am the oldest one in my body,
& of these gardens we inhabit.

slick words stick to my mouth,
& old jokes cleave, rapunzel.

& nothing left but brockwell slang,
which isnt slang at all,

above/ground press

I’ve been quiet the past few weeks on my blog, mainly because I’ve been working on fiction and listening to the new Kathleen Edwards cd (a gift from my lovely daughter Kate), as well as trying to produce chapbooks through my above/ground press, trying to ease the backlog (some of these titles have been three years slated). Here is a list of various titles I have produced over the past few months, and very soon, hopefully, will be other titles by Karen Clavelle (Winnipeg MB), Douglas Barbour (Edmonton AB), Jan Allen (Kingston ON), Michael Holmes (Toronto ON), Cath Morris (Vancouver BC) and Natalie Simpson (Vancouver BC, formerly Calgary AB).


/it cant be said by Barry McKinnon (Prince George BC), $4

smthg by Max Middle (Ottawa ON), $4

Risky Propositions by Frank Davey (London ON), $4

winter, poems by derek beaulieu (Calgary AB), Laurie Fuhr (Calgary AB), Gil McElroy (Colborne ON), rob mclennan (Ottawa ON), Wanda O’Connor (Ottawa ON) & Adam Seelig (Toronto ON), $4

SHORTS, BRIEFS and curlies by Matthew Holmes (Sackville NB), $4

Autobiographia Cinematica by Alessandro Porco (Montreal QC), $4

junkmaildays by Sophie Levy (Toronto ON), $4

The Cult of David Thompson by Gregory Betts (Hamilton ON), $4

NORTHEAST ANTI-GHAZALS by Eric Folsom (Kingston ON), $4

a week of quiet by rob mclennan (Ottawa ON), $2

Two Songs, John Lavery (Gatineau QC), $2

above/ground press chapbook subscriptions - $30 per calendar year - chapbooks + asides & broadsheets in-between. (outside Canada, $30 US) payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7.

for individual orders add $1 for postage for single copies; $2 for orders of 2 or more titles. Outside Canada, please send same in US funds.

submissions always considered, from 2-30 pages for chapbooks, up to 20 pages for STANZAS. s.a.s.e. essential (patience rather important too). Pays in copies, 6 months av. response (im slow)

to be on elist of future publications for above/ground press & other literary notices (BookThug, greenboathouse books etc) or SPAN-O events in Ottawa & others, contact

for more information on rob mclennan, above/ground press or SPAN-O (small press action network - ottawa), including the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair (since 1994), check out the website. catalog on-line, including new publications, submission guidelines, STANZAS bibliography & backlist in print

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

i cant believe ive been here this long
today is my 35th birthday; i dont plan to do anything useful all day. when we were 18, my exwife thought wed never make it to 30. spending march break with my lovely 14 year old daughter in old glengarry. hoping someone buys me the new kathleen edwards cd. heres a cartoon. talking about strawberries all of the time.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

pubwells, preston street

im from lake placid, he tells me

the songs of lucinda williams, i dont
need to be light

last week, they threw handfuls of snow
at matts window after midnight,

& it wasnt matts window

the mornings correct themselves; what then
the light shaves

swat team, house on fire, ambulance; turn off
the front step

half a block, jerry drives

dark glow across the moon, sinking
down these few lines

if you lived here, you would live
in an empty pub

ive been here since 1958; he says
he says he says

when someone asks you what you think
its because

they want to tell you something

whether you want them to or not

a new bottle of jaeger, & then mike
the new bathroom

sleep the canyon of little italy

if only we had nothing left

Friday, March 11, 2005

poets talk, conversations with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré, Dionne Brand, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen and Fred Wah by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy
2005, University of Alberta Press, $34.95
216 pages, isbn 0 88864 431 0

poets talk was published as part of the cuRRents series through the University of Alberta Press, which has also reissued a number of Kroetsch’s novels and his collected/selected poems Completed Field Notes (2002), as well as Dennis Cooley’s revised Bloody Jack (2004).

In a landscape that seems to favour fewer and fewer reviews of Canadian poetry, poets talk is an impressive and essential collection of critical interviews with poets conducted by Butling, Lecturer Emeritus at The Alberta College of Art and Design, and Susan Rudy, Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Calgary. Published as a companion to their anthology Writing in Our Time: Canada’s Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003), forthcoming in March 2005 from Wilfred Laurier University Press, the interviews are built over long processes of what makes their work work.

Fred [Wah]: Since the 1970s I’ve believed that poetry is only interesting if it has to do with change. I didn’t always think of social change, at first I was thinking of individual change of consciousness or change of awareness. Some of that goes back to before the 1970s and working with [Charles] Olson and his notion of what’s right, right value...

Susan [Rudy]: ...ethics?

Fred: Ethics. An ethics and that goes back to writing Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s:

Eth means why any one returns
every one all over the place they are in
entwined into the confluence of the two rivers
into the edges of a genetic inscription
and our homes and loves now night
spreads out up the valleys

into the many-forgotten messages and arrangements
carried there the character sticks

I was writing out of the sense of etch as ethos as home. Earth is home.

More and more lately, the gap has been widening in Canadian poetry between those working the innovative poetic and those in the fixed idea, so a collection of interviews with seven poets with very little overlap, yet all working opposition and the innovative poetic, makes for an interesting read. Each interview begins with a short critical introduction of each of the poets; I think everyone should own this book.

Pauline [Butling]: Creeley works very much with the line, and that’s another question I wanted to ask you. You say somewhere that you don’t care very much about the line.

Robert [Kroetsch]: Yes, I said that when I realized the crisis is located in the line.

Pauline: But I’m curious about how you work with the line. You don’t torque the line like Creeley does, for example.

Robert: Oh I don’t, no, not at all. I think my greatest anxiety is about the end, line-ending. We grew up, my generation, grew up believing that all the action came at the end of the line. Whether it was rhyme or off rhyme or whatever. And I resented that. Put the action somewhere else, you know? I’m not so sure I’ve ever figured it out. Maybe my virtue is in not having figured it out. But later today [at a reading in Calgary] I’m going to read from a poem I’m writing, “Revisions of Letters Already Sent” where there are passages like “delete the following:” “insert the following.” There is a letter we’ve all written and sent, so to speak, in the world, and you want to rewrite it somehow or other, or correct it, or revise it. It’s like “always already” there or whatever. The Heideggerian thing? And I feel I could go on for a long time exploring this. Sometimes I might just send “delete this word.” There’s one incident I use about seeing a butterfly. But the fragment as I use it comes out as lines somehow. They aren’t simply prose pieces. The notion of line often asserts itself.

I’ve always been taken with collections of interviews, and they’ve been few and far between the past few years (I’ve been working on a collection of them myself, with various of my own interviews online, including Douglas Barbour, Stephen Cain, Meredith Quartermain and Gil McElroy), with long, meaty interviews that are about more than just “what kind of pen do you use” and “do you like writing.” Over the past few years there have been others, including:

Beverley Daurio’s Dream Elevators (Mercury Press, 2000; interviews with Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Claire Harris, Michael Harris, Roy Kiyooka, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré , P.K. Page, Libby Scheier, Anne Szumigalski, Fred Wah and Phyllis Webb)

R.E.N. Allen and Angela Carr’s The Matrix Interviews: Moosehead Anthology #8 (DC Books, 2001; interviews with Robert Allen, Martin Amis, Nick Bantock, Neil Bissoondath, Marie-Claire Blais, Stephanie Bolster, Anne Carson, Michael Crummey, David Fennario, Amitav Ghosh, Michael Harris, D.G. Jones, Irving Layton, Robert Majzels, Erin Mouré and Gail Scott)

Michelle Berry and Natalee Caple’s the notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers (2002, Anchor Canada; interviews with Catherine Bush, Eliza Clark, Lynn Coady, Lynn Crosbie, Steven Heighton, Yann Martel, Derek McCormack, Hal Niedzviecki, Andrew Piper, Michael Redhill, Eden Robinson, Russell Smith, Esta Spalding, Michael Turner, R.M. Vaughan, Michael Winter and Marnie Woodrow).

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Queen Street Quarterly: final

With the brand-new issue, Volume 7, Number 4, now on the stands, Toronto’s Queen Street Quarterly journal celebrates the end of seven years of publishing. Easily the best little magazine in Canada, where else were you going to find the work of Stephen Cain, John Barlow, Christian Bök, Lise Downe, Steve McCaffery, a. rawlings, jwcurry, Matthew Remski, Nancy Dembowski, Victor Coleman, John Riddell, Gregory Betts and so many others that don’t often publish in the little magazines, with their work alongside that of more magazine-familiar names such as Stephen Brockwell, Jon Paul Fiorentino, derek beaulieu, Michelle Berry, Margaret Christakos, Michael Holmes and Ken Babstock. As the avants at the Kootenay School of Writing and Talonbooks on the west coast have access to The Capilano Review, Queen Street Quarterly filled a void in Toronto for the non-traditional poetic, publishing not just the standard lyric, but visual/concrete work, surrealist writing and writing within the Oulipo. As well, Queen Street Quarterly, although named after a well known Toronto strip, published not just the work of locals, but reached out nationally and internationally, bringing in writers and writing from various other communities (work by Aaron Williamson, Bill Griffiths, Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, Coral Hull and Spencer Selby also appeared in the magazine) to produce a diverse and impressive journal of poetry and fiction that didn’t hold specifically to any one aesthetic. Since the magazine began, others have started moving in that direction, publishing more non-traditional works, such as Calgary magazines filling station and the new dANDelion, and Concordia University’s Matrix magazine.

As editor Suzanne Zelazo writes in her editor’s note:

"I began Queen Street Quarterly because I believe in creative action. I wanted to create a place that would unite the many different voices that were and are Canadian literature. At the time most magazines were singular–exclusively traditional and lyric, or exclusively avant-garde and characteristically ephemeral. Having always believed in the capacity for reciprocity between the most seemingly disparate things, I thought it was important to put the street in the museum and the museum in the street–wherein sound scores, concrete poems, and surrealist games in all of their ephemeral brilliance could be preserved, proper bound and anchored in heavy, zephyr laid paper, and where the narrative and the lyric could be un-mired–refreshed by a proximity to newer forms. At the time, nothing existed which fostered such relationships so I, perhaps naively and perhaps arrogantly, took it upon myself to create such a space."

The editors, Suzanne and Phil Zelazo, David Moos, Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennesy, Karen Mac Cormack, with production by Judith Parker, Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon, have produced a fine run.

Zelazo ends her note with:

"Saying goodbye to the QSQ, however, is not easy. I have thought hard about leaving behind some explicitly stated and concise description of what the QSQ means, yet, for the past seven years I have never been one to overly specify our mandate–wishing instead that the magazine spoke for itself. I hope here, in hinting at my personal aesthetics, and through the contributions in this final issue, to do the same." Very few magazines, I think, have spoken so well.

The final issue includes work by Paul Hegedus, Ray Ellenwood, a. rawlings, Anne F. Walker, Paul Vermeersch, Alisa Kay, derek beaulieu, Frank Davey, Blaise Moritz, Douglas Barbour and Sheila E. Murphy, Gregory Betts, Alessandro Porco, Emily Schultz and Bruce Whiteman, as well as cover artwork by Coach House’s own Rick/Simon.

Back issues: $5.00 (including postage), 2 for $7.00 (including postage). Send cheques payable to Queen Street Quarterly, box 311, Stn. P, 704 Spadina Avenue, Toronto ON Canada, M5S 2S8. For all other enquiries please email

Sunday, March 06, 2005

BookThug: an interview with Jay MillAr
This interview was conducted over email from July to August, 2004.

Jay MillAr is a poet, editor, bookseller and publisher. Born in Edmonton in 1971, he was raised in London, Ontario by a zoologist and a music teacher. For the past eleven summers he has collected data on white-footed mice in a woodlot near Tilbury, Ontario for a population Biologist at Lakehead University. A small press advocate, MillAr publishes various things by himself and other under the imprint BookThug, and sells these books as well as other small press and poetically minded literature through Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe, “an imaginary bookstore” specializing in “the books that no one wants to buy.

He is the author of The Ghosts of Jay MillAr (Coach House Books, 2000), Mycological Studies (Coach House Books, 2002) and False Maps for Other Creatures (blewointmentpress, forthcoming spring 2005) as well as many other books that are not ‘real’ by government standards. He lives and works in Toronto with Hazel and their two sons, Reid and Cole.

Current BookThug titles include limited-run chapbooks by Daniel f. Bradley, Alice Burdick, Christopher Dewdney, Jason Dickson, Gerry Gilbert, Phil Hall, Jesse Huisken, Karen Mac Cormack, David W. McFadden, Jay MillAr, nathalie stephens and others. For information contact Jay at or check out

rob mclennan: What made you first start making books?

Jay MillAr: In the early 90s I was living in London, Ontario, and going to Western. I was kind of interested in poetry because of a great English teacher I’d had in my last year of highschool, so I was taking a general arts program. My intro to Eng.Lit. course did a segment on Contemporary Canadian Poetry, so of course we read that New Canadian Library pocketbook by that same title, which had a lot of poems in it by people that were still alive, but none of which were actually contemporary. Anyway, my prof mentioned that one of the poets in the anthology would be giving a reading at the public library downtown, so I went to check it out. The poet turned out to be bill bissett, and his reading both frightened and amused me, but it must have amused me more than it frightened me because I went to the university library to look into his work. That’s when I discovered blewointmentpress, bill’s self-proclaimed publishing empire named after a cure for body lice. I was amazed at the simplicity and often rag-tag production that went into a blewointmentpress book [some were printed sheets just stapled together]. As a result I started scanning the stacks of the Canadian Literature section for books that had no spines – books that had been bound with staples. I discovered all sorts of things, but most importantly I found Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press and Crad Kilodney’s Charnel House. All of the presses I discovered showed me not only a different way of going about producing a book, but these three in particular, blewointment, Proper Tales and Charnel also showed me that there was a different kind of market out there for literature – all of these guys stood on the street hawking their books. But besides these obvious differences, more than anything these presses told me that anyone could be a publisher if they wanted. Within a few months I had foolishly produced my first small press book – goofily titled ‘uranium kisses will knock your socks off’ under the imprint Boondoggle Books (I liked boondoggle because it means ‘to carry out useless and trivial acts with the appearance of doing something important’) – in an edition of 300 copies, most of which I still have. Somewhere.

rm: How did you distribute your early titles, and what was the response? Were they only your titles at first, or did you publish others?

JM: Like I said, I still have most of them – it’s really easy to publish a book, but getting rid of them if you want money for them is a pain in the ass. Probably because the general consumer doesn’t know what to do with books that don’t look ‘real.’ And poetry? Forget it. No one can sell poetry to save their life. And yes, at first small press publishing was simply a means for me to publish my own poetic genius – it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I published anyone else. At first I tried the selling on the street method a little bit – stood in front of my friend’s dad’s music shop in downtown London at Richmond and King. I was really shy, and there were only crazy people in downtown London because all the ‘normal’ people shopped at the malls in the suburbs. And every time a cop drove by I’d get scared and duck inside. Because there were a lot of crazies there were also a lot of cops. I’m confident that I didn’t sell anything. I tried to put a few copies on consignment in local bookstores, but most of them weren’t interested. I did get a copy in one shop on Richmond Street and forgot about it after a while. Years later I was poking through the store and found the book still sitting in the poetry section. I tried selling them to my friends, people I knew, but that was hard because I felt so guilty charging them money for it. Or maybe they made me feel guilty. I’m not sure. Anyway, the basic response was that no one really cared one way or the other about my books except me. The long and the short of it is that over time I published fewer and fewer copies of things – books started at 300 copies but there was a period in the middle 90s when I would only publish in editions of 26 copies or 52 copes at the max. It wasn’t until recently that I started doing BookThug editions of other people’s work in 60 to 100 copies. I still tend to publish editions of my own work in 52 copies for some reason.

rm: What was the reason for the shift from Boondoggle Books to BookThug? Was there even a difference?

JM: Yes and no. Most of the Boondoggle Books stuff I think of as photocopied chapbooks, while the BookThug stuff I think of as more of an artbook, or book as object publishing. More recently there’s been a quiet hybridity between the two ideas in the production of books. But mostly I changed things because I was getting tired of the name. Boondoggle Books got kind of silly sounding, to me anyway, after a while. I switched the name to Book Thug Angel for I think two publications, then just to BookThug. Book Thug Angel is plain stupid. BookThug comes from a poem by Daniel f. Bradley called PROLE: “in a crowd i feel / a small press / in a word gang / book thugs / thud the same / we’re words / sloshing into one another.” Great poem.

Do you remember that essay by Clint Burnham that was published as one of the Streetcar Editions about Toronto Smallpress? It’s been a while since I read it but if I remember correctly he talks about the smallpresser as someone that through his or her publishing critiques ‘real’ publishing. Questions the capitalistic assumptions that occur when a ‘real’ book is published. But the examples he used, for the most part [probably with the exception of jwcurry] seemed more to me as though they mimicked what big presses do but on a smaller scale. They seemed more to me like small presses that wanted to be big presses, or at the very least medium sized presses, and through their mimicry flashed a kind of jealousy or spite at not being a big publisher. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but anyway, maybe that’s what Boondoggle Books is, or was, I guess. The other side of that, at least to me, is rather than comparing oneself to a big press, or a medium sized press, or use smallpress publishing as a means to examine the role of the press is a capitalist system, is to simply ignore it all and publish what you want to publish however you feel like publishing it, without having to answer to anyone. My feeling is that BookThug just wants to be itself.

rm: I’ve been hearing about the Burnham essay for years, but haven’t seen it yet. Would it be worth reprinting or even updating, considering it would probably be twenty years old by now? And you do make lovely books. But do they exist the same way as “object publishing” when most of the BookThug titles exist in similar formats?

JM: Yes, in some ways I have hit a stride of some sort with regard to BookThug – a mild uniformity of production. This is mostly because of the nature of my life – I want to publish but don’t have a lot of time to consider each title as an object unto itself. Besides, in the case of presses that consider each title as an object unto itself, for example Pas De Chance, the book is really interesting while the writing it contains is not always so interesting. I would suggest that any publication that shows some ‘other way’ to go about publishing and distributing the work of writers (ie writing) is a book object of sorts. What I’ve done isn’t really new – I’ve actually looked into the past to see how simple, inexpensive books were produced in nicely produced editions. Book design shouldn’t overwhelm the writing but it should be inviting enough to get a reader curious. As for that Burnham essay, I don’t know if it should be reproduced or not – it isn’t necessarily a helpful text, and it is very much a product of it’s time. I’m not sure if a reader today would find it useful, or even know what Burnham is talking about. The version of the small press community in Toronto to which it refers no longer exists. And I think he kind of skewed everything by neglecting to differentiate between smallpress and micropress publishing.

rm: Is this interest in book design part of what attracted you to Coach House Books?

JM: If you mean as a writer, well, it was mostly because Victor Coleman asked me for a manuscript. If you mean as an editor, well, mostly it was because Alana Wilcox and Jason McBride asked me if I would like to be an editor. But generally speaking, it’s one of the things that I always liked about Coach House. Stan Bevington has a very classical approach to design, even if he is designing a book by the most avant garde writer. Coach House, which has the editors and designers upstairs and the presses downstairs, is also an example of something that attracted me to micropress publishing – there’s a certain squashing or shrinking going on to the levels of book production. Not as much as true micropress publishing, but it’s there.

rm: Through all the years you’ve been a publisher, how has this impacted (if at all) your considerations as a writer?

JM: The most influential thing I suppose is that I’ve been forced to think in terms of book a lot. Or I’ve learned to think in terms of The Book. There are a lot of books out there that are books of poems, or whatever they are books of. When I’m reading them I get this sense that each poem can stand all by itself without any of the others. This is fine, people have done this forever, but it makes my experience of the book fragmentary. Almost as though the book weren’t really necessary. I think that in many ways that’s a pretty mid-20th century thing in poetry. There are exceptions, of course, but generally poets wrote poems one at a time, and they eventually put them all together in a book. When I’m writing, I’m not thinking so much about a poem or even a series of poems, I’m thinking more about how the thing I’m working on will fit in the book it’s going to end up in. No, wait, that’s not quite it. It’s more that I’m thinking about that point in the book. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I can’t help it. When it comes to my own writing, I think in books. Of those books written by other people, the ones that interest me the most are those that appear to have discovered their own sense of themselves. And since I’d like my own writing to be interesting (at least to me) then I want my books to discover their own sense of self. I want my writing to discover its own sense of the book.

(an abbreviated version appears in the current issue of Broken Pencil)