Ottawa X-Press interview with rob mclennan on Chaudiere Books by Matthew Firth
Yesterday, the Ottawa X-Press ran a (slightly) shorter version of this interview Matthew Firth did with me a week or so ago on that Chaudiere Books Jennifer Mulligan & I have started, conducted to coincide with our first launch last night at the National Library & Archives [see Amanda Earl's report of such here]. The X-Press version (with the most fantastic photograph I've ever seen of me; I usually hate photos of myself) exists here, & now the unabridged version (with many thanks to Firth):
Matthew Firth: Where's the name come from?
rob mclennan: The name comes from the waterfalls and rapids on the Ottawa River just west of the downtown core. The falls themselves, where Samuel de Champlain would have first seen them in 1613, sit where the Booth Street bridge passes from the western end of Centretown into Gatineau, crossing the Ottawa River (also known as the Gatineau, or the Grand River), very close to where Chinatown meets Little Italy in Ottawa, and very close to Pubwells Restaurant, where most of the Chaudiere Books schemes were first imagined and dreamed up. A number of the Confederation Poets of the late 1800s and early 1900s lived and worked in the city for various government departments, and it held like a bad joke that, if you hadn’t written a poem on the Chaudiere Falls or Rapids, you weren’t really an Ottawa poet. What we really liked was the link between history, literary history and geography that the name gave us; you can't confuse who we are or where we are from the name. It places us, secure in the Capital Region.
MF: What does Chaudiere Books bring to the Ottawa literary scene?
rm: Hopefully, Chaudiere Books brings years of experience, for one thing. Our aim is for a high quality series of poetry, fiction and eventual non-fiction titles, including, at some point down the road, non-fiction works on Ottawa, the Pontiac area of Quebec (where Jennifer Mulligan is from) and Glengarry County in eastern Ontario (where I hail from). Hopefully, what we are able to bring is a more coherent sense of the literary scene here to locals and otherwise; there is an impressive amount of work being done here by dozens of writers, although looking at the books section of The Ottawa Citizen, it would be impossible to know.
MF: Why should Ottawa readers read Chaudiere Books books?
rm: Why should anyone read anything? We're producing high quality books. I think we should at least be considered, whether or not anyone should actually read the books. If any reader is a fan of poetry and fiction, I want to be creating books that people would want to read, not should. We aren't producing medicine; isn't that the 1980s version of Canadian Literature, that you should read it because it's good for you?
MF: Why does local matter?
rm: Arguably, everywhere matters; the problem with Ottawa that we're trying to correct is that local almost always gets overrun for the sake of national, simply because we're the National Capital. Local doesn’t matter any more than any other place, but historically, Ottawa has always overlooked its own local. We simply want to help give voice and acknowledgment to the work being done right under our noses. Somehow, Ottawa is the only city that really dismisses its own creation, whether through lack of media attention or sheer, simple apathy; nothing ever happens here, they say, so no one bothers to look. I would like to alter that, whether or not I ever fully understand it.
MF: Give me 20-25 key words on each book.
rm: Clare Latremouille's The Desmond Road Book of the Dead is pretty much our lead title. Wonderfully lyric, Latremouille has been working on this novel for a decade and a half, and works through three generations of women in the most heartbreaking prose. Meghan Jackson's poetry collection movement in jars is a series of fine moments shaped like glass. Monty Reid's Disappointment Island, his first collection since he moved to Ottawa from Alberta, works the long line and the long idea better than most, and he is easily one of the best working poets in the country today. Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets, features the work of Stephen Brockwell, Michelle Desbarats, Anita Dolman, Anne Le Dressay, Karen Massey, Una McDonnell, rob mclennan, Max Middle, Monty Reid and Shane Rhodes. I'm already working on a fiction version for the spring. If both books do well enough, I'd like to be able to do another of each, ten more Ottawa poets and ten more Ottawa fiction writers, just to let locals and otherwise know the amount of work that's been going on here for years.
MF: What's the plan for the press? Will it stay focused on Ottawa or branch out?
rm: I think to focus on local to the exclusion of all other things would be simply the same problem we're trying to correct, but in the other direction. Meghan Jackson isn’t an Ottawa writer, but one who lives in the Toronto area; I just happen to have been publishing her work through above/ground press for over a decade. The second season includes a new and selected poems by Saskatchewan poet Andrew Suknaski, who has only visited Ottawa once (that I'm aware of), and that was the year I was born. I like the idea of really working what we publish by Ottawa writers and what we publish by non-Ottawa writers working into each other's contexts; perhaps through the Suknaski book selling in the prairies, some other titles might be brought west with him. Perhaps some folk here who wouldn’t have known his work will notice, because we're publishing him. Regionalism by itself is an interesting and even an inevitable thing, but unless someone else is out there connecting the regions, the whole enterprise becomes rather pointless.
What I would like to be able to do is to publish a book of fiction every season, and work up to a book of non-fiction every season as well, but, like all publishing ventures, it depends completely on what works are out there, and what I can find.
MF: How does this affect your work with above/ground press?
rm: I consider this separate from my work with above/ground, as much as I consider it an extension of the same work. I've known many of the writers included in the first season of Chaudiere Books for years, and have certain advantages through doing years of editorial through above/ground press, as well as the various editorial projects through Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, Vehicule Press, Black Moss Press and Guernica Editions, not to mention Poetics.ca and ottawater, that other editors in start-up projects obviously wouldn’t have. It's been thirteen years so far of making chapbooks for my own amusement, and I don’t really see that changing; they're two different beasts. I'm editing an issue of the critical journal Open Letter, but I don’t see that conflicting with the work I've done so far with Poetics.ca; they can only add to each other and feed each other. Everything I seem to do, so far, manages somehow to connect with just about everything else.