Thursday, July 13, 2006

above/ground press: the angry teen years

In August of this year, my above/ground press (with very out of date website), with more than five hundred publications including magazines such as STANZAS, The Peter F. Yacht Club and drop, innumerable poetry chapbooks and over two hundred and fifty "poem" broadsides, will be thirteen years old (two and a half years younger than my lovely daughter). Just entering puberty (so expect it to get ugly), I find it absolutely strange and unbelievable that I've managed to keep the damn thing going for as long as I have.

I've always thought that unless you're willing to continue something, there is almost no reason to start, whether a reading series, press or a magazine; I've always been able to hold a long-term idea far better than a short-term one (I've found it difficult, even, to both write and read short fiction, for example, but have been working on longer fiction for years). There is something pretty entertaining to me about working to be both a national and a local publisher, working to publish work I find interesting on a national level, as well as around Ottawa (Sean Wilson of the ottawa international writers festival once described above/ground press as the only Ottawa publisher deliberately interested in the "local"), and working to distribute large scale, mailing boxes of chapbooks out into the world for various people to distribute (and even getting some pretty cool things back, eventually), whether to derek beaulieu in Calgary, Sheila Murphy in Arizona, Sina Queyras in Brooklyn or Dennis Cooley in Winnipeg; the books do get out there. As Stephen Cain wrote in his introduction to Groundswell (one of the few pieces written on the press at all):
I raise the issue of format and permanence here for mclennan's enterprise has been one that has purposely and consistently resisted the small press tendency toward the fetishization of the material object as a rare and restricted commodity. above/ground press publications exist in a discourse of excess and are distributed via potlatch — most chapbooks are produced in runs of 200-300, broadsheets consist of 250-500 copies, and the magazine STANZAS often approaches a circulation of 1000. The majority of these items are distributed free of charge to interested readers and, considering that Clint Burnham has characterized the consumers of small press and alternative writing as consisting of no more than 2000 readers, it is conceivable that every "interested" reader and "active" writer in Canada has at least one of mclennan's publications in his/her collection.
I'm currently in the midst of working on a reading/launch for some part of August, an above/ground press "lucky thirteen," as both a party and a fundraiser both; as an acknowledgment of all the papery bits scattered throughout my apartment that seem to be multiplying, as well as to financially help me produce more books (I lost my cheapcheap photocopying options in February, so have to pay real prices for the stuff now; but still, people like Cath Morris in Vancouver, Barry McKinnon in Prince George and Karen Clavelle in Winnipeg have been waiting for three or so years for me to produce their chapbooks…).

I'm also currently working on schemes that will include future chapbooks by (hopefully, eventually) Phil Hall, Wanda O'Connor, Jennifer Mulligan, Jesse Ferguson, Margaret Christakos, Andrew Suknaski, William Hawkins, Lea Graham and various others (I won't tell you yet which ones might be launching their publications at the anniversary party…). At some point I would even like to do a 20th anniversary above/ground press anthology, the second ten years, after Joe Blades let me produce Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (2003). (There is so much more still to do.) How can I not continue?

And then come September, when we launch Chaudiere Books; details to follow.

related posts: old interview on The Danforth Review on above/ground press; some recent publications; some less recent publications...

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