Thursday, December 13, 2007

Edmonton’s Mark McCawley, Urban Graffiti and greensleeve editions

I met up with Edmonton writer and publisher Mark McCawley [see his recent 12 or 20 interview here], and traded a pile of his publications over the years with some of mine. His is a name I’ve heard for years, usually associated with other post-realist working class fiction Canadian writers such as Matthew Firth, Daniel Jones or even Grant Shipway (think, too, of the anthology Hal Niedzvieki edited for McClelland and Stewart in 1998, Concrete Forest: The New Fiction of Urban Canada). An active poet and fiction writer, he edits and publishes chapbooks through his greensleeve editions, as well as the litzine URBAN GRAFFITI , all of which have been on hiatus for the past couple of years. Some of what he gave me included chapbooks of his own work, The Length of Distance (greensleeve publishing, 1989), the deadman’s dance (greensleeve editions, 1989), Last Minute Instructions (Toronto ON: Unfinished Monument Press, 1989), Thorns Without the Rose and Other Stories (greensleeve editions, 1991) and Voices From Earth, Selected Poems by Ronald Kurt and Mark McCawley (Calgary AB: The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, Number 13, 1990), as well as a whole stack of work by others he’s been producing in Alberta for nearly twenty years:

Neil Scotten, Blue (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Ken Rivard, Working Stiffs (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Richard Stevenson, DICK AND JANE HAVE SEX (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Andrew Thompson, sd edwards and Faye Francis’ collaborative Everybody Does It! (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Michael C. McPherson, A Backward Climb Up The Stairs, four fictions (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Giovanni Testa, inscapes (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Beth Jankola, One Sided Journey Through Politics (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Janice Williamson, excerpts from the journals of Alberta Borges (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Beth Jankola, Voices in the Night (greensleeve editions, 1992)
Shannon Sampert, Secret Sisterhood (greensleeve editions, 1992)
alan demeule, Flesh Temple (Edmonton AB: perimeter press, 1992)
Daniel Jones, The Job After the One Before, Stories (greensleeve editions, second revised edition, 1993)
James Thurgood, Icemen Stoneghosts (greensleeve editions, 1993)
Carolyn Zonailo, Letters of the Alphabet (greensleeve editions, 1992)
Stephen Morrissey, The Divining Rod (greensleeve editions, 1993)
Beth Jankola, The Sunflower Poems (greensleeve editions, 1994)

Conspiracy Northwest, ed. McCawley (greensleeve publishing, 1989), Aaron Bushkowsky, Beth Goobie, Margaret Greene, Barry Hammond, Ronald Kurt, John Lane, Mark McCawley, Ky Perraun
Keeper of the Conscience: an anthology of social/political poetry, eds. Ronald Kurt and Mark McCawley (greensleeve publishing, 1990), Mark McCawley, Chris Faiers, Allan Sarafino, Katherine Kostyniuk, Ronald Kurt, Clifton Whiten, Alan Demeule, Jones and Joan Brown.

URBAN GRAFFITI #2 (July 1994), #3 (February 1995), #7 (Autumn 1999), #8 (February 2001) and #9 (September 2002).
McCawley emerged during the 1980s, a period when parts of Canada were rife with young and younger writers starting to produce their own works, including Joe Blades starting his Broken Jaw Press for chapbooks and, later, trade books in Halifax (since moved to Fredericton). Toronto being Toronto, they had a slew of small and smaller publishers emerge during the same period, including Stuart Ross (Proper Tales Press), Daniel Jones (Streetcar Editions), jwcurry (1cent), Kevin Connolly (Pink Dog/WHAT Magazine) and Gary Barwin (Serif of Nottingham), among others (what else might have been happening in other corners?).

Alberta Uncovers a Humanist Plot

Hang up the telephones of small men. A radical fringe
group of intellectuals form a liberal humanist splinter
group to protest tower shortages. Transmission lines
tremble with memos; baseball memories shimmer short
stops. Miami Man holes up in his provincial office
facing north to the river. Passionate outbursts from
smokers plot to overthrow the government, rail against
“those corrosive artsy crafty lefties.” The word sailboat
blinks off/on in small circles before their eyes. (Alberta
and Frank caucus and muse: “Will spring nourish this
insurrection or find it nodding off in March?” (Janice Williamson, excerpts from the journals of Alberta Borges)

It many ways, it’s amazing that this guy could have fallen off the radar the way he has; there are probably very few publications by the late small press legend Daniel Jones still available, including his mind-blowing poetry collection The Brave Never Write Poetry (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1985), but for this small publication by McCawley, and a trade collection produced a number of years ago by The Mercury Press. What other chapbooks (and there were a few) are even still out there?


Nineteen minutes and twenty-one miles
out of Edmonton, tracks begin to click
like a primitive clock, counting distance
between switching yards and abandoned stations,
click, click, a perpetual morse code.
In picture windows prairie pauses,
each view exacting as the last
with only the occasional sun sight
to remind us of motion.

Remembering once when origins
and destinations didn’t matter, only
the space between here and there
and time passing in backwater towns,
travels of legendary drifters
who rode the rails like buffalo
into an uneasy extinction.

We chase the sun all day
towards a horizon we hope to find
darkened by mountains and granite slabs
still stained with human blood,
measuring the length of distance
by the weight of silver wheels
pounding ground’s bleached geography.

If we’d listen, we’d hear
decades grind beneath boxcars,
the strain and pull
as the engine heaves ahead,
its destination a future
we may or may not traverse.

For now, we jolt and shudder
uncomfortable companions to coal and cattle,
crisscrossing this checkered prairie quilt
of canola, barley and wheat. (Mark McCawley, The Length of Distance)

To find out about available chapbooks and prices (he says he has masters to most if not all of these, so he can theoretically have everything in print) contact him directly at:

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