Sunday, February 27, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: John Calabro on Quattro Books

Quattro Books’ mandate is to publish new and established Canadian authors whose work has outstanding literary merit. We aim to fulfill the vision that Canada is extremely diverse and the literature it produces, regardless of its style, or the context that informs it, should be accessible to all. Quattro places special emphasis on the novella, or short novel, a narrative form with strong roots in European and Latin American literature, but not issued by many Canadian trade publishers. We are cognizant that the novella poses special challenges to fiction writers and is, therefore, a genre that is evolving in Canada. Our other main focus is poetry. As with our novellas, literary quality is paramount, whether the author is a young emerging writer, or an established author working in a different genre.

1 – When did Quattro Books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
We started in the summer of 2006 and published our first two titles in the spring of 2007. When we started we had a vague notion of publishing authors that had problems finding a home for their manuscripts, we had this idea of publishing the “other”, to create a publishing list that reflected Canada as it is now. We wanted to publish both literary fiction and poetry. We soon realized two things; most other small presses were doing what we wanted to do with various degree of success and that there was no money to be made in publishing. We very quickly modified our mandate. We decided to focus on the Novella as a genre, so that our publishing list would become 75% novellas, and 25% poetry. The literary novellas explored the darker side of the human psyche and the underbelly of society. The poetry reflected the sensibilities of the three poets in the company.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
The four of us started a monthly reading series in 2004 called Wordstage. We were very successful, over 100 people at each reading. We found that we were very different but that we worked well as a group, that we were quite eclectic but somehow it came together. We also found that a lot of the readers had difficulties placing their new manuscripts. We decided to start a small publishing house to give a home to those manuscript.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
To find and nurture new/young writers, to give a home to writers who have difficulties getting their manuscripts read because of ethnicity, race, gender, or any other obstacles they may face, and to find and nurture experimental writing.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
The main difference is that we solicit, nurture, publish and promote novellas in English Canada. We go looking for writers in the communities we are interested in giving a voice, for example, the aboriginal community, and the different ethnic communities in Toronto. We don’t just wait for them to approach us; we go out and seek them out. We will be doing more of that in the future by giving workshops in those communities.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
From a writer’s point of view: to become part of the literary scene, read the local authors, go to their readings, find out who the local publishers are, find writers’ groups, in effect join the writing community. You need their nurturing at first, and then you can branch out.

For a publisher: to put the book out in print, in electronic form and to send it out to as many reviewer and prizes/contest as you can, to believe in the product and tell everyone that will listen.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
All four partners pick projects to edit and we also use outside editors. We all have different approaches, some heavier than others. Even as individuals we do both, it also depends on the project, some need more than others and it depends if we are working with a young author who may need more direction or an established author where we can be very light and allow them a lot more creative freedom.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We have a national sales force through LPG and a national distribution system through LitDistCo. Our print runs are as low as 400 and as high as 1000, with quick reprints if need be.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
There are six of us in editing and production. We contract out cover design. We are just starting to work with outside editors like AF Moritz and Russell Smith. So far it has worked well. It brings in a fresh and experienced approach, the only drawback is that it costs more than if we were doing it ourselves, but that is to be expected. We like it and we want to bring more outside editors.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It has limited my writing time. It becomes more and more difficult to find time to write. I have a pretty solid voice that I write in and which I am comfortable with, so that I can appreciate other writers but not change my approach to writing. I have learned about how difficult it is for publisher to promote books and that has made me more sensitive to the limitation of publishers, as a writer.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I thought for a long time about it, especially with my last book The Cousin. Cormorant took a look at it, and said it was too short, that I had to add 100 pages and it would be published if it all worked out 2-3 years later. I did not want to make the book longer. At the same time we at Quattro were pushing top become the home of the novella. My partners read my novella, liked it, and encouraged me to publish it with us. The argument is that if the writing is solid we should be proud to publish with our own house. Since then it has not been an issue.

11 – How do you see Quattro Books evolving?
We want to be the go-to publishers of the novella in English Canada, for established and new authors, for national and international authors. We want to do more international translations for both poetry and prose. We want to teach people how to write novellas through workshops. We want to give an identity to the Canadian Novella.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
We are very proud of the number of new authors we have published, we are proud of the number of novella manuscripts we attract each year (about 100), we are proud of some of the more experimental writing we have published in both prose and fiction, people such as Matthew Remski and Paul Seesequasis. People have overlooked how fast we have grown and how much of an impact we have already made on the literary scene in Toronto and in Canada, especially with our novellas. Money and lack of grants is our biggest frustration. We have paid all our bills but not drawn a salary in 5 years.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We did not have any; we wanted to reflect the unique sensibilities of the four partners and to have a bit of fun with the press. That is why tequila is the official drink of Quattro.

14 – How does Quattro Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Quattro Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We attend many workshops and conferences with other publishers; we give workshops on the novella. We attend countless of readings and scout new talent. We partner with the library system and high schools, as well as writing schools. We are in very good terms with different presses like Cormorant, Guernica, Mansfield, Tightrope, and Coach House. We have learned a lot from talking to them.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We have 4 main launches a year in Toronto (very well attended 80-120 people), and various ones in the authors’ home towns. I think they are extremely important for small presses who are introducing new writers. They have been very helpful to us.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We are strong users of Facebook, Twitter, and (less so) of YouTube. We want to do more. We are redesigning our website to make it more of an interactive place for writers. We sell our books on our site, and on Kobo and Kindle.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes we do. We get too much poetry. We don’t accept genre novellas, like Romance, Sci-fi, Erotica or Mystery. At least not yet.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Being the senior fiction editor, I can only really speak about our fiction. Of course I am very proud of my own book, because it uses the form of the novella to its full advantage and turns a well explored Italo-Canadian theme (going back home) upside down and sideways. But I am very proud of Tobacco Wars and how it explores and blends aboriginal issues of history, myths and present day living for First Nations people. Break Me explores the thin line between normal and abnormal, between sanity and insanity. Shrinking Violets explores the theme of abuse. I like the strong female voice, which seems oblivious to the horror around her. You want to jump into the narrative and shake her. Having said that I must admit that we carefully choose all our novellas and I am proud of every one of the 15 we have published so far and the 8 we are publishing this year.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Friday, February 25, 2011

Robert Creeley and Lorine Niedecker: two vernaculars,

In October 2006, a year and a half after the death of Robert Creeley, a number of poets and critics gathered in Buffalo, New York, for a poetic and critical celebration of his life and work. Among Bob’s many friends we invited the following poets and peers: John Ashbery, Robin Blaser, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach, and Rosmarie Waldrop. Charles Bernstein was scheduled to read but was forced by weather to cancel. Critics comprised Charles Altieri, Michael Davidson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Stephen Fredman, Benjamin Friedlander, Michael Gizzi, Alan Golding, Peter Middleton, Peter Quartermain, and Marjorie Perloff (whose appearance was also prevented by weather). As a material tribute to the poet, the Poetry Collection mounted an exhibition of Creeley titles, correspondence, and memorabilia. Designed as a town-gown event, the conference talks and panels were planned to take place on campus in the Poetry Collection, with downtown evening readings at Trinity Church. (Steve McCaffery, Preface, Form, Power, and Person in Robert Creeley’s Life and Work)
Two titles celebrating the work of late American poets recently appeared in my mailbox from University of Iowa Press, the impressive Preface, Form, Power, and Person in Robert Creeley’s Life and Work, eds. Stephen Fredman and Steve McCaffery (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2010) and Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place, ed. Elizabeth Willis (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2008), two critical compilations on American poets worthy of further attention. The first volume came directly from the proceedings of a conference about and celebration of Robert Creeley’s life and work, and the second, seemingly exists as a collection of previously published works, both volumes collecting pieces by critics and poet-critics alike, including Marjorie Perloff, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Benjamin Friedlander in the volume on Robert Creeley, and Michael Davidson, Eleni Sikelianos, Jenny Penberthy, Lisa Robertson, Rae Armantrout, DuPlessis (again) and Elizabeth Robinson in the volume on Niedecker (Vancouver critic Peter Quartermain also shows up in both volumes). My personal tastes lean further toward the poet-critic, in pieces less purely critical than a writer responding to the works of a mentor or otherwise literary influence, and it would seem that Creeley had more than his share of responders. As Stephen Fredman writes in his “Creeley’s Contextual Practice”:
It was no coincidence that Creeley’s initial acknowledgement of his conversion to a more existential way of writing and the conversation that provoked it would appear in a book of his interviews. In 1973, Creeley may have been the first poet to publish such a book as one of his own works, and over the course of his life he may well have given more interviews than any other American poet. As an artistic endeavor, the interview genre offered Creeley an opportunity to extend the contexts of his poetry in two ways: by engaging an interlocutor in conversation and by presenting that conversation to a reading audience. From the perspective of the interviewer, Creeley’s heroic commitment to an art of the present moment made him a magnet. Paradoxically, this man of exquisite self-consciousness and insistent self-effacement was always out there in dialogue with others. The result was a life dedicated to conversation and collaboration within a contextual practice of exquisite attunement. Creeley’s interviews, in particular, have taken a place as one of the indispensable theoretical statements of mid-century aesthetics: arguably more than any other writer, Creeley raised the genre of the interview to the status of an essential context for poetry.
Because this is a volume on Creeley’s work from a specific conference, the volume on Niedecker’s poetry feels far more open and expansive, as opposed to responding to a specific time and place (but this is appropriate, given the sheer amount more on Creeley’s writing). Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place exists far more as a volume of poet-critics responding to one of their own personal influences, at times allowing light into particular elements of their own works, such as in the case of Lisa Robertson’s “In Phonographic Deep Song: Sounding Niedecker,” where she writes:
I’m interested in the presence of listening in Niedecker’s work, listening as a shaped, material practice of reception. Specifically I’d like to consider listening as a compositional practice rather than a mode of consumption. The listener devises tactics of receiving in order to turn sound toward shapeliness. Listening is an active, shaped, and responsive attentiveness to, and among, environmental acoustics. My understanding of listening as composition has been guided by the electro-acoustic composer Pauline Oliveros, who teaches listening techniques as responsive followings outward of sound—whether vocal, environmental, or electronically reproduced—by the attending subject. That is, the listener, in internal alertness, waits for sonic information from the world, then attentively follows a perceived line of sound in its environmental movement, greeting or responding with a performed or imagined reciprocal sonic movement, next turning to a slightly altered performative trajectory as each perceived sound movement ceases or dwindles and a new one arises. The information Oliveros gives about how to compose is not metaphorical, but technical. Each compositional listening gesture places itself in moving, improvised relation to existing frequencies. In this sense, listening is itself a syntonic construct or agent. It composes compatibilities. But in imagining how to discuss such listening techniques in relation to Niedecker’s poems, I ran into some troubles. That is, I can’t speak for her subjectivity and its process. The performative interiority of process, even a materially based process, seems to remain private. The poems remain at listening’s trace.
How does writing become? How do such short, simple and complex works of a lifetime get made, and what exactly might they mean? The explanations are vast, and the questions far outnumber the answers, certainly, but a number of compelling directions are explored through various essays ranging from the formal to the informal/creative. Either way, these two volumes are impressive, and can allow any reader further and deeper, repeatedly, into the works of both poets. A particular favourite between the two volumes is Vancouver critic and editor Jenny Penberthy’s “Writing Lake Superior” in the Lorine Niedecker volume, tracking the genealogy, geography and dna of a single five-page poem. Penberthy, until recently the editor of The Capilano Review, has possibly done more individual work on Niedecker’s writing than anyone, including editing the volumes Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet, Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931-1970 and the essential volume Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works.
In contrast to long poems such as “Wintergreen Ridge” (written in September/October 1967) and “Paean to Place” (written in October 1968), the layout of “Lake Superior” presents no visual template. Niedecker chose not to use her five-line stanza, by now a compositional staple. In its final form, each section of the poem is a discrete fragment with little stated continuity between parts. White space predominates over characteristically minimal placements of texts, and the disparate parts coalesce within a mute and implacable topography. The two early titles—“Circle Tour” and “TRAVELERS / Lake Superior Region”—lodge the poem with the human circumnavigators. In its final revision, the title is given to the lake.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

the ottawa small press book fair, spring 2011;

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

the ottawa

small press
book fair

spring 2011 edition

will be happening Saturday, June 25, 2011

in room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre (on Elgin, at 320 Jack Purcell Lane).

contact rob at to sign up for a table, etc.
"once upon a time, way way back in October 1994, rob mclennan & James Spyker invented a two-day event called the ottawa small press book fair, and held the first one at the National Archives of Canada..." Spyker moved to Toronto soon after the first one, but the fair continues, thanks in part to the help of generous volunteers, various writers and publishers, and the public for coming out to participate with alla their love and their dollars.
General info: the ottawa small press book fair
noon to 5pm (opens at 11:00 for exhibitors)
admission free to the public.
$20 for exhibitors, full tables
$10 for half-tables
(payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset St W, main floor, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7; send by June 15 if you would like to appear in the exhibitor catalogue).

note: for the sake of increased demand, we are now offering half tables. for catalog, exhibitors should send (on paper, not email name of press, address, email, web address, contact person, type of publications, list of
publications (with price), if submissions are being considered & any other pertinent info, including upcoming ottawa-area events (if any).

& don't forget the pre-fair reading usually held the night before, info tba!

also, due to the increased demand for table space, exhibitors are asked to confirm far earlier than usual. i.e. -- before, say, the day of the fair. the fair usually contains exhibitors with poetry books, novels, cookbooks, posters, t-shirts, graphic novels, comic books, magazines, scraps of paper, gum-ball machines with poems, 2x4s with text, etc, including (at previous events) Bywords, Dusty Owl, Chaudiere Books, above/ground press, Room 302 Books, The Puritan, The Ottawa Arts Review, Buschek Books, The Grunge Papers, Broken Jaw Press, BookThug, Proper Tales Press, and others.

happens twice a year, founded in 1994 by rob mclennan & James Spyker.
now run by rob mclennan thru span-o.questions,

free things can be mailed for fair distribution to the same address. we will not be selling things for folk who cant make it, sorry. also, always looking for volunteers to poster, move tables, that sort of thing. let me
know if anyone able to do anything. thanks.

for more information, bother rob mclennan.if you're able/willing to distribute posters/fliers for the fair, send me an email at

and for information on this or other small press book fairs across Canada,
be sure to check out

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Olive Reading Series: season eleven

I’ve long been a fan of Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series, possibly even being the author most featured in its first five years, a series now well into its eleventh season. Running the course of the school year, each of the monthly readings usually features a single poet, and a publication produced as give-away at the event. Still, after years of wondering, why don’t they offer subscriptions to those of us who can’t actually attend the readings? I’m sure there are individuals and even institutions who would love to get their hands on copies. Here are a couple of these I recently received.

September 14, 2010: There can only be incredible envy, knowing that Edmonton was treated to Robert Kroetsch’s poem “All the Dead Husbands,” a thirteen-part sequence that ends with:
13 Seniors’ Residence
All the dead husbands partake
of the ache they once were.
Their widows make love to them daily,
just after three, over coffee and cake.
How many poets these days are writing pieces about living in a senior’s home? It’s no secret that Kroetsch has been, for at least a year or two, returning from Winnipeg to his hometown of Leduc, just south of Edmonton. This is classic Kroetsch, a lovely sequence easing his slow way through thinking, with echoes of the poem “After Paradise” that currently ends his Completed Field Notes (1989; reissued 2001), a poem that originally appeared very quietly at the back of an issue of Prairie Fire. With his most recent poetry collection less than a year old—his Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2010)—he seems to be returning to the habits of publishing, with the dual-chapbook publication The Lost Narrative of Mrs. David Thompson (Edited by Robert Kroetsch) (2009) and Ten Simple Questions for David Thompson (Recorded by Robert Kroetsch) (2009) [see my review of such here] produced through Nicole Markotić’s Windsor, Ontario Wrinkle Press, as well as the rumours of another manuscript recently deposited at Jason Dewinetz’ Greenboathouse [he refers to such here, in his “12 or 20 (small press) questions” interview]. Can another full trade collection be far behind?

October 12, 2010: A couple of years back, poet Rachel Zolf put out a call for something she called “The Tolerance Project.” As she explains at the beginning of her small chapbook:
Eighty-six writers, artists and thinkers have donated their poetic DNA to what could be the first collaborative MFA in Creative Writing ever, The Tolerance Project.

Each piece of poetic DNA donated to The Tolerance Project is assigned a barcode. Each poem written for the MFA employs traces from the donated traces. The MFA poems are restricted to The Tolerance Project Archive ( of poetic DNA for their content. MFA poems and donor barcodes are posted on The Tolerance Project blog (

Based on cumulative feedback received within and without the institution, the MFA poems posted on The Tolerance Project blog will be scrupulously revised toward the creation of The Writing Thesis.

The poems that follow employ poetic DNA traces from Tolerance Project donors Emily Beall, Joel Bettridge, Christian Bök, Jules Boykoff, Di Brandt, Angela Carr, Jen Currin, Sarah Dowling, Laura Elrick, Rob Fitterman, Lyn Hejinian, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Nicole Markotić, Dawn Lundy Martin, Erica Meiners, Erín Moure, The Office of Institutional Research, Bob Perelman, Tim Peterson, Vanessa Place, Kristin Prevallet, Arlo Quint, Rob Read, Kit Robinson, Susan Schultz, Juliana Spahr, John Stout, Lola Lemire Tostevin, Aaron Tucker and Rachel Zolf.
Is this truly a collaboration, or a donated series of items collaged? And how does such become writing, become poetry (I was asked to participate in the project as well, but other distractions wouldn’t allow for it, which I am currently regretting even more than before)? The author of a number of poetry collections, her third, Human Resources (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007), reworked dehumanized language often used in business offices, and reworking such to explore the human aspects hidden within. I’m intrigued by such a project, wondering where such might be leading her exploration into the boundaries of reworking language from one system into another, in this case, reworking a number of other systems into another number of systems.
A limit laid down

Intercommunity of various sentiments

Na persoun sould intromet thairwith

Satisfied the curiosity of the astonished black

And Naked shaking to shew his indulgence

Flourishing despite infection with the sleeping sick

Capacity of a tree to endure cartholicity of spirit

Tamarack, Poplar, Bird Cherry, White and Black

Ash borne without producing gastric symptoms

To decorate with all the splendor of panegyric

Trees give way as water drops below standard fineness

Throwing a veil over the deformities of a product parameter

Imperfection with the instrumentality of Perfection

Under control, or to use a more Christian word, charity

How the metal cools and can be withdrawn

To what extent “dancing girls” forbears euphemism

No such thing as a literally harmless dose of radiation
February 8, 2011: I’m always interested when I see poetry by Winnipeg poet, teacher and editor Dennis Cooley, including the three poems that make up his chapbook His Vernacular Prairie. The two poems—“as for me & my id” and “others are”—sound as though they might possibly be part of his ongoing and extensive “love in a dry land” works, riffing off Sinclair Ross’ classic prairie novel, As for Me and My House (1941). Cooley’s poetic has always relied on the breath, the endless prairie line stretching and riffing across the page, and lyric pun and wordplay, furthering more than most could even be able to conceive. Is it any wonder his poetry manuscripts end up in their hundreds of pages, boiled down or excerpted for the sake of trade publication? If this is from his long-awaited project, it would join other previously-published pieces including poems from Sunfall: new and selected poems (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 1996), the “Dennis Cooley issue” of Prairie Fire (1998) and the trade volumes Country Music: New Poems (Vernon BC: Kalamalka Press, 2004) and The Bentleys (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2006). Just how does a work get so big?

And as an added bonus, the bio to his chapbook mentions that he is “working on several manuscripts, including a collection of essays on Robert Kroetsch,” which will certainly be worth the wait; but why must we wait?

For more information on any of their publications or the series itself, check them out at:

Monday, February 21, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Pam Brown;

Since 1971 Australian poet Pam Brown has published many books and chapbooks including Text thing (Little Esther Books, 2002), Dear Deliria and True Thoughts - both from Salt Publishing in 2003 and 2008 respectively. She has also written for film and theatre. She collaborated with Seattle-based Egyptian poet Maged Zaher on a collection of poems called farout library software published by Tinfish Press in 2007. Her next book Authentic Local is due from Papertiger Media in 2010. An e-book of poems, the meh of z z z z , was published by Ahadada Books in 2010 and is freely available here -

Pam Brown has earned a living variously and, until recently, spent many years thoroughly absorbed in the processes of classification and archiving at a sciences library at the University of Sydney.

For five years, from 1997 until 2002, she was the poetry editor of the Australian literary quarterly Overland and currently co-edits Jacket magazine. She is also associated with HOW2 and Fulcrum magazines. Born in Seymour Victoria, in her imagination Pam Brown lives in Hellbourg, La Réunion, in real life she is currently doing time in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book was printed at night, clandestinely, on paper and card offcuts at an offset printery where a friend worked during the day. It was an after-hours ‘underground’ publication. It was 1971, in Melbourne. The book, ‘Sureblock’, was anti-copyright - ‘if anyone wants these poems use them’, said the flyleaf. And they were used - two films were made from poems about a couple of female outlaws and poems turned up in womens’ liberation newspapers and other magazines.
It changed my life in that publication meant that I met more artists, filmmakers, and other countercultural people than I already knew. I was also invited to read poems in public for the first time. So I suppose that was formative.
The poetry changes as the poet does. Some might call it ‘development’ or maybe you just become more practiced as the years roll on.
On reflection, and without trying to be, I’ve been a different person each decade of my life. I think that’s natural. So the poetry evolves alongside everything else.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I knew about poetry from my paternal great-uncle with whom I lived as a small child. He read Ralph Waldo Emerson. And from my maternal grandfather who owned an advertising agency and liked modernism. I was attracted to poetry at high school and then I began to read beyond the curriculum. I also liked song lyrics and wrote songs.

Most fiction seemed to me to require a huge self-interest on the writer’s part. It seemed mostly autobiographical. I couldn’t imagine sustaining that degree of self-involvement for the length of a novel. I did love Dylan’s Tarantula and great, huge books like Nicolai Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered - both autobiographical - and lots of other novels, especially the existentialists, but I knew I was a poet, not a novelist.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It’s a process of accretion and, yes, it starts with notes. Not copious notes, but notes nonetheless. I write much more slowly these days than I did at first, and even more slowly than I did a couple of decades ago.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
As I said, it begins in notes - on a scrap of paper, in a margin of a book or magazine I’m reading, on a computer file, in a notebook - and then continues. So far, I have not thought that I am writing a ‘book’ as I compile poems. I generally assemble a collection when I have a group of poems that seem ready for publication (every few years or so). I would like to do something more conceptual though - a long poem that is a ‘book’. I might yet do that.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings don’t inform my writing process. But I do see them as part of the life of a poet. I enjoy reading even though sometimes I have wondered what I’m doing there. You know, when the poem bounces off the back wall and heads right back to you. I don’t read frequently because there aren’t many public poetry readings in Sydney.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Yes I do. But my concerns are usually in flux (as is the world at large). The questions I pursue are probably about looking for ways to live, how to live ‘now’, how to continue. I’m not sure what the ‘current’ questions in poetry are. Though I do read poetics (and some philosophy).
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Hmmm. There’s a definite disconnection in Australia between writers as public figures (and the state-funded institutions that support that notion) and ‘writers’. As a poet I have my own scene or group of other poets, like-minded or not, but interested in the work, in ideas, in politics, in publication, in talking to each other and so on. I am entirely uncertain of how the poetry scene perceives its societal tasks.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The editors who have published my poetry have all been very good to me. That’s been fine.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’ve only done that once, back in the early 1980s. The resulting collection, Keep It Quiet, has been overlooked. I enjoyed writing prose, for about a year - my prose style was not very conventional. Lots of parataxis in there.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a writing routine, although I do seem to spend a lot of time at the desk. I write when poetry occurs to me, when I have something to think about, otherwise I remain silent.
If I’m writing poetry it seems to slot in sometime towards the afternoon or evening.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
No particular poet, but I might spend time wandering through Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades’ or some essays on poetry or some philosophy.
13 - What do you really want?
I suppose I’d like to have my poetry work for readers. To have my intentions received and enjoyed even if that might involve some degree of puzzlement.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Yes, - especially art of all kinds, music, film, video, some science, philosophy, architecture.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are too many to list.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In poetry, as I hinted earlier, I think I’d like to write a long conceptual poem.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Poetry is a preoccupation, a compulsion. I’ve never earned money from it. My employment has been various yet, often steady. I suppose would have liked to have a trade - maybe as an electrician or perhaps have been involved in some kind of science.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was something to pass the time when I was ill with the mumps aged 7 or 8. I’m certain it began then.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Samson & Delilah by the Australian indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A poem called ‘Spirulina’. I have just proofed my forthcoming book of poems Authentic Local ( I am editing for Jacket magazine. ( Writing short reviews of poetry books for Overland Literary Journal. ( Trying to keep my blog going. ( and collecting material for the electronic component of a forthcoming Trans-Tasman poetry symposium ( hosted by the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

rob mclennan + Dennis Cooley etc at Montreal's Pilot, Feb 27, 2011;

The Pilot Reading Series
hosted by matrix magazine,
Sunday, February 27 · 8:00pm - 11:30pm
The Sparrow
5322 Boulevard St.Laurent

This month's readers are as follows:

Dennis Cooley;
rob mclennan;
Andrew Szymanski;
Rob Benvie;
Rick Johal;
Regina Peters;
Rolf Brabander;
Ed McNamara;

THAT'S RIGHT! There are EIGHT of them.

What more could you ask for?

[photo of rob + Cooley in Calgary, April 2010]

Friday, February 18, 2011

10th Annual Diana Brebner Prize for Poetry‏

Dear Ottawa friends and colleagues,

We are approaching the deadline for Arc Poetry Magazine's 10th Annual Diana Brebner Prize for Poetry [named to honour the most beloved and much talented late Ottawa poet and mentor to many, Diana Brebner]. Entrants must live in the National Capital Region and not yet be published in book form. Submissions must be postmarked by March 1, 2011. See guidelines at:

We're also bringing forward the poems by some past winners of this prize on our website. Check out last year's winning poem:

Please forward this on to anyone you think might be interested. And if you send in your own work, the best of luck!

Anita Lahey, Editor
Arc Poetry Magazine

Thursday, February 17, 2011

VERSeFest: Monty Reid + Marcus McCann lectures, March

span-o (the small press action network – ottawa) in conjunction with VERSeFest Ottawa present:

The Factory Reading Series, a “Master Class” event
featuring talks by two poets
Marcus McCann, “No Permissions: Why Poets Don’t (and Shouldn’t) Ask Nice”
& Monty Reid, “How Come Inger Isn’t Here?”

lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, March 11, 2011
doors 7pm, $7.50 (passes available)
Arts Court Theatre, Arts Court
2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa

Marcus McCann [photo: Michael Erickson] is the author of Soft Where (Chaudiere Books, 2009) and eight chapbooks, most recently The Glass Jaw (Bywords, 2010) and Town in a Long Day of Leaving (above/ground 2010). He's a past organizer of the Transgress Festival and the Naughty Thoughts Book Club. A journalist by day, McCann lives in Toronto.
No Permission: Why Poets Don't (and Shouldn't) Ask Nice
Every now and then, a controversy erupts over a poet's use of material without asking permission. Recently, a heated debate threatened to divide US poets over Raymond McDaniel's Convention Centres of the New World. In Canada, plunderverse, found text and the liberal use of source material have gotten a relatively free pass from both the establishment and academia. Marcus McCann asks, what is a poet's obligation to his source material?
Monty Reid was born in Saskatchewan, lived for many years in Alberta, and now lives in Ottawa. His recent publications include Disappointment Island (Chaudiere), The Luskville Reductions (Brick), Site Conditions (Apt 9) and a number of chapbooks from the In the Garden project. He has won Alberta’s Stephansson Award for Poetry on three occasions, a national magazine award, and is a 3-time nominee for the Governor-General’s Award. Disappointment Island was shortlisted for the City of Ottawa Book Award and won the Lampman-Scott Award for poetry. Best known as a poet, he has also written children’s books, essays, songs, tv and radio scripts and other writings. He plays guitar and mandolin in the band Call Me Katie.
How Come Inger Isn’t Here?

Some say poets are the experts on absence. There is always something - the grail, the muse, the beloved, the other - that slips beyond the extended hand, that disappears on the other side of the word.

If this is true, then a poetry festival must always be a celebration of what is not there. With typical insight and humour, Monty Reid explores the work of poets he wants to see at VERSeFest but, at least in some cases, never will.
Running from March 8 to 13, this is Ottawa's first annual VERSeFest Poetry Festival, a collaboration between a number of Ottawa's reading series. Check for ticket information and prices, as well as information on other events.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Jesse Glass;

Jesse Glass, sometimes known as Jess Glass and Jesse Glass, Jr.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
My very first book was a small red pamphlet titled Nigredo, after the “dead” beginning of the alchemical process. The poems were based on a series of visions I had c. 1970—1973. The second, enlarged edition of Nigredo included my drawings. My life changed considerably after the local newspapers ran a large feature on the book and on me. This was picked up by the Baltimore newspapers and I began to get telephone calls asking me how much I charged to give a reading? Reading? I didn’t know what a reading was. At that time I was working in a factory in Westminster, Maryland. I was offered scholarship money and a position teaching workshops at the old Western Maryland College, so I began to attend college there. I did indeed give readings around Baltimore and Washington—and one in particular at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. I remember camping out with a college girl on a rock overlooking a fog-filled valley and the train cutting through at about two in the morning. It was beautiful.

How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? 
My most recent work is more language and performance oriented. Words themselves matter more than whatever reality lies behind them. In the old days I was totally convinced that I was the voice of another world. Maybe Spicer’s “Martians”!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? 
Poetry came to me when I was a small child with a very capacious memory entertaining my doting grandmother by reciting all the standard nursery rhymes and more. I found that my ability with words was a definite plus in garnering attention and even love from my mother, who appeared not to notice me unless I did something that reflected well on her. It was much later at 15 or 16 that I began to read all the poetry that I could get my hands on and to write it—under the influence of my first and best teacher—William Blake.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes me a long time to write a poem. I work on a draft, then forget about it, sometimes for years. Just the other day I finally found the right word for the right place in a poem that I had begun back in the early 1980’s. On the average it takes me about 5 years to write a poem and find a proper home for it. Publication also does not mean that I stop the process of revision. Sometimes I will use a magazine version as a “clean copy” for corrections.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I never work on books. It’s all a matter of carrying a notebook in my pocket and a pen or two and collecting thoughts—sometimes in the form of lines, or fragments lifted from the newspaper or book I’m reading, sometimes in the form of prose sketches that I write or scraps of dreams. The notebooks themselves become something of a work of art: Xed out, torn, initialed, tattooed, sweated upon, bled upon, all the various things that may give the pages a lurking consciousness of their own.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? 
I enjoy reading my work. I’ve traveled to several continents to do it. I love meeting other poets and gabbing.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? 
I enjoy sifting through historical contexts and reconstructing identities in a semi-narrative. In that way, I attempt to make my own small movie of a process in process. Of course Olson, Pound, Guthrie, Crane and that old anthology published by Coach House, I think it was—The Long Poem Anthology—which included B.P. Nichol and others. I was also greatly influenced by Robert Kroetsch, who I had the pleasure of meeting way back when. Stone hammer was good, I thought.

7 - What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? 
The role of the poet is to present language in an interesting manner and to push boundaries of form and content using whatever tools are available to him or her. The role of the novelist is to do what the poet does while presenting a fictive space in which certain human acts are simulated to the utter clarification (joyful or otherwise) of the human condition.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? 
It’s absolutely helpful. Workshops are helpful. Even Emily Dickinson sought the opinion of Susan Gilbert Dickinson.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? 
Do not give up. Continue to do what you do and you will earn the audience you deserve. Howard Nemerov told me that, and it’s true.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
When I worked in factories I gave myself at least 20 minutes a day to play with language. I kept a small pocket notebook and I wrote whenever I could in that. Even when my hands were beaten up pretty badly from the tire presses, my mother would help me by writing down what I needed to write.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? 
Reading—I read anything I can get my hands on. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be poetry or fiction or drama. Popular books on science get me going. Other times I turn to translation.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home? 
The smell of hay and sweet feed. The smell of horses and horse shit. I grew up on a horse farm.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? 
I enjoy contemplating insects and reptiles. Arthur Schoenberg, and Morton Feldman, and Mongolian music helps. Yes, since I create paintings, engravings and artist’s books (I’m working on one right now)—the visual arts.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have a million favorites, but seven abiding authors keep me alive: Lautreamont, Artaud, Rimbaud, Melville, Whitman, Stevens, Dickinson.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? 
Retire and live quietly.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? 
I would have been a sculptor.
I still enjoy sculpting with words.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think it was knowing that I had a particular gift that I could use to attain an understanding of things that I ordinarily did not have, and pure hate for my father and his family and friends—my father was a man who despised books and writing and could barely read and write himself.

18 - What was the last great book you read? 

What was the last great film? 
The Third Man

19 - What are you currently working on? 
Two novels and a long poem based on the spiritual diaries of John Dee.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Van Gogh's Ear: Gabrielle McIntire, Amanda Earl + rob mclennan‏; Friday February 18, 7pm, at Collected Works;

Come celebrate the Canadian contributors to international prose & poetry anthology series Van Gogh's Ear, the most popular of international books in the field of creative writing! Based in Paris, France and published in conjunction with Allen Ginsberg's Committee on Poetry in New York City, Van Gogh's Ear has gained international acclaim since its debut in 1992 for its eclecticism and original creative work by all walks of life ...- celebrated poets, authors, artists and other discovered talents.

Ottawa's independent Collected Works Bookshop & Coffeebar, who has been serving the vibrant Canadian community with the best in Canadian, American and British literature, will be hosting a book reading to celebrate the end of the critically-acclaimed anthology series and pay tribute to the Canadian writers who have contributed some of their amazing work (some of whom include writers Margaret Atwood, Molly Peacock, Gordon Downie & David Helwig). Reading from their own published works in the series are Canadian writers:

Gabrielle McIntire - Queen's University literature professor and recipient of the W. J. Barnes Arts and Science Undergraduate Society Award for Excellence in Teaching; author of Modernism, Memory, and Desire: T.S. Eliot & Virginia Woolf; and poet whose creative and absorbing poetry has been published in The Literary Review of Canada, The Cortland Review and Kingston Poets' Gallery.

Amanda Earl - poet, publisher, and wordsmith extraordinaire who has been a major contributor to Ottawa's literary community for several years. Her sexually explicit erotica, poetry, and even sensual restaurant reviews have appeared online and in literary journals including Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, Spire Poetry Poster, and The Dusty Owl Quarterly. She currently pilots local lit projects Bywords Quarterly Journal and AngelHouse Press.

rob mclennan - one of Ottawa's most recognizable poets, radical authors, and all-round literary action figures who has published over two dozen trade books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction including a compact of words, missing persons, and wild horses. He also runs above/ground press and Chaudiere Books and attracts hundreds of readers each week with his literary blog ( where he regularly posts reviews, essays and interviews.

The reading event will be followed by a Q&A. All seven volumes (including the latest and final installment, The Supernatural Edition) will also be available for sale.

Friday, February 18 @ 7pm
Collected Works Bookshop & Coffeebar

1242 Wellington Street West
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 3A4, Canada
Phone: (613) 722-1265