Saturday, June 26, 2021

₤IbEl (2000): an interview with Andy Weaver, and bibliography

this interview was conducted over email in May 2021 as part of a project to document literary publishing. see my list of interviews and bibliographies of literary publications past and present here

Andy Weaver has published 3 books of poetry. His most recent publication is the chapbook Haecceity, from Gap Riot Press. Back in the mid-1990s, he co-founded and co-edited the first few issues of Qwerty, served on the poetry editorial board of The Fiddlehead, and co-founded and co-coordinated (from 2000-2004) Edmonton’s The Olive reading and chapbook series. He teaches contemporary poetry, poetics, and creative writing at York University.

Q: How did ₤IbEl first start?

A: ₤IbEl started when I was working in an office job editing military airplane manuals at the Edmonton Int'l Airport shortly after finishing my MA and shortly before working an office job editing military airplane manuals drove me back to school. I was bored and missed the process of making things that I’d enjoyed during my two years at UNB in Fredericton. So, two other editors and I decided to start a lit zine. That collaborative process fell apart, but I managed to get one issue of ₤IbEl out a few months after quitting that job.

Q: How did you find the process, compared to your time at The Fiddlehead or Qwerty?

A: Working at The Fiddlehead was fun because of the poetry board meetings, which were a chance to discuss, argue, appreciate aesthetics and see how different people responded to the same poem. Qwerty was similar, though Qwerty was also all ours, so we could do whatever we pleased—we made up the rules as we went along. There were good poems that we had to turn down at The Fiddlehead because they just weren’t “Fiddlehead” poems, and we didn’t have that kind of restraint with Qwerty. The main thing that I loved about working at both was the camaraderie. So, ₤IbEl came about because I missed that sense of community as much as I missed making things. When it ended up just being me editing it, it just wasn’t fun enough to keep me going after the first issue.

Q: Was that the same reasoning for your part of co-founding Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series—the camaraderie and the conversation?

A: Absolutely, yes. The Olive combined the best of two worlds, because we decided to make it a small press (making things) in addition to setting up readings by people we wanted to hear (a chance to gather once a month and listen to and then discuss poetry). At the time, Edmonton didn’t really have a reading series, which was surprising and problematic for a city its size. The Stroll of Poets was going strong, but that was really only a day-long poetry festival every Fall. So, The Olive was an elegant solution to a lot of various needs.

Q: How did the idea of the journal first present itself? What were you hoping to accomplish? Had you any models for this kind of publication?

A: I had just moved to Edmonton, and I was looking for a literary journal to join. I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to start one in order to satisfy a desire to make something and to see what new things people were writing. I didn’t have a specific model in mind, but I did like the lit zines from the ‘70s and thought I could do a small, weird thing like that pretty inexpensively. I was hoping to find some other people around Edmonton who were doing similar things, but there really wasn’t anyone, from what I could tell. There were people doing things in Calgary, but I didn’t know the literary terrain well enough to figure that out until later.

Q: Who was around in Edmonton during that time?

A: I was new in town, so there were probably others I didn’t know of, but at the time I only knew of Jocko [Benoit], who was doing things, and the Stroll of Poets, who were very active but also fairly concentrated on their yearly stroll day. I think rusti lehay had her own micro press. A few years later, the Stroll started to do a monthly reading series, but I don’t think there were any monthly/regular things going on when I arrived in late ‘97. There were emerging poets like Shawna Lemay and Kimmy Beach around, but I didn’t know them well at all. Tim Bowling moved to Edmonton a few years after I did, probably in 2000. I met some people who were interested (Paul Pearson, a close friend and one of the five who started The Olive) and I slowly met more when I started my doctorate at the University of Alberta in Sept ’98—that’s where I met the other Olive originators (Jonathan Meakin and Adam Dickinson were fellow grad students, and Roger Davis—who was actually at the University of Calgary—was engaged to Laura, another friend and  classmate of mine), and how I met Doug Barbour and Bert Almon, who had been holding the fort in Edmonton for a long time and nurturing young poets through creative writing courses at the U of A. If I had held off on ₤IbEl for another year or so, or if I had been able to keep it going for another year, I likely would have roped in The Olive crowd to join the editorial board—but that might have interfered with starting The Olive, so it likely worked out for the best. But when I first got to Edmonton, it felt like a place that had a lot of energy and creative desire, but few local outlets.

Q: How did you originally seek work for ₤IbEl? Were you soliciting, or did you put out a call?

A: My memory is dodgy at best, but I think I solicited from friends and also asked a number of people (like you, rob) to spread the word to whomever they thought might be interested and interesting. I think you and I did a reciprocal notice (I included a notice that your Stanzas was looking for work in exchange for a reciprocal note about ₤IbEl). I might have asked Qwerty to put in a notice, but I can’t remember (and I don’t have my issues here to check). Looking back at the table of contents, about half of the contributors were people I knew and asked directly, and about half must have been through referrals or a notice.

Q: What made you decide on the format of the journal, as well as tone?

A: I wanted the format to be relatively cheap but also distinct. The loose pages inside a plastic binder sheet, inside the business inter-office envelope was cheap and easy to create, but it turned out to be more expensive to mail than I expected.

As for the tone, well, I wanted material that was more interested in formal innovation and challenges, which is what I tend to like to read. But the issue also has a secondary, unfortunate tone from my constant editorial intrusions (jokes on other journals, jokes about the journal process, jokes in the contributors’ bios, etc.) that was probably the product of being bored and not having anyone around to reign me in—so the issue ended up having lots of smart-ass comments from me in the marginal matter. Looking back, I don’t like that at all—it ends up constantly drawing attention to me as editor, rather than putting the focus solely on the writers’ writing, where the reader’s attention should be. So, that intrusive, jokey tone was the product of a bored young man who didn’t understand how to behave in print without others around, I’d say.

Q: How did putting together ₤IbEl compare to working on those first few issues of Qwerty?

A: ₤IbEl ended up becoming too much an echo chamber for my own thoughts, which was the problem behind the editorial intrusions. I think part of the problem was that there wasn’t anyone to really talk to about these things, so my annoying jokes made it onto the page.

With Qwerty, I could make all those annoying comments to my fellow editors when we were sitting around a table and have them ignored in real time, which was a much better result. The Qwerty editors (and there were a lot—I think there were seven or eight editors working together on all of the issues when I was there) would meet pretty regularly to discuss content, and we were all hanging out socially all the time, so it was as much a social club as a magazine.

Also, Qwerty was funded by various bodies at the University of New Brunswick, and those bodies expected issues to come out relatively on time, so there were some times when deadline pressures were real and so was the excitement/anxiety. In order to get out the required number of yearly issues, we once had to publish two issues on two consecutive days, so we were a literary daily for the briefest of time possible.

Q: I find it interesting how important the social component is to how you approach these editorial projects. Had the other editors not slipped away, ₤IbEl might easily have continued, but you might not have been part of The Olive Reading Series; is that fair to suggest? Or would you have been involved in both?

A: I think I would have been interested in doing both, but they likely would have been different. If ₤IbEl had continued, I likely wouldn’t have pushed for The Olive to be a chapbook press as well as a reading series; it probably would have just been a reading series. But I think I still would have wanted to start a reading series even if ₤IbEl had continued, because I really missed going to readings and the only poetry readings Edmonton had going at the time was the occasional bookstore launch. I think it was Paul who found the first venue for The Olive, and I remember how excited the five of us were to get a series going. Plus, since we were setting the slate, we could make the series a more in-depth engagement, because we only had one featured reader per month, and so the reader offered two sets of 15-20 minutes each. Also, and I know this is a bit perverse, but I missed hearing open stage readings, since there is nothing more exciting than hearing a new, emerging poet get up at the mic and blow away an audience that had no expectations. We just had to limit the open stage to 5-7 readers, one poem each. And we put the open stage at the end of the evening but circulated the reading list between the featured readers sets, so you couldn’t read if you didn’t also listen.

Q: What was the response to that lone issue of ₤IbEl, and how was it distributed? Were you already aware that it would be the only issue, or did that emerge later on?

A: By the time the first issue was finished, I had already decided not to do more.

From what I recall, I just sent copies to contributors and some people I thought would be interested. I don’t remember the print run, but it would have been small (either 75 or 100, mostly likely). There were 21 contributors, so I think I sent each of them two copies and then passed out the rest to friends. I have one lone copy sitting on my shelf.

The contributors that I heard back from seemed to be happy with it, which was the only response I remember getting. I don’t know how anyone else would have seen a copy. Distribution was always going to be the worst part of the experience, since that is definitely what I am the worst at.

Q: What do you feel you learned through the process of putting ₤IbEl together? Is small publishing something you might ever return to?

A: I think ₤IbEl taught me—or at least confirmed for me—that what I like the most about working on a literary journal is the collaboration and camaraderie. That’s something I still miss terribly. So, if the right group of people were involved, I’d love to get back to working on a journal or a small press again. If that group doesn’t materialize, I still might get back to it once my kids are a bit older and I have some time to self motivate.


₤IbEl bibliography:

Volume 1, Number 1. Spring 2000. Editor High Lord for Life: Andy Weaver. Poems by Sue Sinclair, K.V. Skene, Shane Rhodes, Dave Seymour, rob mclennan, Sarah Hope Denbigh, Matt Santateresa, Tom Schmidt, j.a. Lovegrove, Giovanni Malito, Anne Burke, Steve McOrmond, Dean Irvine, Rosalee van Stelton, Richard Stevenson and rusti lehay. Fiction by Lynne Sakura Delathower and M.F. Tierney. Visual by Paul Dechene.

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