Monday, June 18, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Helen Hajnoczky's No Right on Red (2017)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for Helen Hajnoczky's No Right on Red (2017) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
The five-page prose poem that fills the cover of this book may seem small, but as a single, relentless view at desperation and survival on the streets of Montreal, it works, serves its purpose, and is enthralling.

Friday, June 15, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: David McKnight

This is the twentieth in a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the quarter century mark of above/ground. See links to the whole series here.

above / ground press – A Collectors Odyssey

I don’t remember the exact date – but sometime in the Spring of 1996, one evening, I walked past The Word Book Store, Anglo-Montreal’s legendary and very literary second hand bookshop, which was located in the McGill Ghetto.  As you walked into the dimly lit, compact low ceilinged shop, a former Chinese laundry, the floor to ceiling shelves, fastened to the brick wall, were packed with several thousand high quality used books – Adrian King-Edwards the bespeckled, bearded shop owner - as usual was ensconced behind the desk located under the narrow stairwell that led to the workroom on the second floor pricing a book.

Adrian held court behind his counter: examining books dropped off by graduating McGill students eager to sell his or her textbooks; or it might be a book scout who had found a pristine signed copy of the first edition of Leonard Cohen’s Let Us Compare Mythologies – Adrian’s eyes lighting up, or it might be a small press publisher dropping off copies of the latest issue of his/her little magazine or chapbook.

Half of the store’s stock comprised of literature, literary history, and poetry – unlike trade bookstores, Canadian literature was interfiled in the appropriate section. For twenty years, The Word was one of the important literary institutions in the vibrant, though testy Montreal poetry scene. Véhicule authors shelved beside Signal Editions authors. If you were in search of contemporary Canadian literature, surely you would find a copy at The Word or if historic perhaps filed in Adrian’s basement a half block away from his shop.

Adrian did and still devotes a section on the west wall of his shop – with window visibility – to new Canadian small press and little magazines.  So if you were passing by the shop in the evening not only would the items in the window display cause excitement, but you could also glimpse at the new chapbooks and magazines on the Small Press section as well.  There it was: STANZAS! I didn’t recognize the title nor did I recognize the imprint above / ground, but I had to have the new mag.  The next day I entered the shop greeted Adrian and I made a beeline to the Small Press shelf. I picked up the issue of rob mclennan’s long poem mag: STANZAS and I have been an above / ground subscriber ever since.

Although I was rare book librarian with a weakness for acquiring literary papers and poetry collections for McGill University Libraries, I was also a book collector. Since 1972, I had been acquiring Coach House Press books; in 1976, while scouring a new second bookshop focused on Canadian literature, I bought the first fifteen issues of Tamarack Magazine (1956 – 1982). Tamarack was one of the great literary magazines published in Canada during the formative 1960s and successor to John Sutherland’s Northern Review (1945 – 1955).

For the next thirty years I amassed a very large collection of Canadian little magazine comprised of 800 titles and 6000 issues dating from 1920 to 2005; a near complete Coach House Press collection including ephemera and posters and a comparable collection of Canadian small press imprints.  In addition to the mags, chapbooks, and ephemera I had also, through gift, possessed an important small press literary archive. All of this stuff is now at the University of Alberta’s Bruce Peel Special Collections.

In 1990 when my personal collection had grown in scope and size - my purpose as a collector was to trace and locate every little magazine published in Canada during the 20th century in English and French and other languages.  I consulted library catalogs, made lists, I scoured the shelves in every bookstore in major Canadian cities. There was always Adrian’s basement or Nelson Ball’s legendary vault in his home / shop in Paris, Ontario.  Poetry Toronto, Halifax and other cities listed new mags and I dutifully copied names and addresses. I sent letters and cheques. The response was always amazing. The collection grew.

In 1996 there was a sea change in Canadian small press publishing. Stan Bevington regained control of the Coach House Press after a short-lived misguided change of ownership. Founded in 1965, The Coach House Press is surely the most important small press in Canada. Bevington’s influence was immediate and enduring. Thus it is not surprising to learn the rob mclennan lists among his influences The Coach House Press.

As Bevington and the Coach House was on the rebound in 1996, a new wave of poets and micro press publishers was emerging across Canada. From Jamie Reid (an original TISH member) who founded the short-lived mag Dada Baby, derek beaulieu’s House Press, jwcurry’s industrial sabotage and 302 books imprint and, of course, rob mclennan’s above / ground press.  Although I could pick up issues of mclennan’s long poem mag, STANZAS at the Word or copies of poem, mclennan’s long running broadside series devoted to a single author and poem, I decided to become a subscriber and I still am. (Indeed, since moving to Philadelphia, above / ground is the only Canadian small press to which I currently subscribe.)

Among his other influences, rob cites in his 2016 interview with Entropy magazine (, bpnichol’s grOnK and bill bissett’s blewointment. In the case of the former, nichol publications proliferated in a variety of formats (jw curry has continued in the nichol tradition producing his 1 cent leaftlets which are notoriously difficult to collect); bissett for his part used different yet equally different anti-bibliographic strategy yet he favored a collage method that required the 8 ½ x 11” or 17” page sizes for his magazine and Chapbooks. For his part rob has produced seven different series beginning in 1993. His approach is copy ready, tasteful, utilitarian, and sometimes whimsical (especially the covers of the chapbooks – the words take precedence over the mise en page.

As a long time subscriber, I have been amazed at rob’s industry for the past 25 years.  According to my tabulation, rob has created eight different series:

·   poem (Broadside): 343 issues since 1996.

·         STANZAS (a magazine devoted to the long poem) No. 1 (1993) – No. 44 (2006).

·         Bitlet (periodical devoted to a single writer): 1999 – 2003 (six or more issues).

·         Drop: 2002 - 2006 (1 - 6). (Produced in conjunction with the Jack Purcell Community and above ground press for Poetry workshops with people living with mental illness. From the first issue).

·         Missing Jacket: Writing & Visual Arts. (rob’s foray into producing and editing a literary and arts journal.  Nos. 1-5, 1996-1997.

·         Peter F. Yacht Club: (periodical): 2002 –  present (25 issues).

·         Touch the Donkey: (periodical): 2014 – present (17 issues).

·         Chapbook Series: 1993 to the present. 200 titles.

According to rob’s tabulation he has produced 800 pieces since 1993. I believe that I have over 700. Recently I examined the 300 issues of his broadside series – poem – I donated to the Bruce Peel Special Collections, simple: one folded sheet – with the poem itself photocopied on the recto side. In my view poem is an essential document representing an eclectic range of mostly Canadian poets active since 1996, in other words, rob’s contemporaries.   The same can be said of his Chapbook series which turns twenty-five this year along with the press.  The range of authors from a to z is amazing. There is the nod to the work of the TISH generation: George Bowering, Robert Hogg and John Newlove, among others; but the list of chapbook authors post 1990 to the present represents a remarkable roster of poetic voices, some will endure, others will drift into anonymity, but the one thing that connects them all is rob mclennan and his above ground press. Congratulations on twenty-five years of independent, small press publishing in Canada!

David McKnight is Director of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to accepting the position at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, he was Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Head of the Digital Collections Program at McGill University Libraries where he worked in various roles for fifteen years. A past president of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, McKnight is currently founding Co-Director of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. In2012, McKnight and his wife Lillian Eyre donated their extensive collection of Canadian Little Magazines, Coach House Press Imprints and Small Press Publishing Archive to the Bruce Peel Special Collections. Highlights from the collection are currently on view at the Center. In tandem with the exhibit is a catalogue entitled: Experiment: Printing the Canadian Imagination.

David McKnight has been an above/ground press subscriber for nearly twenty-five years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Susanne Dyckman

This is the twentieth in a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the quarter century mark of above/ground. See links to the whole series here.

The air coming through the open window smells sweet as I write this.  The fog has rolled back out past the Golden Gate and the sun is shining in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sweet is not a word that I normally use in the context of poetry.  But it’s the word rolling around my mind, without the saccharine qualities it’s taken on, deservedly or not. Perhaps I’m linking it to acts of generosity, or, as the thesaurus tells me, a state of being kind, thoughtful, considerate, caring.  And rob mclennan’s devotion to poetry and the poetry community is just that — kind, thoughtful, considerate and caring.

above/ground press first came to my attention by way of a friend who suggested it as a place to submit work and/or a chapbook, though that suggestion was made only a few years ago.  So while I can’t speak to the origins of above/ground, I can speak to what it is now.  As a poet in the U.S., I’ve experienced the challenges of publishing as one small press after another vanishes, or, due to the difficulties of financing, become electronic issues only.  And then I was introduced to rob and his publications.  Here was someone who answered emails and accepted work quickly and enthusiastically.  Someone who, while caring for his daughters and baking bread, put out one edition after another, much of it in print, hand-stapled, packed up, mailed.  Poetry loved and living on the page.

That, like today’s sweet air, is a pleasure.

As I follow rob’s literary adventures by way of Facebook, through his blog, and from his emails, I am continually struck by his energy and enthusiasm.  He makes room for poetry of all kinds, he welcomes the written word daily.  Living in what is now “the time of Trump”, rob has eliminated the borders that my government is intent on building.  He publishes poets I recognize and those I am pleased to discover. While I’ve never met him in person, I’ve taken to calling him my northern friend, knowing that he’s not mine alone, but an advocate of poetry across visible and invisible lines.

His are acts of dedication and devotion to language. Happy 25th anniversary to above/ground press.  We need you, I thank you.

Susanne Dyckman’s most recent collection of poetry is A Dark Ordinary (Furniture Press Books). She is also the author of equilibrium’s form (Shearsman Books) and three chapbooks, Counterweight, Transiting Indigo, and Source (above/ground press, 2014). Her work has appeared in a variety of journals as well as in the Paper Kite Press and As if it Fell from the Sun (EtherDome) anthologies.  She has taught creative writing at both the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, and has been a co-editor of Five Fingers Review and Instance Press. She lives and writes in Albany, California.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Factory Reading Series pre-small press book fair reading, June 22: Alexander, Siklosi, Rogal, Martin, Geddes + Bandukwala,

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

The Factory Reading Series
pre-small press book fair reading
featuring readings by:

David Alexander (Toronto)
Kate Siklosi (Toronto)
Stan Rogal (Toronto)
Ian Martin (Ottawa)
Bruce Geddes (Toronto)
+ Manahil Bandukwala (Ottawa)
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, June 22, 2018;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

[And don’t forget the ottawa small press book fair, held the following day at the Jack Purcell Community Centre]

David Alexander
is the author of After the Hatching Oven, new from Nightwood Editions. His poems have appeared in Prairie Fire, The Malahat Review, The Puritan, subTerrain, The Humber Literary Review, the Literary Review of Canada and many other fine journals and magazines. David volunteers as a reader for The Puritan and works in Toronto's nonprofit sector.

Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. She is the author of three chapbooks, po po poems (above/ground press, 2018), may day (no press, 2018), and coup (The Blasted Tree, 2018). Her poetry has also been featured in ditch, magazine, Dusie, NoD Magazine, 3:AM Magazine, and 2018's She is the cofounding editor of Gap Riot Press, a neat little feminist experimental poetry chapbook press.

Stan Rogal lives and writes in Toronto. He is the author of 23 books, including 12 poetry collections. He is left-handed and has never owned a cell phone, placing him among the less than 8% of the North American population. Is this final fact either interesting, meaningful or relevant? No, which is precisely why he mentions it. Rogal is the author of four above/ground press chapbooks, including In Search of the Emerald City (1997), “THE CELEBRITY RAG: Opá” (STANZAS #44, March 2006), All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (2004), and muscle memory (2018).

Ian Martin [pictured] is, by and large, bi and large. His writing has appeared recently in Pretty Owl Poetry, In/Words, rout/e, and Absolutely Orbital. Ian has released 4 chapbooks, including PLACES TO HIDE (Coven Editions, 2018) and YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO KEEP THIS UP FOREVER (AngelHousePress, 2018). When he’s not writing, Ian is developing small video games and complaining online. []

Bruce Geddes's fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly, Great Lakes Review and The Hart House Review, and he has written two books for Lonely Planet and worked as a producer for the CBC. With a MA in Latin American Literature, he’s a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Bruce lives and works in Toronto and his new novel, The Higher the Monkey Climbs was just published by NON Publishing in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter @olbrucie

Manahil Bandukwala is a poet and artist currently living in Ottawa. She is an editor for In/Words Magazine & Press, run out of Carleton University. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Puritan, Room Magazine, Ricepaper, ottawater,, In/Words and Coven Editions, among others. She’s currently completing her undergrad in English at Carleton University. Follow her on Instagram @bandukwali, or on Twitter @manaaaahil for photos of her art and news on her upcoming projects. She is launching a new chapbook through natalie hanna's battleaxe.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

David W. McFadden : October 11, 1940 – June 6, 2018

Condolences to his family, and his extensive network of friends, publishers and admirers. We shall miss him.

Friday, June 1, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Kristina Drake

This is the nineteenth in a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the quarter century mark of above/ground. See links to the whole series here.

I first met rob when I was a Creative Writing student at Concordia. I was a couple of months pregnant but not yet showing; rob was giving a poetry reading and my professor had encouraged the class to attend. The reading was held in a nondescript meeting room at Concordia. There were lines of chairs facing a podium, and there was rob, a very poet-looking poet with long hair, reading from his book of poems. It all seemed such a marvelous accomplishment – that I was there, a creative writing student, and that such things as poets publishing books existed. rob seemed to be “one of our own” – not one of the distant writers I’d read and studied. This perception helped me imagine that going from “here” to “there” was, indeed, possible. This thing rob was doing was something people did, something that could be done, that perhaps I could do.

I was a little star-struck, and so it’s not surprising that this experience made quite an impression on me. What is surprising, perhaps, is that it still seems significant to me today. The sense of collegiality, of camaraderie that I felt at this first introduction to rob and the above/ground press was energizing. rob made poetry and the idea of being a poet legitimate, tangible and attainable.  I remember this reading in relation to my pregnancy because, of course, events become connected in these ways in one’s memory, but also because that baby is now a young adult, and it seems to me that rob has nurtured the above/ground press and its community in the same way one raises a child.

Not long after that reading, I subscribed to the press and sporadically an envelope stuffed with poems would appear in the mail. It would arrive torn at the corners and taped to stop it splitting open. Receiving those packages was always a small envy-tinged thrill, but soon enough, the question became how to store them. The incredible volume of work the press has published over the years is truly impressive. Although I subscribed for only a few years, I have dozens of above/ground chapbooks on my shelves and a banker’s box full to bursting of “POEM” broadsides. Unfortunately, a banker’s box is a storage solution that does not lend its contents well to casual reading, and so, at one point, I considered getting rid of the broadsides but that seemed sacrilegious. So I’ve kept the box, carting it from apartment to apartment and house to house, and then from room to room within the house until finally, recently, the broadsides have made their way onto my shelves. Every time I’ve had to move that box and have opened it to see what it held, I’ve felt something akin to nostalgia at the sight of all the POEMs printed on the bright paper. Ah, yes, these! I’d think and tuck the top back on the box leaving the POEMs undisturbed. They remind me, still, of how I felt at the beginning of writing, before children and work consumed all my energy, before the years when I stopped writing altogether; they spark hope and possibility, still.

Over the years, the POEMs have acquired another level of significance. They are part of the history of Canadian poetry, a record of the growth of a community and of the development of individual writers, an inspiration for writers to come. This is no mean feat for a tiny press.

Even more valuable and immediate to me is rob’s unwavering support of poets and writers – new or established, local or not – and his ability to encourage, mentor and nurture this talented community. I want to say that rob is relentless, but that word carries a slight negative connotation that I wouldn’t want to imply. He’s supportive and persistent and, somehow, he manages, with his regular email inquiries, to nudge and push me in a way that I feel, included and valued. In the years when I gave up on my writing, rob did not. The above/ground press kept on publishing poems and poets, building writers and community, and when I was ready to return, rob and above/ground press were there to welcome me.

Last August, the press published a chapbook of mine and I read at the press’ 24th anniversary alongside other above/ground authors, including Stephanie Bolster, the professor who had encouraged me to attend rob’s reading close to 20 years ago. As full circles come, this one was pretty special: there I was, doing the thing.

For me, above/ground press is and will continue to be a beacon of possibility. It reminds me, when I’m in danger of forgetting, that I want to write, that I should write. And then I do.  


Kristina Drake writes and edits in the wilderness of East Hawkesbury, Ontario. Her poems have previously appeared in Carte BlancheSoliloquies and Yalla!, and as a Tuesday poem on Dusie.
Drake is the author of an above/ground press “poem” broadside for her poem “Sex at 31” (#226, 2005), as well as the chapbook Ornithology (2017).