Friday, September 7, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Pete Smith

This is the thirtieth 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. 

25 & Counting
Nearly Too Much is the title of an early critical book about J.H. Prynne.  When you puts down $65 for a year's worth of chapbooks & by August 31st you've received 43 + three issues of Touch the Donkey (a neat little quarterly mag that comes out quarterly, imagine!, Jan, April, August right on time) + some broadsides & The Peter F Yacht Club anthology #26, well it's both Nearly Too Much & Not Nearly Enough: the former in trying to keep up with the reading, the latter in cost.

I had first stumbled across the small-press world through Peter Finch's extraordinary survey of everything he could lay his hands on in "Small Press Scene" in his mag Second Aeon. The names of the presses signalled their distance from mainstream: Curiously Strong, Strange Faeces, Transgravity Advertiser, Sixpack, Gaberbocchus Press, Baron Samedi.  It was to these presses & mags like Grosseteste Review & Great Works that you came to find a living tradition of restless folk wanting to create  more than museum exhibits.  I was, however, a provincial kid  with no contact with poets who was only looking in on that small press world & starting to seek that kind of energy in his writing but was also working on his 'museum' skills.

Somehow I disconnected from all of it. A switch of continents & if you will, of consciousness brought that exploration to a temporary end.  Recently I described it to a friend thus: "must have been the late 90s when I'd returned to writing poetry after my 'alien abduction' had kept me away for 15 or so years. They took me to their mothership called the Church of Holy Fingerwagging but eventually my agnostic angel came to my rescue." 

The second wind of poetry brought me in touch with poets through readings at the local college, Earl Birney, John Newlove, rob mclennan come to mind, & connection with local poets through Warren Dean Fulton & a fruitful few years of connection to the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver. Internet connections took me many places & to publications & readings in England & Ireland in particular but, except for Kamloops Poets' Factory, ksw's W & poems & reviews in The Gig, nothing in Canada.

Enter above/ground.  "You'll know quickly if he wants to go with it & then it will appear surprisingly soon after that."  It did. Strum of Unseen in 2008. I found rob easy to work with & its 'industrial look' echoed Writers Forum chapbooks in England which was a bonus for me. Connection with above/ground I discovered did not end with the chapbook in hand.  The 12 or 20 question interview soon followed (which I treated way too flippantly & would like to see disappear, but I guess that is me some of the time, nervous to acknowledge how vital poetry is to me) & invitations to the Dusie Tuesday poem (not the Rolling Stones song) & to Touch the Donkey.  I don't know what took me so long to finally subscribe to above/ground. I'm late to the party but now I have this box containing everything I've received since 2015. I've even read some of them!  I regularly grab a couple for my coffee house trip.  And feel a bit more connected.

I see the mclennan poetics as L=i=v=i=n=g.  All else follows: as simple and as difficult as that.

Pete Smith: Born & raised in the English Midlands, emigrated to the interior of BC in 1974.  Worked with/for people marginalized from birth by intellectual, behavioural & mental health challenges.  Wrote in the margins of that working life. After a long wrestling match with poetry he acknowledged defeat & began writing again circa 1990. Has since published essays, poems, reviews, a chapter in a book of criticism, chapbooks and a poetry collection gathering six longish sequences. Uncountable thanks for publishing &/or invitations to read to the late William Cookson, kamloops poets factory, Randolph Healy, Peter Riley, John Tranter, Keston Sutherland & Andrea Brady, kootenay school of writing, Nate Dorward, Ted Byrne, David Dowker, Kevin Nolan & Lissa Wolsak & CCCP16, Peter Hughes, rob mclennan, Peter Quartermain, Mona Furtig & Harold Rhenisch, Simon Perril, Andrew Levy, Tony Frazer, Jenny Penberthy, Peter Philpott, Michael Boughn & Kent Johnson. It is still a blast.

Smith is the author of two above/ground press chapbooks, including Strum of Unseen (2008) and A New Love/ An Aching Stone (2016). A third is forthcoming.

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