Thursday, August 31, 2023

report: the above/ground press 30th anniversary reading/launch/party!

Can you believe three decades have come and gone already? As you probably know, I hosted a reading and launch and party on August 12, 2023 at the Clocktower Brew Pub in the Glebe as part of the glorious thirtieth anniversary of above/ground press, with readings by Jennifer Baker, nina jane drystek, Amanda Earl, Sophia Magliocca, Karen Massey, Jérôme Melançon, Monty Reid and Grant Wilkins. Unfortunately, Adrienne Ho Rose was unable to come in from Iowa City, but we all waved at one point to acknowledge her (I wonder if she saw us wave?). Her parents still live here, so I'm hoping there might be further opportunities for her to read in Ottawa at some point.

David Currie and Christine McNair
It was nice to finally have another in-person anniversary event, given the prior one was back in 2019 [see my report on such here]. And, naturally, brilliant thanks to my slate of attractive volunteers: Christine McNair and David Currie who ran the book table, and Brendan McNally who covered door duty. And did you see that Christine even dressed the same colours as the cover (which was originally temporary, but I wonder now if it may have stuck) for this fall's groundwork: the best of the third decade of above/ground press 2013-2023 (Invisible Publishing)? Naturally, pre-orders are available now for this fine volume; and I think we're launching via the ottawa international writers festival this fall?

Amanda Earl
nina jane drystek [photo credit: Jérôme Melançon]
The first reader was Amanda Earl, who read from the latest issue of Touch the Donkey, which included some of her work. Having produced some ten chapbooks of her work-to-date through above/ground press [as well as a festschrift on her work], I always delight in hearing what she's been working on. Amanda really has been on fire the past few years. Have you heard that she's launching a new book soon? nina jane drystek launched her third chapbook and first with above/ground, missing matrilineal, a deeply intimate examination of loss that balances precision with open space, hesitation and clear patter.

Jennifer Baker [photo credit: David Currie]
Monty Reid
Jennifer Baker's Groundling: On Apology is a reissue of a chapbook she had in 2021 with the late John Goodman's Trainwreck Press, produced in a short enough run that she wanted to see it further out into the world. I know she works slowly, but I've been curious to see what else she's been working on. I was first introduced to her work through Phil Hall, from his time as writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa, which resulted in the publication of Baker's chapbook debut, Abject Lessons (2014). Monty Reid's Where there's smoke emerged as a direct result of the ongoing fires, with smoke that stretched not only across Quebec and Ontario, but his prior landscape of Alberta [you saw the festschrift I produced on his work, yes?]. I told the story of meeting Monty for the first time when we both participated in a group reading for National Poetry Month through The League of Canadian Poets, back on April 1, 1999 (curated and hosted by Susan McMaster, I think it was). I was curious at him travelling all that way for the reading, and he said: No, I moved here yesterday.

Chris Johnson [photo credit: Jérôme Melançon]
Oh, and I suggested Chris Johnson bring along copies of the latest issue of Arc Poetry Magazine for potential sale, given the new issue has a good-sized essay on above/ground press by Jérôme Melançon. Make sure you pick up a copy!

Karen Massey [photo credit: Jérôme Melançon]
Sophia Magliocca

It does seem that every decade or so above/ground press produces a new chapbook by Karen Massey, a poet who is clearly long overdue for a first full-sized collection. When might that happen? If only we were still doing Chaudiere Books, honestly. Karen was one of the first people (and only participant younger than forty) that I met when I first started attending readings via The TREE Reading Series circa 1992. Where has the time gone?
Her third chapbook, SONGS FROM THE DEMENTIA SUITCASE, is easily the strongest work I've seen from her so far. Next up was Montreal-based poet Sophia Magliocca, launching her chapbook debut and arriving with her parents in tow, all of whom were deeply supportive and absolutely adorable. Adorable! Sophia (one of a growing list of authors younger than the press) is a poet I first heard about through a recommendation by Montreal poet Sarah Burgoyne, who has offered a handful of poets with chapbook manuscripts my way over the past few years (Misha Solomon, Rose Maloukis and Vivian Lewin being others). Sarah clearly has an interesting eye. I am looking forward to seeing what Sophia does next.

Jérôme Melançon
Jérôme Melançon
flew in from Regina (to visit family in Gatineau, but we coordinated) to launch his third above/ground press chapbook, Bridges under the water. There aren't that many attending English and French-language poetries the way he is, now having published works in both languages, as well as writing criticism on both French and English-language titles in periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics. You should catch this interview I did with him last year over at Touch the Donkey on the two sides of his language/poetic: there's some interesting stuff in there.
rob mclennan [photo credit: Jérôme Melançon]
And he even pushed me to read a poem, saying that he came all this way and wanted to hear me read in person. So I did!
Grant Wilkins [photo credit: Jérôme Melançon]

The final reader of the evening was Ottawa poet and printer Grant Wilkins, who somehow exploded out of the woodwork a few years back, despite being around the Ottawa literary scene since the early 1990s (not long after I emerged). Grant always used to tell folk that he didn't write, no no, but I think it was his work with jwcurry and Messagio Galore that prompted something, whether a newfound interest or confidence, and now he's doing the most interesting combination of sound, visual and conceptual/response work around. We launched not one but two chapbooks of his as part of this event (with a prior above/ground press title earlier this year and even another one last year). What might be next?

Thanks so much for all who attended! It was such a great crowd, including natalie hanna, Charles Earl, Marilyn Irwin, Rob Fairchild, Jason Christie, Frances Boyle, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Cathy Macdonald-Zytveld, Marc Adornado, Susan Johnston, Senka Stankovic and a whole bunch more. Thanks again to the Clocktower Brew Pub! It was a pretty nice space. We clearly need to do this again next year.

No comments: