Friday, December 3, 2021

new from above/ground press: Yesterday’s Tigers, by Mayan Godmaire

Yesterday’s Tigers
Mayan Godmaire

    I want to confess to his open eyes. I lay on his chest, on his single bed. He is a benevolent nothing, comme un moine. He listens without pressing. He does without doing. I lay with my deliberations and thought-circles, my loops, my over-analysises pinned down, swirling, and building at the dam in my throat. Nate's steady open gaze.
    I'm-ashamed-of-the-person-I-give-you-it's-a-husk-of-myself. But I don't say that; you wouldn't have understood 'husk'.
    "Je reconnais en moi les gestes obséquieux et réticents, les brusques scrupules d'une soul in hiding. Shame. It's me and it's not me." A husk of myself.
    I rest my chin on the give of his belly. We take a walk through his woods later. A plot of falling trees, of mushrooms and tentative greens. This is our early spring, the brown silence.
    Our palms sweat together.

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
December 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Mayan Godmaire
has always been enchanted. By words, by spells, and by the uniqueness of life. They see words as a subtle art and crafts them to create distinctive and subtle atmospheres. They have participated in several of Dawson College’s publications as an editor. Their first published story “And Church Lay Silent” can be found in Dawson’s Creations Journal. Mayan began writing fantasy stories when they were eleven and the creative output has never ceased. If they could shape the world to their will, the earth would be a cross between Pirates of the Carribean and Lord of the Rings.

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Bill Neumire reviews Gary Barwin and rob mclennan's collaborative SOME LEAVES (2020)

Bill Neumire was good enough to provide a first review of Gary Barwin and rob mclennan's collaborative SOME LEAVES (2020) over at Vallum magazine. Thanks so much! See his original review here. As he writes:

In a collection with a title that rings Whitmanian, seasoned collaborators with over 50 books published between them, rob mclennan and Gary Barwin offer five brief pages of poetry that come closer to feeling very Bradburian, examining the the collision of nature and the technology of language. Though the collection is co-authored, there’s no clear indication how the authoring is split. This defensively layered distance provides shade from nature’s “extraordinary example” which can only be recorded, “screen-captured,” and played back on a loop while itself remaining wholly separate and intact. The poems alternate pages with images of a bird in varying poses whose head is covered by a blank dialogue bubble. So, what do the birds say in their silence? “Honestly, say the birds. You humans. It’s not about language.” The voice of the speaker/s is aloofly clinical: “One wishes not to speak of birds, their extraordinary example. / One takes out a photocopy of a bird.” This evasive voice remains throughout the book’s 10 brief sections (the sections range from 2 to 9 lines each), maneuvering to explain that “by ‘one’ one means ‘we’ or ‘forests’ or ‘birds.’” Humans often possess an anxiety-driven need to fill silence with words, to enter a space and begin claiming. The chapbook opens, “One takes one’s computer into the woods and types ‘bird.’” This exploration of reality versus reproduction is at the heart of these poems: “The yes of the mystery.” It reads like an investigation: “There’s a river. What does it mean, this river? / There’s a sentence. That’s what it means, this curve.” And the investigation is not without its findings, as the speaker states, “Listening is always beginning again.” An atomized mingling of time and state of being occurs, as “A tree has a premonition of being cut into ladders; a leaf // in the folds of a hundred books.” There is nature in its essence, and there is what writers and artists make of nature, and in Some Leaves Barwin and mclennan “make the distance philosophical.” The collection (really a single, flowing poem) is exactly that: a voice philosophizing on what it means to use artifice to convey nature. There is one final image that is not a bird, but instead a dialogue bubble containing only three ellipses points surrounded by two leaves—perhaps indicating the abandoning of language in the face of nature. In the end, mclennan and Barwin seek no epic project, but rather an ironic self-minimalizing, an attempt to ask how valuable language is, how much we fetishize it when, in the end, “A tree is always already music.”

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Zoe Tuck reviews Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021)

Zoe Tuck was good enough to review Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021) over at their blog. Thanks so much! This follows the lovely paragraph Lantern Review offered, as well, earlier this year. See Tuck's original post here. As they write:
It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in extraordinary times, although as Monica Mody writes in her new chapbook Ordinary Annals, “Everything was being shredded long before we noticed.” And yet, Mody’s title is unassuming. Ordinary: run-of-the-mill, quotidian—right? Still, the ordinary world, and her revolutions, are a marvel: “Every season that turns brings us back / to pitted dark, moon folding into sun.” Poets have a responsibility to record the revolutions of the world, hence annals.

The extra/ordinariness of our times—that is to say, the admixture of the unprecedented and the cyclical—gives a spiral shape to Ordinary Annals. Mody reaches for the extraordinary but is still “entangled with the world, that place / I become / me, ordinary / shattering into we.” Grief and weariness lead her to lay her body down (I think here of the Nap Ministry), enabling her to “connect with tendril, still—,” drawing energy from the hurt and beautiful earth to be reborn.

Mody lovingly but firmly critiques the desire to erase the specificity of our griefs:

Now don’t say,

We’re all the same
& love is the answer.

What does it take to attend—
not flinch—at different

trajectories of suffering?
Can we honor healing

their immense particularity

and is that love

and elsewhere:

If through our gestures
we take away

another’s power
—enable colonization—

we fail
Earth & Waters.

She also critiques the impulse (imperative?) to ‘return to normal’ and repress our grief (since we can’t simply erase it) at the interlocking crises of our time.

Mody begins Ordinary Annals knocking into the glass walls of language: “I want to rise above my limitations.” What limitations? “I want to let bird shapes of words flock together into language that will / change skies.” Can language change skies? Mody writes elsewhere, “I’m just so sick & tired of being Poet” and in that moment it is because “losses stitch [her] tongue into clawed mouth” and another of the responsibilities of the poet is to sing the losses. I read into this not just despair for the losses themselves, but despair at not having been able to forestall them with the poet’s tool, language.

This desire to solve or resolve or memorialize in tension with another mode, that of, “rocking in this moment of undecidability, not becoming anything at all,” a formlessness that presents itself as a space of repose in between breaths or throbs.

Ordinary Annals is the work of a poet attuned to the entanglement of word and world, memory and moment, love and suffering. With her willingness to share her progress in language through “this time of grave despair,” Mody joins her elders in:

tell[ing] us of the many gates around the world that are opening
Gates opened by great white wings of love—of sorrow

Each gate points straight to our hearts
That place where broken

            realities are woven

She models her movement toward these gates for all of us ordinary would-be weavers “shattering into a we” and I’m grateful for it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

new from above/ground press: A Wolf Lake Chorus, by Phil Hall

A Wolf Lake Chorus
Phil Hall

A Wolf Lake Chorus is a dramatic voice-poem for poet, birds, & saw:
1 poet, 8 birds, & 1 musician bowing a saw.



A podium rigged with a microphone at centre stage.
Two high screens behind.

The poet & the musician walk onto the stage.

The poet goes to the podium.
The musician sits on a chair at the side of the stage.

The musician plays the saw.

        ("Stage Directions")


A Wolf Lake Chorus began as an invitation from Madhur Anand in 2015 to write a poem using only the words contained in one of her academic articles. The article chosen is mentioned in the poem.

Originally called The Overstory, it was performed in Guelph at Silence on Friday May 18, 2018 as part of an evening of performances in support of Wolf Lake. Also presenting were Madhur Anand and Gary Barwin.

The cast included David Lee on bass and Georgia Urban on musical saw, plus 8 volunteers who were the birds. I am grateful to everyone involved, especially the birds for their overlapping voices.

A video of the evening, with A Wolf Lake Chorus as the final act, may be viewed at:

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
November 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Phil Hall's
most recent books are The Ogre (Trainwreck, 2021), Toward a Blacker Ardour (Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), and Niagara & Government (Pedlar, 2020).

This is Phil Hall’s fourth above/ground press chapbook, after Verulam (2009) and the collaborative Shikibu Shuffle (with Andrew Burke; 2012) and Alternative Girders (with Stuart Kinmond; 2018).

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cole Bisson reviews Nathanael O’Reilly's BLUE (2020) in Broken Pencil

Cole Bisson was good enough to provide the first review of Nathanael O’Reilly's BLUE (2020) over at Broken Pencil. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
Litzine, by Nathanael O’Reilly, 40 pgs, above/ground press,, $5

Ever wonder what the working-class white guy around the corner is thinking? You know, the one who has bumper stickers of Nirvana, screams that Trump is an idiot, and has teeth stained yellow from cigarettes? Surprisingly, he’s got an in-depth mental life, and he’s writing a book about it. Or perhaps that’s not a surprise.

Blue by Nathaniel O’Reilly is a tender song for male alienation and longing. O’Reilly has a vulnerable touch that fully flushes out the themes in each poem. He grapples with losing friends as he ages, the fear of becoming a father, and childhood memories that teach him something new every day.

The main drawback is that, for all of it’s loneliness, O’Reilly’s work sounds like many others, and comes off as wannabe edgy. Juvenile warbles like “I lay on the floor / listening to Nirvana / writing my first letter / to her” give the vibe of someone trying desperately to stand out from the crowd, and that inevitably falls flat. O’Reilly isn’t saying anything new or adding a different voice, and thus drowns himself out in a saturated market.

Granted, there are certain poems where he tackles issues with tenderness and altruism. In an ode to who I imagine is his child, he asks “Will you love learning / like your parents, will you / be athletic, artistic, scientific?” When ruminating about who his child might grow up to be, O’Reilly touches on real parental anxieties and demonstrates them. He presents wishful thinking and imagines himself walking hand-in-hand with his child for as long as possible.

It’s these touching moments that give Blue a sense of urgency. Contrasted with lines like “The orangutan reaches the peak of his climb, / surveys the scene where he defecated,” the vulnerability of a man comes off as authentic. You just wish there wasn’t a warped edge to this sensibility.