Wednesday, December 12, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Renée Sarojini Saklikar

This is the thirty-sixth 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/ & grounded: looking back on a fine press

When did you first hear of and/or interact with the press?

XRSS:  Somewhere back in 2009/2010, enrolled in the Writer’s Studio, I attended a presentation by Anne Stone: we were up in the Diamond Lounge on the third floor of SFU Vancouver, the light from the harbour drifting in on a June evening.  We exchanged stories about making little books of poetry and Anne said something like, “if you are ever in Ottawa, look up a guy called rob mclennan” and that’s how it all started. Once I graduated from the Studio, immersed in the wayward path that become the process that became my first book length poem, children of air indiaun/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2018), I would visit all the “rob” websites: I spent lots of time online, fascinated onlooker, situated on The Outside, peering longingly Inside, to the world of small presses, all those poets, their work. I learned so much and still do by reading the poets published by above/ground press: all the ways a poem can be and become―

What did it mean for you to have titles through the press?

XRSS: Oh, everything! As if a door in a stone gate, locked for years, slowly swung open. Tribe/less, and as always, not really feeling too comfy with that word, and nevertheless wanting to belong to a cadre, a circle, a network of poets, from Outside to Inside, that helped me gain confidence in writing. I should have liked, looking back, to have not been needy for Belonging and yet—and so, when above/ground published After the Battle of Kingsway, the bees, a sequence of poems from my much larger work, THOT-J-BAP (a sci-fi epic), and the chapbook: sweet yellow paper—

―that was restorative, because the generation of those poems happened during the summer of 2013, a difficult time in my life. I remember writing After the Battle of Kingsway the bees, out of grief, and despair, the taste of aloes in my mouth. To see the book then bring delight to others: I am smiling my slow slant smile as I type these words—

Have you a story of something around the press? An event that was particularly good?

XRSS: Ottawa. Summer, circa 2014: Factory Reading Series. Upstairs in “The Tavern”.  With rob and the late Marthe Reed, both generously interested in seeking out and publishing those of us on the Outside, bringing us Inside. And Marthe invited me to submit work for DUSIE. These invitations by above/ground press, leading to other invitations, vital to a long poem writer, helping to keep me on the path of the epic, following that thread that pulls—I still cannot believe Marthe is gone, at least from this planetary orbit.

How did you see the press comparing to what else was around when you first heard of it?

XRSS: Everything that Jason Christie says!! There’s this sense of community, of work made on the margins, for the love of what is in us to make, to bring forth, despite seeming indifference from anyone else. Outside of the low misery of grasping for achievement, there abides the makers: crafting, stitching, folding, stapling, paper between our thumbs. Fragments pressed to our lips.

Renée Sarojini Saklikar recently completed her term as the first Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey, British Columbia. Her latest book is a B.C. bestseller: Listening to the Bees (Nightwood Editions, 2018). Renée’s first book, children of air india (Nightwood Editions, 2013), won the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry. Renée co-edited The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/SFU Public Square, 2015,) a City of Vancouver book award finalist. Renée’s chapbook, After the Battle of Kingsway, the bees, (above/ground press, 2016), was a finalist for the 2017 bpNichol award. Her poetry has been made into musical and visual installations, including the opera, air india [redacted].  Renée was called to the BC Bar as a Barrister and Solicitor, served as a director for youth employment programs in the BC public service, and now teaches law and ethics for Simon Fraser University in addition to teaching creative writing at both SFU and Vancouver Community College. She curates the popular poetry reading series, Lunch Poems at SFU and serves on the boards of Event magazine and The Capilano Review and is a director for the board of the Surrey International Writers Conference.   Renée belongs to the League of Canadian Poets and The Writer’s Union of Canada (TWUC) and is active on the TWUC Equity Committee. She is currently working on an epic-length sci-fic poem that appears in journals, anthologies and chapbooks.

Monday, December 10, 2018

new from above/ground press: Cupcake Royale (second edition), by Sarah Mangold

Cupcake Royale
second edition
Sarah Mangold

tell them she is baking you a cake

a special cake

chocolate with purple icing

the place decorates itself

all white cakes

and showering flowers

one day the language goes

and one day the spatial

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
December 2018
originally published by above/ground press in March 2012
celebrating twenty-five years of above/ground press
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Sarah Mangold
is the author of the poetry collections Household Mechanics (New Issues, selected by C. D. Wright), Electrical Theories of Femininity (Black Radish Books) and Giraffes of Devotion (Kore), as well as many chapbooks. She is the recipient of fellowships and supported residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Willapa Bay AiR and Artist Trust. She founded and edited Bird Dog: a journal of innovative writing and art, which featured longer poems and emerging women poets. She lives and works in Seattle.

This is Mangold’s fifth above/ground press chapbook, after the first edition of Cupcake Royale (2012), as well as Parlor (2012), A Copyist, an Astronomer, and a Calendar Expert (2016) and BIRDS I RECALL (2018). She also had a poem as part of the recent 25th anniversary above/ground press broadside project.

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 at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Esther Chen reviews Sean Braune's The Cosmos (2018) online at PRISM International

Esther Chen reviewed another above/ground press title online at PRISM International! This time, it was Sean Braune's The Cosmos (2018). Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. This is the second review of Braune's The Cosmos (after Greg Bem reviewed such over at Goodreads). And of course, copies of this (as well as his other two (one, two) above/ground press chapbooks) are still very much available.
The Cosmos – Sean Braune
above/ground press

An experience in itself, reading Sean Braune’s The Cosmos feels like walking through a beauty and cosmetics section in a department store. The chapbook is part of a larger project and gives the reader a glimpse of what he calls “accelerated reading”, a practice that the author says is “essential to the experience of living in the bluster of 21st Century capitalism”. Indeed, the list-like stream of consciousness that makes up the content of The Cosmos is as strange as it is familiar. One section reads: “argan oil lasting sleek / garnier fructis style / prime first for nonstop sleek pre-styling primer / spot the latest coppertone”. The tone feels frantic—the lack of punctuated full stops leaves the reader breathless, as if trying to read out loud the words that pop into one’s mind at every waking moment. As the author explains in his statement on the piece, the variety of texts that surround us read as disembodied—their agency lost in selling a product. By rearranging the selected phrases with creative intent and enjambment (The Cosmos was partly written with the assistance of a stack of Cosmopolitans from 2015), Braune injects voice into washed-up ad copy. “now learn / more dolce & gabbana” the last stanza urges, “we’re light / blue”.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

“poem” broadside #346 : “Riposte” by Colin Morton

Right here in the middle of the street,
the passenger door slamming shut on his gun hand
as the car sped away.
Right here on the white solid line,
blood pooling around the base of his skull.

Here, years ago, beneath the new interchange,
waiting at the parkway’s one red light.
With a pistol brought in by diplomatic bag,
rushed out of the country hours later.
Right here face down in the November slush.

Here on the strip while leaving a bistro.
In a scuffle at this tavern door.
In a downtown crosswalk with a crossbow.
With a nine-inch blade across the bar.
The city remembers its private scars.

For others there’s a plaque – one on the mall
where an MP took a bullet in the head.
Another at the jail where someone swung for it.
A stone laid for workers killed on the job.
Statues for those in uniform.

Monuments uncounted, all to the dead.
Heroes’ highways, walks of fame, listed houses
reassure that some are kept in mind.
Even poets have their garden and their path,
echoes nearly lost in corridors of the dead.

Right here, right now, we persist, we speak.
While we can, we have our day.
And in a lab beside the rushing river
someone’s plotting to kill you, death.
We’ve seen the impossible happen before.

Riposte, by Colin Morton
produced in part as a handout during the sixth Arc Poetry Walk, curated and hosted by rob mclennan, walking around the Byward Market, December 8, 2018
above/ground press broadside #346

Twice winner of the Archibald Lampman Award for poetry, Ottawa poet Colin Morton has published more than ten books, ranging from visual and sound poetry (Printed Matter; Two Decades) to historical narratives (The Merzbook: Kurt Schwitters Poems; The Hundred Cuts: Sitting Bull and the Major). His other work includes a novel, an animated film, and many reviews and essays. He has collaborated with poets, artists, and musicians in the poetry performance group First Draft and with film-maker Ed Ackerman in the award-winning animated poetry film Primiti Too Taa.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Esther Chen reviews Kyle Flemmer's ASTRAL PROJECTION (2017) and Stephen Collis' FIRST SKETCH OF A POEM I WILL NOT HAVE WRITTEN (2017) online at PRISM International

Thanks to Kyle Flemmer catching such online yesterday through a random Google search, I've found out that Esther Chen reviewed two above/ground press titles this past summer over at PRISM International: Kyle Flemmer's ASTRAL PROJECTION (2017) and Stephen Collis' FIRST SKETCH OF A POEM I WILL NOT HAVE WRITTEN (2017). Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. This is actually the third review of Flemmer's ASTRAL PROJECTION (after Scott Bryson reviewed such over at Broken Pencil, and Greg Bem reviewed such via Yellow Rabbits) and the second review of Collis' chapbook (after Cary Fagan's generous review on his blog). And of course, copies of both titles (as well as their other above/ground press chapbooks) are still very much available.
above/ground press

Defined, “astral projection” refers to the term used to describe a willful out-of-body experience during which the astral body leaves the physical body and travels to the astral plane. The poems in Flemmer’s newest chapbook follow suit. ASTRAL PROJECTION reads curiously, pushing the limits of form, leaving the traditional body of what we think of when we think “poetry” in favour of white space, splatters of text, and hanging brackets. Reading through each piece is an exercise in letting go of the concrete, of certainty. The lines break unexpectedly, jumping from left to right and back again, at times reading both left to right and top to bottom. Mentions of Greek mythology add to the sense of otherworldliness. It is tempting to try to find visual patterns in the spaces of text and blankness, to try to find some familiar form or stanza in which to ground yourself. Instead, Flemmer creates in this book a unique space for the reader to float through the pieces, light.

above/ground press

Stephen Collis’s chapbook FIRST SKETCH OF A POEM I WILL NOT HAVE WRITTEN is comprised of a single, long, twisting poem that oscillates between passionate and resigned, rambling yet brimming with a sure intention. The poem opens by cutting right to the chase, setting the scene of “a universe we / No longer have to search the limits of / the revolutionary subject lies elsewhere” and asks “can we revive?” The tone is restless, that of a racing, intelligent mind: “Late now. Sound of the furnace. Cathy out. Girls asleep. / Take apart all ideas plans and structures again and again.” There is a throughline of righteous anger: at contemporary culture, at the recursive loop pattern of living, at the corruption of art. Open brackets following open brackets and repeating loops of text add to the sense that the speaker is ruminating over these musings, spiralling deeper and deeper, opening box after box. Throughout the piece, Collis maintains a stream of consciousness that is the opposite of messy, the lines hold a straight-edged coherence, clean yet urgent. While a shorter book than other chapbooks out there, Collis’s is an important piece that drives one to question their own artistry (“what is poetry if money is information?”), to pick apart and think, to write and write and write. “Writing as problem solving…” Collis pens at one point, “…in the age of insoluble problems.”