Sunday, January 28, 2018

Nikki Sheppy reviews Renée Sarojini’s After the Battle of Kingsway, the Bees— (2016) in filling Station #68

Calgary poet and editor [and Touch the Donkey contributor] Nikki Sheppy provides a new review of Renée Sarojini’s bpNichol Chapbook Award-shortlisted title After the Battle of Kingsway, the Bees— (2016), alongside reviews of new works by Jordan Abel, Helen Hajnoczky and Natalie Lauchlan, in filling Station #68, an issue billed as “the small press issue.” Thanks so much! This is actually the second review of Saklikar’s chapbook, after Scott Bryson was good enough to discuss it over at Broken Pencil. As Sheppy writes:

Bees, not moths, figure in Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s butter-coloured chapbook, After the Battle of Kingsway, the Bees— from above/ground press. The 15-page suite is an excerpt from volume 2 of Saklikar’s ongoing long work about place and identity, thecanadaproject—from which her first book, Children of Air India, un/authorized exhibits and interjections, also draws.

Set on Vancouver’s Kingsway, the poem suite sidles back and forth between the floral homeland of bees and urban scenes of protest and assembly, curiously counterpoising natural and built habitats: “Blackberry, buttercup, fireweed, / hairycat’s ear, thistle // of demonstrations.” Probing issues of housing, Saklikar seamlessly moves from Carder bees congregating on clover to demonstrators behind barricades outside Rentalsman, from a bee’s warmed wax cup to abductions and detainees. The contrast is strategic, but gentle, thoughtfully placing a magnifying lens over snatched moments and details.

Her “many genera” moving in the lee of “condo cranes,” or roused to action on the steps of a public building, yearn in solidarity: “O for a hundred thousand / homes we might call to.” Their struggles bend them towards nature’s weedy resilience: “they longed to feed him / larkspur, large-leaved lupine, / wrap him blue weed, viper’s bugloss.” The collection closes with testimony, incarceration, and lament, but also with asylum amidst the cedar and sequoia.

Friday, January 26, 2018

new from above/ground press: Phantom Equator, by Andrew Cantrell

Phantom Equator
Andrew Cantrell

The objects of our attention

Out of the touch or the rush of those whose touching whose contention of [out] of it seems or winks

another or an uncertain mentation there we perceive in any other’s eschewing an event as one sees

one stone at dawn or one the moral force of adumbration just as a lover first embraces those things

in one which anyone was never to share a line of flight this boundless and engaged discussing

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

Andrew Cantrell
is the author of the chapbook Stratigraphy (2015) and a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Posit, Lana Turner, Vestiges, and Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. He lives in Chicago where he works as a union organizer.

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Eileen Tabios reviews Sacha Archer's upROUTE: The Language of Plates (2017)

Eileen Tabios was good enough to provide the first review for Sacha Archer's upROUTE: The Language of Plates (2017), alongside his NOTES ON THE SIGN OF POETRY: ADDENDUM AND PRINTS (The Blasted Tree, 2017), in the new issue of Galatea Resurrects. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
upROUTE: The Language of Plates

Reading Sacha Archer’s upROUTE: The Language of Plates took me out of my kitchen and brought me to a diner. I suppose it could have been a coffee shop but somehow it was a diner—the ubiquitous one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I spent a lot of time at the counter looking down at … plates. (To be more specific, “Tom’s Diner” which obviously was popularized by Suzanne Vega who used to sing on campus at Columbia/Barnard when she and I were both students there.) 
There are plates, of course, in my kitchen but being brought to that diner means, I believe, a place where one is by one’s self, perhaps with a notebook, looking down at a plate (scrambled eggs, grilled potato cubes and ketchup), a mug of coffee nearby. I repeated that position numerous times for years as a former resident of that Upper West Side.
In that position, I looked down at plates—full, half-full, then empty. You know how some joggers say that going for a run can help them clear their mind and then end up focusing perhaps on something of deep concern? I know that feeling from going by myself to diners and eating by myself. By the time I finished my plate, I’d also come to some resolution over something-or-other in my mind. (Don’t go there—I  also used to jog…)
All this is evoked by reading upROUTE: The Language of Plates. Some of the pages contain words and symbols with unknown significances, followed then by some pages of poetry from which one can discern sufficient relationships to the marks on prior pages. So what happened was sighting, then consideration, a mulling over, and then some insight. Love it. I love, too, the way the process is discernible. Here’s a for instance, from two consecutive pages in the chapbook:
What do plates have to do with such? Well, one looks at a plate. A plate offers something edible—that the viewer can (ahem) chew over … ruminate over: a mulling over. If insight follows, what the plate offered was sustenance. And the insight travels…upROUTE by rising from the plate towards you.
All that happens between you and the plate. Thus, again, not my kitchen where it’s populated by other creatures who distract but a diner where (despite the possible crowd) I am by myself. To be by myself ensures a direct, unmediated engagement between me and, uh, what’s on my plate.  Again, another fruitful example from Archer’s:

Regardless of the specific instances offered in the pages, I think the take-away can be larger: it can be about the merits of solitude, of making up your own mind instead of being (over-)influenced by others, by having the trust in your own abilities, by letting your imagination roam, by trusting that you can surface poetry. Through Sacha Archer, plates apparently have a large vocabulary.
Recommended for an immensely satisfying reading experience.
The chap was published by above/ground press, a reminder yet again of how much great work is being produced among indie presses.  Kudos as well to poet-publisher rob mclennan.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

new from above/ground press: faux foe, by kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff

faux foe
kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff


full, kind

stark men

barn dog fart


bra, slut
on par


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

kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff
equals: co-won the 2016 Robin Blaser Award; thank you BookThuggers 4 publishing their biography; played the lead in Sean Braune’s forthcoming feature film, Nuptials; used to perform stand-up comedy jokes; lives on Splats’in Territory with a Laurel and 2 boyos; might be dead; currently reading Anne Tardos.

This is eckhoff’s second above/ground press chapbook, after dissections from their biography (2012).

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Amanda Earl's Lady Lazarus Redux (2017)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for Amanda Earl's Lady Lazarus Redux (2017) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
Lady Lazarus Redux
by Amanda Earl

Occasionally books jab you in the spine and cause you to sit upright, pay attention, know that it will affect yourself as a book should always do, that it is not just noise, not just ambient, but active and effectively present. I found Earl's book to be this way, to be of fantastic import. An above-average selection of the already-fantastic above/ground press, Lady Lazarus Redux seeks rawness, transparency, and a full-on immersion into the struggles of the feminist mind and the feminist text. The book is personal, but collective. Absorptive and incapacitating. It is a serene cry out, though conceptual construction and found language, for better opportunities to know suffering and to know resolution. It will be a marvelous book to return to over time.

Monday, January 22, 2018

new from above/ground press: MOTHER OF ALL, by Anna Gurton-Wachter

Anna Gurton-Wachter

I am standing in the river and, absent any structural changes, I will still be standing in the river. Absent any structural changes I am examining an inky pen I found in the river. This was how I first gained access to Gertrude Stein’s deathbed. Pull the curtain back and Gertrude Stein’s deathbed is there. “Deathbeds are a leisure product,” the voice from above calls out. The voice from above is a rescue pattern, the sincerely possessed dovetail center. I forgot that I had started weeping just for the compensatory elation. When did I get to be outside of being a woman? The woman without qualities. Around the deathbed are many objects and beside each object a moment of private translation. Communications are like whiskers jutting out sideways from the mouth, and we are drinking wine and talking about being born.
published in Ottawa by above/ground press
January 2018
celebrating twenty-five years of above/ground press

a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Anna Gurton-Wachter
is a writer, editor and archivist. Her chapbooks include The Abundance Chamber Works Alone (Essay Press, 2017), Blank Blank Blues (Horse Less Press, 2016) and CYRUS (Portable Press @ Yo Yo Labs, 2014). Other writing has appeared in No, Dear, 6x6, The Brooklyn Rail, Elderly, and PELT. She edits and makes books for DoubleCross Press. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY a few blocks away from the building in which she was born.

cover image: Christine Shan Shan Hou
consciousness of illumination
collage on paper, 2014

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jill Magi reviews Brenda Iijima's SWAMP SWAMP (2017) at Harriet

Chicago writer, artist and critic Jill Magi was good enough to provide a review for Brenda Iijima's SWAMP SWAMP (2017) via the Harriet blog, alongside reviews of Eléna Rivera's recent Belladonna* Chaplet and A Transpacific Poetics, Edited by Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu. Thanks so much! And we must have similar tastes to Magi, given Rivera's recent above/ground press title, and even Samuels' long ago issue of STANZAS [see the STANZAS bibliography here]. This is the second review of Iijima's chapbook, after Greg Bem reviewed such over at Yellow Rabbit. You can read Magi's full review here. Her review of Iijima is below:
SWAMP SWAMP by Brenda Iijima, above/ground press, 2017.

In the photograph on the cover of this chapbook, Robert Smithson stands behind a woman, Nancy Holt, who is looking through a camera, operating it. Bob Smithson, arms folded, squints to see what she may be seeing. He is directing. As a project of resistance and disruption, Brenda has listened to Holt and what it means to not hear her clearly. And so Brenda doubles the film—hence the title SWAMP SWAMP—inserting an imagined texture, a talk-back session emanating from Holt, from the land itself, and from the forces of history.

I recall the Smithson show at the Whitney that Brenda refers to in her short essay at the end of the chapbook—and I distinctly remember loving the physicality of this film. The audio was disturbing to me as well; as if Holt was being pursued by Smithson’s ever art-forward purpose. I may have given over to the work, in a sense, deciding that the tension between them added to the disturbing rattle of the blindingly tall stalks of marsh grass. All of these memories mean that I was happy to revisit this work with the arrival of Brenda’s chapbook.

SWAMP SWAMP begins with the italicized line “Just walk in a straight line,” evoking obedience, discipline, and the language of poetry itself. It is Smithson’s voice. There’s an air of dismissal in the word “just,” and that word comes up again in the directives, indicating that Holt was taking some risks, displaying hesitancy. The first line is a directive to ignore the poetics of the meander, but Brenda, happily, intervenes by responding to all the directives with a lush interiority, and with historical remembrance.

Brenda writes the swamp as place and relationship—even though the site was really a marsh, as she points out. She returns the site to the complex ecosystem that it is, resisting easy access, comprehension, and the view that would call this site “nowhere”: “Some would call this no-man’s land—it is precisely the reverse.” At first I thought the reverse of “no-man’s” might be “everyone’s” but I don’t take Brenda’s project to be a universalizing gesture—so I came up with “yes-woman’s land” as a kind of “reverse,” though Brenda recognizes this land as already-inhabited, not empty, and so the text establishes itself as a North American post-colonial reclamation.

There are also snippets of Holt's autobiography: “My house was Tudoresque—a brick and stucco edifice. And the formative years, carefree—blithely unaware of what privilege consisted of besides the tree lined streets of the neighborhood where I would play unrestrained. How straight a line! How straight can I enter—logic to do with the body often foregrounds mechanistic functions, meanwhile hormonal impulses steer corporeal mass, meter motor control.”

It is glorious to me that Brenda has brought both “privilege” and “hormones” into the work—and in such close proximity! Yes, a body is not just mechanical—it is comprised of the perforating combinations of mechanics, chemistry, feedback loops.

Importantly, though, a woman’s body, as Brenda writes, is variously “unrestrained” according to class, color. And so Brenda moves this work away from a predictable and perhaps tired white feminist reclamation project that would position Holt as only oppressed vis a vis Smithson. Holt, spoken through Brenda’s voice, is, in fact, not without privilege. And so the complications gather.

I have always thought of Brenda’s poetry and editorial work to be pedagogical, an invitation for more voices, more inquiry, and an invitation to leave the traces of inquiry inside the work. And Brenda’s mode of inquiry always involves the body: a sensual epistemology. The chapbook’s culminating statement provides information on the project’s origin and this gesture of disclosure has the potential to inspire other projects. Her statement/essay concludes with this:

“A whispering subtext—an underlying dimensional reading into the triangulation: Robert Duncan’s poem of utopian yearning to return to the meadow of his imagination. The contrast between Duncan’s ideal meadow with a space that can’t hold out against chaos, disturbance, domination and appropriation—that is constantly managed and defined by historical ramification, lives in layer of relation and recognition.”

Reading this work, I would add that “a place of first permission” (Duncan’s line, quoted by Brenda) may also be a site, upon review, of misrecognition. Brenda’s work here takes the slippage of mishearing and misrecognition as the perhaps ideal site for poetry.

Monday, January 15, 2018

the launch of ottawater #14: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan

Come out to the launch of the fourteenth issue of ottawater, featuring new writing by Manahil Bandukwala, Stephanie Bolster, Sara Cassidy, Jason Christie, JM Francheteau, Spencer Gordon, Chris Johnson, N.W. Lea, Leah MacLean-Evans, Christine McNair, Colin Morton, Dani Spinosa, Priscila Uppal, Jean Van Loon, Ian Whistle and Maha Zimmo.

The launch, featuring readings by a number of this issue’s contributors, will be held on Friday, February 2, 2018, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm.

Lovingly hosted by editor/publisher rob mclennan.

Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

The issue itself isn't online yet, but all previous issues remain archived on the site. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

above/ground press at twenty-five: by the numbers,

As many of you know, 2018 marks TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of above/ground press production. While the official anniversary doesn’t actually occur until July (including the annual launch/reading/party, with launches of at least a couple new titles), I’ve been going through some of the numbers, realizing that the press is well over a combined eight hundred and fifty publications to date (including Touch the Donkey, but not including the two dozen or so forthcoming titles).

That is an ENORMOUS amount of publications. I daresay: there might be one or two chapbook presses that get close to the volume, or the quality, or the longevity, but rarely all three.

With a couple of items produced under different press names (or none at all) over 1992 and into 1993, the above/ground press officially emerged as the press name in July 1993, with the publication of a poetry anthology and a chapbook of my own, soon followed by a chapbook by Ottawa poet David Collins. With a focus on poetry chapbooks and distribution, the press has also produced numerous journals (five issues of Missing Jacket [see a bibliography here], forty-five issues of the long poem magazine STANZAS [see a bibliography here], sixteen of the twenty-five issues (so far) of The Peter F. Yacht Club, six issues of drop and sixteen issues (so far) of Touch the Donkey [see the list of issues + interviews online here]), as well as numerous anthologies, three hundred and forty-two “poem” broadsides [see a bibliography up to #287 here; link to the most recent publications here], occasional pamphlets, and even a single comic book by Greg Kerr in 1996. There have been publications produced for book fairs in Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa, Vancouver, New Orleans and Philadelphia, for conferences and AWPs across North America, literary festivals, readings and a variety of tours.

Some items appear quickly, within a day or two of acceptance, and others have been scheduled months in advance. I have folded and stapled every damned one (with the rare exception, of course) myself, usually sitting in front of the television with long-arm stapler (I’m on my third) and worn-down fingerprints. I’ve produced items in runs as low as fifty copies, and as much as twelve hundred. STANZAS held pretty consistently at a print run (distributed gratis) of a thousand, the same number of covers I currently produce for each issue of Touch the Donkey (making more copies of the insides as required). Chapbooks these days are most often in runs of either two hundred and fifty or three hundred (especially given I’ve nearly one hundred subscribers). We only have so much space, after all.

While numerous projects extend and have extended from above/ground press over the years (from the “Tuesday poem” series over at the dusie blog to Chaudiere Books to the “On Writing” series at the ottawa poetry newsletter and the “Spotlight” series via Medium, ottawater and seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, the more recent my (small press) writing day, and even the ottawa small press book fair and The Factory Reading Series), the press itself remains strong, existing as the ongoing foundation for basically everything.

I suppose I should mention now that there are plans afoot for an anniversary project or two, including one that has already begun work (but won’t be announced or launched until August/September, most likely). Either way, you can certainly still subscribe for 2018. I mean, why haven’t you?

I toyed with building a list of all the authors the press has published over the quarter century – anthologies, chapbooks, broadsides, journals, etcetera – but the list simply became too large and unmanageable. Instead, I’ll focus on the chapbooks: including the two dozen or so forthcoming items (he says, optimistically), the press has produced three hundred and ninety-six chapbooks by two hundred and twenty-nine separate authors (including translators). I feel incredibly fortunate to have been allowed to produce such stellar work by a large array of incredible poets, and the chapbook list of authors includes (alphabetically): Jordan Abel, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Carrie Olivia Adams, Cameron Anstee, Sacha Archer, Rae Armantrout, Josh Auerbach, Kemeny Babineau, Jennifer Baker, Nelson Ball, Douglas Barbour, John Barton, Gary Barwin, Eric Baus, Derek Beaulieu, Ashley-Elisabeth Best, Gregory Betts, Joe Blades, Michael Blouin, Jon Boisvert, Christian Bök, Stephanie Bolster, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Jamie Bradley, Shannon Bramer, Sean Braune, Alyssa Bridgman, Ross Brighton, Stephen Brockwell, Sarah Burgoyne, Andrew Burke, Brian Burke, Jenna Butler, Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Emily Carr, Christophe Casamassima, Jason Christie, George Elliot Clarke, Dana Claxton, Mark Cochrane, David Collins, Stephen Collis, Sarah Cook, Dennis Cooley, Valerie Coulton, jwcurry, Marita Dachsel, Frank Davey, Faizal Deen, Amy Dennis, Michael Dennis, Michelle Desberats, Jason Dewinetz, Anita Dolman, Rhonda Douglas, Sarah Dowling, Lise Downe, Buck Downs, Kristina Drake, nathan dueck, Susanne Dyckman, Amanda Earl, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Sue Elmslie, Lori Emerson, Greg Evason, Tamara Fairchild, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Ellen Field, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Judith Fitzgerald, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Flemmer, Neil Flowers, Eric Folsom, Sarah Fox, Laurie Fuhr, David Fujino, Hélène Gelèns, Artie Gold, Noah Eli Gordon, Adele Graf, Lea Graham, Allison Grayhurst, Catharina Gripenberg, Kate Greenstreet, Adrienne Gruber, Kristjana Gunnars, Anna Gurton-Wachter, Gwendolyn Guth, Helen Hajnoczky, Phil Hall, Brecken Hancock, Natalie Hanna, Robin Hannah, Sharon Harris, j/j hastain, William Hawkins, Hailey Higdon, Robert Hogg, Matthew Holmes, Michael Holmes, Carrie Hunter, Brenda Iijima, Marilyn Irwin, Roman Ivashkiv, Yuri Izdryk, Dean Irvine, Meghan Jackson (lynes), Matthew Johnstone, D.G. Jones, Megan Kaminski, Stuart Kinmond, Robert Kroetsch, Jennifer Kronovet, Ben Ladouceur, Seth Landman, Patrick Lane, Clare Latremouille, John Lavery, Warren Layberry, N.W. Lea, Katy Lederer, Anne Le Dressay, Jason Le Heup, John B. Lee, A.J. Levin, Sophie Levy, Erik Lindner, damian lopes, Jeanette Lynes, Shannon Maguire, Rob Manery, Donato Mancini, Sarah Mangold, Nicole Markotić, Camille Martin, Karen Massey, Shauna McCabe, Marcus McCann, Una McDonnell, Gil McElroy, Andrew McEwen, David W. McFadden, Barry McKinnon, kath maLean, rob mclennan, Kathryn MacLeod, Christine McNair, Max Middle, philip miletic, Jay MillAr, Rachel Mindell, Rachel Moritz, Erín Moure, Sandra Moussempès, Jennifer Mulligan, Sharon H. Nelson, John Newlove, bpNichol, Geoffrey Nilson, Peter Norman, Ken Norris, Wanda O’Connor, Catherine Owen, Abby Paige, Kathryn Payne, Pearl Pirie, Shane Plante, Deborah Poe, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Alessandro Porco, K.I. Press, Roland Prevost, Katie L. Price, Elizabeth Ranier, Marthe Reed, Monty Reid, Eléna Rivera, Lisa Robertson, Elizabeth Robinson, Miguel E. Ortiz Rodríguez, Stan Rogal, Sarah Rosenthal, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Kaia Sand, Larry Sawyer, Kate Schapira, Eric Schmaltz, Michael Martin Shea, Kate Siklosi, Natalie Simpson, Edward Smallfield, Jessica Smith, Pete Smith, Jennifer Stella, Jill Stengel, Fenn Stewart, Christine Stewart, Anne Stone, Sarah Swan, Jake Syersak, Bronwen Tate, Hugh Thomas, lary timewell, Janice Tokar, Dennis Tourbin, Amish Trivedi, Aaron Tucker, Chris Turnbull, Michael Turner, Emily Ursuliak, R.M. Vaughan, Death Waits, Rosmarie Waldrop, Andy Weaver, Andrew Wessels, Ian Whistle, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Julia Williams, Tal Yarkoni, Lesley Yalen, Deanna Young, Geoffrey Young and Eleni Zisimatos.

Thanks to all of them, and to all of you for your attentions! There is so much more still to be done (and so many more authors I would love to be able to produce chapbooks by)…