Friday, February 23, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Jason Christie

This is the 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.

I don't like hugs, but I like above/ground press

25 years is a long time. Against a backdrop of small presses started and stopped by young grad students that last anywhere between one and four years (cough, yardpress, cough), 25 years seems like the age of the universe.

I heard about above/ground when I was an undergrad at York University in the '90s. rob would appear in Toronto, at small press fairs, or readings, but I was too shy to say hi. It wasn't until he came to Calgary in 2002 that we struck up a friendship, albeit a distant and somewhat disconnected one. I was living below ground at the time.

above/ground was one of the first presses to get me thinking about the small press as a haven away from the world of literary prestige, reputations, publicity, marketing, networking, and all that stuff that saps energy from the pleasure of making things (chapbooks, poems, books). A package from rob included everything from a hastily-produced leaflet to a perfectly polished series of poems lovingly stapled together. The DIY aspect of above/ground's production speaks to emphasizing circulation, the excitement of the new, and a celebration of the speed with which things can travel from one person to many. above/ground was a nascent social media platform for poets before many of them had even heard of the Internet.

The thing that people subconsciously understand about rob is that once you've met him, you are friends. We're built to mistrust that kind of openness and enthusiasm. That willingness to embrace the other. rob will contact you or greet you enthusiastically if he rolls through your town, he will invite you to read in Ottawa, he will invite you to send him things, he will ask about your family, and he will invite you into his.

rob is genuinely interested in poetry as an activity, as a thing people do, not just as an end in and of itself. For rob, poetry is a means of circulation and an expression of relationships. Questions of aesthetics and quality, are secondary to intention and enthusiasm when you reimagine poetry as the fibre that connects people. Quality and aesthetics are important, but above them I see the gesture to connect people all across Canada to each other, to bring them into proximity, and that is one of the most important contributions above/ground makes to our literary lives.

In rob's 25 year run you will encounter poems by a staggering number of authors, a fact made even more incredible by the fact that it manifests as a result of his interactions with people. He opens his arms to include people who have been publishing for decades and people who have yet to publish their first poem or chapbook, and he treats them equally. That is a beautiful thing for such a mature, vital press. As someone who has found homes for poems and chapbooks with above/ground over the last two and a half decades, I'm grateful to consider rob a friend first and a publisher second.

Jason Christie is the author of Canada Post (Snare), i-ROBOT (Edge/Tesseract), Unknown Actor (Insomniac), and a co-editor of Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Mercury). His next book will be published in the Spring of 2019. He is currently writing poetry about (being) objects, and exaltation.

Christie is the author of five above/ground press chapbooks, including 8th Ave 15th St NW. (2004), Government (2013), Cursed Objects (2014), The Charm (2015) and random_lines =random.choice (2017).

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