Wednesday, March 14, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Aaron Tucker

This is the tenth 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 love getting mail, slipping the tiny key into the lock and seeing the contents spill towards me. The above/ground envelopes bear a trademark size and colour, the light brown and rob’s arching printing, my name with an extra 3 or 4 “a”s happily sprawled. I love getting mail, but these envelopes bear particularly special weight. I’ll take the few flights up to my apartment, settle my keys and wallet, carefully tear them open and look to see whose chapbooks are peeking back at me. I can’t pretend that I make my way through the works right away; as a reflection of rob’s constant and tremendously prodigious output, those chapbooks come fast and often, but are always considered reflections of the individual projects. I will stockpile a few envelopes and dedicate an evening to going through them, reading and enjoying, marking most for follow-up emails, always amazed at the astounding variety of writing that rob publishes. There are lyric works, concrete pieces, conceptual works, illustrations, found text, letters, long poems and minimalist sculptings, each working through their own poetic questions along their own individual paths, the questions of their communities, the issues of their worlds. And they come from mid-career writers, people I’ve long read and admired, they come from across Canada and into the States, beyond. These more familiar writers are friends, and receiving their chapbooks is like a letter checking in, explaining how they are, where they are, their works-in-progress, what they care enough about to dedicate words to. As extensions of rob’s publishing, he has a wealth of online tendrils that publish across a variety of websites (including DUSIE (, many gendered mothers (, and my (small press) writing day ( to name just three), and of course he is an active and energetic social media presence. But the physical missives that show up at my home allow me the joy of seeing my friends make a thing, for me to hold that work, and consider it in a different way. There is a lot of generosity in that writing and in rob’s distribution, a network that moves a little slower than Twitter or Facebook, but is no less valuable for it.  

Most exciting, those envelopes include writers who are early-career who I have yet to be familiar with, and I then have the pleasure of working through their poems, thinking and delighting. Over the years, that is one of the things I’ve grown to appreciate most: rob takes extra special care to search out writers who are working towards a larger, longer work, but would appreciate the opportunity to publish, and think through their writing, at a scale larger than just a poem. I can read the care in the crafting of those chapbooks, the sequencing and inclusions, the flourishes that will eventually become that writer’s fingerprints in the pages of their first manuscript. rob’s dedication and support to early career writers is then further deepened by all of the opportunities he gives to writers to talk about their own craft. This includes the interviews that he does as a supplement to Touch the Donkey (, those in On Writing (, but also the aforementioned my (small press) writing day, spaces in which writers can be reflexive and think through the trouble-spots of their own craft, the inflection points of their own interests and goals. Again, for someone starting out, these opportunities are sparse, and the earlier they happen, the better overall their writing is for it.   

I think then of when I first moved to Toronto and was trying to meet other writers and imagining how I might sustain a career, rob was kind enough to encourage me to submit, publishing apartments ( As I flip through it now, a time-capsule, I am teleported back to that specific apartment, the specific books I was reading, the specific late-night conversations and performances that shaped those first steps towards a larger collection, included in the above/ground 20 year anthology Ground Rules (, and I am still incredibly grateful for all of that encouragement and the initial exposure to publishing professionally, his giving me that space to learn. My second chapbook with rob, punchlines (, actually did end up being expanded into a full-length collection with Mansfield Press ( That I was unpublished and struggling to spread my work didn’t matter: like so many of the writers rob publishes, he simply read and enjoyed the work and wanted it out into the world, the core of above/ground and a gesture that remains essential to the development of poetry and writing in Canada.

Aaron Tucker is the author of the forthcoming novel Y: Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (Coach House Books) as well as two books of poetry, Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Bookthug Press) and punchlines (Mansfield Press), and two scholarly cinema studies monographs, Virtual Weaponry: The Militarized Internet in Hollywood War Films and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema (both published by Palgrave Macmillan).

His current collaborative project, Loss Sets, translates poems into sculptures which are then 3D printed (; he is also the co-creator of The ChessBard, an app that transforms chess games into poems (

An earlier version of punchlines was released by above/ground in the summer of 2013. His poetic works and reviews have been published across Canada. His previous chapbook, apartments, was shortlisted for the 2010 bpNichol Chapbook award.

Currently, he is an uninvited guest on the Dish with One Spoon Territory, where he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson University (Toronto), teaching creative and academic writing. You can reach him atucker[at]ryerson[dot]ca

Tucker is the author of three above/ground press chapbooks, including the aforementioned apartments, section three (2010), punchlines (2013) and the forthcoming Catalogue d’Oiseaux (2018).

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