Friday, June 29, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Marthe Reed's coastal geometries (2018)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for the late (great) Marthe Reed's coastal geometries (2018) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
This is a fantastic book. Not knowing much about Martha Reed, I found her poems in this collection to be stunning in their precision and their evocations. The quantity is just right. The constraint around the theme is just right as well. I'm grateful for having encountered this work.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Eric Schmaltz

This is the twenty-first 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’d send those poems to rob mclennan. He publishes chapbooks of poems like these. The chapbooks don’t look great, but he makes sure your poems get into the right hands.” This is the advice and commentary given to me in 2008, which I then sat on for 5 years until I finally sent rob my first chapbook manuscript of visual poems, the awkwardly titled MITSUMI ELEC. CO. LTD.: keyboard poems (a title that rob hasn’t noticeably winced at). Almost immediately, he accepted the poems for publication. A Staples box eventually came in the mail and there it was: my very first chapbook. Once the chapbook came out, I learned that the advice was mostly true––rob ensures that the work of his poets gets into the hands of as many other poets and poetry-enthusiasts as possible.

I haven’t seen rob since 2013 without getting a bundle of addressed and unstamped envelopes thrust into my hands, followed by something like “well, I knew I’d be seeing you soon so I held onto these.” This usually happens as soon as I walk into a room, before I’ve found a seat or a place to put my bag. What’s inside those envelopes? Inside those envelopes are the new developments: fresh work from new voices, new work from established personalities. Those envelopes bear poems in progress, proto-books, test-pieces, experiments, but also final drafts and one-offs. Those are the poems of above/ground press. As an editor and publisher, rob is versatile and unmatched in his generosity; he is genuinely invested in poetry in a broad sense of the word.

For me, above/ground has been a place for testing ideas. It is where I got my footing. Four years after rob published my first chapbook, those poems appeared as part of my first full-length book Surfaces. My chapbook with rob led me there. With above/ground press, rob gave me something I could send to far-off places, to handout at a rare performance, to give in thanks. It gave me a foot in the door. Had it not been for that opportunity to let those poems into the world and to see what pings back, it seems unlikely that any later projects would have ever been realized. As indicated by conversations I’ve had with other poets and the other reflections published as part of this anniversary series, this seems to be true for many others.

Driven by rob’s tireless generosity as an editor, poet, and friend, above/ground advances a model for small press culture that I admire and that I hope others will take up. The simple gesture of passing work along for a very affordable price (if not for free) is essential, I think, for many writers here in Canada. With above/ground, rob helps new and established writers build and maintain an audience, but more truly he plays an essential role in building and maintaining a community.

In different words, the advice that was given to me in 2008 is advice I pass onto all of my aspiring poet friends and acquaintances. I trust that rob will find a way to welcome as many into the fold as he can. Among the many roles that rob plays, his role as community builder with above/ground press is one that should be appreciated.

Eric Schmaltz is an artist, writer, and educator living in Toronto. His work has been featured in Lemon Hound, Jacket2, The Capilano Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, The Puritan, and Open Letter. His first book of poetry and text-art, Surfaces, is available from Invisible Publishing. For more: or @eschmaltzzz.

Schmaltz is the author of two above/ground press chapbooks, including MITSUMI ELEC. CO. LTD.: keyboard poems (2014) and Trips from Here to There: Poems from the Dreamachine (2017).

Friday, June 22, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Andrew Wessels' From Being Without Substance (2018)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for Andrew Wessels' From Being Without Substance (2018) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
A daunting microcosmic brush with the holy, this book is ambiguous, confusing, and yet manages to be inventive and disturbingly refreshing. For those who know spirit and spirituality, and those who do not, the language within the poems of Wessels will startle and put you face to face with the higher and lower powers around all of us.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

above/ground press at the ottawa small press book fair! this saturday!

above/ground press will once again be at the ottawa small press book fair, held this Saturday from noon to five pm at Elgin Street's Jack Purcell Community Centre! given the press has produced some twenty-eight chapbooks so far this year (as well as broadsides and two issues of Touch the Donkey, etcetera), there will be plenty of items on display (to exchange for your dollars), as well as a preview of the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey (which releases officially in mid-July)! [and don't forget the pre-fair reading tomorrow night] Might we see you there?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Sean Braune's The Cosmos (2018)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for Sean Braune's The Cosmos (2018) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
This list poem, which embodies Braune's "accelerated reading" form, is quite enjoyable and about as absurd as you'd imagine any representation of the 21st century. I look forward to seeing the larger work that Braune is working on play out into a book form. For now, I will keep this collection close to my heart--and my face--as its superficial allusions would encourage.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Greg Bem reviews Helen Hajnoczky's No Right on Red (2017)

Our pal Greg Bem was good enough to provide the first review for Helen Hajnoczky's No Right on Red (2017) at Goodreads. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
The five-page prose poem that fills the cover of this book may seem small, but as a single, relentless view at desperation and survival on the streets of Montreal, it works, serves its purpose, and is enthralling.

Friday, June 15, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: David McKnight

This is the twentieth 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 / ground press – A Collectors Odyssey

I don’t remember the exact date – but sometime in the Spring of 1996, one evening, I walked past The Word Book Store, Anglo-Montreal’s legendary and very literary second hand bookshop, which was located in the McGill Ghetto.  As you walked into the dimly lit, compact low ceilinged shop, a former Chinese laundry, the floor to ceiling shelves, fastened to the brick wall, were packed with several thousand high quality used books – Adrian King-Edwards the bespeckled, bearded shop owner - as usual was ensconced behind the desk located under the narrow stairwell that led to the workroom on the second floor pricing a book.

Adrian held court behind his counter: examining books dropped off by graduating McGill students eager to sell his or her textbooks; or it might be a book scout who had found a pristine signed copy of the first edition of Leonard Cohen’s Let Us Compare Mythologies – Adrian’s eyes lighting up, or it might be a small press publisher dropping off copies of the latest issue of his/her little magazine or chapbook.

Half of the store’s stock comprised of literature, literary history, and poetry – unlike trade bookstores, Canadian literature was interfiled in the appropriate section. For twenty years, The Word was one of the important literary institutions in the vibrant, though testy Montreal poetry scene. Véhicule authors shelved beside Signal Editions authors. If you were in search of contemporary Canadian literature, surely you would find a copy at The Word or if historic perhaps filed in Adrian’s basement a half block away from his shop.

Adrian did and still devotes a section on the west wall of his shop – with window visibility – to new Canadian small press and little magazines.  So if you were passing by the shop in the evening not only would the items in the window display cause excitement, but you could also glimpse at the new chapbooks and magazines on the Small Press section as well.  There it was: STANZAS! I didn’t recognize the title nor did I recognize the imprint above / ground, but I had to have the new mag.  The next day I entered the shop greeted Adrian and I made a beeline to the Small Press shelf. I picked up the issue of rob mclennan’s long poem mag: STANZAS and I have been an above / ground subscriber ever since.

Although I was rare book librarian with a weakness for acquiring literary papers and poetry collections for McGill University Libraries, I was also a book collector. Since 1972, I had been acquiring Coach House Press books; in 1976, while scouring a new second bookshop focused on Canadian literature, I bought the first fifteen issues of Tamarack Magazine (1956 – 1982). Tamarack was one of the great literary magazines published in Canada during the formative 1960s and successor to John Sutherland’s Northern Review (1945 – 1955).

For the next thirty years I amassed a very large collection of Canadian little magazine comprised of 800 titles and 6000 issues dating from 1920 to 2005; a near complete Coach House Press collection including ephemera and posters and a comparable collection of Canadian small press imprints.  In addition to the mags, chapbooks, and ephemera I had also, through gift, possessed an important small press literary archive. All of this stuff is now at the University of Alberta’s Bruce Peel Special Collections.

In 1990 when my personal collection had grown in scope and size - my purpose as a collector was to trace and locate every little magazine published in Canada during the 20th century in English and French and other languages.  I consulted library catalogs, made lists, I scoured the shelves in every bookstore in major Canadian cities. There was always Adrian’s basement or Nelson Ball’s legendary vault in his home / shop in Paris, Ontario.  Poetry Toronto, Halifax and other cities listed new mags and I dutifully copied names and addresses. I sent letters and cheques. The response was always amazing. The collection grew.

In 1996 there was a sea change in Canadian small press publishing. Stan Bevington regained control of the Coach House Press after a short-lived misguided change of ownership. Founded in 1965, The Coach House Press is surely the most important small press in Canada. Bevington’s influence was immediate and enduring. Thus it is not surprising to learn the rob mclennan lists among his influences The Coach House Press.

As Bevington and the Coach House was on the rebound in 1996, a new wave of poets and micro press publishers was emerging across Canada. From Jamie Reid (an original TISH member) who founded the short-lived mag Dada Baby, derek beaulieu’s House Press, jwcurry’s industrial sabotage and 302 books imprint and, of course, rob mclennan’s above / ground press.  Although I could pick up issues of mclennan’s long poem mag, STANZAS at the Word or copies of poem, mclennan’s long running broadside series devoted to a single author and poem, I decided to become a subscriber and I still am. (Indeed, since moving to Philadelphia, above / ground is the only Canadian small press to which I currently subscribe.)

Among his other influences, rob cites in his 2016 interview with Entropy magazine (, bpnichol’s grOnK and bill bissett’s blewointment. In the case of the former, nichol publications proliferated in a variety of formats (jw curry has continued in the nichol tradition producing his 1 cent leaftlets which are notoriously difficult to collect); bissett for his part used different yet equally different anti-bibliographic strategy yet he favored a collage method that required the 8 ½ x 11” or 17” page sizes for his magazine and Chapbooks. For his part rob has produced seven different series beginning in 1993. His approach is copy ready, tasteful, utilitarian, and sometimes whimsical (especially the covers of the chapbooks – the words take precedence over the mise en page.

As a long time subscriber, I have been amazed at rob’s industry for the past 25 years.  According to my tabulation, rob has created eight different series:

·   poem (Broadside): 343 issues since 1996.

·         STANZAS (a magazine devoted to the long poem) No. 1 (1993) – No. 44 (2006).

·         Bitlet (periodical devoted to a single writer): 1999 – 2003 (six or more issues).

·         Drop: 2002 - 2006 (1 - 6). (Produced in conjunction with the Jack Purcell Community and above ground press for Poetry workshops with people living with mental illness. From the first issue).

·         Missing Jacket: Writing & Visual Arts. (rob’s foray into producing and editing a literary and arts journal.  Nos. 1-5, 1996-1997.

·         Peter F. Yacht Club: (periodical): 2002 –  present (25 issues).

·         Touch the Donkey: (periodical): 2014 – present (17 issues).

·         Chapbook Series: 1993 to the present. 200 titles.

According to rob’s tabulation he has produced 800 pieces since 1993. I believe that I have over 700. Recently I examined the 300 issues of his broadside series – poem – I donated to the Bruce Peel Special Collections, simple: one folded sheet – with the poem itself photocopied on the recto side. In my view poem is an essential document representing an eclectic range of mostly Canadian poets active since 1996, in other words, rob’s contemporaries.   The same can be said of his Chapbook series which turns twenty-five this year along with the press.  The range of authors from a to z is amazing. There is the nod to the work of the TISH generation: George Bowering, Robert Hogg and John Newlove, among others; but the list of chapbook authors post 1990 to the present represents a remarkable roster of poetic voices, some will endure, others will drift into anonymity, but the one thing that connects them all is rob mclennan and his above ground press. Congratulations on twenty-five years of independent, small press publishing in Canada!

David McKnight is Director of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to accepting the position at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, he was Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Head of the Digital Collections Program at McGill University Libraries where he worked in various roles for fifteen years. A past president of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, McKnight is currently founding Co-Director of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. In2012, McKnight and his wife Lillian Eyre donated their extensive collection of Canadian Little Magazines, Coach House Press Imprints and Small Press Publishing Archive to the Bruce Peel Special Collections. Highlights from the collection are currently on view at the Center. In tandem with the exhibit is a catalogue entitled: Experiment: Printing the Canadian Imagination.

David McKnight has been an above/ground press subscriber for nearly twenty-five years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Susanne Dyckman

This is the twentieth 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.

The air coming through the open window smells sweet as I write this.  The fog has rolled back out past the Golden Gate and the sun is shining in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sweet is not a word that I normally use in the context of poetry.  But it’s the word rolling around my mind, without the saccharine qualities it’s taken on, deservedly or not. Perhaps I’m linking it to acts of generosity, or, as the thesaurus tells me, a state of being kind, thoughtful, considerate, caring.  And rob mclennan’s devotion to poetry and the poetry community is just that — kind, thoughtful, considerate and caring.

above/ground press first came to my attention by way of a friend who suggested it as a place to submit work and/or a chapbook, though that suggestion was made only a few years ago.  So while I can’t speak to the origins of above/ground, I can speak to what it is now.  As a poet in the U.S., I’ve experienced the challenges of publishing as one small press after another vanishes, or, due to the difficulties of financing, become electronic issues only.  And then I was introduced to rob and his publications.  Here was someone who answered emails and accepted work quickly and enthusiastically.  Someone who, while caring for his daughters and baking bread, put out one edition after another, much of it in print, hand-stapled, packed up, mailed.  Poetry loved and living on the page.

That, like today’s sweet air, is a pleasure.

As I follow rob’s literary adventures by way of Facebook, through his blog, and from his emails, I am continually struck by his energy and enthusiasm.  He makes room for poetry of all kinds, he welcomes the written word daily.  Living in what is now “the time of Trump”, rob has eliminated the borders that my government is intent on building.  He publishes poets I recognize and those I am pleased to discover. While I’ve never met him in person, I’ve taken to calling him my northern friend, knowing that he’s not mine alone, but an advocate of poetry across visible and invisible lines.

His are acts of dedication and devotion to language. Happy 25th anniversary to above/ground press.  We need you, I thank you.

Susanne Dyckman’s most recent collection of poetry is A Dark Ordinary (Furniture Press Books). She is also the author of equilibrium’s form (Shearsman Books) and three chapbooks, Counterweight, Transiting Indigo, and Source (above/ground press, 2014). Her work has appeared in a variety of journals as well as in the Paper Kite Press and As if it Fell from the Sun (EtherDome) anthologies.  She has taught creative writing at both the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, and has been a co-editor of Five Fingers Review and Instance Press. She lives and writes in Albany, California.