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).

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