Wednesday, September 12, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Kate Siklosi

This is the thirty-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.

finding canada’s poetry unicorn: or, how i met rob.

I open the dictionary and look up the word “unicorn.” Three definitions appear:

1: a mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse with long flowing mane and a tail and a single often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead;

2: something unusual, rare, or unique;

3: business: a start-up that is valued at one billion dollars or more.

Two of these definitions aptly describe rob mclennan and above/ground: with his long flowing mane and perfectly unusual demeanor, rob has been rocking the small press lit market for 25 years. A billion-dollar industry it is not, and he might not have a horn in real life, but that’s easily fixable:

When the name rob mclennan was first spoken to me by my dear friend and til-death-do-us-part dissertation supervisor, Andy Weaver, I had already known of his work with above/ground. After all, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Canada who knows, loves, or practices poetry without hearing of rob and his press. I knew that to have an above/ground chapbook was a way “in” to the poetry scene, and Andy told me what a solid human rob is and encouraged me to send things his way. But at that time, I was knee deep in my dissertation, and scared to put creative work out into the world; so, I delayed and delayed contacting rob, admittedly for several years.

Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, when I had still been delaying sending rob stuff because I was nervous, and then bang, in my inbox was a solicitation from him for a piece for Dusie. Thus began an enthusiastic conversation about my work, and I sent rob some of my letraset pieces which became my first chapbook with above/ground: po po poems.

Without exaggeration, rob is the glue that keeps poetry in Canada vibrant, fresh, and continually evolving. Every time I see him, he is overloaded with books and is always distributing the latest work widely. The level of support for other’s work is simply unparalleled and unheard of. Not only does he send poetry far and wide, but with his “author activity” series, rob even keeps tabs on what his authors are doing outside above/ground and shares it with the community. In his own right he is an established and wonderful poet, but he often chooses to uphold the work of others before his own. This is such a rare thing in the world, to be so selfless and so in love with the words of others.

As I know from starting a small press, it can be thankless work. It is tiresome work. A true labour of love. At times, it is a beautiful privilege, and at others, it is downright exhausting. To do this work for 25 years and counting is no small feat—and rob does it on such a vast scale, by hand, with unwavering enthusiasm. He also appropriately ends each of his emails with a comma—he is always leaving room for the voices of others, always inviting more conversation, always opening the door to more and more people and ideas to join in on his love for poetry.

Mine is a common story, with many a poet I know having their first work published with rob. But little did I know that that email over a year and a half ago would also spark a very meaningful and fun relationship with Canada’s poetry unicorn. He brought me out of my shell, and continually reminds me why I—we—do this work we do. In rob I found the rare trifecta of editor, mentor, and friend. And he’s got great hair, too.

Kate Siklosi lives in Toronto with her three sidekicks: two kitties and a Saint Bernard named Bonnie Tyler. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: po po poems (above/ground press, 2018), may day (no press, 2018), and coup (The Blasted Tree, 2018) and is the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, a feminist experimental poetry small press.  

[photo of rob mclennan by Charles Earl, circa 2008; horn added by Kate Siklosi]

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