Wednesday, September 5, 2018


lovable editor/publisher/host rob mclennan ; photo by Julia Polyck-O'Neill

Already a week-plus behind me, and I’m still reeling from the recent silver anniversary above/ground press event at Vimy Brewing Company: an incredible array of readings, writing and support, celebrating twenty-five years of above/ground press [I forgot to report on last year's, but do you remember the year prior? That was fun. And the Toronto event? Or the 19th anniversary?]. Thanks so much to everyone who came out to hear, came out to read, and/or came out to otherwise assist with the event, including valuable tech-asssists by Stephen Brockwell and Monty Reid, book tabling by Anita Dolman and door-coverage by Allie Duff and Marilyn Irwin. The staff at Vimy Brewing Company were incredibly generous, and the space was perfect for the event. My only disappointment was the realization that gifts of silver weren’t forthcoming, despite my hints, given the twenty-fifth anniversary, that such would be certainly welcome.

Anita Dolman sporting the new above/ground press anniversary shirt ; photo by Pearl Pirie
This event also saw the introduction of above/ground press t-shirts! Lovingly designed by Christine McNair, utilizing the classic above/ground press logo, and produced by Ottawa’s own Troublemaker Print! Tote bags were also ordered, but the bags themselves were backordered by the supplier, so they have yet to arrive (I’m also putting another order in soon for t-shirts, so if you have any specific size requests, please let me know: I’m selling them for $25 (shipping, at least to anywhere in North America, included)). Send me an email to see what I have on-hand, and what sizes I might be ordering, and when (rob_mclennan (at)

photo by Pearl Pirie
Really, it was just grand to be able to see so many people I like in one place, and the audience included multiple friends and above/ground press authors alike, including Karen Massey, Kees Kapteyn, Amanda Earl, Pearl Pirie, Chris Turnbull, Gwendolyn Guth, Allison Calvern, Cameron Anstee, Rob Fairchild, Avonlea Fotheringham, Michael Dennis, Grant Wilkins, Conyer Clayton, Robert Hogg, Grant Savage, David Scrimshaw, jwcurry and many, many others. Unfortunately, given we were technically out of town for the weekend, watching my father’s house/pets as well as my sister’s, Christine wasn’t able to make the event at all (I attempted an audio recording of the evening, but god knows if it actually worked), solo at the McLennan homestead an hour away, with the girls: watching two dogs, two cats, a guinea pig and a fish. It did, at least, mean that I could stay out a bit later, and even host Billy Mavreas over at our wee house. The following morning, I might add, was not an early one (and involved me driving an hour, once I finally woke and delivered Billy, post-breakfast, to the bus station).

Aaron Tucker ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
Old pal Aaron Tucker opened the event, as well as the first set, reading from his third above/ground press title, Catalogue d’Oiseaux (2018), an excerpt of a much longer work-in-progress, dedicated to his partner, Julia Polyck-O’Neill. I’m fascinated by the long stretch of lines, and the accumulation, existing as a single, extended poem.

natalie hanna ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
photo by Pearl Pirie
I’ve been fortunate enough to be aware of natalie hanna’s work for some time now, since she emerged somewhere in the mid-1990s, before retreating into law school. Fortunately for us, she reappeared after a few years, and has been impressing us ever since. Reading from her new chapbook, some of which responds directly as a call-and-response with recent work by Stephen Brockwell, she ended her set with a startling poem for multiple voices, adding Liam Burke, Conyer Clayton, Cameron Anstee, Nathanael Larochette and Frances Boyle for a piece that description can’t do justice.

Natalee Caple ; photo by Julia Polyck-O'Neill
It was great to be able to hear Natalee Caple read from her Love / Wildness (2018), especially knowing that she’ll be doing more of such next spring, when the book-length version appears with Wolsak and Wynn. She drove the whole family from St. Catharines, Ontario to Ottawa for the event, but their twins became immediately infatuated with Jason Christie’s small children (who could blame them?) and decided to remain there, instead of coming out to the reading. I can’t even remember the last time I heard Natalee read, but it would have been at The TREE Reading Series back when the readings were held at SAW Gallery; at least five years ago? Seven?

Billy Mavreas ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
Opening the second set of readers, Montreal’s Billy Mavreas launched his visual collection A MERCY OF SIGNS (2018) by discussing the difficulty with reading from a collection of visuals, and managed to give a performance on marginalia that felt like a silent sound poem. Why doesn’t this guy have a full-length collection of his concrete and visual poetry yet? He has micropress publications going back years, from an array of publishers, including self-published, and his work deserves far more attention.

Stephen Brockwell ; photo by rob mclennan
Stephen Brockwell really is one of my favourite humans. It is always such a pleasure and a delight to interact with him at all, and I do think his ongoing thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit is often taken for granted. As part of reading his latest title, Immune to the Sacred (2018), he read some of the poems he had composed in conversation with natalie hanna. I’m curious to see where this conversation might go, and what form the eventual larger conversation might take. Will this ever appear as a single-unit collaboration/conversation, or will the threads remain more disperate?

Phil Hall ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
Stuart Kinmond ; photo by Pearl Pirie
Phil Hall’s collaboration with artist Stuart Kinmond, Alternative Girders (2018), provided an opportunity for both to present on the two sides of their conversation, from Hall’s words to Kinmond’s visuals, backdropped beautifully by Kinmond’s own work. Hall’s thoughtfulness is expansive, and incredibly precise, and he manages to both capture an attention to the smallest moment as well as somehow see the big picture, simultaneously. I’m curious to see if their collaboration continues beyond the work gathered in his small chapbook.

Jason Christie ; photo by rob mclennan
Jason Christie opened the third set, launching his sixth chapbook with the press, by reading excerpts from every one of his above/ground press titles, from his Calgary-work 8th Ave 15th St NW. (2004) to works produced since their move to Ottawa: Government (2013), Cursed Objects (2014), The Charm (2015), random_lines = random.choice (2017) and glass language (excerpt) (2018). One of my favourite people these days, I am very much looking forward to his next full-length title, out next spring with Coach House Books.

Julia Polyck-O'Neill ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
I’ve been quite taken with the work of Julia Polyck-O’Neill, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to appear fully-formed and confident in her work, allowing above/ground press to produce two chapbooks of her writing so far. And did you see this recent interview up at Train: a poetry journal? There is some absolutely amazing work happening here, and worthy of far more attention. I’m just hoping the next time we cross paths, I’m actually able to spend some time talking to her (the evening made for very little in the way of larger conversation with just about anyone).

Stuart Ross ; photo by Stephen Brockwell
A personal favourite, Stuart Ross closed the event with a reading from his above/ground press debut, ESPESANTES (2018). Given his generous example as a poet, editor, reviewer, chapbook publisher and supporter over some four decades, I was incredibly grateful to have Ross included in such an event. His own Proper Tales Press will be forty years old next year, if you can imagine it. I just hope that 2019 sees some kind of proper acknowledgement for his ongoing contribution and support of small and micro press.

Julia Polyck-O'Neill, rob mclennan and Aaron Tucker ; photo by Julia Polyck-O'Neill
Twenty-five years! God sakes. And of course, after weeks of lead-up, I managed to crash entirely after the event, falling into a combination of exhaustion/sinus cold that lingers. And, as well, the inevitable look forward to what publications will emerge next. Work is already underway on more than a couple of titles, with still-forthcoming chapbooks by Erín Moure (which has appeared already, in the time it took me to write this up), Ian Dreiblatt, Melissa Eleftherion, Kyle Flemmer, Lisa Rawn, Sean Braune, Michael Martin Shea, Cole Swensen, Jennifer Stella, Jamie Townsend, Sara Renee Marshall, Dennis Cooley, Mark Laliberte, Sacha Archer, Sandra Ridley and multiple others. Watch for 2019 subscriptions to announce on October 1st! (or just send me an email if you really can’t wait)

photo by Pearl Pirie
And: if you’ve been keeping track, above/ground press has done anniversary anthologies every ten years, so this year won’t be seeing such, but watch for the launch of a special twenty-fifth anniversary project at the Ottawa international writers festival on October 30th, featuring readings by Sarah Mangold (Seattle), Gil McElroy (Colborne) and Sandra Ridley (Ottawa)!

photo by Pearl Pirie
But don’t you worry: a thirtieth anniversary collection is in the works. Picton, Ontario publisher Invisible Publishing recently accepted the project, which will appear in print in 2023! I mean, that might sound like a long time away, but it really isn’t…

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