My formal literary education, as well as my small press/little mag educations, find their origins at Carleton University. I spent several years working with a little mag and chapbook press called In/Words run out of a small office on the 19th floor of Dunton Tower. At the time, it felt as though Carleton had very little literary history. Certainly, what history it had was rarely discussed. Since my time at Carleton, I’ve become increasingly aware of different things that happened in and around the school during its history. ARC Poetry Magazine was founded there in 1978 by Christopher Levenson and Michael Gnarowski. The Carleton Arts Review ran closer to the end of the century (I don’t know the years, the early 90s?). I have a copy of a magazine called Halcyon published out of the University in 1966/67. George Johnston was a longtime Professor, as was poet and Tish-editor Robert Hogg who brought Allen Ginsberg and other New York and Beat poets to read at the University in the 1960s and 1970s (incidentally, Hogg is giving a reading at the end of the month). The NFB film Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen was shot partially at Carleton University (Cohen on stage, reading and telling jokes, was shot in Alumni Theatre). There was also the short-lived Harbinger Poetry Series published by Carleton University Press that published important first books by David O’Meara, Michelle Desbarats, Anne Le Dressay and Craig Poile. More recently, Rob Winger completed his Ph.D. and sparked new vitality in the student creative writing community with his teaching work (I was lucky enough to be in one of his Canadian long-poems of the 1970s courses). This is only a short list of what I can immediately remember.
All this to arrive at a brief discussion of a small anthology from the 1980s that I purchased last year from Patrick McGahern Books before their move out of the Glebe. Grey Matters, edited by Daniel Brooks and Enda Soostar in 1985, “strives to re-define our ideas of war and peace.” Prompted by Cold War concerns, the inside flap declares “peace and disarmament are issues that must no longer remain in the political arena. Grey Matters reaches into the realm that lies between ideological poles of black and white, to offer a subtle and imaginative kind of activism that illuminates the shadow world of the human heart.” The contributors list is impressive: Margaret Laurence, Bronwen Wallace, Joy Kogawa, bpNichol, Susan McMaster, George Bowering, Robert Priest, Daphne Marlatt, Raymond Souster, among many others. Notably, personal and Apt. 9 favourite Michael Dennis has two poems in the anthology: “vapour trails in my dreams” and “did you know adolf hitler really wanted to be an architect?” Dennis was also recently a Carleton student. My copy is number “3” of 600 and signed, presumably by the editors (the initials look like DB and ES to me).
Of primary interest, however, is the material history of the book. According to the Acknowledgements page:
Grey Matters is the result of a Carleton University co-operative venture, funded by the Carleton University Student’s Association and the University Administration . . .
The production of Grey Matters was carried out on an ancient letterpress machine, which is situated in the University’s Arts Tower. More than half of the text matter was set in type byhand by the editors. The remainder was set by Linotype by Mr. Frank Eager. We received our training as printers in the early stages of this project and have only now, at the culmination of our work, begun to comprehend the complex elements of the printer’s art. What technical competence might be apparent in this edition is due mainly to the advice and assistance of Ray Luoma, Frank Eager, Joe Lachaine and Rick Bernie.
CUSA funded many of our projects at In/Words (begrudgingly, it often felt). I have far too many memories of begging for money before a tribunal bored and uninterested fellow students. Oddly, we had far fewer hoops to jump through to secure funding from University administration. Many of our projects were printed late at night, and secretly we hoped, on an ancient risograph machine in the English photocopy room of Dunton Tower (the Arts Tower mentioned above).
The letterpress used for Grey Matters, unfortunately, was no longer operational or located in Dunton by our time. However, I have an unproven belief that this same Chandler & Price machine is still on campus and located in the MacOdrum Library where I worked for three years during my undergrad. If anyone can prove this, or has a photo of the press, send it along! It is located on the ground floor, in the entrance to the government documents room near the elevators.