Ottawa Small Press Book Fair Roundup (June 2013)

Back from the book fair with far too much to discuss in the detail any of it deserves. Below are some notes on a few standout items I picked up.

At the pre-fair reading on Friday, I got my hands on an envelope from jwcurry’s 1cent/Room 3o2. I subscribed several months ago when jwcurry revealed that he was printing again. The subscription information, for those interested, is as follows: “$10 canada/$15 USA/$20 elsewhere per year regardless of whether any issues actually appear.” At $10, it is well worth it. In Found (1cent #402), jwcurry explains that it has been almost four years between 1cent #400 and 1cent #401. He briefly documents a number of ongoing projects that have kept him occupied and productive, despite the relative silence from 1cent, among them installments of Messagio Galore, ongoing work with his bpNichol bibliography, research and experiments in reproducing the work of Toronto graffitist P.Cob in Ottawa and elsewhere, as well as “the WELCOME TO CONCRETE anthology of canadian concrete poetry—to be printed on, among other surfaces, concrete.” Additionally, he has been uploading images to Flickr regularly, compiling an astonishing set of albums. jwcurry is a busy man. Given the painstaking nature of his printing practices, it is not a surprise that he took some time away. As each letter is handstamped in these productions, $10 feels almost comically inexpensive.

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1cent is producing the best minimal poems in Canada that I am aware of. I aspire to write something as wonderful as the Lance LaRocque poem here (“Time Lapse,” 1cent #405). The latest round includes a single poem from Hugh Thomas (“Fresh Morning,” 1cent #404) as well as the small collection in lieu of review (1cent #403) that isolates brief individual poems (or sections of poems?) from larger collections. The LaRocque poem is a standout here, but I am also quite taken with Rachel Zavitz’s untitled poem from 1cent #401, produced with a concrete piece from Jesse Ferguson on the cover.

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Sign up to get all of this, what are you waiting for? Room 3o2 also has Canadian small press books (among loads of other things) that you should be buying. Address your inquiries to jwcurry, #302-880 Somerset St. W., Ottawa ON Canada K1R 6R7.

Michael Casteels made the trip down from Kingston with his Puddles of Sky Press. Michael read at the pre-fair reading, launching his new chapbook of prose poems, The Robot Dreams. He also brought along a new chapbook from Jason Heroux, In Defence of the Attacked Center Pawn.

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I’m a fan of Puddles of Sky, and am impressed with the way that the material productions are developing. These chapbooks look great, the layouts are clean and considered, the designs serves the poems. Heroux’s book will take me more time to digest given its surreal bent, but there are lovely passages here that make me want to return. The first three lines of the book:

There’s no place to sit on this bus full of bones

going to cemetery. I should have taken the bus

full of blossoms on their way to the trees.

I am more familiar with Michael’s concrete work (a piece of which is apparently forthcoming through 1cent in the WELCOME TO CONCRETE anthology mentioned above), and was pleased to see a different side to his writing here. These pieces might have been easily classed as tiny stories. They are funny, and sad, and generous in their perspectives on the world and on other people:

Crumbs

On a plate, crumbs. Plate, filthy with crumbs. Crumbs on the counter. The counter, ashamed. Toast is crumbly. Crumbly is where crumbs come from. I refuse. I refuse to clean the crumbs. Who am I, to decide the fate of a crumb? The crumbs appreciate kind gestures. The mice appreciate the crumbs. Living this way, I am never alone.

In/Words, a press I have a fondness for and personal investment in, released a new chapbook from editor Chris Johnson, Phyllis, I have never spoke your name.

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I feel a connection to this book. Johnson wrote the poems for a course at Carleton, “Feminists and Feminism in Canada” taught by Sophie Tamas after “months of reading Phyllis Webb and opening his eyes to the inequalities in the world.” Years ago, as I have discussed elsewhere, I wrote a chapbook length poem in response to Phyllis Webb for a course at Carleton, a chapbook also published by In/Words. Tonally, these poems feel different than the work I know from Johnson. There is a new and developing restraint here in step with the clean production of the chapbook. It is a good thing for a young poet to sit down with Phyllis Webb’s work, and the results are positive here for Johnson. I am not sure how to excerpt from it, so here is the shortest piece from the book, preceded on the page by the full text of Irving Layton’s infamous “Misunderstanding”:

I would question the movement

but not the intention—

it is sure that

questions are what need to be questioned,

the movements are what need to be moving—

My absolute favourite purchase of the fair was An Easy Place to Die: Hard Boiled Epigrams from Jason at Three Bats Press. This is the second in a series. The first, In The Darkness, was published in 2012.

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These two little letterpress books are among the most unique books on my shelves, and are beautifully produced to boot. The series features “extracts from Canadian noir mystery novels” turned into wonderful, bizarre, and brief found poems that draw out the absurd beauty of noir writing. This installment features the novels of David Montrose, apparently “the pen name of Charles Ross  Graham.” Montrose published four novels according to Jason’s note at the back, the first three featuring the character Russell Teed: “By the time the stories have ended, he has been beaten, often, humiliated, and robbed. He has seen strangers, friends, and lovers killed. He has also nearly been killed and he himself has killed more than once, sometimes quite viciously. The bottle becomes a refuse and it is easy to imagine Teed disappearing into it.”

From An Easy Place to Die:

She

At least

Thought

She

Was being

Honest.

-from The Crime on Cote Des Neiges (1951)

And from In The Darkness:

The moon disappeared.

The silence was filthy.

-from Flee From Terror (1957).

Odourless Press made a triumphant return to Ottawa for the fair, bringing along four new productions and getting editor, publisher and bookmaker Bardia Sinaee up to read at the pre-fair reading. Odourless has come a long way from the tiny, enveloped productions of 2011. Sinaee, newly-graduated and underemployed, has taken the opportunity to dive into book making with an energy and enthusiasm that should get anyone worked up about the possibilities of chapbook publishing. These new items (two chapbooks, two broadsides) are playful and unique, each item stands alone aesthetically. Sinaee is clearly pushing himself to explore the craft, and is striving to create items that respond individually to the work he is publishing. You should read his contributions to this interview Andrew Faulker did with Odourless, Ferno House, and my own Apt. 9.

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There is more than one Ottawa connection here too. Sinaee recently returned to Toronto (or Etobicoke), there is a broadside from Ben Ladouceur (another recent-ish transplant to Toronto from Ottawa), and Suzannah Showler has a chapbook here (one time of Ottawa, now with a recent Bronwen Wallace shortlisting to her name and a forthcoming first trade collection). The set is rounded out with a broadside from Ferno House’s Mat Laporte (with a full chapbook to follow) and a chapbook from Matthew Walsh. There are too many items to discuss in proper detail here, but Odourless has, since its beginning, published smart, sharp, quick, funny, almost-manic poems. Bardia’s tastes gives the entire Odourless universe a certain coherence. From my experience with Bardia around In/Words, he has a keen editorial eye and an educated critical perspective to back up his positions. The full shape of what he is after through Odourless will start to be clearer in three or four years time, but the excitement and enthusiasm of these productions is to be celebrated. Sinaee is young, his poets are young, and the press is young. This is all to his advantage, and I’ll be curious to see how it develops as Sinaee and his tastes age. If I’m not mistaken, the second printings of many of these items are already sold out. Contact Bardia to find out if you’re already out of luck. You wish you had the full Odourless bibliography.

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Dog Bites Cameron Books is an operation I am not entirely sure how to speak about here. I am the Cameron of the name, derived from a false story about one of Dave Currie and Lara Wlodarczyk’s dogs biting me. At the book fair, Dog Bites Cameron released its second production, A Pack of Lies from J.M. Francheteau. The first book from the press, So Far by Jordan Chevalier, was released in March at Versefest.

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The two items are clearly different objects, a fact noted in the back of the Francheteau production: “Dog Bites Cameron Books is evolving. This second effort marks a sharp departure from the hardcover book format of [So Far]. As editors and designers, we are learning new techniques and new approaches to book making. We are utilizing our knowledge to craft our designs to specific works that our authors send us.” The stated goal of Lara and Dave is to create a “unique tactile experience” for each piece of work produced. This is a worthwhile ambition, and on those terms Dog Bites Cameron is succeeding so far. These are unique objects. At the same time, the productions suffer a bit from this wide-ranging ambition. Hardcover book binding is a delicate art, as is box-making. So Far and A Pack of Lies both feel like preliminary, and perhaps overextended, efforts at these arts. I suspect the editors are aware of this, that the objects themselves aren’t as clean as they might have hoped. The cutting of the pages in the Francheteau book is inconsistent, for example, and the box is coming undone in the middle.

That being said, there remains much to be admired here. Hand-sewn perfect bound books, loose pages bound in hand-constructed boxes, these are things to celebrate. The prints by Lara Wlodarczyk in the Francheteau book are especially impressive. Vibrant and bright, they complement the poems.  (Apologies for the blurry image below):

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Francheteau’s poems are fairly long, and the complexity of the book has kept me from giving it the time I’ll need to really digest the work at this early stage, so I’ll resist comment on the poems here. This entry is perhaps more an acknowledgement of the arrival of Dog Bites Cameron. Welcome to the scene! We’re happy to have you here! Love the logo! Keep up the ambitious and admirable work! And hang onto a copy of everything you produce for me!

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I bought far too much at the fair to discuss it all here, but I’ll wrap up with an item from Amanda Earl. At the bywords/AngelHousePress table, Amanda was giving away colourful, handpainted bottles stuffed with individual lines that call on the reader to construct poems. Information from Amanda: “Poemeceuticals in an edition of 10, all given away during the fair, another ephemeral production of Le Temps des Cerises, an imprint of AngelHousePress.” It is a clever, friendly gesture that makes the reader aware of their own creative participation in the entire process. I don’t know how many of these Amanda brought along, but I’m thrilled to have one at home. Playful and ambitious, exactly as Ottawa has come to expect from Amanda. Now, to figure out how it might fit on a bookshelf…

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On Chapbook Making

I recently had the opportunity to answer some questions about chapbook making courtesy of Andrew Faulkner at Open Book: Toronto. I feel privileged to see Apt. 9 listed beside Toronto’s Ferno House and Toronto-via-Ottawa’s Odourless Press discussing young people making chapbooks. Mat Laporte (Ferno House) and Bardia Sinaee (Odourless) are thoughtful and articulate while I struggle along with poorly managed soccer metaphors. So it goes. Well worth a read! Get inspired to start a press, and be reminded why you started one already! The interview is in two parts. Find the second link at the bottom.

In other news, Jenn found this crate on our street on her way to the bus. My oldest sister thinks it must signal the beginning of a time travel adventure. Reports to follow from the future (or past) if such comes to pass.

crate

 

David Mason on Starting and Starving in the Book Trade

Mason, David. “A Tale of Illusion, Delusion and Mystery: Booksellers and Librarians.” Descant 91 26:4 (Winter 1995): 15-37.

What really occurs is this: one buys books (without really having any idea if they are books that anyone wants) until one has a few thousand, rents an office or store and settles in to starve to death. This melancholy truth allows me to use here one of my favourite anecdotes, the one about the bookseller who wins a million in the lottery and when someone inquires what he intends to do with the winnings, he answers “Oh I don’t know, I guess I’ll just go on selling books until it’s all gone.” Booksellers laugh the loudest at this joke, always with a touch of sadness. My father didn’t laugh.

Cats and Bookstores

Mason, David. “Reflections on Scouting.” CNQ 78 (Winter): 40-52.

Concerning the “tiny bookshop run by the Crippled Civilians on Jarvis Street, familiarly known to the regulars as ‘The Crips,’ but now renamed more politically correctly Goodwill Services” circa 1967:

There was an ugly, fat cat in the shop, Mr. Fraser’s special favourite. It was horribly spoiled and cranky. It slept wherever it cared to, almost always, it seemed, stretched out over books you wanted to look at, and if you attempted to move it you could get clawed or badly bitten. Even worse if you riled the cat enough he might just piss on the books to teach you a lesson, ruining some pretty good books over the years. The whole place stunk of cat urine but it would be a fatal error if you had the temerity to complain to Mr. Fraser about the cat’s behaviour. Out you would go, banned for life. I saw this a few times when people unaware of Mr. Fraser’s affection for the cat spoke up about the stink. (44)

Steven Temple in Interview with Don McLeod, on Bookselling

McLeod, Don. “An Interview with Stephen Temple – Collecting English-Canadian Literature: Boom or Bust?” CNQ 56 (1999): 4-11.

CNQ: So what’s the problem with CanLit?

ST: The problem with CanLit is Canadians. That’s the problem! It’s not the books, it’s Canadians. It’s the Canadian character.

CNQ: They don’t appreciate their own literature?

ST: Canadians tend to be cheap. They tend to be not very well informed about books. They don’t seem to care about much. That’s the problem.

CNQ: I know that Hoffer brought this up in his article ‘Cheap Sons of Bitches’.

ST: He was right!

CNQ: And he used to rant and rave about academics….

ST: That’s right. They’re the worst offenders. Some academics make a good living teaching this stuff, but they don’t believe either. They won’t pay anything for books! They don’t really believe in it. If they did, they would pay, because people will reach into their pocket for things they really care about. (10)

In/Words: the longpoem envelope (2008)

2013 has seen a run of short memoirs by former In/Words editors, most of them to do with the few years that I was lucky enough to be involved (2006-2009, approximately). A profile by rob mclennan at Open Book: Ontario in February seems to have been what sparked the nostalgic wave, followed up with pieces by Peter Gibbon, David Emery, Jeff Blackman and Ben Ladouceur. Well, I’m feeling nostalgic now too.

Recognizing the inherent navel-gazing of this entire enterprise, I’m going to see it through regardless. The previous pieces have already contributed much to the narrative and I’m not interested in going back over the same territory, plus I have already discussed the mag in more general terms in the rob mclennan piece. Instead, I’d like to focus on one episode in the history of the mag and press (inspired by Ben Ladouceur’s gesture).

Over beers last night, Jenn, Justin Million and I discussed the “longpoem envelope”, published in June 2008 for an installment of the Ottawa small press book fair. Officially published as SCATTERED POEMS TWENTY FOUR-TWENTY NINE [an envelope of longpoems], the set was comprised of six chapbooks bundled together in a plain envelope.

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The chapbooks:

Justin Million, Meditations on Carp

Peter Gibbon, Sound Advice

Cameron Anstee, Down Staircases

Jeff Blackman, Tonight We Be a Rebel People

Anna Sajecki, He / I / She

Erik Marsh, Cogwagee

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The scattered poem initiative had begun in May 2007. Poems were printed on single sheets, folded as letters, and distributed as freely and widely as possible. Jeff Blackman’s “Would it be too much?” was the first poem in the series, a poem with a middle section where Jeff would belt out the titular Beatles chorus. On a side note, singing has gone on to become quite an important dimension of Jeff Blackman’s writing and performance in recent years, and this poem is the earliest instance I can think of where singing shows up in his work. My file holds thirty three of these items produced between May 2007 and October 2008. Different editorial teams at In/Words have produced similar items under different names in the five years since.

The long poem envelope was the most ambitious of these productions. In hindsight, I’m not entirely clear on why we decided to list these chapbooks as scattered poems, given their size and ambition. Perhaps it was because the envelope was produced during the summer between installments of the chapbook project. In any event, if you’re keeping score at home, these are officially “scattered poems.”

The reason that In/Words had six individual longpoems available to publish in 2008 was because we had all taken the same course the previous winter semester at Carleton University, ENGL 4806D: “a gift of poems”: Postmodern Canadian Longpoems of and around the 1970s”, taught by poet and (at the time) doctoral candidate Rob Winger (researching and writing on Phyllis Webb, John Thompson, and the Ghazal in Canada).

long poem syllabus

The reading list was (and continues to be) spectacular: Phyllis Webb, Michael Ondaatje, Daphne Marlatt, John Thompson, bpNichol, Fred Wah, Margaret Atwood, Robert Kroetsch, George Bowering. Some of the books were familiar to many of us already (Atwood, Bowering, Kroetsch), but many were new.

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The Bowering book, Kerrisdale Elegies, was out of print at this point. So, Warren Dean Fulton of Pooka Press produced the book in a series of ten chapbooks, one per elegy, bundled together. The book has since been reissued formally by Talon. I also recall that the books were ordered at Octopus, a nice turn as I was then helping them twice a year set up for textbook season, and would go on to spend two years working fulltime in the store.

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The course was thirteen weeks of intensive reading and deeply engaging class discussion. It was all followed by what I recall as the most demanding undergraduate exam I’d ever written. I remember writing furiously for three hours and feeling like I’d barely gotten out half of what I wanted to say. It was a popular course, a lecture not a seminar. My memory is that registration was 30+, with most attending each week. We spent two weeks (or six hours) on Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, a book that Rob Winger has cited as deeply important to him personally and poetically. I distinctly remember Rob, at the beginning of the second Ondaatje class, looking clearly distressed that we had only three hours remaining to discuss the book and explaining that we would be unable to cover everything that he wanted. His enthusiasm was infectious, the books were consistently excellent, and a room full of young poets couldn’t help but be caught up. I would love to see a class list again to see what other poets were in the room. I know Aaron Clark was present. One other notable student in the room was Janna Graham, who went on to organize White Salt Mountain: A Gathering of Poets for John Thompson in Sackville, New Brunswick in November 2008, an event documented in Arc 62 (Summer 2009), as well as this fascinating radio documentary on Thompson. Rob Winger went on to complete his dissertation on the Canadian ghazal and also to publish his own remarkable and underappreciated collection exploring the form, The Chimney Stone (Nightwood, 2010).

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It would be difficult to imagine a better environment to encounter these books collectively for the first time: a room full of young, aspiring poets, taught by a young, published poet as passionate as any professor any of us had previously met, in what was the final semester of undergrad for many of us. Moreover, Rob Winger was kind,  thoughtful and encouraging enough to offer two options for the final project of the course. One was a typical academic essay, but the second was a “critically creative poetry project”: “All creative projects must include the creation of 8 to 12ish pages of original poetry and a 500-750 word introduction that explains the goals of the writing project undertaken related to the methodologies and poetics of the writers we’ve examined in class” (emphasis original, quoted from the course syllabus). Topics were distributed that considered historical knowledge, language, negative capability, locus, and form. We were tasked with tackling one of these questions and engaging directly with a poet from the course.

So, come April, Rob received a pile of longpoems in lieu of essays.

That summer, I returned to work in Traffic and Parking at the City of Ottawa for the sixth straight year. I had spent four summers as a traffic counter before graduating to an office job in School Zone Traffic Safety. Production of the envelope must have been typically compressed in the In/Words fashion. I remember one late night with Justin Million on the risograph in the English Department, fighting with a very uncooperative machine (seemingly less cooperative than normal). In the grand tradition of small presses pilfering office supplies, some of these chapbooks were photocopied in a city office in the west end.

Looking back, these chapbooks, that course, were defining moments for so many of us. Rob taught the course again, I believe as a seminar, the following year (I know that Mark Sokolowski and Ben Ladouceur sat in that year; Mark’s Dust in the Water is, to my mind, an extension of this envelope and probably rightly belongs in it regardless of chronology). Many of us still haven’t escaped from the overwhelming influence of these books. Thompson and Webb in particularly figure largely for us collectively. I transferred into the course at the last minute out of a course on modern British poetry that I had inexplicably selected previously.

The books themselves have that risograph charm—the printing isn’t always clean, there are ghost images of previous pages, smudges are all over the place. The writing stands up as exciting and youthful and enthusiastic. That course pushed many of us beyond our comfort zones in incredibly productive ways. Just as Collett Tracey had prompted and nurtured an initial engagement with Canadian small press in the previous three years for most of us, Rob Winger’s course rejuvenated those enthusiasms as we were preparing to depart Carleton, or In/Words, or Ottawa, or some combination of all three.

Regrettably, I have no idea how many were produced and we weren’t clever enough to mark it on the back of the envelope.

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One pleasant surprise of the production was that it garnered a short review by Marcus McCann on his blog. Marcus wrote, “I’m pretty sure this is the best thing In/Words has done to date,” and notes that we were selling it for a mere $5.00. I don’t recall many, if any, reviews of In/Words items previously. Things would start to be noted in the following years as more of us branched out into larger communities. Given our access to University resources, we had often been reticent to sell our productions at all, opting instead to give them away wherever possible. At book fairs, we had found that this often provoked suspicion, with people seemingly losing interest once informed that our table was full of free materials. I believe we began to put nominal prices on books at fairs as an experiment and were amazed to find that this was a much more effective strategy of distribution.

With the Ottawa small press book fair coming up in two days, I wonder who will show up with what material. I’m always hopeful of new student-run presses, looking for that familiar anxiety and excitement that In/Words gave me for years, the thrill of first tentative steps in the Canadian small press world. I think, in the next decade, a whole pile of people that we were lucky enough to publish at In/Words will see first trade collections into print as well as more bizarre smaller productions that will establish them across the country. Reputations aren’t made on things like the longpoem envelope, but these items locate important early networks of community and support. I think in the future I’ll continue to look back on this small envelope as a set of peers and mentors and influences that have defined my writing and publishing life.

William Hoffer on Canadian Literature (2)

Hoffer, William. List 75: Canadian Literature. Vancouver: William Hoffer Bookseller, Limited, 1990.

Occasional lists of Canadian literature will be published, but in future we will prefer to respond to lists of books required. There isn’t very much Canadian literature, and most of it is garbage. It is the junk literature of a junk age. It is beneath those who care about anything. The next Canadian literature list will be a list of literary periodicals, about which there is nothing to say except that they are or are not in the warehouse.

See “William Hoffer on Canadian Literature (1)” here.