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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