rob mclennan was inducted into the VerseFest Hall of Honour last night here in Ottawa in recognition of his long service to the poetry community as a publisher, editor, organizer of events, ambassador, historian, bibliographer, writer, and a hundred million other roles he has taken on over the years. He has been a great supporter of so many here (and elsewhere), publishing first chapbooks, first books, making first readings happen, putting all those first people beside established people, taking work seriously across a huge range of styles and aesthetics and levels of experience.
On first meeting rob sometime around 2006, when I was a very young poet among other very young poets at Carleton University, our sense of Ottawa’s community was that everything that happened here seemed to happen through rob. Publishing and reading and whatever else all seems to pass through rob on their ways to existing. As young combative poets we thought that was ridiculous, but for the wrong reasons. For a long time (though this certainly wasn’t true in 2006), rob was often the only one doing things here. He seemed like the only game in town because in a lot of ways and for far too long he was the only game in town, keeping a lot going in Ottawa and keeping Ottawa in touch with a lot going on elsewhere. He has certainly been the only one in Ottawa bothering to do all of this for so long and with such sustained energy. above/ground press is 23 years old now. The Factory Reading series came into the world about the same time. The twice-yearly Ottawa Small Press Book Fair has been his doing since 1994. Chaudiere is the only trade poetry publisher here seriously engaged with the local community. ottawater is our annual online stock-taking of different voices and a great annual reading tradition in the new year, going back twelve years! This barely scratches the surface.
I have personally benefited enormously from rob’s support. He published two of my chapbooks (and one of those ubiquitous “poem” broadsides) through above/ground; Chaudiere published The Collected Poems of William Hawkins, a book that I edited; I’ve read in the Factory Reading Series a whole pile of times; he has been the most active and visible reviewer or my work and of my little Apt. 9 Press; he has interviewed me all over the place; he passes me books all the time above and beyond my above/ground subscription (and once, many years ago, gifted me an above/ground subscription when I couldn’t afford to keep it going just because he knew that I cared); I’ve been in all kinds of his magazines, in print and online; and he’s been a friend. (Plus, undoubtedly, dozens of other pieces of support that escape me right now.)
My experience above is probably the same as the experience of so many. I really don’t thank rob enough, privately or in public (I doubt many of us do). He has been doing all of this for so long, and seemingly so tirelessly (but he must get tired), that I think that we take him for granted too often.
So rob, congratulations on a very well deserved honour, and thank you. Ottawa is lucky that you’ve stuck around here, and all of your work is appreciated.
I interviewed rob in 2013 to mark the occasion of above/ground press turning 20. I published the interview as a chapbook through Apt. 9 Press. Below is a pdf of the entire thing. While focused primarily on above/ground, we cover a lot of material, connecting the press to other pieces of his small press labour. Despite how much of his work we cover, it still feels incredibly preliminary simply because of how much rob has done.