Apt. 9 in Trade

I love making chapbooks through Apt. 9 Press. It is a great joy to publish work by writers I admire, work I inevitably wish I had written. Due to the time and labour-intensive nature of Apt. 9 productions, print-runs are necessarily limited. Typically 50 copies, with occasional reprints when circumstances call for it. One consequence of this is that this wonderful writing is not permanently available. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective. I love limited editions and finding rare publications by my favourite writers, but I also understand the frustration of just missing out on something. So, I’m always thrilled when a chapbook published by Apt. 9 shows up later in a trade collection, becoming available to a wider audience (and I’m always excited to see Apt. 9 in the acknowledgements).

The press has been active for just over four years now, which is long enough for more than a couple of these publications to have appeared. A new one was launched this past Friday in Ottawa, and this felt like an opportune moment to briefly catalogue these items. Of the twenty five books published by Apt. 9, six have gone on to appear in trade collections to date, or nearly 1/4 of what we’ve published. This is a bit skewed as three chapbooks were launched last week. So let’s say 6/22 is a bit more accurate. These six were published by Pedlar, Mansfield, BookThug, and Anvil, four presses I have great respect for and I couldn’t be happier to see Apt. 9 items hidden away in their bibliographies.

Ridley, Sandra. Rest Cure. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, August 2009.

–. Post-Apothecary. Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2011.

Ridley

Rest Cure, one of the first three titles published by Apt. 9 Press, was reprinted in Sandra Ridley’s excellent Post-Apothecary, receiving the typically gorgeous Pedlar-treatment. Sandra also published two broadsides with Ottawa operations, “Plunge” (above/ground press poem broadside #286) and “Untether : Unhinge” (AngelHousePress Broadside #002), that appear in the collection. Sandra has a new collection out from BookThug that you should be tracking down to read as well. Three great collections since 2010 have quickly established Sandra across the country.

Ross, Stuart. I Have Come To Talk About Manners. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, February 2010.

–. You Exist. Details Follow. Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2012.

Ross

I Have Come To Talk About Manners was a real joy to publish. Stuart Ross was coming to Ottawa to read in the Tree Reading Series, and I approached him about publishing a chapbook to mark the occasion. True to his generous form, Stuart agreed and we got the book together quickly. 14 or so poems appear in both. The chapbook cover still makes me laugh with its subtly-twisted picture.

Nash, Leigh. Landforms. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, May 2010.

–. Goodbye, Ukelele. Toronto: Mansfield Press, 2010.

Nash

Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner’s The Emergency Response Unit is a touchstone of design and poetics for Apt. 9. I was motivated when they brought their books to Ottawa in 2008 (or 2007?) and it brought me great joy to publish a book of Leigh’s in 2010. Landforms, a series of eleven excellent minimalist poems, was rewritten in Goodbye, Ukelele, as a single prose-poem. This remains one of the best Apt. 9 covers, in my opinion. I would love to see some new poetry from Leigh, and hope there is something in the works. People-in-the-know: have I missed anything recently from Leigh?

Smith, Jim. Exit Interviews. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, June 2011.

–. Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra. Toronto: Mansfield Press, 2012.

Smith

I’ve written about Jim on this blog previously. Exit Interviews was enormously fun to produce. I love Jim’s list poems, and a set that so consciously and lovingly worked with the materials of his peers and influences was a very welcome surprise when the manuscript appeared. We even produced a broadside, “Postscript to Exit Interviews,” to tuck into the chapbook that appears in a slightly different form in the trade collection. Everything that is great about Jim as a poet can be found in Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra.

Hall, Phil. A Rural Pen. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, October 2012.

–. The Small Nouns Crying Faith. Toronto: Bookthug, 2013.

Hall

I have long admired Phil Hall as a poet. I first met Phil at the Tree Reading Series in Ottawa. I had been recruited to present the dead poet reading, and chose Kenneth Patchen to focus on. I found out after the reading that Phil and I had an admiration of Patchen in common. When Phil generously provided me with a manuscript, we decided to try to include Patchen in the project somehow. The cover image is a drawing of Patchen’s from his book We Meet (1960). I wrote to New Directions and, much to my surprise, they gave us the rights to use it. I couldn’t be happier with this book.

Patchen
The original in Patchen.

Brockwell, Stephen. Excerpts from Improbable Books: The Apt. 9 Installment. Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, June 2013.

–. Complete Surprising Fragments of Improbable Books. Toronto: Mansfield Press, 2013.

Brockwell

This past Friday, Stephen Brockwell launched his unbelievably good new collection at the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival, the books apparently arriving direct from the printer mere hours before the event (so new, in fact, it doesn’t appear on the publisher’s website yet). I’ve discussed the project before. I think this is an important book, one that deserves to bring Stephen greater respect than he already receives. It’s idea seems to simple and clear now that it exists, but it took someone with Stephen’s combinations of poetic curiosity and scientific/technical knowledge to realize it. I feel very lucky to have helped bring a small part of it into print before the trade collection.

So there you go. If you missed any of these, you can at least track down the writing in these books. You should be buying these six books regardless.

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Jim Smith (November/December Reading Miscellany Part Two)

Mansfield Press rolled into Ottawa at the beginning of December with its Fall lineup. Mansfield has developed a consistently exciting list in recent years, balancing young poets (Leigh Nash, Jamie Forsythe) with elder statesmen (David McFadden, Nelson Ball) under the careful editorial stewardship of Stuart Ross and good sense and design sensibility of publisher Denis De Klerck. The most exciting Fall book, for my money, was Jim Smith’s Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra. I first read Jim’s work after Mansfield published his selected poems, Back Off, Assassin!, in 2009 (actually, Leigh Nash sold it to me at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair that year). Jim was in town shortly thereafter to launch another Mansfield title, Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament, on Parliament Hill.  Thereafter, I had the joy of publishing a small chapbook of Jim’s work through Apt. 9 Press in June 2011 (Exit Interviews).

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Jim is a spectacular poet. He is one of a small handful of poets who I find consistently surprise me in their works. Back Off led me to his back catalogue, and it has been a joyful place to explore. He is a connoisseur of the list poem, a personal favourite of mine. In theory, lists sound absurd as poems, but they work, again and again. I think most often of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan, the sort of I-did-this-I-did-that list. Paul Carroll, discussing Frank O’Hara in The Poem In Its Skin, writes “my strong feeling is that ‘The Day Lady Died’ is excellent because of its trivia and ugliness . . . what makes ‘The Day Lady Died’ a poem, it seems to me, is the nerve evident in the very act of writing it” (159-163 emphasis original). There is a nerve to simply recording a catalogue of something, anything, and calling it a poem. At their best, as in O’Hara and Berrigan and Smith, the list balances the mundane and the remarkable, the tension between concision (ie. what to include in the list) and the impulse to be sprawling and messy. They are personal and particular but somehow transcend the apparent ego of writing them.

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My favourite poem by Jim is “One Hundred Most Frightening Things,” from a book of the same title published by blewointment in 1985. The poem is precisely what it sounds like. Here is the first section:

A

 

Finding, waking, phone off hook

A man forcing her, getting rough

Rosedale ravine leapover impulse

Her crying mouth trembling unsure line

Blood in the toilet, paper red

Her loss of face

Men with suntans all over their bodies

Loss of all her papers I keep—yes

The loss of any sum of money at all

I never want to see you again

Jim balances the comic and the serious. Any one of these lines could stand as a jumping off point for a single poem of its own. The full catalogue is overwhelming. It is disturbing, hilarious, frightening—it feels like every available poem rolled into one. There is anxiety about writing, time, death, relationships, violence, love, the body, insufficiency, decomposition, failure. It is also joyful and affirmative. For all these things, there is the poet, still writing.

Exit Interviews, our Apt. 9 chapbook, was a joy to work on. The book describes itself as a series of “dictations.” Each poem is an elegy of sorts to dead poet, built from lines drawn from the poet (Exit Interviews has the most extensive set of notes of any Apt. 9 title so far, detailing the books from which each poem was drawn). I love these poems because they so plainly declare the important influences of Jim’s life, as well as show the depth of his own reading of each of these poets. They are careful poems that show understanding, not straight plunder. Jim’s manuscript also included a piece of text called “Postscript to Exit Interviews”, a game of sorts in which the reader was asked to match poets with the age at which they died and the manner of their deaths. We published this as a small leaflet, tucked into the back of the chapbook, surely the darkest game ever published in a book of Canadian poetry. Exit Interviews, though sold out as a chapbook, is included in Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra, and the postscript is included too (though in a slightly altered form).

Red Carpet

Nicanor Parra also draws attention to Jim’s international and revolutionary bent. He has long been a poet invested in radical, left-wing politics, particularly in Latin America, perhaps most apparently in 1998 collection Leonel Roque, a consideration of Leonel Rugama and Roque Dalton.

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In 1989 (I believe), Jim took Stuart Ross along on a trip to Nicaragua, where they hosted a Canadian booth at the Sandinistas’ International Book Fair (see Ross’s Dead Cars in Managua for his poetic response to the experience). There is a spiritual, though not necessarily aesthetic, kinship between this bent in Jim’s work and a similar impulse in Stephen Brockwell’s. Brockwell edited Rogue Stimulus with Stuart Ross, and his own ongoing Improbable Books project is a necessary voice of dissent in Canada. Between his tendency to list, his surrealism, his political consciousness, and his genuinely good heart, Jim Smith poems are just what Canada needs.

The Space Opera

 

Nicanor appears in the southern sky, growing every second.

A coup happens. A coup unhappens.

Deep beneath the Atacama Desert, lair of the rebels.

North America occupies 90% of the sky above Santiago.

The indigenous people are aliens.

The only way out of La Moneda is suicide.

Every night, a gun rises in the east, sets in the west.

A small fishing boat rescues flop-eared Jesus, drunk to the gills.

Jesus is a mercenary with a dark, dark past.

Nicanor points to the eventual heat death of the universe.

 

Gumby in uniform, clay gun at the ready.

Pinochet flees into old age.

Chile smells itself.

Nicanor sings softly in the nearest cafe.

This was intended to be a review of Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra, but it has turned into something of a hero-worship blog post. That’s ok. Jim is great, one of our best. Here is the review I intended to write reduced to a single sentence: Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra is a wonderful book full of poems I wish that I had written and that I wish you would read.

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There is a long and thoughtful interview with and reading by Jim available to listen to here, with Bruce Kauffman. There is an interview at Open Book: Toronto here. Watch him read here. Go buy Jim’s books from Mansfield, and keep your eyes open at used book stores. When you find backlist things, buy them for me (or yourself), just don’t let them languish unread and ignored. Talk to Jim about poems when you get a chance, he’s read a hell of a lot, he knows (and knew) a load of poets, and is a great storyteller.

Thanks for the new poems, Jim, and thanks to Mansfield for doing them up so nicely.

The Factory Reading Series: A VERSeFest Fundraiser

I will be giving a talk on Raymond Souster as part of a fundraiser for VERSeFest organized by rob mclennan through his Factory Reading Series this coming Thursday. Pearl Pirie and Stephen Brockwell will also be speaking. Pearl has all the details in a comprehensive post over at Pesbo.

VERSeFest has been a good thing for our city in the last two years, and its a nice to be able to contribute in some small way to keeping it running. Show up, lend your support, buy some books. $10.00 gets you in, gets you a copy of Peter F. Yacht  Club, and gets you three talks on poetry, poetics, and literary history. Pearl and Stephen are both wonderful poets and thoughtful, articulate people. I have no doubt that their talks will be worth the price of admission.

My talk on Raymond Souster, planned before his death, will focus on his contributions to Canadian poetry in the 20th century as an editor, publisher, and small press activist. Sort of like this but with more poems and more primary documents (letters!). I’ve even made a little handout that you’ll get free if you show up.

Hope to see you there!

 

Review: Impossible Books (The Carleton Installment) by Stephen Brockwell

[Originally published at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter, 24 May 2011]

Impossible Books (the Carleton Installment)

Stephen Brockwell

Ottawa: above/ground press, August 2010.

Stephen Brockwell’s “Impossible Books project” (this above/ground book is its second installment) is an ongoing series of individual poems that are presented as excerpts from imagined “impossible” books. The impossible books of this installment range from Prime Minister’s Nursery Rhymes for Insolent Children, to the Evangelical Handbook for Engineers, to Metonymies: Poems by Objects Owned by Illustrious People, and Pindaric Odes to the Objects of Science, among others. This brief collection of ten poems is imaginative and surprising on every page.

“Animal Crackers,” from Prime Minister’s Nursery Rhymes for Insolent Children, is ripe with the pride, violence, and fierce control of image and language that are recognized now as markers of Stephen Harper’s Canadian Government (a newly-majority Government since the publication of this book):

Shrikes impale mice on barbed wire.

Weaning calved keen.

Wild male chimps murder babies.

Silverbacks preen.

The political edge of many of these poems is unsurprising from Brockwell, who co-edited Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament with Stuart Ross during Stephen Harper’s second prorogation of Parliament. The sorts of biting, angry, but smart and focused critiques offered in these poems are vital today, and will be increasingly so over the next four years of Harper’s current majority.

Another recognizable bent in Brockwell’s work is his interest in interrogating the seemingly cold language and images of science for available (and potential) emotional currency:

At least one molecule of you in me

passed through the body of some great person,

in the urine of Josef Stalin, say,

on an October morning in his youth;

it may be one I am passing on now

as a drop of saliva flies from my tongue

over this paper. (from Pindaric Odes to the Objects of Science)

 Where language overlaps with the body is a fruitful site for Brockwell:

It is after all a word,

the tongue on the teeth,

the open mouth,

the teeth biting the lips,

until they bleed. (from The Love Poems of ____, Serial Killer)

At these intersections (language/body, language/science), Brockwell points at a handful of the small manners in which people are connected physically, if inadvertently.

The two most exciting poems here, to my ear, come from The Archives of Ministry of Spiritual Ascendance, in the form of two applications for the position of God. In these two poems the reader is offered modest acts of growth and selflessness mixed with fatigue:

1027-3F, December 12, 2024

Dear Ministry of Spiritual Ascendance,

I believe I should be accepted for God

because I have never eaten meat.

I cultivated tomatoes at my window

from a pack of ancient seeds.

I nurtured them to the size

of vitamins with water I filtered

from the rain. That Saturday morning

I prayed for the Sun as I am sure

so many do every day but I prayed

for others not for myself

and the Sun appeared for at least

one minute through the smog.

All my life I have shared the gifts I have received.

But I am so tired – please accept this

application for God.

The success of this book rests in its brevity. None of the “jokes” overstay their welcome, with only one or two poems from each “Impossible Book” presented. These are serious poems that rise above the humour and novelty of their initial idea(s). The first installment of the series was given at the Olive Reading Series in December 2007. I’ve not seen that chapbook, but I imagine in hope that Brockwell is sitting on further installments that we may be lucky enough to see in print someday.