“I am a child of above/ground”
August 21, 2013
This week, I’ll be headed to Ottawa to help rob mclennan celebrate the 20th anniversary of above/ground press, and to launch a tiny little chapbook called Labradoodle, which is an essay on David McGimpsey in the form of 5 “chubby sonnets”. Alejandro Bustos wrote up a story about the anniversary for Apartment613, but here’s the full text of what I wrote about rob and the press. Congratulations, rob, on 20 wonderful years!
It’s true that I don’t live in Ottawa, but in a way I will always consider myself an Ottawa poet, because I came of age as a writer while living there between 2001 and 2010.
It’s impossible to overestimate the role of rob mclennan and a/g in Ottawa’s poetry community. The community really is like no other I’ve seen — there is more happening in Ottawa in terms of community than in Toronto or Montreal. And rob is the fulcrum on which it turns.
And he takes Ottawa writers and puts them before wider audiences. His blog has an international following, and he’s always talking about Ottawa poets. He does Ottawa-specific things like Ottawater and PFYC. But then, given his stature as a poet, he often finds himself doing things, like curating the Dusie Tuesday poems, which are not Ottawa projects, but he mixes established national and international poets with Ottawans — I’m sure it’s a conscious choice, to expose a wider audience to our work. And then there’s above/ground — these chapbooks end up wedged into mailboxes across the country and beyond. He is a one man cultural ambassador for the Ottawa poetry community, and it’s a marvel. We’re all deeply indebted to him.
Maybe me more than most. a/g published my first nervous little chapbook, Heteroskeptical, seven years ago. He did it, I think, just so I would stop fussing with these older poems and get on to new work. Labradoodle, which I’m launching at the anniversary party, is my 9th chapbook, and my third with a/g. So, if that was his ploy, it worked. There are a few moments in poet’s career (first poem published in a magazine, first book with a spine) that are kind of transformative, and I feel like that was, for me. And he’s stuck with me — I am a child of a/g, you know?, part of his stable somehow — which is humbling, and awesome. I feel really lucky about it.
I want to also say that publishing is a tough thing to do, and it can take time away from a poet’s own work. Working on the “business” end of publishing and promotions is time rob isn’t using to work on his own projects. It’s a sacrifice. You know, rob’s work really doesn’t break down into pithy aphorisms, but in Gifts, he writes “help please me to know” — and I think that about sums it up. He wants to know, and to share, and that’s where a/g comes from. He’s got this curiosity about the craft of poetry, including its social aspects, and buried inside it is “please me”, the tremendous pleasure, the satisfaction, desire.