amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Booty from the Spring 2013 Ottawa Small Press Book Fair

From Friday, June 14 to Monday, June 17, Ottawa's literary community engaged in a small press love in, beginning with a fabulous pre-fair reading put on by the Factory Reading Series & featuring Steven Artelle (AngelHousePress chapbook, "Four Hundred Rabbits), Michael e. Casteels (Puddles of Sky), Kanina Dawson, Bardia Sinaee (Odourless Press) & culminating with the Apt. 9 Press launch of three chapbooks. Not only did I have the pleasure of discovering some great offerings from the vendors at all of these events, but I also enjoyed excellent readings & had the chance to talk to dear friends & new friends.

I'm including works I received/purchased at the pre-fair reading, the fair itself, mailed to me from authors & publishers who had work at the fair & the Apt. 9 reading on the Monday following the fair. Here are my brief notes & first impressions. Lacking on this list are works from the above/ground press & Chaudiere Books tables, merely because I have most everything from these presses, being a subscriber to the former & an ardent fan of the latter. actually I'm a fan of both.

more gorgeous chapbooks from a more gorgeous & delightful small press publisher & In/Wordian (once an In/wordian, always an In/Wordian), Cameron Anstee. The press has been going strong since the summer of 2009 & amazingly has published 20 chapbooks, a folio, three broadsides & held a number of launches. 

Christine McNair, pleasantries and other misdemeanours

excerpt from a work in progress tentatively titled "charm." after her trade collection "Conflict" from BookThug & her chapbook from AngelHousePress, "notes from a cartywheel" plus "Evidence," her self-published chapbook. Continues the mesmerizing word & sound play, lush imagery & startling lines such as "a breath hooked red" [from the poem "biennial cotton," Ms McNair is known for. an excellent reading on Monday. the poem "disiecti membra poetae ego te provoco" [limbs of a scattered poet, I dare you?] was delivered beautifully: "I am reading a poem and I am/reading it slowly]. This poet is one of the best readers of her own work, I know. She may stumble on the occasional word, as we all do, but still manages an incandescent read.

Stephen Brockwell, Excerpts from Improbable Books: the Apt. 9 Installment

4th of a series that has been published in chapbook form but will be coming out as a book, this work has that trademark Brockwell combo of imagination, erudition & humour. in a series of complex & intricate sentences, formed into masterful lines & stanzas, Stephen presents fascinating & often ironic depictions of scenes & characters. "The smoke from a handgun reeks but is not/blue or black--the smoke is white and reflects/the colour of the light that threads through it." from "The Life-Saving Virtues of Virginia Tobacco." I keep thinking of that poet who prescribes against irony in poetry. This type of work is the answer to such a reductive prescription. Hearing Stephen read is always a joy. He has a kind of evangelical style. If he wanted to start a cult, I'm sure  he'd have many followers, including this true believer.

Jeff Blackman, So Long as the People are People

Jeff began his reading with a song & ended with one. He has such a beautiful & strong voice. If he wanted to take up a career as a singer, he could certainly do so. Some of the poems in this collection are political, zany, sexual. There is a sweet poignancy to his work. "just one man/can be the man/who kills the villan//one john doe/or bullet bill/one pinball/the Creator chose//you must press hard/as if the star misses you" from "A Single Player's Revival." Lots of serious stuff is contained in poems about video games or domestic routine. When introducing Jeff, Cameron said something to the effect that Jeff is one of the few poets whose work consistently makes him laugh out loud. [Sorry if I’m misparaphrasing, Cameron!] Poems such as "Two Virgins Ago" or "How to Kiss the Prime Minister" which he read are exactly why.


Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Ed., A Crystal Through Which Love Passes: Glosas for P.K. Page

a plethora of well-known Canadian writers take part in this book. I am enthralled already with Sandra Ridley's mesmerizing "The Taxidermist's Wife": "You slipped a cruel knot,/laced artifice,/& a lurid grace unsheened--" & the linguistic twists of Peter Norman's "Prayer of the Cast-Out Fleck:" "The sole of the boot the painter paints in/grinds us flecks against the floor."  & the well-controlled accumulation of Ben Ladouceur's lines in "Avenue Rd. Garden, East Anglia": "To make a garden you must practice/erasure, not apology." (More about Ben later in this blog entry…]

Linda Frank, Kahlo, the World Split Open

why do we choose what we choose when faced with an embarrassment of riches? John Buschek always has two tables filled with books, mostly poetry, but some nonfiction, some prose. He has published so many titles that they must now also be piled vertically as well as horizontally. I said to him that he could add the sign, "Now in 3D," to his vendor's table. He's been a mainstay for as long as I've been coming to the fair (early aughts) & probably much longer.

I chose this book in part because I have a fascination with Frida Kahlo, because the cover intrigues & because of the allusion to the Muriel Rukeyser quote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I also have a fetish for voice in poetry other than the autobiographical. Here there are poems in Khalo's voice & in Diego Rivera's voice, which I find intriguing. 

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of reading with Dawn Kressan at the Tree Reading Series. Her new book "Muse" which is about Elisabeth Siddal, the muse & wife of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Then there is Carolyn Smart's "Hooked" with its voices of well-known or lesser known women, such as Hitler groupie, Unity Mitford, or Ottawa's own Elizabeth Smart. Sue Elmslie's "I Nadja and Other Poems" a response to Paul Éluard's "Nadja" about his lover…basically 
I collect & enjoy such works & this is another one.

"In my right hand, scissors/A whet-sharp blade on my lap/A lock of my own hair hangs/like a dead animal/between my legs" Self Portrait With Cropped Hair - Painted in 1940"

I enjoy paint & surrealism as subjects. I enjoy these fictional portraits of women. I write them myself too.

Nichita Stӑnescu. Occupational Sickness (translated by Oana Avasilichioaei)

Let's talk about translation. Last year at one of the fairs, I picked up Chus Pato's three books translated by Erín Moure  from the Galician & published by Buschek. I was rapt by the work, work I would have never been introduced to if Moure hadn't translated it & Buschek hadn't published it.

This time around I indulged in my love of translated poetry by purchasing this work & the next on the list. Firstly I love the writing of Oana Avasilicioaei, who I discovered via her collaboration with Moure, Expeditions of a Chimaera, & whose mesmerizing book "We Beasts" came out last year from Wolsak & Wynn & who read at Tree last year & knocked my socks off with her presentation of polyphonic pieces & the fable quality of her work.

I had heard about this book "Occupational Sickness," may have even read some of these in Matrix or some other periodical. Instinct told me to purchase this book, the work of this man, a long dead Romanian poet, the work of a translator whose poetry I admire. Here is an excerpt from Avasilicioaei's introduction:

"Why translate Stӑnescu? Most importantly, it is because of the work itself: Stӑnescu handled words with tenderness sharpened on the edge of a knife. For him, words were alive; they had all the qualities of life--birth, struggle, breath,  joy, tumult, respite, death; they were corporeal, carnal. If cut, he often thought, they would bleed. He treated words not as ethereal things, or as ideas that stood for things, but as things in themselves. He lived the carnality of words; he bit into them and they bit back. This makes his writing simultaneously abstract and sensual:

Just like the watermelon
is red on the inside
and the word
dismembered
is red on the inside,
cut me so I bleed."

This feels like a major discovery for me, a prize.

Dorothea Grűnzweig, Glass Voices - lasínãänet (translated by Derk Wynand)

I was intrigued by the cover image which is a photograph of a painting by Eva Wynand & the title. According to the back of the book blurb, Grűnzweig is a German-born poet living in Finland; Wynand is a Canadian poet & translator. Sounds like an interesting mix.

Dog Bites Cameron Press

This is the second publication of the new press, the handiwork of Dave Currie & Lara Wlodarczyk. Their first being Jordan Chevalier's burlap-wrapped "So Far."

Dog Bites Cameron is another in the series of small press initiatives by In/Wordians. Even its name refers to another In/Wordian, Cameron Anstee. Dave is part of the In/Words family. I cannot believe how instrumental In/Words has been in the creation of new small presses, online and print magazines. We have Cameron Anstee's Apt. 9 Press, Peter Gibbon's Conduit, David Emery's TheSteelChisel.ca, Bardia Sinae's Odourless Press…it's damn impressive.

J.M. Francheteau, A Pack of Lies. I have to admit I was drawn first by the design, but since Bywords.ca has published Francheteau & I have liked what I've heard/read of his so far, the opportunity to read a whole collection of his work caused me to purchase this work.

Now back to the design. Beautiful papers, gorgeous fish stamps, all encased in a cardboard box. But a plea, a serious plea to the publishers: please refrain from using rubber cement in future: a) it doesn't seem to have stuck & b) it is malodorous, yielding a terrible cloying scent. But it's still a gorgeous design & a good attempt at play. One of DBC's goals is to "compliment a piece of work we believe in with a tactile experience." It's a wonderful goal.

One of the fun things in this book is a link to the audio with secret password to download. Which I have done. Or you can purchase the audiobook for $5. An enjoyable experience is to listen to the audio whilst reading along. JM has a pleasing well-modulated reading voice. I would love to attend a launch.

On the back of the book is the poem "To the Person Considering Buying This Book at the Rummage Sale," a fun quirky little plea. There's a quiet beauty to these poems.
"how often do you return here/to this girl/a stale mystery/the impression you had/that this earth would speak to you?" from "What You Missed."

I rarely buy art that is not in the form of a chapbook, visual poem or broadside, but I was so charmed by the visual art of Kim Edgar that I purchased her colourful beetle creation "Lost." Kim is one of several young artists beautifying Chinatown as part of Chinatown Blossoms Community ArtProject, an initiative of the Ottawa School of Art and the Chinatown BIA. 



Chris Johnson, Phyllis, I have never spoken your name

A collection of poems engaging with Phyllis Webb, a writer whose poems I admire by another writer who I admire. How could I resist?
the work here is surprisingly lyrical, quiet, meditative, more engaging with the natural world than much of what I've seen of Chris' poetry before. there's nothing like responding to the work of another writer that will cause tectonic shifts in a poet's creative process & output. It's good to see Chris engaging & experimenting with styles. I enjoy his playfulness: "With a yang like that, you could/chung for hours./I've never seen a ying/quite like yours." from "Unclothed."

Thank to Chris & the In/Words team for publishing my broadside, "Trieste."

Odourless Press  is run by Bardia Sinaee & was born, I believe, in 2011.

In/Wordian Bardia Sinaee read from excellent work at Friday's pre-fair reading. His poetry is a combo of wry wit, everyday frustrations & surprise, but I can't talk too much about it because he hasn't published much of it, a few broadsides from Odourless Press & In/Words. One of these is a series of five poems entitled "Royal Jelly," August 2011. Bardia's work reminds me somewhat of the poetry of Marcus McCann. There's a tightness to the lines, rigorous diction, imagination & an interaction with popular culture that resemble the latter's work.

"Misanthropes, consider our public parks:/more trees than a hawk's beard has feathers,/jogging paths to discover spandex/and revel in the names of dogs." from "Four Ways to Eat Your Dandelion"- "Royal Jelly."

After a series of small broadsides, some in envelopes, some in matchbooks, OP has begun to publish chapbooks, beautifully designed, hand-stitched, rounded corners, reminding me a bit of another relatively new Toronto small press, Ferno House, helmed by former Ottawan, Spencer Gordon.

Series 2.1 Spring 2013 offers two chapbooks & two broadsides. I obtained the following:

Suzannah Showler, Sucks To Be You and Other True Taunts
Former Ottawa poet, Showler is someone I have heard read & read before. I was interested to see her work. This wee red-stitched cardboard-ish papered five poem chapbook is innovatively designed. There's a snap to her writing, a fiesty rebelliousness that goes quite a bit with Bardia's style in my opinion. "Look, I don't have a strand in this hairball," "I know you are, but what am I?"

Matthew Walsh, Cloudpeople

Matthew, who has been published by Bywords.ca, was kind enough to mail me this chapbook as a gift. I love its white design, the round corners, the quality of the paper & the cover drawing, the latter done by Matthew. Matthew's poems are full of excellent sound play, unique portraits & unusual juxtapositions. They have a tendency to take surprising turns, such as "Television Snow:" "Ways for stars to disappear,/there are many and none/have much to do with fate,/and like the blonde mecca/of television actresses/you faded out/in a quiet snow." I'd say Matthew's poems have a frenetic energy: "our silvering amphibian love" from "Fathers and Sons. There is quirky rhyme play & slant rhyme: Aristotle/toddle in "A Hardscrabble Elegy for (Stompin' Tom Connors)"; Citadel/driving bell in "I'm Condoleeza Rice." Odd unexpected images: "You imagined a sister/hovered over the bed as  you wrote/birthday cards with a swirling hand,/your cursive coming out caterpillar." … "You swore/praying for Sister Morphine murmuring/with lighting in your eyes." in "Elegy for A Scottish Lass."

I find Matthew's work to be fun, imaginative, brilliant, bold & vivid & lush as a Renaissance painting. Poems to get drunk on. I expect we'll be seeing more from him & I am very glad.

Ben Ladouceur, Song of the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son

another bright young thing is Ben Ladouceur. his poems are straight-forward, direct, with a twist. this one, featuring glassblowers who die on the job if they inhale, is another striking poem from a poet who will be a force to be reckoned with on the stages of award galas one day in the not too distant future. having published his chapbook "Alert" via AngelHousePress, of course I am quite biased.


this micropress began in 2005, but i discovered it only last year, when its owner & operator, Michael e. Casteels came to the fair.

Michael Casteels gave a great reading at the pre-fair on Friday night, complete with Sudoku Haiku.

Michael e. Casteels, the robot dreams evokes the imaginative splendour of Stuart Ross. it is quite visual & fun. it employs reversal techniques common to the work of Jason Heroux (see below).
Michael e. Casteels, Alphabetical Disorder Issue 1
a wee hand-stitched series of alphabetic contortions of the vispo variety.

Jason Heroux, In defence of the attacked center pawn
similar to National Capital, Jason's collection with Mansfield Press, these poems employ a lot of reversal, "The ticklish guns laughed when the soldiers pulled/their triggers."  "One nickel thanked me for saving its life, the other gave me a dirty look." Reminds me somewhat of Robert Priest's aphorisms


no visit to the fair is complete without stopping by jwcurry's table of amazing works sold from his room 3o2 books.

Industrial Sabotage 49, edited by jwcurry & printed in an edition of 99 copies, 31 'oct '90 - a series of 17 collages including works by Lillian Necakov, David UU, jwcurry & more.

 I have a small collection of Industrial Sabotage, which jwcurry describes as follows: is a sort of a magazine begun (technically) in september 1979 which continues to the present & beyond; arguably the longest-running independent literary magazine in Canada.

for $10 a year, I subscribe to 1cent, which jwcurry describes as follows: "1cent is primarily a series of one-poem-per-issue leaflets edited by jwcurry that began in Toronto in early november 1979 as Pomez A Penny, published by Curvd H&z. its models were & are 3¢ PULP magazine (Vancouver, 197os) & bpNichol's 5¢ Mini Mimeo Series (Toronto, late 196os).[…]"

In lieu of review  - lines from recent poetry books on the back of Mr. Gouda evaporated milk can labels and endpapers from receipts from the old Booth Street Loeb with 1999 prices.

Hugh Thomas, Fresh Morning (90 copies, June 2013) - a small surprising poem, as poems by Hugh Thomas are.

Lapse Time (95 copies, June 2013)- another small surprising poem with no author mentioned

phafours   is described by Pearl Pirie as follows:
"The phafours in phavours press is a play on favours (as in party favours, as the first few things I gave out as that including some paku paku) and Pha-4, the gene that somehow governs the development of the pharynx, sphincter and longevity."
I purchased the following wee poem booklets:

Gary Barwin, huh [or hhh]? - visual poetry shenanigans from a playful practitioner.

Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Some Things with Certainty, the first I've heard of Sneha, some playful & unique stylings here, a way of looking differently at the world, which is the point, after all, of poetry…

Thanks once more to rob mclennan for continuing to put on an excellent fair & pre-fair, to all the publishers & buyers & chatters & readers & reading hosts & venue suppliers, including the Carleton Tavern, the Jack Purcell Community Centre & Raw Sugar.

AngelHousePress & Bywords shared a table once again. Sales were brisk & steady. 

Thanks to Charles Earl, my dream accomplice & partner in crime. The company was divine.

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