Monday, August 10, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #13 : 40-Watt Spotlight,


Adam Thomlison is a writer in Ottawa whose work has appeared in national newspapers and bus-station bathroom stalls, and has gotten him banned from Parliament Hill. As a fiction writer, he's written one book, We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs Magazine, and edited and contributed to another, These Are Not Movies: Screenplays for Films That Will Never Be Made.

At the same time he's been releasing issues of the ever-more-unfortunately named Last Thumbnail Picture Show zine, now at its tenth issue and thirteenth year because he can't stick to a schedule. His even shorter writing also appears on Twitter, @40wattspotlight. Information about all of it can be found at 40wattspotlight.com, or by email at mail@40wattspotlight.com.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

A: 40-Watt Spotlight got started about 15 years ago. The original idea was to be a loose collective of people pooling talents and publishing each other’s work. But I slowly realized that true collectivity is hard to achieve, and (here’s a bit of uncomfortable honesty for you) the press was only ever just me asking people for favours to work on projects I wanted to do. That’s where it is today -- very much a sole proprietorship, though my very talented friends are also very generous and forgiving, and are still willing to offer help on occasion.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?

A: I think I’ve been exhibiting at the fair pretty regularly since 2004 (before the press even started -- I started by exhibiting a couple of little zines I produced). I think I’ve only missed a few in that time, and I’m sad to be missing it this spring.

Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?

A: Absolutely. I’m not great at initiative -- I need hard deadlines or else I never get anything done -- and pretty much all along I’ve been using the spring edition of the fair as a deadline for producing issues in my ongoing zine series, The Last Thumbnail Picture Show. To the point that my fellow exhibitors, and the early shoppers, usually see me at my table, still folding and stapling because I just finished printing it the night before.

Sure enough, I haven’t produced a new issue yet. Thanks a lot, pandemic.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?

A:  Everything’s on hold for me. I’m blaming the pandemic for that, but not because of the event cancellations. My day job has been complicated quite a bit by the pandemic, and so it’s become more of a day-and-night job. I’m certainly not complaining, as more people have had the opposite thrust upon them, but nonetheless this has basically put a full stop on my writing output.

I still sneak a piece of flash fiction out on the press’s Twitter account, @40wattspotlight, which thankfully is not disrupted at all.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?

A: Again, the other part of my career has expanded quite a bit, and left little time for engaging in literary pursuits at all. That said, I have to use Twitter for work, and literary folk have become a lot more active on there in recent months, which means I often get these refreshing little breaths of beauty amidst all the grimness that Twitter otherwise delivers these days. I’m really grateful for those.

The other day a reviewer posted a breathtaking couple of lines that Ottawa’s own Amanda Earl wrote, and reading that quite literally made my day. 

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?

A: The out-and-about aspects of my work have, of course, been interrupted. I do a lot of my writing sitting around in bars and cafes, and that’s been a no-go. My zines also require me to sort of skulk around copy shops a fair bit, and I don’t think skulking is allowed until Phase 4.

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might folk be able to order copies?

A: Sadly (for me, at least), other than on Twitter I haven’t produced anything new since the novel I self-published about a year ago, A Thief, A Spy, and the Corpse Who Rode Shotgun. You can order it in print directly through the press’s website, or you can get the ebook through Amazon.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on the next issue of the zine, but technically I’m always doing that -- the issues are flash-fiction collections, and I’m always writing those. But in terms of larger projects, I’m currently in the outline phase of a sequel to the novel, and I’m messing around with an older manuscript I finished but was never really happy with. I’ve been working on it intermittently for years, going between loving and hating it. I recently forgave it for its past transgressions and have started spending time with it again. When I do allow myself time to write, those are what I spend it on.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Talking Poetics #24 : Misha Solomon


I am obsessed with order and so I don’t think I’ve written a poem without starting with a title. In the affirmative: I always start with a title. That title is usually reflective of a “thesis statement,” but working to support a thesis often results in poems that have a lot to prove and not much to say. And so the work, for me, is in moving away from gathering evidence to support a preordained thesis and toward putting together words that express something, either through their form or meaning, about a subject or concept suggested by the title.

This “work” happens mostly in my head. I write down the title, in a notebook or a Pages document, and then I stare at it while I break down the very thesis-y and unpretty thoughts into more natural and, hopefully, pretty words and phrases. By the time I start writing or typing words under the title, I usually have a good sense of the first half of the poem.

Then I get to my midpoint, which is the midpoint for no reason other than I have gotten to it. Usually the midpoint doesn’t really end up being the middle. At that point I continue in dribs and drabs, but always in one relatively uninterrupted writing session, always fighting the urge to return to the thesis model.

For instance, in this poem, “Chunnel,” I was sitting in a train moving through the Chunnel and I liked that word as a title and I had seen a boy yawning and had lots of thoughts about the ways in which children and adults yawn, and so I put something resembling this down in my notebook:

Chunnel

a stranger looks like a boy but yawns like a man
children yawn freely
little lions roaring at their tiredness
he shows restraint
jaw tense, cheeks taut
ashamed of his fatigue

From there, I had lots of repetitive ideas and example to support my “claim” about The Differences Between the Yawns of Human Children and the Yawns of Human Adults, and I likely became frustrated that none of these ideas translated themselves elegantly into poetry. But, because my commitment to order requires completion, I continued to stare at the page until I pivoted into memory:

I was last on this train as a boy
expecting to see fish under the Atlantic
expected to read the map for my mother

And then ran with the memory and the fish into the present and abstraction:

now, fish surround me
one raises the armrest between our seats
and leans its head on my shoulder
Im not sure Im moist enough
to keep its gills from drying up

At this point I felt that I could reward myself for moving far enough away from my initial thesis by returning to it, but through the self-reflective lens I had established in the second stanza:

Im tired too
but my jaw clicks
and my cheeks

This poem happens to end mid-thought, which is a good way of stopping myself from leaning too hard into a formal, evidence-based conclusion.





Misha Solomon (he/him) is a queer poet in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. His first chapbook, Florals, was published by above/ground press in 2020.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #12 : above/ground press,


above/ground press hosted its first launch on July 9, 1993 in a café that no longer exists, in a building that no longer stands, on Ottawa’s Lisgar Street. Over twenty-seven years, above/ground press has produced more than one thousand items, including more than four hundred single-author poetry chapbooks, and currently also produces the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal], the occasional Peter F. Yacht Club and G U E S T [a journal of guest editors], as well as the new online journal periodicities:a journal of poetry and poetics.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent poetry titles include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). He co-founded the ottawa small press book fair in fall 1994 with James Spyker, and has run the fair solo twice a year since.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

I started self-producing chapbooks in 1992, realizing that there wasn’t anyone as excited to produce my work as I was. I had officially founded above/ground by the following summer, after realizing how relatively easy it was to produce chapbooks, and seeing the poets in my immediate vicinity that I thought were doing interesting work. Moving through the shelves in the library at the University of Ottawa, I saw small and micro press as something exciting and engaging, although entirely historical. I didn’t see much in the way of publishing around me, so I started above/ground press to produce chapbooks, as well as the chapbook-sized long poem journal, STANZAS, a journal I distributed gratis, with some forty-five issues produced from 1993 to 2006. Early above/ground press authors included David Collins, Tamara Fairchild and Joe Blades.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?

I have, obviously, been at every one! The shifts have been interesting over the years, although I’ve found the fair as an experience has been consistently good for at least eighteen years, if not more. It took a couple of years for audience to figure out we existed, and what we were actually doing. What I also really like is seeing the same exhibitors, year after year, as well as new exhibitors emerging, and seeing what the new publications are. There’s such an incredible wealth of material being produced that I can barely keep up.

Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?

I’m not sure I would have made anything specific for the fair that I haven’t simply produced during lock-down. I had been hoping to launch the Michael e. Casteels collaboration at the pre-fair event (as we had discussed that as a possibility), but I still produced the chapbook in the same way I would have.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?

The bulk of my sales come through subscriptions and mail order, so that hasn’t changed. I still have a certain amount of sales through small press fairs, so I am missing that, as well as the human element. I’ve long known that there are certain times that purchases are more likely in person than online, so there are some opportunities being lost through this, but we’ll get there eventually. I am disappointed to not be able to hold my annual anniversary event this year, given the previous have been so wonderfully attended by both writers and audience (over the past few years, I’ve been ridiculous enough to attempt to launch ten new titles per anniversary event), but there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. I’ve wondered about ways to hold an alternate to the in-person anniversary reading for lock-down, but haven’t quite come up with the right kind of idea, yet.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?

Back in March, I started working on a ‘virtual reading series’ over at periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics, posting short videos online of a variety of poets reading from their work, but nothing specifically for above/ground. It has been fun to see the reactions to the videos, as well as seeing the videos themselves, part of which has allowed me to actually see and hear certain poets I’ve known for years for the first time. I’ve participated in a ZOOM reading, and even watched a couple, including one Christine McNair participated in recently, but not much more than that. I like that they exist, but I tend to get distracted by the evenings, and tend to want to nest. The bulk of my outreach interactions, instead, have been through Canada Post.

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?

When the original lock-down first hit, I lost access to all of my print options, but had, fortunately, already produced a couple of items I hadn’t yet announced. I did have to make a cover for the April 2020 issue of Touch the Donkey with materials I had already on-hand, which I felt pretty lucky about. I mean, even having enough materials to be able to fake a cover. I also had to learn how to send print orders through the Staples.ca online system for two different issues of G U E S T (although designed by Christine McNair and natalie hanna, respectively), which I didn’t care for in the least. Once the stores opened up a bit, I worked to produce as much material as possible for eventual release, in case lock-downs might resume. Back in June, I produced so much material that I haven’t yet managed to fold and staple all of them, including chapbook set for July, August and September release, and the October 2020 issue of Touch the Donkey. I’m thinking that if we’ve a further wave, I want to be prepared with publications already on-hand (with the presumption that Canada Post will remain as an option for sending out author packages and subscription envelopes). Who knows what might happen next?

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might folk be able to order copies?

Oh, I’ve been ridiculously busy, with new chapbooks over the past few weeks by Rose Maloukis, Sarah Burgoyne, Buck Downs, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, orchid tierney, Derek Beaulieu, Julia Drescher, Misha Solomon, Dani Spinosa and Andrew Cantrell as well as an issue of Touch the Donkey. Copies can be ordered through the direct links to their publications (there’s a whole sidebar of links to names on the site, which provide access to each author’s most recent above/ground press publication), or through sending me an email: rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com

Q: What are you working on now?

I’d love to receive further videos in the ‘virtual reading series,’ and am working on upcoming issues of Touch the Donkey (I usually work to be three to four issues ahead) and monthly content at periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics. For above/ground specifically, I’m working on new chapbooks by Zane Koss, Jérôme Melançon, Kemeny Babineau, Sarah Burgoyne (a collaboration with her mother) and a further by Julia Drescher, as well as the next issue of G U E S T, which was guest-edited by Jim Johnstone. Further issues down the line will be edited by Karen Schindler and Michael Sikkema (see his call for submissions on such here). I’ve already produced a second chapbook by Dublin poet Paul Perry, with a September release date, just so he can receive his contributor copies around the same time the book might be announced (it takes six to eight weeks for packages to head overseas).