Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Warren Dean Fulton-Where are you now?

In June of this past year, Ottawa’s prodigal son, Warren Dean Fulton, returned for the Small Press Fair, to sell publications from Pooka Press, founded in Ottawa in the mid-90s, and to enjoy a reunion with old friends.

Warren grew up in Ottawa, went to Immaculata High and Carleton University, and was co-editor of the Carleton Arts Review with rob mclennan in the early 90s.

He instigated and participated in many inspiring and entertaining (literary-related) activities, then he vamoosed to British Columbia.

At the Spring Small Press Fair booze up, I had the great opportunity to hear a few of Warren’s stories and to listen to him and some of his co-conspirators talk about the good old days. It made me nostalgic for a time I’d never had and it also gave some of the history of Ottawa’s strong and vibrant literary community.

I thought it would be fun for those of us who weren’t then part of the Ottawa Literary Environment or OLE (official trademarked title) to find out about what we missed. And for those of you who were sombrero-wearing members of OLE, to hear about what happened to the young man some of you fondly referred to as “poet-boy.”

In our interview, Warren discusses Playdough, his fetish for keeping poets in boxes and the passion behind the pooka. This interview is brought to you buy the letter V.

1. From 1994-1996, you hosted two reading series in Ottawa: Vanilla and Vogon.

Can you talk a bit about each series in terms of why you started them, who the readers/performers were, and why they both started with the letter V? (I find it interesting that you moved to Vancouver, a place starting with the letter V, but haven’t hosted any V-series since. Am thinking you should host an O reading series in Vancouver)


The first; the vanilla reading series, began naturally enough. I was working at Lois n' Frima's Homemade Ice Cream Parlour, on Elgin street, (361 Elgin Street) & at the time was also having somewhat regular meetings w/ rob mclennan, who was co-ordinating editor of the Carleton Arts Review w/ me. He would pop by, we'd talk poetry, poetics, literary gossip, our lives & loves, drink coffee, & I'd give him free ice cream.

It was around this time, that I had mentioned to my then girlfriend Jennifer Amey, that the current reading series & venues around the city, where rather cold, held in closed, out of the way places that didn't seem to welcome & invite new faces & voices. They appeared to me to be inconvenient & isolate & ostracize poets & poetry from the public. No one was going to just wander in & find poetry. It had to be sought out. Discovered. & then, in my case, I went to a number of readings around the city; readings at Magnum Books, The Rainbow Bistro, Octopus Books, Rasputins, Food For Thought Books, Orion, TREE, & readings at the National Library, and no one seemed to take notice of the outsider, those new to the scene, & the general public didn’t seem really invited.

I wished to change that. So w/ a ready made venue in place, & a name, given by Jennifer, as we discussed Vanilla, is the base for most of the other flavours, plus VRS has the verse association. I was sold on the idea. It ran for about a year, & had many fine readers grace this unusual venue. Readers such as; rob mclennan, Colin Morton, Victoria L. Vernell, Jeffrey Mackie, Rocco Paoletti, Kathryn Payne, Catherine Jenkins, Rob Manery, Carole Giangrande, Janyne Holowachuk, Marcel Kopp (from Boston), David Collins, Sylvie M.S. Hill, David Scrimshaw, Sotaro Shibahara, the crowd from MPD (Tamara Fairchild, Grant Wilkins, Pamala Chynn, & others), several of my friends from Carleton University (where I was in a poetry workshop class, taught by Christopher Levenson w/ fellow poets Rocco, Jim Larwill, Brick Billing, Pearl Pirie, Sean Johnston & a few others) & some University of Ottawa students around the Seymour Mayne, Bywords crowd , & then those who just happened upon us.

In the summer months the vanilla reading series took itself, out onto the sidewalk, down in front of the ice cream booth in the byward market at George street. vanilla on the street, which had some great crowds, sometimes, as we competed for audiences w/ street preachers. "The wages of sin is death!" They had, in most cases, better catch phrases, direct lines & performances. They also had backlit paint & other visual aids that we lacked. We did however, get some media attention, the Ottawa Citizen did a piece on rob at vanilla, & the local community TV, did a piece on vanilla, for a phone pole segment (thanks to David Scimshaw) , & CBC radio & CBO Morning did a story on us, as did CKCU & CHUO, all of which was very wonderful.

& news of vanilla spread via the "internet, & the world wide web,”
This was all back when the power of the internet was still pretty new to many of us. Through the National Capital Freenet, (thanks to Nick Tytor for turning me on to email & the internet) I sent out email notices, & posted on the poetry SIG, & alt servers, news of vanilla. I was able to communicate far & wide. The vanilla reading series gathered a sizeable following in the states. I was constantly getting emails & phone messages from poets in the U.S. wishing to be booked for a reading sometime in the not too distant future in our little ice cream shop.

Then came the vogon reading series.
Now vogon came about, thanks to S.R. Morrison. My then roommate. vanilla had grown too big for the tiny space. & I was no longer working there, so Steve & I pitched Eugene
& Randy & the gang at Zaphod's our idea. I remember, them saying "take the ball, & run with it". & we did just that, scoring a few touchdowns along the way. (sorry for the sports metaphor). I was bringing readers to what the Ottawa sun called "Ottawa's hottest reading series" & the Ottawa Xpress they loved us too (thanks rob), & the events editor would email me asking about upcoming readings, & phone my apartment. We played host to the Ottawa launch of Insomniac Press’ THE LAST WORD.

The scene in Ottawa at this time was awesomely fantastic, BARD, TREE, vogon, the again resurrected Sasquatch reading series, the new backroom reading series, readings @ the National Library, readings @ the Saw Galley, the Stone Angel, Friday Circle @ U of O, readings, Carleton, & places like the Globe & Pepper’s.

vogon, was a place to read, some said “The Place" to read. We had many bigger names, alongside the newer names, we saw Joe Blades read here, Robert Craig, b. Stephen Harding, Catherine Jenkins, Gwendolyn Guth, Juan O’Neill, Patrick White, Dorothy Howard, Warren Layberry, Chris Pollard, rob mclennan (a few times) & a number of Insomniac Press writers, Jill Battson, Stan Rogal, Death Waits, etc..., writers from the Hamilton writers' group, some from Montreal, & vogon actually, through the suggestion & encouragement of Marcel Kopp, held Ottawa's first poetry slam. All throughout this time, I had a routine of getting up, going to the po box, then checking email at the library’s computers, writing for a few hours, hanging out in used bookstores (buying books when I could, sometimes instead of eating that day or the next) meeting up w/ friends, drinking, (always someone to buy drinks, or I’d be able to sell chapbooks enough to buy a round or two), going to poetry events, art galleries, film screenings, etc… which I would repeat ad nauseam, day after day after day, each a carbon copy of the day before. I only knew what day it was by the literary events happening & looking at the newspapers as I’d walk by the boxes, quickly reading the daily headlines.

1993-1996 I listened to literally hundreds of poets, hearing 1000’s of poems. Many lines from some of those poems have stayed in my memory, more than any of the lectures in university.

I could write enough to fill a book about these two series. Which is what I was trying to do a while back, but didn't get the interest nor support I was hoping for. Most from then have moved well beyond, I guess some of me is still struck in the 90’s.

Oddly enough, I've been thinking about another "V" series, here in Vancouver, but I'll have to see about a few details first. So I suppose I have a future too, as well as a present.

2. You mentioned MPD. What was that?

MPD was an entertaining Ottawa literary magazine from the mid 90's. It was put out by a group of friends who had organized into a writers group. I remember there was Grant, Tamara, Pam, two Pat(s), Trevor, & some others, who as I'm writing this I've forgotten their names, forgive me. MPD changed its name w/ each issue, & I enjoyed reading what this group was writing & even more hanging out with them after their basketball games at the Dominion Tavern. We joked that there was the MPD gang & the "bearded poets", which was rob, Jeffrey, James Spyker, Steve & myself. At this time, there seemed to be a new literary magazine starting up every few months; there was Hook & Ladder, The Skinny, Hostbox, bywords (which was a great, & still seems to be, resource for what was/is happening), Hole, Box 77, graffitifish, graffitto, Stanzas (which as far as I know, has had the most issues of any indy litmag out there, & is still going strong), & some others I'm sure I've forgotten about, again apologies.

3. Do you have any stories you can share about shenanigans that took place at or surrounding the series or is it a question of what happened during vanilla/vogan stays at vanilla/vogan?

As far as shenanigans,… hmmm. Seems a great deal of misadventures were happening around these series, most involving drinking various beverages of an alcoholic nature. The ones that come to mind involve rob or myself, however my lawyers have advised against me speaking about any of these. Seriously though, just the usual sort of fun. I recall a few times, an evening of drinking, where the events of the night became the basis for a few different poems/stories from a few different pens. I always thought it interesting to see how others remember the same event.

Sometimes Steve, rob & myself, all wrote of the same event in vastly different ways. The other things I remember most about the time, were the news items of the day being reported in poetry, some my own, some others; the OJ trail, Lorena Bobbit, Kurt Cobain, Bukowski, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, the Order of the Solar Temple, Ronald Regan & his Alzheimer's, & the alzheimer's the American public suffers from, then & now, & just how crazy the world was, & still is...those crazy, hazy days & nights of memories... some really amazing/frightening/hysterical times, .... flashback aphrodisiacs...nearsighted retrospection... those silly sentimental yearnings…. Oo nostalgia the great narcotic. … an opiate of the all our yesterdays… oh those times...the wayback machine makes me dizzy...

4. Did you come up with the name vogon because it was taking place at Zaphod Beeblebrox? Or since you had a reading series in an ice cream place to ward off the cold, perhaps aliens inspired Vogon to make it more human? Give us a nerdy elaboration if you please.

This will be the shortest answer I give. Yes.

& it fit w/ the VRS, letters I had an attachment to.
& because , oh hell, here comes a longer answer...

I really really liked Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. & the bar Zaphod's, & that both Steve & I knew/ & I still know the title of the poem by poet master Grunthos the Flatulent, who is an Azgoths of Kria, (the second worst poet in the universe) "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" & his 12-book epic piece entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles"... nerdy enough for you? ...

When I appeared on Tom Green's Rogers cable show, intoxicated, to promote the vogon reading series...Tom kept poking me & demanding I answer what's a vogon, as he wanted me to say "the 3rd worsst poets in the universe" & then he suggested that that is what is at the vogon reading series, alien poets, reading terrible poetry...however, I was like a skipping record & just kept answering, "a literary reading series that happens every second Sunday, at Zaphod Beeblebrox, at 27 York street in the Byward market", about three or four times in a row.

There you go, nerd factor & 6 degrees of separation of a celebrity too.
* Tom Green was born in Pembroke, just like me.

5. Well we won’t let you keep answering more about vogon now, instead we’ll skip on to Pooka Press. According to my exhaustive research (private investigators, professional stalkers, secret video tapes) you were in your mid 20s when you started Pooka Press. What made you decide to start a small press and what did you have in mind when you started it? Has your philosophy about Pooka and the small press world changed since Pooka Press’s inception?

Great questions. pooka press, lower case, as that seemed in keeping w/ the times, & pooka is so very micro, lower case.

I began pooka press, out of a need to see more of the poets I wished to see in print. I take as pooka's role model, what people like rob mclennan were doing, & jimmy ioannidis, & Joe Blades, & the folks at ga press, & James Whittall & the earlier Insomniac Press stuff, their chapbooks, & those that showed the way before, the Stuart Ross', the michael dennis', the bill bissetts', the small press folks from all over going way way back, & then after launching Jeffrey Mackie's chapbook BIG MIRACLES, & going to New York City w/ him for a beat conference @ NYU, & meeting so many of my influences, & seeing some of their early chapbooks, I was hooked.

The small press bookfairs also helped greatly w/ this addiction. rob & James held the first ottawa small press book fair back in 1994, & that year I also went to the Toronto small press book fair, & the 1st Canzine, & had been invited to a small press book fair event in New York & the 1st Underground Press Conference in Chicago. The small press community opened wide their arms & welcomed pooka press in.

In pooka's 1st listing in a poetry markets book, I stated something along the lines of pooka press, "likes poetry that is the class clown, the class rebel, poems that sit at the back of the classroom & launch spitballs at the teachers", something like that. So I guess, poems that were/are of the outsider. I still embrace outlaw poetics, & those in the mainstream [who??] like [to??] play in the margins. I don't know how much my "philosophy" has evolved.

I do know that I'm less likely to put out 200-300 copies of a single chapbook. less is more, in some ways. Generally, due to economic factors & what I believe the "market" may be for pooka press items, I like print runs of 100 or less. & I won't do reprints any longer. One print run, that's it. It part since it becomes difficult for me to keep tabs on who gets how many, & how to divide up the "profits". I've only twice made the money back on a project, no make that three times.

The very first chapbook, BIG MIRACLES, & the two George Bowering projects I've done, U.S. Sonnets is almost out of print now. I don't know what else to write about, except to say, it has been well worth it, even having boxes & boxes of chapbooks, poetry postcards, broadsides, etc...take up so much room & my $. Oh I should mention, I've never once applied for any funding, for pooka press...I have for the Kamloops Poets' Factory, but as they used to say on Hammy Hamster..."but that's another story..."

6. i’d love to chat about Hammy and the Tales of the River, his buddy the Water Rat, but i’ll confine my questions to your literary activites and avoid rodents in favour of pookas.

pooka press (see how quickly I learn) is still running today, which makes it (...largescale computer math program tabulating...) thirteen years old. What drives you to continue and has it occasionally disappeared or knocked anyone for a loop, like its namesake? What types of stuff do you publish and who? What’s the overriding philosophy of pooka press? (this is the bit where I badger the witness...I mean, interviewee, with a barrage of questions so as to cause confusion and therefore put him under my spell so he will have to answer honestly.)

Yes. Your Honour. Oooo Courtrooms. yikes. So yes, 13 years, pooka press is now that bratty teenager I felt it always wanted to be. I'll answer the questions, as best I can, even if I do feel you are leading the witless, I mean witness.

What drives me to continue? I'd have to say, simply a passion for the poets I publish, both their words & them. A good poem is a great companion. I like the friends I have gathered on my bookshelves, & in boxes. Sounds kinda morbid doesn't it? But some of the poetry, some of the poems remain long after the poets have left. I cherish some poems from Ottawa poets, who have disappeared, as far as the literary world is concerned. & yes pooka press has disappeared a few times too. Mostly due to lack of money. As they say, "there's no money in poetry, but there is poetry in money", yes, just look at a $5 bill w/ a section of Roch Carrier.."The Winters of my childhood were/long long seasons."..

I think at times it may have knocked someone for a loop. More from politically or social messages contained therein, or from when someone thinks they know what style of poetry I publish & then see something that is a little different.

pooka press, publishes, all kinds of poets & poetry, but I have to admit a strong connection to the margins, the outsider, the outlaws, a rejection of the conventional. I have a deep connection to the beat writers & their sensibilities, the dadaists & surrealists, the experimenters. I feel there is plenty of cross-over in art movements, be it literary or visual arts. So for me, I have a love for the Beats (my poetic gods), the San Francisco Renaissance, The Black Mountain poets, the Modernists, the post-modernists, the confessional poets, the TISH poets (my personal pantheon of poets) aboutists, the KSW poets, even some Slam poets... many, & I'd like to think varied voices.

Poetic philosophy? I guess pooka press is more Playdo than Plato.(not sure of the spelling, playdough, playdoe, playdoh...) anyhow, all I can think is I should have paid more attention in University during Literary Criticism classes, I don't recall much of Plato's discussions of rhetoric and poetry, & I do know that there are significant philosophical and interpretive challenges regarding various poetics. Semantically speaking, my overriding philosophy is like a cento of poetic theory. Reader based. Writer based. Poststructuralist theories. Postmodernist. Post-postmodernist. Perhaps, the aesthetic unity of the poem. The poems artistic autonomy. The now not so New Criticism that supposes that poems are things in & of themselves etc... etc...I'm not sure, still working this all out for myself, plenty of poetic overlaps, a blurring of poetics, a comprehensive "feel" not conveniently placed into boxes. I'm confused. Please anyone reading this, help me, tell me what "overriding philosophy" I've been using, if any. I'd like to know.

7. Let us dispense with the Platonic then and wax elastic. You bounced back to Ottawa for the small press fair last June.

a) When you returned what are some of the differences you noticed in the scene (or is it still exactly the same, where no one ever grows old in that funny land called Oz – i mean Ottawa)?

The city has changed. Well more accurately the city I remembered had changed. I recall everything being green, & me on a quest for a brain, w/ some animal & no, no wait, wait.. .Yes, the streets were wider, less traffic, & fewer "big" city buzzing.

The lit scene has some new folks making new discoveries some of the older scenesters continuing. It was amazing, like old home coming week, seeing ELS (English Literature Society from Carleton University) folks like Steve & Cathy Zytveld (then, simply Catherine MacDonald), who run the Dusty Owl (would have loved to have gone to a Dusty Owl reading), & it was great seeing rob again, (although of the scene, he has kept in touch the most, seeing him when he visits Vancouver & when I was in Kamloops), & Jeffrey Mackie & Tamara Fairchild & Grant Wilkins, & Heather Ferguson (whom I never really got to speak w/ very much, then or when I was visiting), meeting the new folks to the scene since my time, jwcurry, Max Middle , Amanda Earl (hey that's you), Jennifer Mulligan, the fellows from In/Words (if there were ladies involved I'm sorry I didn't meet you), the gang that puts out The Puritan, seems like a lot is happening.

b) (because I like to bamboozle my interviewees with complicated multi-part questions):
What were some of the differences you noticed between the Ottawa of 2007 and the Ottawa you left? What were you sad to see gone or happy to see now here?

Ottawa of 2007 isn't as cool, as the Ottawa I left, for one reason, well make that two, & two reasons only; payphones cost way too much now. 50 cents, what country does Ottawa think this is? & there are no where near enough FREE wireless hotspots in the city. Come on Ottawa join the 21st century. In Vancouver, I can get free wireless internet just about everywhere, every coffee shop seems to have it, restaurants, government buildings, libraries, everywhere...& when I lived in Ottawa, in was cutting edge, the freenet was the newest, coolest thing, the internet was all the rage, now it seems as if those without a home with internet service have to fend for themselves. So I'm sad to see those changes.

I also think beer prices need to come down. poets have to drink you know. & I miss the days when people would just walk up to me & hand me $20 bills, yeah that really used to happen...okay only once, but hey it made Ottawa a great place to be. One more thing; Winter. Glad I don't have to live through anymore of those cold things.

8. Winter is a fiction we use to ensure that tourists don’t stay long; once people leave, we go back to our tropical paradise and gold covered sidewalks.

When did you leave Ottawa and what have you been doing since you left?

Oh boy. gold covered sidewalks, all I ever found was fool's gold. So here we go. I left in November of 1995. Moved to Kamloops to live w/ my family. My brother had up & left for Kamloops that summer, at my parents urging, while [at??] my mom's suggestions, & I followed when it got too cold again.

In Kamloops from 1995/6 - 2000, doing some pooka press stuff, started a literary group; The Kamloops Poets' Factory, organized readings, helped put out a literary magazine HUB CITY, & a monthly lit mag called HUB CAP. Worked @ Starbucks, Tony Roma's, & the Other Place Cafe, did a few poetry trips, readings in the interior of B.C. Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, & Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, & San Francisco.

Moved to Vancouver. Went to film school @ VFS (Vancouver Film School, close to VRS, so who knows maybe that was the reason), got married, had kids, worked w/ Edgewise ElectroLit Society, was Artistic Director of the 4th Annual Vancouver Videopoem Festival (VVF, close to VRS, but not as close as VFS), worked on a number of film & TV projects, blah, blah, blah... oh & continued to publish poets through pooka press.

Amanda, thanks for this interview. I'd just like you & any readers to know, that during this interview, the phone here rang 12 separate times, each time I attempted to answer only getting 6 actually persons, & 1 of those computer voices saying "congratulations, you've won..." (I hung up quickly), the co-op handyman did repairs in our bathroom around the baseboard heater, I drank 3 cups of coffee, & ate 1/4 of a 1 pound bag of Pretzel Stix (* Low fat, Cholesterol free)

9. Where can people find more information about pooka press and about your own poetry or creative endeavours?

I suppose, since it may be difficult for everyone to simply ask me in person, or come pop by my apartment, I guess the best places to gather more information are via the world wide web. If you google search pooka press, you are likely to come across sites & postings of pooka press information; such as my myspace site, my facebook group, the information at the online guide to canadian writing, I think some bits on rob's blog, & some of the websites of pooka press authors have mention of pooka press. I must mention that pookapress.com is not, I repeat not this pooka press. Seems someone in the UK has also been using this name, & once upon a time I could have had that domain name, but I didn't register it, I later had pookapress.ca, but let it expire.

Now oddly enough, a few years back some fine examples of my writing would pop up on web searches, now it seems it is only those silly spam-ku's I did back in 2000, & some lazy experimental pieces from a few years ago. Most of the writing I was doing in Kamloops is lost to the ether streams of the mainframe, something or other computeresque sounding techie talk. Oh, & there is always the movie/film stuff. You see I now work in the film industry, & I try to make my own short film/videos when I can.

10. Is there any truth to the rumours I’ve been reading in the National Enquirer that you may be returning again and might even be hosting a reunion of your old reading series? If so, when, where, how and sometimes why?

Thank you for the interview, Warren. Hope you can make it out to the small press fair on October 27. We’ll try to give you a golden experience.

Yes, I will be in Ottawa for the Ottawa small press book fair, October 27th, 2007, Room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre. Selling pooka press items in order to eat, drink & be a wee bit merry. I’m presently looking into a Reunion reading at Zaphod’s Nov. 11th, yes Remembrance Day. I’ll let you know, if it is happening. Thanks again for this interview, feels really great to have someone take an interest in ever so small role I played in the literary past of Ottawa.
Thanks, Warren for all the great stories and info!

[Warren is travelling by Greyhound to Ottawa as I post...he's likely somewhere in Alberta right now]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Warren, Amanda, and nice links and layout of story.
Sue McMaster