Amanda Earl is the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. She’s a writer, visual poet, editor and publisher. More information is available at AmandaEarl.com or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.
Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?
Bywords.ca began in 2003, after Bywords, the monthly magazine that had started in 1990 ceased publication in 2001. I had been a student in two of Seymour Mayne's creative writing poetry workshops in 2000 and 2001. Bywords had been a magazine run by a collective of Mayne, Heather Ferguson and Gwendolyn Guth. It was made up of poetry submitted in the mail from people all over. It also included a calendar of events. There were also a couple of anthologies. You could pick up Bywords around town in cafes, pubs and other places. I picked up several in the 90s, so I knew of it, and appreciated it. After it had to end because the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton didn't give them funding, and perhaps because, i imagine the hard word that the volunteer team did was starting to get to be too much after 11 years.
Professor Mayne wanted to continue Bywords, and several of my classmates and I got together to come up with a plan to do so. Charles, my husband, had tech skill from a long career in information technology. We purchased the domain, he designed the site, a number of people from the group volunteered as selectors.
We published monthly poems an a quarterly magazine (Bywords Quarterly Journal (BQJ) 2003-2013), held an award: The John Newlove Poetry Award (Newlove died in December 2003, we had a memorial online the following April and a print anthology chapbook, Moments, Not Monuments shortly after, which included some of his poems and the poems of others. The award, which began in 2004, offers those published on Bywords.ca to have a chapbook published with us.
Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?
Pre-Bywords.ca, possibly in 2002, not sure when exactly, we sold chapbooks for Friday Circle, the small press Professor Mayne had started for chapbooks by members of his creative writing class. We loved the fair, meeting the vendors, and in particular fell in love with the chapbook as an independent, creative way to publish small work and to engage with fellow chapbook makers. We also heard from people at the fair that they missed the Bywords monthly magazine, particularly the calendar. Going to that fair was a big reason why we decided to take on a role in bringing Bywords into the 21st century and publishing poetry, both online and in print.
Bywords.ca has had a table at the fair for both spring and autumn ever since, including when I was just released from hospital in 2009 on the day of the fair. Charles and I couldn't be there so some kind friends tabled for us. If my math is correct, this means we've had a table 32 times.
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?
We ceased publication of the BQJ in 2013 and publish the John Newlove Poetry Award chapbook in the autumn, so we didn’t have to prepare anything for either the spring or fall small press fairs; however, we are hoping to be able to participate in the June, 2021 fair very much and will have copies of David Groulx’s chapbooks along with our additional titles from the Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook series. Often there are a few collectors who stop by to pick up issues of the BQJ that they’ve missed, so we try to have at least one full collection, all forty issues on hand.
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?
Bywords.ca continues to publish the online issue. I am grateful to our selectors for continuing to read the poems every month, and to the poets who kindly entrust us with their work.
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?
Our sole reading is the John Newlove Poetry Award, which is held in October and hosted by the Ottawa International Writers Festival. This year the Festival held our event, and many others virtually through Zoom, with the technical help of the Ottawa Public Library. We had 7 participants, so our event was more complicated to co-ordinate than many of the Festival events. Alexine Marier and her team from the Library were wonderful. Our participants handled having to be in their own homes and presenting their work in front of a live but invisible audience very well. The Library hired a company to do the close captioning and provided a wonderful recording of the event. I am very grateful. You can see the video here:
I’m not attending a lot of live virtual events. The few that I have attended were lovely, and I’ve gone back to a few I’ve missed and enjoyed watching them, such as some of the VERSeFest events. I connect to the larger literary community quite well, mainly through social media, but also through an exchange of correspondence: snail or e-mail and by reading their work. Also by hosting many writers on the podcast I run through AngelHousePress, which as become very important to me as a way of supporting them and sharing their creative work.
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?
We haven’t had any issues. We purchased our supplies for the Newlove Award (certificates, envelopes etc) online as opposed to going to our local office supplies company, and we had no trouble at all getting our most recent chapbook published. Every year we print the Newlove chapbook in September. Our printer, Elephant Print, is a local small printer. Naheed Davis, its owner, has been printing our chapbooks since the mid-aughts, even offering ideas on design. She's marvelous. If people are looking for a really great printer with experience printing chapbooks, I highly recommend Elephant Print.
Q: What are your most recent publications? How might people still be able to order copies?
Our most recent publication is What the Haruspex read in the Small hours of my Body by David Groulx, our 2019 John Newlove Poetry Award recipient. The chapbook is available for purchase, along with several other chapbooks from the series and copies of the Bywords Quarterly Journal (2003-2013), in the Bywords.ca store.
Q: What are you working on now?
Always working on the next issue of Bywords.ca. Charles and I also have to start working on the City of Ottawa 2021 Arts Funding Program proposal which is due on January 11, 2021. And at the end of January, Megan Misztal, who won the Newlove Award this year, will send her draft manuscript for our editors to begin working on. All being well, she will launch in next October in person at the Festival.