Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On Writing #98 : Vanessa Lent

Making room
Vanessa Lent

First there are the children. A toddler and an infant all rosy and wailing and marvellous. There is the full-time job teaching English to newcomers. The joy of this job and the way it makes language constantly break open, spill out all messy and confusing. The way culture and language knot and pull and tear at life. The administration done hurriedly around pumping breast milk and eating. The hilarity of this multitasking. There is the husband and our balancing. Him bursting into “circle of life” as I shovel pureed chicken into the baby and he wipes up the latest potty-training disaster. The pure absurdity of all that life. I caught my daughter trying to breastfeed Quebec the other day. Don’t ask.

And then there’s the writing. And thinking about writing. And planning for writing. Everything is done in stolen moments. On the bus to work. Between the kids’ various fluctuating bedtimes and my own unconsciousness. But it happens. Dribs and drabs. The rare vacation day taken secretly and spent buried in the public library. An occasional Saturday afternoon when simultaneous naps happen.

All of this must be planned to precision and done at a moment’s notice. Rigid and fluid. The goals must be modest and accumulative. A checklist with gold stars for the smallest success. Sitting down with a pen and book only to be drawn away after the thought of a word. The success of getting to this point because first came the decision to ignore those buried voices that chide for making time. Five minutes, ten minutes, three hours, and on and on. To make time to read as well as write. To read for love. To write for self.

Vanessa Lent lives and works in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She holds a PhD in English from Dalhousie University where she studied late Canadian modernisms. She lives with one human man and two human children. In between stanzas and diapers she spends her days teaching English to refugees and new immigrants.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Marilyn Irwin on shreeking violet press

shreeking violet press, established in June 2014, specializes in small runs of handcrafted poetry broadsides, books and other papery oddities.

Marilyn Irwin is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Creative Writing program, winner of the 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, and a 2014 Hot Ottawa Voice. Her work has been published by above/ground press, Arc Poetry Magazine, Bywords, In/Words, New American Writing, Matrix Magazine and others. Her seventh and most recent chapbook, waving usufruct, a poetry/photography collaboration with David Emery and Samantha Lapierre, was published by The Steel Chisel in 2016. She runs shreeking violet press in Ottawa.

shreeking violet press will be participating in the ottawa small press book fair, to be held on Saturday, June 18.

1 – When did shreeking violet press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
After being named a 2014 Hot Ottawa Voice by the Tree Reading Series, I decided to make a broadside of my poem “sex at 31” to sell at the reading as I didn’t have much to leave on the book table at the time. Due to lack of time and a big helping of ambition which involved a typewriter, unforgiving handmade paper and needle and thread, I only made 4 (and then 2 more, one for myself and one for a friend who requested it). I realized it was then or never and wrote “shreeking violet press” on each. I refer to it as “Broadside #0”.

Over the next several months, I obtained a logo and went a little nuts purchasing art supplies. I carved different rubber stamps (something I previously had never attempted) and painstakingly hand stamped 150 broadsides and modge podged little fabric wraps (more, if you count the ones that I futzed up) and spent way too much on cool envelopes for the inaugural spring collection with poems by rob mclennan, JC Bouchard and Rachael Simpson. While I treasure them dearly, I realized that production model was not sustainable and that, if I wanted to keep things relatively affordable without compromising my creative itch while respecting and honouring the work people submit, there must be another way.

For the fall 2015 launch, I accepted chapbook manuscripts from Pearl Pirie and David Currie. This time, I outsourced the printing and art which saved immense time and stress and afforded me the time to focus on the layout and design and sewing the binding, etc. This model of production persists and continues to be effective and relatively smooth.

Since establishing the press on a whim, I have been publishing new books and broadsides by some amazingly talented writers in the spring and fall, to coincide with the bi-annual ottawa small press book fair (with the odd one-off). I feel like we’ve figured out our stride for this stage of the press’ lifecycle.

I have learned how to be more patient. I have learned that sacrifices sometimes have to be made for valid reasons. I have learned the joy of helping to bring other people’s work into being and it is rewarding beyond measure.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
It stemmed out of my desire to create books and nice, papery things which first crossed my mind when I self-published my first chapbook, for when you pick daisies, in 2010, for my first featured reading with the factory reading series.

The desire to make unique representations of work I admire by people I admire occurred to me moments after I completed the project. I can’t really draw or paint but I love experimenting with crafts and I love paper as a physical object which, alone, can reflect a wide variety of styles and moods. I love editing documents and the whole midwifing process. I really enjoy helping to anchor something as abstract as poetry to an actualized, physical form. And there is no better feeling than seeing an author as excited about the finished product as I am after they’ve entrusted me to best represent and showcase their work.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
To assist the author by way of platform in spreading their humble, beautiful, gut-wrenching, devious, burning, important words to the minor masses. To act as archivist.Validation. Encouragement.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
My initial reaction to this question is “I don’t know” simply because there are so many other presses doing their own wonderful things, making their own contributions to the local and further poetry communities. There are many new and established poets and authors whose wonderful, experimental, raw, upsetting work I wouldn’t otherwise know thanks to small presses.

As a publisher, I’m particularly interested in work that is equally foreign and familiar. There needs to be that balance of intrigue as well as an appeal to my human experience. If I’m not affected by the work, I won’t be inspired by it and it will be written with permanent marker on cardboard bound with tape. The hope is that all comes out in my choice of authors and our finished products.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?

You know, I bet the internet is probably the answer here; soft copies. We have an online presence and one can purchase our wares online but, for now, I prefer sticking to real paper smell and real paper feel. The paper method might not be as effective at spreading the word as far or making as many sales but, if those were my true blue life intentions at this point, I wouldn’t have a day job. The MOST effective way would be to follow the above/ground method of quick copies on cost-effective paper in higher runs bound with 1 staple. It’s just not what I’ve set out to do. And I enjoy the sewing and the stamping, and the pretty paper, etc., etc., too much.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Yes. All of that. First and foremost, I only solicit work from writers whose work I genuinely enjoy and admire. I generally assess the individual pieces (singular if broadside), then the project as a whole. I will share my thoughts and suggested edits (if any) but the author retains full control and final say and I’m very transparent on this point.

Some poets will ask for a more in-depth review and others would prefer little to no input. I’m happy to oblige but am careful to pay attention to cohesion, syntax vs rewriting their voice and intentions out when they are game for feedback. My effort really depends on the shape of the work and how nitty gritty the writer (and I) want to get. Some submissions are more polished or clear in their intent than others when they arrive. I try not to get too handsy but will suggest minor edits or, in the case of chapbooks, removal or exchange of pieces if they don’t flow or contribute to the flow of what’s happening around it. I’m game for whatever it takes for both the writer and I to feel proud about what we accomplish and set free into the world by the end of the process.

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Currently we have a bi-annual presence at the Ottawa small press book fair and are hoping, time and finances willing, to attend book fairs outside the city in the coming year(s).

We love to daydream about what annual/biannual launches or a regular-ish reading series might look like. We could put our things on a table and call it the book table and see what happens.

Our wares are always available, while supplies last, through our Etsy store:

Runs vary, according to available time and finances, from 50 to 100 copies.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
It is mostly a one-woman affair. I have outsourced some of the printing (and folding) to save on time and headache – especially when deadlines approach. I’ve also worked with some amazingly talented artists such as Angie Nellis and Geoffrey Bates and am always looking to collaborate with artists willing to work on these projects. It is consistently a beautiful time.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I suppose it hasn’t; not obviously, anyway. I have my tastes and my ways and, while I have noticed my writing style has evolved over the past 7 or 8 or 9 years that I’ve been actively engaging with poetry and the poetry community, I can’t boil down a single “ism” I can solely attribute to my growth as editor/publisher when so many other wonderful experiences have been part of my education and experience as a writer.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
This can be a contentious issue, depending on with whom you speak. I see the argument for and against. I see no justifiable reason why a publisher shouldn’t publish their own work through their own press (considering the amount of time, energy and, presumably, out of pocket finances they have invested in their company) with the caveat that you don’t make your own work the priority or focus of your press’ output. Because that would get old real fast. There is merit to seeing the worth of your own work and not being able to find it a home/mid-wife. There is also the possibility that one needs to further edit instead of self-publish before it’s truly ready for other eyes. And one of the perks to focusing on other authors is all the amazing, never before seen work you get to read and produce all nice-like for the people.

I’ve self-published thrice under the shreeking violet imprint. The first was a run of 4 + 2 broadsides which inspired my getting into action to set up the press.The second was a broadside co-released with a broadside by Ottawa poet Chris Johnson as we were collaborating on erasure poems which culminated in a joint feature for the relaunch of Chrysalis back in December. And, a poem of mine will appear in our first collective effort, due out this spring: “L’dor vador: A collection of poems inspired by other people’s recipes.” This, for the simple fact that I facilitated the workshop which inspired me to create the book and I participated along with the group. These choices made sense to me at the time and I don’t feel as though my name is too pervasive throughout the shreeking violet catalogue. It’s difficult to be objective about how not-me thinks to know if it’s overkill or not but I’m more or less comfortable with the choices I’ve made on this subject.

11– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
above/ground, Apt. 9, Puddles of Sky, Little Red Leaves and JackPine all offered a different and appealing perspective on what small press publishing could mean - and they continue to do so. I’m sure I’m missing another handful of names. There are so many more who make beautiful little books which I’m just discovering. It’s an exciting time to have a toe in the small press world.

12– How does shreeking violet press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see shreeking violet press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Food for thought! It’s amazing how many opportunities present themselves once you establish a thing or start a thing or do a thing. This type of engagement has not been on my radar, for the most part, due to limited brain space and time for what I want and need to do with the press in its establishing years. I will add this to my daydreams. Please ask again in some years’ time.

13– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
This has been on the backburner for about a year. If I could split myself in three….

14– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Due to limited time and finances to invest in production and communications to hopeful authors and an ever growing list of people we’d like to publish, shreeking violet does not currently accept submissions.
 15– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Pearl Pirie’s Reviews of Non-existent Titles was the inaugural chapbook we published on the heels of our first three broadsides. It was the first objet d’art where I didn’t have to create the d’art so it was a much more zenful experience on my end. The description over on our Etsy store reads: “Reviews of Non-existent Titles is a bitingly funny and thoughtful collection of book reviews of books that, well, don't exist. While the books may not be real, Pirie’s commentary beautifully and painfully captures the dichotomy that surfaces when critically examining poetry - especially the kind that makes a reader cringe.”

I’m very excited to be publishing Ryan Pratt’s debut chapbook, Rabbit months, this spring. Ryan is a long-time supporter and reviewer of small press goings-on, namely between Ottawa and his current hometown of Hamilton with a growing list of his own publication credits in recent years. It’s been a pleasure working with Ryan and engaging with his pieces. It’s my hope that this book will help underscore and spread the reach of  his careful skill. Poems like “Nagual” read like someone wise beyond their years with that perfect balance of observation, meditation and intrigue boiled down from a real experience or reaction: “The light is still felt. The word moon / points someplace else.” I hesitate to quote some of his other pieces as his formatting is precise, just as his every word, and line choice as been placed just so.   

L’dor Vdor: A collection of poems inspired by other people’s recipes  is the result of a workshop on “Recipe Poetry” which I facilitated earlier this spring through Carleton University’s English Literature Society. I’m very excited to publish such promising young writers including Ian Martin and Jennifer Greenberg with some beautiful illustrations by Geoffrey Bates. This is the perfect book for foodies and poetry lovers alike. Some recipes are more appetizing than others. It was a fun project through and through and I hope that comes through in the finished product.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Monday, June 13, 2016

On Writing #97 : Paul Pearson

WRITING IS FAILING - My 10 Rules for Writing
Paul Pearson

Damn you rob mclennan for asking me to do this. Do you realize how broad the topic ‘on writing’ is? Do you realize how many words have been sacrificed for this already? Starting with our blog, the trail goes on and on and on website to website.  From things like this great collection of links on the topic:

To things like this collection of poetry-specific flippancy:

There is so much material, ranging from very specific writing tips or rules to general advice on how to survive this life as a writer, out there, including countless blog posts like this one, that a full catalogue would be pointless. I’m not even going to start talking about the actual physical books that have been written on the subject beyond saying that taking one out of the library every now and then is a great way to satisfy rule 8 below. IN the end, the variations of “on writing” are as endlessly diverse as our population. We’ve all been shaped by those we’ve met, those we’ve read, the things we’ve done.

The best piece of advice on writing that I ever got came from Don McKay. He was the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Alberta when I was finishing my bachelor’s back in the nineties. I was feeling dejected, or possibly hungover, or both, and I complained to him that there was so much poetry already alive, that we were joining the party so late in history that every poem that could be written had already been written. He sat there under his eyebrows for a moment, I’m sure regretting his office hours that morning, before saying something like “yes, but you haven’t written all the poetry YOU’RE going to write.”

That was 20 years ago and I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about this advice in one way or another. I’ve also been fortunate to meet a lot of writers and artists at every stage possible in a career. Many beer and nicotine - man do I miss smoking sometimes - fueled late nights have gone into the click-bait style 10 entries below. Consider them grist for your mill, a reminder, encouragement. 

1)      WRITE. The most common advice for those who wish to write is to read. That’s stupid advice. Of course if you don’t read poetry, you can’t possibly hope to write poetry. The better advice is to stop when you read a poem that speaks to you and write it. I mean copy it. Word for word. Space for space. Writing is of the body as much as the mind. Yes, it is an old, old trick but it works like a hot damn.

2)      GET LOST. People who tell you to turn off distractions like the internet or Netflix or comic books or housework or gardening or whatever floats your boat are missing the point. You’re a poet. You are never not writing poetry. You’re writing it as you walk down the street. You’re writing as you read this. Every now and then you’ll reach the point where you’ve got to physically put words to paper so that you don’t drop anything. Which leads to Rule 3.

3)      BE PREPARED.  Pen, pencil, HB, mechanical, fountain, gel point, notebook, looseleaf, legal pad, teeny tiny plastic coil notebook with kitties on the cover that you pinched out of your daughter’s latest birthday party loot bag, whatever. I know a poet who wears a notebook and pen around his neck on a piece of yarn and will pull it out whenever a thought strikes. Don’t laugh. He’s published more books than you or I have. Well, more than me at any rate.

4)      SCHEDULE. If you only wait until you are full to bursting before you write, you’ll never finish anything. You’ve got to schedule time to write. Make yourself sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keys or whatever your method. Seriously, you schedule meetings at work. You schedule office hours if you have them. You schedule dentist appointments. Why wouldn’t you schedule writing time? You are serious about this writing thing, aren’t you?

5)      RELAX. This shit is hard and there aren’t nearly enough places to get your poetry published. You already know that you’re not going to make a living off poetry alone so take a breath and enjoy your life, where you are, what you are doing. Savour the writing time you have. Not everyone gets to be as fundamentally creative as you are when you’re writing.

6)      FAIL. You know that whatever ends up on the page is not really going to be exactly what you wanted to say. No matter how much time and effort you put into it. The thing for which you are striving will always be just out of reach. The day you write the perfect poem is the day you run out of stuff to say. Enjoy the process, the results will take care of themselves.

7)      DON’T BE AN ARTIST. BE ALONE. Just make art. We’ve all met people who seemed to be more interested in personality than in productivity. Social media has made this even an easier trap to fall in than it used to be. Don’t compare yourself to those in your echo chamber. When you find yourself paying more attention to what you’ve posted on Facebook or your blog than to your current project, it’s time to unplug for a bit.

8)      SHARE. DON’T BE ALONE. This is the hardest one for me personally. I don’t like to share anything until it is absolutely perfect and my publishing record reflects that :( And yes, I remember Rule 6. I know that I haven’t said exactly what I was trying to say so why not share it? Remember that we’re all struggling against the same great weight. Sometimes you need to get out and remind yourself that you are not alone. That others value you and your work.

9)      DIVERSIFY. One of the most common questions I’d get from emerging writers aside from how to get published, was how to deal with “writer’s block.” If you’re following rules 2, 3, and 4 you probably won’t be at a loss for words very often. Every now and then though, I’ve found myself writing the same poem over and over again using different words. I sometimes find it satisfying to work on a different muscle group for a while. My personal choice is visual through photography and a little bit of digital design. I’ve even taken a few bookmaking classes to try my hand at creating the hardware for my software as it were.

10)  KEEP ON KEEPING ON. Do what you need to do to sustain yourself. Know that you are not crazy, at least not completely, and that you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Seriously, you’re good. Keep it up!

Paul Pearson lives and writes in Edmonton where he works for the Government of Alberta. It’s not as bad as it sounds though because he works in the Arts Branch and Alberta Foundation for the Arts and is responsible for things like research, policy, and communications for the AFA as well as being responsible for Film Classification in Alberta. He has been published by some of the usual suspects in some of the usual places and in one or two unusual places and hopes to announce the publication of his first book soon.

Friday, June 10, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kyp Harness

Kyp Harness is a singer-songwriter known for the poetry of his lyrics. He has released twelve independent recordings.  He is also the author of three books: The Art of Laurel and Hardy (2006) and The Art of Charlie Chaplin (2007), which were both published by McFarland in the US. In March 2016, he will release his thirteenth album, Stoplight Moon. In May, his novel, Wigford Rememberies, was published by Nightwood Editions.

He performs in Ottawa on Friday, June 17 as part of The Factory Reading Series' pre-ottawa small press book fair event at the Carleton Tavern.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I've written several other novels, as yet unpublished -- this one is definitely the most poetic-feeling of my books, and it feels really good to get it out there.

2 - How did you come to songwriting first, as opposed to, say, poetry, fiction or non-fiction?
I always did write, and to me songwriting is another way of writing poetry that I could get people to listen to - or so I thought.  I guess I wrote fiction before I wrote songs, although I always did write songs in my head.  And before that I wrote and drew comic books and comic strips, way back to my early childhood.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I guess I start writing and see if it grows from there.  It's always different.  This new book seemed to accumulate and simmer. I write mostly just from inspiration - either it comes or it doesn't - and the end product isn't too different from what first gets set down.

4 - Where does writing usually begin for you? Are you an author of short fragments that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" or "song" from the very beginning?
I think the new book came from short fragments, but i find I like to give myself different goals for fun.  So I've written a couple books where I knew just what I wanted to do and bet myself on whether I could achieve it or not.  With songs, it's like I go unconscious to write the music, so it's mostly created when I'm out of my mind.

5 - Is performance part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys performing?

Yeah I do like to perform, or at least it feels natural to me - there's always a pulse in what I do - I'd like to even perform parts of this book.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your work? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I think the current questions are the ones that have been current forever - the ones that get asked in the dark at night - I don't think there's any answering them - except like Rilke said, to live the questions  - better....

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Like the slogan in the ads for the Army used to say - 'Be all that you can be' - and to tell the truth exactly from where you're standing, geographically or otherwise...

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I found that Silas White, the editor for this book, was excellent and sensitive and has great taste.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Get out of your way!'

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to songwriting to comics)? What do you see as the appeal?
To me it's all writing, or creating - some of my songs are like short stories or novels - I try to keep open to the inspiration of whatever might happen, not to label anything - it's good to just keep moving 

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Not much of a routine!  I do stay up late at night & find I do a lot of stuff then, when everything is quiet.  A day begins with me rolling out of bed and drinking a lot of coffee.  I try to grab time when I can, a bit more easier now than when my kids were young.  I might not do anything for a long time and then do a lot.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I walk a lot, I find that I need to do that - I walk long distances, and in the city you can see a lot.  Natural weather and human-created weather -- it's all out there.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
To be frank, no fragrance reminds me of home.......maybe incense?

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I like films a lot and wrote 2 books on films for McFarland in the US, The Art of Laurel and Hardy and The Art of Charlie Chaplin.....Van Gogh, Rachmaninoff, Nelson Riddle, the poetry of Allison Grayhurst, Elizabeth Cotten.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Ecclesiastes, Dostoevsky, joyce, Miller, Kerouac, Wolfe, Woolf, Roth, Blake, Walt Disney, others too numerous to mention.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Make a living.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I honestly have no idea.  I'd like to be a clown or a comedian, but maybe those are as impractical as what I'm doing now.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think it's the desire to communicate to assure yourself you're not insane and completely out of step.  I don't know if that practically works, though.  But at least you get the sense that even if your ideas are out of whack, you've at least communicated them as completely as you're able.  ultimately I've got no choice, I just can't help myself.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead -- worth tracking down

McCabe and Mrs. Miller by Robert Altman -- hadn't seen it before -- beautiful film.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A couple different writings, one's a short comic novel, and the others about children.  And always with the songs and the music....!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Joshua Auerbach and Eleni Zisimatos on Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series

Joshua Auerbach and Eleni Zisimatos are Co-editors-in-Chief of Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series, Montreal.

For the first time, Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series will be participating in the ottawa small press book fair, to be held on June 18.

1 – When did the Vallum Chapbook Series first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

The Vallum Chapbook Series started in 2005 published by Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (Vallum). As a publisher we have strived to publish a variety of voices, with a focus on Canadian poets, but not exclusively. In the past, we have chosen solicited work by one notable poet and one emerging poet. This year, we have established our first Chapbook contest, open to all. We publish two chapbooks per year, so one will be the contest winner and the other will be a solicited work.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Well we love books! We started publishing the magazine Vallum: Contemporary Poetry in 2001, and have been registered as a Canadian Charity since 2003. We decided to broaden our scope and publish chapbooks in addition to the magazine.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Small publishing is very important in the continuation of literary culture and vital for the promotion of poets and poetry. Although printing costs are often prohibitive, and there is a turn to digital media, I think publishing in print is important. There should be support from the public and other financing institutions for small presses as they are supporting something of value in the literary community.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Vallum publishes on a small scale and is not doing anything that other small presses are not. We try to publish good writers, with as best a publication quality as funding will allow.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
The most effective way to get chapbooks out into the world is by advertising them through social media and launches. Launches are great because the poet can also read their work and promote their chapbooks that way. But mostly, it is through forums like blogs or Face Book that information about new chapbooks can be circulated. Distributors usually don’t accept books that are not perfect bound and in quantity, so it has to be done via mail, or word of mouth. Vallum’s magazine has national distribution by Magazines Canada, but the chapbooks do not.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Editorially, we do not like to change too many things about a poet’s chapbook, unless the poet is emerging and in need of some guidance. A light touch is most often preferred. We have 2-3 editors looking at the chapbooks and a layout designer who also does some cover art.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We distribute our books through our online store, through subscriptions, at press fairs, and sell them at launches. Our usual print-run is 150, but that may go up.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
It is mainly us, the editors-in-chief, who are involved with editing. The Managing Editor is involved with production and design/layout. This works well, although there are always time
constraints to worry about.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Being editors has humbled us in that there are so many good poets writing out there. So much poetry to choose from, and so difficult to make decisions. We have been lucky in that Vallum has published many excellent poets like Don McKay, Franz Wright, George Elliott Clarke, Jan Zwicky and others. Also some exciting new talent.
 10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Vallum has published work by its editors in the past, but it is something we try to avoid, although we’re not against it. Sometimes it’s good to have work by the editors put forth by the same press. It allows a view into the editor’s and publisher’s world, and so, why not?

11– How do you see the Vallum Chapbook Series evolving?
Vallum’s chapbook series is becoming more noticed since we have started to promote it more. We’ve held more launches and advertised more. Hopefully the Chapbook Contest will be fruitful and allow for a wider range of poets to reach us. Maybe one day we’ll publish more than two per year.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

We’re really happy with the poets who have contributed to the Series and hope to continue in this vein and to find new, up-and-coming poets to add to our list. I think a lot of people haven’t known about our Chapbook Series, so it’s been a little slow in the past selling copies and getting the word out. It’s more feasible to promote one’s publications with the help of social media. Our biggest frustration is that people are reluctant to actually buy poetry books.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

Our models have been small Canadian presses, in general, with no specific one. As mentioned, our chapbook series has been slow in evolving, but it’s coming along nicely. Our first models for publishing were university publications at Concordia University while we were MA students there. That's where the Vallum idea began.

14– How does the Vallum Chapbook Series work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see the Vallum Chapbook Series in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

We’re making every effort to be in contact with other presses. Recently we had a Toronto launch with Frog Hollow Press, and we’re in exchange with the Atwater Reading Series, and other venues. We go to the Toronto Small Press Fair and Expozine every year, and this summer to the Ottawa Small Press Fair. We’re always looking to connect with other publishers and poets in the literary community. We hold regular launches for the chapbooks and the magazine, and this is very important in keeping in touch with the community, vital even.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We hold a launch and/or readings every time we publish something, be it a magazine issue or a chapbook. These are very important to get the word out and important for the authors who like the visibility and the opportunity to read and display their work.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
This year, we’re using the internet and converting some of our print chapbooks into digital chapbooks, for those interested in digital.

The internet is a vital tool for the dissemination of poetry and the like. Unfortunately, this is not always the best way to enjoy poetry. A book in hand and a cup of tea (coffee or beer!)  in a cafe is a much better way.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We used to be open to submissions but now have a Chapbook Contest in place and we like to solicit one of the chapbook authors. So the winner receives publication and promotion. We may increase our yearly chapbook run, if time and resources permit. One of the things that we adhere to is a 25-pp length maximum for contest submissions.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Some of our most recent titles include Mary di Michele’s The Montreal Book of the Dead, Don McKay’s Larix, Vincent PagĂ©’s Veinte, and Nicole Brossard’s A Tilt in the Wondering, along with Thurston Moore and John Kinsella’s A Remarkable Grey Horse. These are all great chapbooks by accomplished poets. Hopefully we'll be able to publish good poets for a long time to come!

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Thursday, June 02, 2016

On Writing #96 : Mer Brebner

You always swore you wouldn’t…
Mer Brebner

The breaking point comes one afternoon, while you are sitting on the floor of your apartment, half a world away from where you were born.  A stupid song comes on, a song you don’t even really like but that reminds you of her because you think she liked it. Or she would have. And suddenly you’re bawling.
What happened? You never used to cry like this. You never used to sob. Back then, the tears just streamed down your cheeks of their own accord. Back then, tears felt cheap.
It was easier when you couldn’t cry, when the wound was so raw that your system ran on too much adrenaline and didn’t realize that it was slowly killing itself. There was that awful emptiness, but you almost didn’t notice because it was an absence of sensation. There was always that distant whisper in the back of your mind that there wasn’t supposed to be that gaping a hole, that that hole wasn’t a manufacturer’s defect, it was your own carelessness, or clumsiness, or forgetfulness that lost the missing part (piece? peace?). You left it somewhere - discarded as useless - because it was broken beyond repair.
It made no sense to try piecing it back together; it would take too much effort. Easier to just send away for a replacement, for the spare part. For a spare heart.  Eventually, your request is denied: Sorry, that particular product has been discontinued. We don’t make them like that anymore.
You want to go back to find all those pieces, put them back together so that you’ll finally be whole again. But as you collect the shards – and they are shards: ones that slice you open as you fumble to pick them up and sting with unusual intensity for wounds so insignificant – you realize that there are too many missing pieces.
You don’t know where you left them, where they slipped out of your pocket or off your tongue, forever lost because you discarded them like breadcrumbs along the way, certain they’d help you find your way back to yourself. If that was ever something you wanted to be again.
Now, you want to be yourself again, but you can’t because you’ve lost too many of the pieces. That self had a home. That self had a mother and a father and a sister and a whole heart. And you have none of those things.
No one knows how to help you. And you have no idea where to start looking for the answers that seem like they should be obvious.
There’s no manual on grieving, not one that isn’t full of shit or based on some self-interested lie that tries to convince you that you can be whole again, that you can be you again.
How can you be you without them?
No one’s honest. No one tells you, straight up, that you’re never going to be the same again. (You can understand why no one tells you this at first – when you’ve lost everything, the last thing you need to be told is that you’ve also lost yourself… and that you just don’t know it yet.) They tell you life won’t be the same, but that’s just growing up, isn’t it darling? That’s what happens. Things change. That’s life, they say – they still have both their octogenarian parents, and their middle-aged siblings and their perfect, indestructible teenage sons.
They never had to do this.
They never had to lose this.
Their lives were never changed so inalterably in seven weeks as to be unrecognizable.
The irony is that the only person you are convinced would know how to help you is the reason you feel this way in the first place.
You try not to think like her. You try not to be like her. Even if it might help, you deny the inevitable because you always swore you wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t follow in her footsteps. You wouldn’t become a writer. You wouldn’t become your mother.
But you did anyway.  And maybe that’s a blessing, because you sure as hell aren’t yourself anymore.

Mer Brebner is the daughter of celebrated Ottawa poet, Diana Brebner. She studied international politics, technical theatre and paramedicine. Growing up, she vowed never to become a writer. She currently lives in Gatineau where she is working on getting a novel and a memoir published.