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Celebrating 20 years of poetry with above/ground press

By Alejandro Bustos on August 19, 2013


Since 1993, Ottawa-based above/ground press has been releasing poetry chapbooks and broadside poems from local writers, as well as out-of-town authors from Canada and the United States.

Edited and published by literary jack-of-all-trades rob mclennan, (whose name is spelled all lowercase), this independent press has been an indispensable staple in the National Capital Region’s thriving poetry scene.  Among the numerous local wordsmiths that they have published are such talents as Amanda EarlMichael Blouin, Sandra Ridley and Pearl Pirie.

To celebrate two decades of publishing great poetry, they will be hosting a special 2oth anniversary party on Friday, August 23, at The Mercury Lounge, Lounge Level (second floor), at 56 ByWard Market.  Tickets are $8, doors open at 7 pm and the reading starts at 7:30 pm.

The importance of this local publisher, however, extends far beyond Ottawa and surrounding areas.

“It’s impossible to overestimate the role of rob mclennan and a/g in Ottawa’s poetry community,” writes Toronto poet Marcus McCann in an email.  “The community really is like no other I’ve seen – there is more happening in Ottawa in terms of community than in Toronto or Montreal, and rob is the fulcrum on which it turns.”

Image taken from the above/ground web site

Image taken from the above/ground press web site

This praise is echoed by writers outside of Canada.  “Because of the breadth of rob’s reach … he builds and extends communities of writers, putting us into conversation with each other, introducing us to work we might not otherwise know,” says poet Marthe Reed, who currently lives in Syracuse, New York, but who previously spent 11 years in Lafayette, Lousiana.

“Of particular value is the work he does through above/ground of facilitating connections across the border, putting Canadian and U.S. poets face-to-face, as it were.”

McCann and Reed are among five poets who will be reading at Friday’s anniversary event.  Other writers who will participating in Friday’s festivities also praised the small publishing house.  In fact, the impact of above/ground press has been so great, some authors can’t remember a time without it.

“It seems like a/g was always here,” says Hamilton-based poet Gary Barwin.  “Whenever I looked around, there would be another one of these publications featuring perhaps a very well known writer, or someone I’d never heard of…. It has always surprised me, the range of people he has published: From Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award winners to first-time published poets.”

For new and aspiring poets, or more established authors who want to experiment with new writing styles and techniques, mclennan’s work is vital.

“Small independent publishers like above/ground are crucial in the literary community,” notes Ottawa poet Monty Reid, who will also be reading on Friday.  “They give an opportunity for new writers to make an appearance, and for more-established writers to try out work that might be outside their routine.  It creates hope, and at least a small audience, for writers, and it offers a model for other potential publishers.  I think the abundance of micropresses in Ottawa owes a great deal to the consistent presence of above/ground. ”

Image from the above/ground web site

Image taken from above/ground web site

One of the small local publishing houses that will be present at the 20th anniversary party is Apt. 9 Press, which is run by Cameron Anstee.

To help above/ground commemorate two fantastic decades of literary publications, Anstee will be using the anniversary festivities to launch a limited edition chapbook titled I simply began: above/ground press at 20 [an interview with rob mclennan].  The book will consist of an interview of mclennan by Anstee.

Each of the five poets who will be speaking at the anniversary party will also be releasing a new chapbook.  Audience members, meanwhile, will receive the new issue of the The Peter F. Yacht Club.