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Discovering the poetic secrets behind the doors of Apt. 9

By Alejandro Bustos on October 15, 2013

A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” – Henrik Ibsen.

Henrik Ibsen, the renowned 19th century Norwegian playwright, would likely be proud of the National Capital Region.  While some cities are known for their literary jealousies, in which published authors resent the success of their fellow scribes, our region is filled with authors and publishers who work tirelessly to improve their beloved artistic community.

To paraphrase Ibsen, members of our local writing scene have no qualms about taking the helm of the ship when needed.

One “captain” who does great work to help local writers is Cameron Anstee, an English Literature PhD student at the University of Ottawa.  As the founder of Apt. 9 Press, an Ottawa-based publisher of poetry chapbooks, he has given a platform for numerous writers to release their work.

Among the writers who have written for Apt. 9 is Christine McNair, who has been nominated for a 2013 Ottawa Book Award and 2013 Archibald Lampman Award.

What is truly remarkable about Apt. 9, however, is the dedication and time that Anstee puts in when producing his chapbooks.  In a sense, his printing house is like a love song to our region’s poetry community.

“I do all of the work in my office,” says Anstee about Apt. 9’s publications.  ” “They are hand stitched, printed on my desk, and because of that they are very time consuming.  So I keep it to small editions of about 50 books.”

This coming Friday, October 18, Apt. 9 will be releasing three new chapbooks by local writers Rhonda Douglas and Jesslyn Delia Smith, as well as Toronto-based author Spencer Gordon.  The event is scheduled for 7 pm at Raw Sugar Café (692 Somerset St. W.).

Previous publications include Jeff Blackman’s chapbook So Long As The People are People, which has been reviewed in the blogopshere.

The creation and ongoing work of Apt. 9 is a true labour of love.

“I don’t have to break even because I have a paying job,” says Anstee, as he explains how he can afford to run a small publishing house in the Internet age.

When asked if he is worried that our digital age will make printed poetry books, let alone chapbooks, an anachronism, he replies that he is not concerned.

“Just as there will always be bands who will find ways to tour and make music, there will always be people who will want to put out books,” he tells me.

This optimistic view, coupled with a willingness to take the helm, helps explain why our region’s writing scene is a true gem.