On July 9th, Venus Envy hosted the debut book launch for Metonymy Press, a Montreal-based publishing house created and maintained by Oliver Pickle and Ashley Fortier. This was my first time attending one of Venus Envy’s many events, and it was a welcome sight to see that they had packed a full house. And, to be sure, Oliver and Ashley couldn’t have chosen a more “stimulating” venue.
The evening was headlined by Ade Boluwatife, a London poet whose stirring spoken word poetry speaks to her search for identity and her struggle against those restrictions that would threaten to drown who she is. Yet, while her poetry addresses the cruelties of a restrictive world, it is often with love and caring that her poetry deals with the aspects of life, she said, that she tries to focus on.
Ade’s poetry was a fitting introduction to Metonymy Press, whose mandate is to give a voice to queer and feminist communities that remain underrepresented in mainstream publishing. It is also their hope that the publishing of their future works will help to facilitate the natural introduction of feminist and queer themes to the active art of reading.
The launch showcased Metonymy’s new book, authored by Oliver himself, called She is Sitting in the Night: Revisioning Thea’s Tarot, a queer interpretation of a lovely set of paper cut tarot cards created by Ruth West in 1984.
Created in the spirit of a feminist separatist movement, these cards already lend themselves to feminist interpretations, focusing as they do on women and body types that go beyond the typical “thin and white” figures of traditional tarot. It was at the request of a close friend that Oliver, who also happens to read tarot, began to develop his own queer interpretations of this evocative set, using his own contemporary contexts.
This was perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this project, as Thea’s Tarot, and the deck it is based on, were only loosely defined by their authors. They belong to what you might call a tradition of contextual ambiguity; Oliver is the first person to attempt the establishment of more concrete definitions.
When asked about the opportunity to take on this undefined subject, Oliver had this to say;
“I was pleased to work with cards “undefined” by their creator – it made it easier to be inspired by the deck’s symbolism instead of having it suggested to me. But in some instances I would have been curious to know what the artist’s thoughts were when she was making her aesthetic choices.”
As the very first publication of Metonymy Press, I was curious to know what they felt was most important about this project, what exactly this project allowed them to do. Oliver explained that one of the things he valued most was that it allowed him to communicate with a tradition that existed before he did. Identification with past symbols and frameworks help nourish a building sense of community, even if these symbols are stemming from something else entirely.
Even if you aren’t a practitioner of tarot, they suggest that the majority of this book will still be relevant to a larger audience, as the images and interpretations offer content that anyone can identify with. Furthermore, it’s a beautifully crafted book, one that is filled with stirring images that are accompanied by an interesting exploration of symbolism that will provoke thought in even the most casual of readers.
As the evening wound down and people began to lay claim to the books and tarot decks, I spoke to Ashley about their plans for Metonymy. While it is still just the two of them working behind the scenes, she assured me that we will be seeing more of them in the near future, even if they have to start off at a measured pace.
“We recently had an open submission”, she explained, “and we received so many great ideas, but since it’s just the two of us we have to be careful with how much we take on. But with a book deal in the works with a Toronto author, another publication may be possible within the year”.
In this digital age, where eBooks and Amazon seem to hold sway, how are they feeling as independent print publishers?
Pretty confident, apparently.
So far, says Oliver, “We’re receiving great feedback from bookworld people and readers, which is exciting!” Ashley, very much in agreement, went on to add;
I’m feeling pumped that it’s all come together so well. I don’t think my opinion of print media has changed so much as my appreciation for how much work it takes, [which] has been elevated, solidified. And I really echo Oliver’s words about how great it’s been to get a positive reception from those attending our events and ordering our books. It’s a very rewarding and affirming experience after taking the scary step of putting ourselves out there.
Metonymy Press has just begun its journey as both an independent publisher and one of the many champions of queer and feminist communities, but judging from the quality and impact of their first printing, it is a journey that Ashley and Oliver seem well prepared for.
Joseph Hutt is an Ottawa-based freelance writer and editor with an interest in local literary and theater culture. He is the Associate Editor for the Ottawa Arts Review, and has just been hired as the Managing Editor of The Leveller. He currently blogs at cuppajoebooks.tumblr.com.