Odd to think that it was already three years ago this month that I put together the initial website for periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics. From the familiar vantage of my late mother’s armchair, I managed some five hundred solicitations across a matter of days, quickly launching a website and subsequent twitter account with information and a submissions call (I was equally quick to build and respond upon founding Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] back in the spring of 2014). I was spending another of my regular weekends with my widower father on the homestead, nearing the end of what would become a sixteen month period of his slow erosion from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was otherwise content and didn’t require much, beyond someone to simply be there, with the television on as perpetual background as he worked his puzzles, slept or looked up articles; for the bulk of my tenure, my attentions were my own.
I had thought for a while of working another online poetics journal. Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell and I had worked six issues of the online Poetics.ca (2003-2007; with design/web assistances from Roland Prevost and AJ Dolman), a journal that attempted to open up a conversation of contemporary poetry. There simply isn’t enough conversation, honestly, and what there is becomes either so localized, or around the same small handful of authors. So much compelling work simply never gets covered (although I do attempt to keep a running tally of links to journals on the sidebar of periodicities that are working a variety of interesting conversations as well). When Poetics.ca wound down in 2007, I responded by building up what became a dozen issues of a subsequent journal, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (2008-2018), with Roland Prevost and Monique Desnoyers assisting on design/web. Both journals managed to publish some incredible work, but some of the frustrations I had with both projects was the fact that I neither hosted nor designed, so there were elements of timing beyond my control. I certainly couldn’t make any demands of anyone’s time beyond what their generosities already allowed. When both journals fell off the internet somewhere in 2019 (as the friend who was hosting both sites had long sold his company, and no longer had the ability to get it back up if it slipped), it prompted me to start something new, and something I might actually have better control over. Now, instead of issues occurring twice a year or thereabouts (sometimes less, depending on the availability of particular web designers), I’m able to post multiple pieces across an array of days from the beginning of each month.
There was a lot I wished to accomplish. I had hoped for reviews as the backbone of the journal, but was also interested a variety of other simultaneous threads. Why not ask poets to write about their experiences doing writing residencies, or even writer-in-residence gigs? Most writers don’t even seem to understand what is involved with either of those things, so how could the public know? Why not ask poets to write short reports on the literary activities in their particular geographic location? There are so many communities that deserve a wider and broader attention. Why not request publishers, whether medium, small or smaller, to compose short write-ups on what it is that they’re working on, including upcoming publications, that particularly excite them? I mean, there’s an enormous amount of literary activity happening everywhere and all around, most of which seems not to be covered in any way. Why not attempt to open up some of those conversations? I sought out experimental works from multiple corners and a myriad of forms, from the visual to the lyric, the experimental to the more traditional. One conversation certainly doesn’t exclude another.
As the journal developed, I also realized that it was important to offer space for memorials, offering write-ups on poets who had passed, too many of which went too soon. As well, I thought it would be interesting to work on a sequence of folios, whether guest-edited or otherwise, shining spotlights on either certain communities or conversations, as a gathering-place around a particular subject or idea. There have been some amazing ones so far, from the Paul Celan centennial curated by Mark Goldstein and Amanda Earl’s long poem conversation through the lens of the visual poem, to SJ Fowler’s “engerland” folio and the since-late RM Vaughan’s Queer Poetry from New Brunswick. I’ve even curated memorial folios on the late Peter Ganick and Ken Belford, as well as one on the prose poem, as I find the form, as well as the very different origins and trajectories of the form across different communities and countries, quite fascinating (I’m slowly working to compile a second round of pieces on this particular form, as well as an ongoing thread around the Canadian long poem).
I had originally aimed for April 1, 2020 as my initial issue launch, but as the Covid lockdowns fell across those first weeks of soliciting, scheming and curating, it prompted me to launch the ‘virtual reading series’ as a way for those initial isolations to feel less isolating. We were all sent home from work, from school, from everything; away from events, friends and family. We’d agreed to shut down our tenth annual VERSeFest Poetry Festival within days of opening night. I cancelled my fiftieth birthday party, although the ‘virtual reading series’ announced the morning of the actual birthday. The isolations were anxiety-ridden, given how much we didn’t know or might not, as to what it all meant, how long it might last or just what or how we might finally emerge. Within a matter of days I was posting dozens of solicited and submitted videos by poets reading from their own work, whether through laptops or outside on their phones. I was posting twenty-five videos a week across those initial few weeks, from poets across North America and beyond, attempting to offset some of those isolations. We were all in the same storm, perhaps, but not all in the same boat. Outreach, during those days, seemed vital.
There have been more than eight hundred posts (and counting) over the past three years, including book and chapbook reviews, interviews, poems, features, folios, translations, manifestos, conversations, commentaries, podcast episodes, residency reports, bibliographic offerings, reading and conference reports, chapbook self-write-ups, process notes and more than one hundred videos of poets reading in the ‘virtual reading series.’ The site has been fortunate enough to post some absolutely, devastatingly, incredible work, and I would highly recommend you move through the archive on the sidebar just to see what there has been (click on the link for each month to see that months’ postings). One could mention how Regina-based poet, translator and critic Jérôme Melançon has not only been regularly reviewing poetry books published in French, but working translation from French to English as part of those reviews. Northern Ontario poet and critic Kim Fahner has provided a whole slew of reviews, as have a handful of other reviewers, from the occasional to the accidental. Toronto poet, academic and publisher Dani Spinosa worked a series of interviews with visual poets, and Michigan poet, editor and small press publisher Michael Sikkema has interviewed more than a dozen poets working from within and across the small press realm. Minnesota poet, editor, translator and critic David Hadbawnik offered a fantastic series of podcasts, through which he conducted interviews (I’m hoping he might be able to return to this at some point). There was a whole series of essays that British Columbia-based poet and critic Dale Tracy had written on individual poems, the series of essays that Ottawa poet, publisher and reviewer Dessa Bayrock composed on individual poems, or the online reprints of poems, interviews and other critical materials from the more than a dozen “Report from the Society” series of festschrifts that above/ground press began publishing a year or so back. I’ve conducted interviews with each of the shortlisted poets for at least a couple of lists for the Griffin Poetry Prize, as well as the bpNichol Chapbook Award and the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (it would be fun to get the National Book Award shortlist, but I haven’t quite managed that yet). Given the nature of blogger, the site can move quick, and be reactive, responsive. One can turn on a dime, even.
Unlike many of my variety of other schemes, this project is more overtly an extension of the work I’ve been doing since founding above/ground press back in the summer of 1993 (with the 2006-2016 Chaudiere Books publishing activity being, in function, the trade publishing arm of the press), allowing more obvious linkages between the chapbook publishing and the online poetics journal. I mean, why not? And the scope of the press has always run pretty wide, from the emerging to the well-established, the experimental to the more traditional. To understand the centre, I would say, one has to better understand the edges, yes?
in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in
Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine
McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction,
he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa
Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and
2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His
most recent titles include the poetry collections the book of smaller (University
of Calgary Press, 2022) and World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), and a suite
of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield
Press, 2022). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, periodicities:
a journal of poetry and poetics and
Touch the Donkey. He is editor
of my (small press) writing day, and
an editor/managing editor of many gendered
mothers. In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books
via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent
the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of
Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com