Tuesday, December 5, 2023

rob mclennan : groundwork : introduction,





This is the third anthology celebrating a decade’s worth of continuous activity across above/ground press, the chapbook press I founded well before I understood much of anything about publishing, or writing, or marketing. Or anything, really. Has it really been thirty years since I launched those first few above/ground press titles? Seven months after I had begun what evolved into The Factory Reading Series, I organized and hosted the first above/ground press launch on July 9, 1993 at The Stone Angel Institute, a short-lived 1960s-style coffeehouse on Ottawa’s Lisgar Street. Across that first decade or so, every publication was singular. My original tools included typewriter, scissors and tape, and the ubiquitous long-arm stapler (I’ve gone through six since). My ambitions were large and ongoing from the very beginning, even if I didn’t necessarily know how to get here from there.

I’ve always considered the designation ‘best of’ to be a bit of a misnomer, especially in terms of how I attempt to put these anthologies together. Perhaps it is better to call this a ‘best of’ selection of work that predominantly hasn’t seen reprint in subsequent full-length collections. Perhaps the argument for a collection such as this is a ‘worth repeating,’ as I would rather focus on those works that haven’t been republished since in more traditional venues. Given the press’ production increase over the past decade—including the introduction of the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] and occasional G U E S T [a journal of guest editors], not to mention the online periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics, and further print issues of The Peter F. Yacht Club—I could have easily put together a dozen or so different variations on this particular volume. Each would have been equally vibrant, cohesive, and expansive, without a single author overlapping between them. With nearly thirteen hundred publications over the past thirty years, consider for a moment that more than half of those have been produced over the press’ third decade. One might ask: why not include Helen Hajnoczky, Alice Notley, or Jessica Smith? Where are Natalie Simpson, Stephen Brockwell, or Eric Schmaltz? Where is Steve McCaffery? Where is Amish Trivedi, Stephen Collis, or Amanda Earl? Wasn’t there a Rosmarie Waldrop title, and three by Rae Armantrout? There is simply too much, too much. Call this a ‘dipping in,’ I suppose. A glimpse or even an overview of a far wider field of ongoing activity.

The late Fredericton poet and publisher Joe Blades saw the first anthology through his Broken Jaw Press, publishing GROUNDSWELL, best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 back in 2003, and Christine McNair and I produced the second volume, Ground Rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013, through our Chaudiere Books in 2013, which is now part of the Invisible Publishing back catalogue. If you can imagine, Christine and I had just moved into a house and our Rose was newborn when that book launched, with Christine providing a confirmation of cover stock to our printer from her hospital bed, mere hours before giving birth. One might wonder if above/ground has long thrived on or within a certain amount of chaos, but it might be more precise to consider above/ground press a project willing and able to adapt as required, rolling with whatever life is happening at any particular moment.

Editorially, the press moves as my reading interest does, from the more straightforward lyric to concrete/visual works to more experimental prose, including works that might be seen as too wild, strange, or experimental for a full-length collection. I’ve always enjoyed the form of the chapbook for its durability, and deliberately focus on an inexpensive production that allows for what bpNichol termed the ‘gift economy,’ refusing to produce items I can’t afford to freely distribute. The chapbook also allows the ability to move quickly from concept to publication, to take risks with work that isn’t hampered by any consideration of potential sales. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a stable of annual subscribers over the past decade or more who have allowed me that kind of flexibility, and it was Gary Geddes who first introduced to me the idea of subscriptions, back in 1994, as we drank Sleemans in the treehouse in his Dunvegan, Ontario yard. It was subscriptions, he told me, that allowed him to keep his Quadrant Editions afloat for those first few years in the early 1980s, well before the press evolved into Cormorant Books.

It is strange to think that I’ve now been producing above/ground press longer than I haven’t, begun way back when I was but a mere lad of twenty-three. There’s a part of me, now, that is curious to see how far I can take the press, and what new directions and adventures might be possible. There is so much more ahead that I know I haven’t even imagined or discovered. At this moment, the race to the half-century mark begins.






Born 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 collection World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022) and the anthology groundworks: the best of the third decade of above/ground press 2013-2023 (Invisible Publishing, 2023). His collection of short stories, On Beauty (University of Alberta Press) will appear in fall 2024. 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. 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

Dina Del Bucchia : Never More Than Anything (for Nikki Reimer

from Report from the Reimer Society, Vol. 1 No. 1





I used to think I was never more
than a little faker trying to run
alongside real ones, like you.

I think people assume
poet friendships are fragile,
but they don’t know
about the strength of our
group message.

And they fucking never will
because not everyone deserves
inner circle jeers access,
vulnerable gifs, or answers
to heart-sad mysteries, poet
detectives getting to the
bottom of a matter no one
else cares about. But we
care deeply.

I want to clap
and shout-sing
like the most annoying person
at the karaoke bar
(which let’s face it,
I’ve been), adapting lyrics
to make them personal
to my inner circle.

Hey Nikki
You’re so fine
You’re so fine
You blow my mind!
Hey Nikki!
*Clapping emojis*
Hey Nikki!
*Clapping emojis*

But that song gets it wrong.
I mean, not this part, but the rest.
Cuz you do understand. Which makes
me feel less like torching
the Eiffel Tower for attention.
Or more realistically,
the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.
Flights are cheaper
and I’m a poet.

I’ve never been to Paris,
I’ve never been to Vegas,
but, Nikki, I’ve been to you!




Dina Del Bucchia is a writer, podcaster, literary event host, editor and creative writing instructor. She is the author of the short story collection, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, and four collections of poetry: Coping with Emotions and Otters, Blind Items, Rom Com, written with Daniel Zomparelli, and, It’s a Big Deal! She is the Artistic Director of the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series, hosts the podcast, Can’t Lit, with Jen Sookfong Lee and is on the editorial board of the small literary press, fine press. Her chapbook, Douche Process, is available online at ryanfitzpatrick.ca/modelpress/. Her new collection, You’re Gonna Love This, will be out in spring 2024 with Talonbooks. It’s her first book length poem and it’s very scary. You can check out her website at dinadelbucchia.com

Monday, December 4, 2023

Elee Kraljii Gardiner : Memory (for Nikki Reimer

from Report from the Reimer Society, Vol. 1 No. 1




We are both in love
          with tractors, the farmlife at the end of our arms
                    just out of reach of everything
but nostalgia We are romantic
          for past utility, brightly-eyed as a blue Ford
                    it’s gear shift slender as a sapling

We get sad talking about tractors        
          Stretching through silver keys
                    towards communion         we furrow
                              brows, grow a little teary remembering
how many things
          we have never touched
                    I offer you ribs of the radiator, at least what I have heard of it
                              and you spin the spiney axel my way

When you begin with a begot, you continue the unforgotten

i’m the son of the son of a tractor;
your lonely fist brings back memories of that time in southern Alberta
dad pointing to where the granary stood,
where the house was—
former foundations now an indentation in an empty field.
over a fence the cattle herd watched me placidly.
they could tell i didn’t know the first thing about agriculture.
my other grandfather was a traveling salesman:
little ribs ease up on the clutch.





Elee Kraljii Gardiner is an author, editor, and creative mentor whose award-winning books of poetry include Trauma Head and serpentine loop, and the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and three chapbooks: Residence, WATCHER with Gary Barwin, and Trauma Head: the medical file. A frequent collaborator with choreographers, musicians, and visual artists, Elee is currently collaborating with nature via a series of durational installations that investigate the law of thermodynamics and cultural ideas regarding the passing of time. Originally from Boston, Elee lives in Canada where she directs Vancouver Manuscript Intensive, a program pairing authors with mentors. eleekg.com

Shikha Malaviya : Process Note 29

The ‘process notes’ pieces were originally solicited by Maw Shein Win as addendum to her teaching particular poems and poetry collections for various workshops and classes. This process note and poetry by Shikha Malaviya are part of her curriculum for her class at the University of San Francisco in their MFA in Writing Program.

     In 2017, I chanced upon a photograph that would alter the course of my writing life for the next five years, resulting in a book of historical persona poetry on India’s first female medical doctor, Anandibai Joshee: A Life in Poems (HarperCollins India, July 2023). At the time, I was researching South Asian American history for a long lyric poem project inspired by the racism I had experienced while growing up in the midwest in the ‘80s. In this project, one of my goals was to confront my childhood bullies with historical facts about immigrants from South Asia, to prove to them that my family was one of many that had come from India to live in the United States over the years. I wanted to render my bullies' words, ‘go back where you came from’, obsolete. I set out to find who was the first woman from India to touch American shores by doing an internet search. Within a few seconds, I found myself staring at a sepia-tinted photograph that left me almost breathless. Three young women stared back at me with intensity and purpose, the leftmost one dressed elegantly in a saree, the middle woman in a kimono, and the rightmost one wearing a headdress of coins. The inscription below the photograph indicated that these three women, Anandibai Joshee, Kei Okami and Sabat Islambooly were doctors who had come to Philadelphia from India, Japan, and Syria in the 19th century and were the first women from their respective countries to study medicine in the United States. As the Indian doctor’s Monalisa-like glance followed me everywhere, I wondered who this woman was and how she got to Philadelphia from India in the 19th century? How did she manage to break the shackles of tradition where women were largely homebound tending to family and manage to cross ‘kala pani,’ those black ocean waters that were considered poisonous/tainted? I literally felt a shiver of acknowledgment, this validation of knowing that there actually had been others before us. I immediately saved the image of the photograph on my laptop, knowing I would return to it and somehow write about it. Little did I know that this very photograph would spur a whole biography in poetry as well as become one of my most challenging poetry prompts.

     I had written several poems on Anandibai’s life, before I approached writing a poem based on the very photograph that started it all. I knew this ekphrastic poem had to be in the book, but I didn’t quite know how. Because this photograph was the catalyst, I wanted the poem in response to it to be special. I first thought of approaching it in terms of an invocation and having the poem at the very beginning of the book.



Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1886 / World Wide Web, 2017

A triumvirate of another kind 
we circumambulate the world

in a new century 

where longitude and latitude 
collapse into a tangled web

and we are surfing high

goddesses of the serpent and staff
not Durga Lakshmi Saraswati

but Joshi Okami Islambooly

stethoscopes tucked under
a saree a kimono a headdress of coins

viewing the modern world with sepia glances

and like a lottery ticket to the past
you scratch to see what’s underneath

to see if the numbers match

what you’ve won is palimpsest
a story over a story over a story 

you show me yours, I’ll show you mine

I’m the smallest of them all
wrapped in six yards of silk 

my kunku a tiny third eye 

consumption hidden behind
a hint of a smile on my lips

as my eyes follow you

like a Mahratta Mona Lisa
pulling you into my life

turbulent like kala pani

     While this wasn’t necessarily a bad poem, I felt it was revealing too much at the beginning and that I was sort of directing what I wanted the readers to feel. A poet friend had told me to add myself into the narrative, my connection to my subject, and this was my clumsy attempt. Not every reader might feel they had won a lottery ticket to the past by looking at this photograph and that these three doctors were goddesses. This first draft felt like I was trying too hard and ultimately, I wanted to focus on the feelings of those who were in the photograph. My voice did not belong here. I felt the pressure of conveying the importance of this photograph and my own feelings and responses were interfering with the creative process. I decided to put writing this poem on hold and revisit it in a few months. 


     I had started arranging the other poems of Anandibai’s life I had written chronologically and felt that this poem should be placed chronologically as well. While writing another poem, I started wondering how Anandibai and her other two classmates must have felt while having their photograph taken. Were they the only three international students? My guess was yes. Were they asked to come dressed in their native clothes? Perhaps. Who took the photograph? Surely it must have been a white man as photography was considered a male profession at the time. And if so, what did that imply? I tried writing a poem from the point of view of the white, male photographer and came up with the following lines:

My wife will want to know where such fine silk is found
I think as I tell them to face the camera 

this triad of doctors, ladies of the orient, bound by a continent 

and yet how different they are 

from left to right, a saree, a kimono, a headdress of coins 

three years in Philadelphia and soon they will don white coats 

and is it cold where you come from I want to ask 

And when that didn’t seem right, I decided first person would be best:

Look straight ahead, the photographer says 
and we do, facing the camera in our fancy dress

a saree a kimono a headdress of coins

glad to be rid of our medical attire 

but for this brief hour, where we pose—

it doesn’t occur to us that we are a triad 

of otherness—India, Tokyo, Syria

who all crossed the same oceans

doctors in training

bound by a common continent

     The poem was finally moving in the right direction, but like the photo, I wanted it to have an immediate impact and what I had come up with seemed too wordy and explanatory. And also the fact that I mentioned that they didn’t think of themselves as the other. They surely must have. It was around this time that I came across Jericho Brown’s powerful book of poems, The Tradition, and within that the duplex form. I was dazzled by how this form of poetry, that combined the sonnet, ghazal, and blues, could provide a framework within 14 lines that embraced the musicality of repetition with the structure of couplets. As well as brevity. I wondered what would happen if I used the duplex form for my own poem. The result, below, I am thrilled to share, is what ended up in the book. I used to be very resistant to form, but in the writing of this book, I often turned to form because it gave me a much-needed frame, bringing things into more focus.



Philadelphia, 1885 


Forgive us if we don’t smile
the ocean’s scent still on our clothes

still on our clothes the stench of sea
we, visitors of another clime

of warmer lands are we
with pride, we wear our native clothes

silks and jewels we proudly don
saree, kimono, headdress of coins

with lyre, sash, a handheld fan
no scalpel, stethoscope or degree 

three female doctors of foreign pedigree  
playing dress-up for Western eyes 

in our appearance, they see worlds wild
forgive us if we don’t smile


From Anandibai Joshee: A Life in Poems, HarperCollins India, 2023.

Shikha Malaviya is a poet, writer, and publisher. Her book of historical persona poetry, Anandibai Joshee: A Life in Poems (HarperCollins, India, 2023) is a unique retelling of the life of India's first female medical doctor and the first Indian woman to study medicine in the United States. Shikha’s previous book of poems, Geography of Tongues, was published to acclaim in 2014. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in Catamaran, PLUME, Prairie Schooner and other fine publications. Shikha has been a featured TEDx speaker and was selected as Poet Laureate of San Ramon, California, 2016. Shikha is co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model literary press and is currently a Mosaic America Fellow. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her family, where she is a poetry mentor, publisher, and workshop facilitator.


Author of Anandibai Joshee: A Life in Poems 
(HarperCollins India, 2023) & Geography of Tongues

Poems & essay in Commonplace
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Maw Shein Win’s most recent poetry collection is Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Omnidawn) which was nominated for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN America Open Book Award, and shortlisted for CALIBA’s Golden Poppy Award for Poetry. Win's previous collections include Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press) and two chapbooks: Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). Win’s Process Note Series features poets and their process. She is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito, CA and teaches poetry in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco. Win often collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and other writers and was recently selected as a 2023 YBCA 100 Honoree. Along with Dawn Angelicca Barcelona and Mary Volmer, she is a co-founder of Maker, Mentor, Muse, a new literary community. mawsheinwin.com

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