Thursday, November 20, 2014

Frank Davey reviews Pearl Pirie's today's woods (2014)

Poet and critic Frank Davey was good enough to review Pearl Pirie's today's woods (2014) over at his blog. Thanks much, Frank! Usually we have to wait weeks or months for a review, and he posted one before I even finished sending out subscriber copies!

See his original post here.
Today’s Woods, by Pearl Pirie. Ottawa: above/ground press, 2014. 6 pp.

This very small chapbook came in the mail yesterday along with several other subscription items from rob mclennan’s also small but many-windowed publishing emporium. Once past the cryptic title, this one is more than worth the price of subscription.

The long lines of Today’s Woods retell the story of the Three Bears’ apocryphal encounter with Goldilocks – including several non-Goldilocks versions that preceded the 1918 one that turned out to be “just right.” And Pirie’s lines are long – editor mclennan works hard to confine them to their pages, reducing all four margins, and in one case running a line across the gutter onto the adjacent page. So there's a lot of words for only 4 pages.

The retelling filters the familiar Eurobear story through the “woods” of both current cultural politics and the physical and behavioral attributes of Canadian grizzly bears. Who cooked the porridge, she asks – was it mom or dad? – which do the details of the story imply? Why did the bears go for a walk and allow their bowls of porridge to reach their varying temperatures? Would bears so skillful as to be able to cook porridge be unwise enough to let it cool? Why is each bear “oblivious to all but own distress. no apparent care about tampering with child’s objects, only each to self, my chair! my bed!”? Is Goldilocks a runaway? Does her occupation of baby-grrrl bear's bed constitute a symbolic sexual assault? Is she a colonial home-invader in a house of indigenous non-white bears? “side note: these are not polar bears in cultural transference to Canada. culturally coded against dark-toned dark-haired bears to be threatening.” The bear parents use the incident to teach their daughter that “she must be self-reliant because humans are running feral”. Like a reality-TV star, Goldilocks labours to believe her own implausible excuses. “Goldy went to therapy to talk about” taking “refuge in good conscience in what she thought / was an abandoned cottage, / despite the fresh cooking scent / and fresh bouquets on table”.

But Goldy cannot get out of the woods in this skillfully and amusingly critical parable -- because those woods were darker and more complicated even back in 1918 than we readers first noted. Dark and complicated woods, which in Pirie's interrogative narrative become fresh woods too.

On the last page of the chapbook is a note that Pirie has a larger book coming from Toronto’s BookThug next spring. Could be interesting.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Factory Reading Series : Massey, Pirie + Irwin, December 12, 2014;

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

The Factory Reading Series presents
three readings and chapbook launches by:

Karen Massey (Ottawa)
Pearl Pirie (Ottawa)
+ Marilyn Irwin (Ottawa)
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, December 12, 2014;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Karen Massey
[pictured] lives in Ottawa, between the canal and the river. Her poetry has won numerous prizes and been published in literary journals and anthologies including Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets (Chaudiere Books). Her erasure poetry has appeared in anthologies including Bukowski Erasure Poetry Anthology (Silver Birch Press, 2014) and online at, ottawater, Bukowski on Wry, and in Là Bloom, special Bloomsday issue of the Found Poetry Review featuring poetry sourced from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

She will be launching the chapbook Strange Fits of Beauty & Light (above/ground press, 2014), her second above/ground press chapbook, after Bullet (1999).

Pearl Pirie’s next collection, Pet Radish, Shrunken is with BookThug, Spring 2015. Host of Literary Landscape on, she has organized Ottawa’s Tree Seed Workshops since 2009 and gives workshops and talks on poetry for various organizations. She blogs and photographs Ottawa’s rich, amazing literary scene.

She will be launching the chapbook today's woods (above/ground press, 2014), her fifth above/ground press publication and third chapbook, after vertigoheel for the dilly (2014) and oath in the boathouse (2008).

Marilyn Irwin’s work has been published by above/ground press, Arc Poetry Magazine (where she is a Contributing Editor), Bywords, Dusie, In/Words, and New American Writing, among others.
A graduate of Algonquin College’s Creative Writing program and winner of Arc’s 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, she has three chapbooks: for when you pick daisies (2010), flicker (2012), and little nothings (2012). for when you pick daisies was reprinted in the Chaudiere Books collection Ground rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013.

She will be launching the chapbook tiny (In/Words, 2014).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Neal Armstrong reviews Eric Schmaltz's Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems (2014) and Stephen Cain's ZOOM (2013) in Broken Pencil #65

Neal Armstrong was good enough to review Eric Schmaltz's Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems (2014) and Stephen Cain's ZOOM (2013) (both of which are still available) in Broken Pencil #65. Thanks, Neal!

This is actually the second review of Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems, after Ryan Pratt was good enough to review such over at the ottawa poetry newsletter.
Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems
Eric Schmaltz

This chapbook is kind of boring, but in an interesting way. Maybe that's not a good way to start a review, but it's true.
    The poems in this collection are actually little visual art pieces made with a disassembled keyboard and black paint. Calling them poems is even a stretch, because there is very little that can be read; a few words and a few letters. This process violently brings the digital world into physical space, reminding us of the abstract visual quality of printed language. The page becomes a field, a space ripe for exploration.
    Schmaltz plays with chaos and order, alternately presenting Dionysian smudges and intricate latticework mandalas in an Apollonian mode.
    These pages are wry works of minimalism and the book contains no semantic content besides an ironic little note about safe typing posture and practices, hence why I called it boring. But maybe that's the wrong way to go into it -- these are meditations on the ambience of language and the tools we use to express ourselves.
    This zine should be approached with a mindset of contemplation, like a poet yogi waiting for the dance of the cosmos, perfect in its imperfections, to reveal itself in a quiet moment. It is compulsively re-readable, hypnotic like looking at a fire or the stars at night.

Stephen Cain

This is an excellent collection of poetry for people who don't care if the words make sense. Cain plays with sound, sight, and meaning in a chapbook that harkens back to the Dada days of early modernism. He engages with sound poems by the likes of Kurt Schwitters and Claude Gauvreau in a process of reverse-homophonic translation. He listens to poems that lack semantic meaning and finds words in them. It's all quite fun.
    Compare Hugo Ball's lines "zitti kitillabi billabi billabi / zikko di zakkobam / fisch kitti bisch" with Cain's "city kitty liable billy's bi billy's bi / sicko the psycho man / fish kitty bisque." The transfer from meaningless sounds into words with definitions pits sense against nonsense. Cain is a man drunk on word splitting and hollering joyful absurdities. His joxtapositions are rapid and twitchy and unexpected. The work demands to be read aloud.
    Cain is a professor at York University, where he has initiated many a student into the secrets of Dada, Surrealism, and the avant-garde. This guy is deep in the history of experimental poetry, and thus finds himself in line with innovative Canadians like The Four Horsemen, Chris Dewdney, and Christian Bok. His work strikes a balance between thoughtfulness and playfulness that is appealing even when it doesn't make a lick of sense. Highly recommended to weirdos.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

new from above/ground press: THE BLACKBURN FILES, by Kemeny Babineau

Kemeny Babineau

The House Next Door

You need another
text to work of off.

is a building of a building
building a building.

A tenement
square. Attended
attending, intent
& sediment.

The windows, with ovals
Line upon line
moving meant.


published in Ottawa by above/ground press
November 2014
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Cover image by R.B. Kitaj

Kemeny Babineau is a bookseller, micro-presser, and poet living in Brantford Ontario.

This is Kemeny Babineau’s second above/ground press chapbook after AFTER PROGRESS (2012).

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at

Monday, November 10, 2014

above/ground press at Meet the Presses' 2014 Indie Market!

Saturday, November 22, 11:30 am – 5 pm

The Tranzac Club, Toronto

The Meet the Presses collective presents the 2014 Indie Literary Market, where handpicked literary presses and magazines stand behind their work!
The Market will also feature the announcement of the winner of the 2014 bpNichol Chapbook Award! See the shortlist for 2014 here.

Participating publishers and mags tentatively include:
above/ground press (Ottawa) • Mansfield Press (Toronto) • Proper Tales Press (Cobourg) • Pedlar Press (St. John’s) • Rampike (Windsor) • Apt. 9 Press (Ottawa) • Porcupine’s Quill (Erin) • Cough (Toronto) • Baseline Press (London) • Serif of Nottingham (Hamilton) • Frog Hollow (Victoria) • Coach House Books (Toronto) • Laurel Reed Books (Mt. Pleasant) • Gesture Press (Toronto) • Thee Hellbox Press (Kingston) • BookThug (Toronto) • Taddle Creek  (Toronto) • Sunnyoutside Press (Buffalo) • Little Brother Magazine (Toronto) • Biblioasis (Windsor) • Wolsak and Wynn (Hamilton) • Underwhich Editions (Toronto) • Imago/Red Iron (Toronto) • Junction Books (Toronto) • Phafours (Ottawa) • words(on)pages (Toronto) • OutWrites (Toronto)

Facebook event page here.