It does feel strange to talk about my own press here, and, thanks to the alphabet, this does appear first, but there you go. Having produced nearly nine hundred items since July 9, 1993, above/ground press focuses on single-author chapbooks in runs in the 250-300 range, pushing for distribution of work that excites, from concrete/visual works and experimental writing to prose poems and the more traditional lyric. Over the past decade, the press has also evolved to a point where there are nearly as many chapbooks produced by American writers in a year as there are those by Canadian writers, running the range from established to emerging. Given this is the press’ twenty-fifth anniversary, the level of activity really has exploded, and since January 1, 2018, the press has already produced chapbooks by Aaron Tucker, Dani Spinosa, Andrew Wessels, Marthe Reed, Kate Siklosi, Edward Smallfield, Sean Braune, Amish Trivedi, Sara Renee Marshall, Steve McCaffery, Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, rob mclennan, Stephanie Gray, Alice Notley, Stan Rogal, Rachel Mindell, Eleni Zisimatos, Adrienne Gruber, Andrew Cantrell, kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff and Anna Gurton-Wachter, as well as an issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club and an issue of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal]. Submissions are possible, but query first. If I’m feeling overloaded, I simply can’t think about it.
Ottawa poet and critic Cameron Anstee (who has a first trade poetry collection out this spring with Invisible Publishing) has been producing beautiful, hand-sewn limited edition (predominantly keeping to runs of fifty copies) poetry chapbooks since 2009. Some of the authors he’s published over the past decade include Christine McNair, William Hawkins (he also edited Hawkins’ collected poems from Chaudiere Books), Michael Dennis, Marilyn Irwin, Michael e. Casteels, Nelson Ball (which won the bpNichol Chapbook Award), Justin Million and Jim Smith, among others. More recently, he’s shifted from some four or five titles a year down to one or two (at this time, I know of but one item forthcoming). Having himself emerged from Carleton University’s In/Words Magazine and Press, Anstee has focused his editorial attentions equally on the emerging local and the further afield more established writers, and his list manages a healthy balance between the two. His interests are in the small detail, and the quiet moment, much of which would otherwise be overlooked, unremarked and unrecorded. His books are sleek, graceful and sell out quickly. Some recent highlights of the press include American poet Lea Graham This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (2016), Phil Hall’s An Egregore (2017) and Gil McElroy Sum: Word Maps (2017).
Sibling presses run by Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, her publishing activity emerged from her years running the revamped Bywords.ca (when she and her husband, Charles Earl, adapted the struggling Bywords Poetry Journal from an exclusively print journal to an online format) and the John Newlove Poetry Award (and subsequent chapbook), wishing to explore work that followed some of her own interests. Originally starting with AngelHousePress, the subsequent DevilHousePress is the more subversive and transgressive counterpart, for titles too tame to produce through AngelHouse, as she actively seeks “raw talent, ragged edges, rule breakers.” Producing both chapbooks of poetry and fiction, she deliberately releases titles in runs of no more than fifty copies, and refuses to reprint. Since founding the sibling presses, she has also branched out into an online journal, experiment-o (for more experimental poetry), a podcast, and an essay series, among other endeavors, all of which appear to be quite open to both Canadian and international writers, from emerging to established. Recent highlights include Francesco Levato’s jettison/collapse (AngelHousePress, 2015), Kemeny Babineau’s House of Many Words (2016), Jennifer K. Dick’s Afterlife (AngelHousePress, 2017) and Sean Braune’s Story of Lilith (AngelHousePress, 2017). Open to submissions, check the guidelines as posted on their website.
Founded and run by Toronto poet and editor Jim Johnstone, these chapbooks are produced with harder covers to achieve a fine weight to each title, predominantly focused on the metaphor-driven lyric, poem carved with a very fine precision. Often limited to editions of thirty or forty, he has been known to reprint, which is a relief. They seem to produce a couple of titles a year, focusing exclusively on Canadian poets, with a strong interest in emerging (so many of their publications appear to be debut chapbooks). Given Johnstone is also an editor for Palimpsest Press, there are more than a couple poets through his press that have gone on to have full-length collections published as well. Highlights of the past few years include Bardia Sinaee’s Blue Night Express (2015), Jessica Popeski’s Oratorio (2015), Klara du Plessis’ Wax Lyrical (2015), Rebecca Salazar’s Guzzle (2016), Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s PROSOPOPOEIA (2017), Krischan Stotz’s Brother Magnet (2017) and R.P. LaRose’s A Dream in the Bush (2017). Open to submissions, check the guidelines as posted on their website.
Founded by Karen Schindler in the fall of 2011, Baseline Press publishes “limited edition hand-sewn chapbooks for both new and established Canadian poets, as well as the occasional letterpress broadside.” Editorially, one might see Baseline’s closest counterparts on this list being Anstruther Press, with echoes of Apt 9 Press and even Frog Hollow, with recent titles by Darren Bifford, Jeffery Donaldson, Matt Radar and Sarah Tolmie. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen as many of these as I’d like, but recent highlights include Sarah Burgoyne’s Love the Sacred Raisin Cakes (2014) and Chuqiao Yang’s REUNIONS IN THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP (2017). And did you hear she’s producing a chapbook by Sandra Ridley later this year?
Justin Million and Elisha May Rubacha’s bird, buried press emerged as an extension of their Show and Tell Poetry Series, a reading series in Peterborough that features local emerging and established poets. After spending some time in Ottawa as part of In/Words Magazine and Press, as well as host and curator of the In/Words Reading Series, Million has published poems in a variety of venues, and is the author of three chapbooks with Ottawa’s Apt. 9 Press, three collaborative chapbooks with Jeff Blackman, and “a number of other Canadian small press poetry ventures.” Rubacha is a writer, designer, and community-builder who has published poems in a variety of litzines and journals, and is known for producing The Linen Thread, a 10 issues zine series. Their venture might be relatively new, but they promise an array of chapbooks, broadsides and other paraphernalia by both local and established poets from Peterborough and beyond, and one of their recent highlights includes Ottawa poet Tim Mook Sang’s chapbook A Functional History (2017).
“Founded in 2015 by illustrator Emma Dolan and author Catriona Wright,” Desert Pets Press’ closest publishing relation on this list would be Anstruther Press, producing elegant, limited edition chapbooks of lyric poems and prose. Producing both chapbooks and broadsides, they’ve a dozen or so titles under their belt, with recent highlights including FOREIGN EXPERTS BUILDING (2016) by Michelle Brown, and Vincent Pagé’s IN A BURNING BUILDING THE AIR INSIDE IS HEATED BY FIRE AND SO BECOMES LIGHTER (2016).
With a focus on typesetting and design (enough to merit numerous design awards), Victoria’s Frog Hollow Press started in 2001 by producing very attractive letterpress chapbooks, something that has shifted more recently into other forms of production for the sake of longer, full-length titles. Featuring a number of series, including their “Canadian Masters Series,” “Contemporary Canadian Poets Series,” “New Brunswick Chapbook Series,” “Literary Criticism Monographs,” “The Kid Series: Canadian poems about Childhood” and “The City Series,” editorially, other presses on this list with similar concerns might include Anstruther Press, Desert Press and Gaspereau Press, just to get a sense of what kind of work they’re interested in. According to their online catalogue, some of the authors that have published with Frog Hollow include David Solway, A.F. Moritz, Sharon McCartney, Shane Neilson, Wayne Clifford, M. Travis Lane, David Helwig and Ross Leckie, but the last two titles that really struck me were Andy Verboom and David Huebert’s collaborative FULL MONDEGREENS (2016) and Chris Johnson’s Listen, Partisan! And Other Stumbling Haibun (2016).
Another recent press to emerge out of Toronto, Gap Riot Press produced four titles in their opening salvo last year: Priscila Uppal’s What Linda Said (2017), Adeena Karasick’s Salomé: Woman of Valor (2017), Margaret Christakos’ SOCIAL MEDEA vs VIRTUAL MEDUSA (2017) and Canisia Lubrin’s augur (2017). Self-described on their website as a “Toronto feminist micro press publishing the best avant-garde, experimental, and visual poetry with a focus on femme, queer, and poc poets,” their website also includes the occasional interview they’ve conducted with one of their authors. I haven’t heard yet what they’ve got coming up next, but these are titles with energy, verve and sass, and take no prisoners.
For a university without a creative writing program, Ottawa’s Carleton University has managed to make substantial literary waves, given the creation of Arc Poetry Magazine in 1978, or the late decade-plus of student run literary journal The Carleton Arts Review (formerly known as The Carleton Literary Review) in the 1980s. Not long after the demise of The Carleton Arts Review, Carleton University English professor Collett Tracey directed a group of undergraduate students in the fall of 2001 to found In/Words magazine, In/Words press and In/Words Reading Series, a series of activities that continue still, with a growing list of impressive alumni that include include Bardia Sinaee, Peter Gibbon, Rachael Simpson, Ben Ladouceur, Justin Million, Leah Mol (who recently made the CBC Short Story Prize shortlist), Cameron Anstee (who just had his first trade poetry collection appear with Invisible Publishing), jesslyn delia smith, Jeff Blackman, Jeremy Hanson-Finger, Jenna Jarvis, Rotem Yaniv, Chris Johnson, David Emery and numerous others. Given the nature of university programs, the editors/organizers shift every year or two or three, and the current masthead includes emerging Ottawa poet Manahil Bandukwala (who seems to be publishing just about everywhere lately). One of the best spaces for emerging writers I’m aware of, their activity is one worth paying attention to, especially when they produce the most remarkable break-outs, such as Ottawa poet Sarah MacDonell’s debut, the lithium body (2017).
It felt like there was a moment, a year ago or so, that Kirby and news of his new bookstore Knife|Fork|Book, in Toronto’s Kensington Market, was everywhere, having not even existed five minutes prior. Perhaps the most lively and vibrant new venture to emerge in literature in some time, not only is the incredibly-small bookstore suddenly one of the finest poetry bookstores (and poetry reading venues) available, but he’s branched out into chapbook production, having already produced more than half a dozen chapbooks and broadsides by Roxanna Bennett, John Stintzi, Lauren Turner, David Bradford and Elianna Lev. Items seem to run out quickly, so I haven’t seen much, but for Dale Smith’s remarkable Sons (2017) and Kirby’s own delightful chapbook She’s Having A Doris Day (2017).
An extension, or even a furthering, of their 1980s work as Slug Press (which seemed to focus on more ephemeral and letterpress works), Vancouver poet Meredith Quartermain and her husband, the critic Peter Quartermain, began producing limited edition chapbooks (print runs average around one hundred copies) as Nomados Literary Publishers in 2003, featuring works by Canadian writers with a focus on Vancouver poets. Highlights abound, and might equally include their entire backlist, featuring works by George Bowering, Christine Leclerc, Christine Stewart, Phil Hall, Aaron Peck, George Stanley, Kathleen Fraser, Norma Cole, Jacqueline Turner, Ken Belford, Larissa Lai, Robin Blaser, Sharon Thesen and Jay MillAr, among others, but I should at least mention their most recent title: Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s THOT-J-BAP: extractions (2017). At the moment, only one or two items appear a year, and most of their backlist appears to be out-of-print.
Emerging in 1997 as housepress, which ended after a decade of production, it quietly reestablished after a short hiatus as No Press, continuing to produce ephemeral editions of concrete/visual poetry and experimental writing from writers across North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. Focusing on extremely small print runs (some as low as ten or twenty copies), there are elements of Beaulieu’s producing that echo works by jwcurry’s Room 302 Books, bpNichol’s grOnk and Ganglia, or David UU’s own variety of small press enterprises. Beaulieu’s activity as a small press publisher, as well as his work as an editor and writer, has easily been one of the main reasons for what seems to be a combined resurgence/re-emergence of concrete and visual work that has been building over the past two decades. Recent highlights are multiple, but might include works by Christian Bök, Sasha Archer, Andrew McEwan, Jordan Abel, Dani Spinosa, Anthony Etherin, Mark Laliberte, Eric Schmaltz, Vanessa Place, Gregory Betts, Suzanne Zelazo, Lindsay Cahill and Gary Barwin, among many, many others.
One of the longest-running chapbook presses still continuing to produce items is Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press, the first publication under the name appeared back in 1979. While only a couple of chapbooks at most appear throughout any given calendar year, what has been interesting over the past couple of years has been seeing Ross’ focus on emerging authors, producing a series of debut chapbooks by Toronto/Buenos Aires poet Sarah Moses (Three problems, 2016), Allison Chisholm (On The Count of One, 2017) and Tom Prime (a strange hospital, 2017). Ross has also been experimenting with numerous small magazines, aiming for a series of journals that produce but a single, debut issue (so you really have to keep an eye on what he’s doing, to catch new publications as they appear). Known as perhaps the best-known of a small handful of “Canadian surrealists” (he also edited an anthology of such a few years ago), Ross’ publishing venture exists the way a number of these ventures do, as an extension of his own writing and reading practice, and further highlights of the press, at least over the past couple of years, would include Ross’ own Cobourg Variations: a bunch of poems and an essay (Proper Tales Press, 2015) and Leigh Nash, Outdoor Voices (2016).
As Casteels himself writes of the press: “Fine Chapbooks of Poetry. Publishes Concrete/Visual poetry, microzines, broadside publications.” One might see what Casteels is doing, producing small chapbooks and bits of ephemera, as being influenced by similar works by jwcurry, Cameron Anstee and derek beaulieu, experimenting in the small and gracefully produced limited-edition poetry publication. Part of the appeal is simply not knowing where he might go next, from the series of small chapbooks he was producing in runs of seventy-five copies, to more recent items produced in editions as low as ten. Some highlights over the past couple of years would include Sasha Archer’s Dishwashing Event Part Two: Ontario (2016), Alice Burdick’s CHORE CHOIR (2016), Nick Papaxanthos’ Very Uncomfortable (2016), Lillian Necakov’s ASK (2016), derek beaulieu’s VEXATIONS 2: XEROX WORKCENTRE 5755 (2016), Dale Tracy’s What It Satisfies (2016), Mark Laba’s Tusk-a-Loose’a (2017) and Casteels’ own The Shape of Things to Come (2016) and Lagoon. Still. Lagoon. (Puddles of Sky Press, 2017).
Named for the publisher’s great-great-grandmother, Rahlia Corches (1888-1914), Rahlia’s Ghost Press produces gracefully designed limited-edition perfect-bound softcovers in runs small enough that by the time I saw the first three titles, they were already in their second runs. They haven’t released their 2018 titles yet—debuts by Ramna Safeer, Molly Cross-Blanchard and Meghan Harrison have been announced—and their first three titles produced last fall were debuts as well, which suggest a strong focus on emerging writers. Run by a small team, the press’ managing editor is Curtis LeBlanc, with an editorial board consisting of Adèle Barclay, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Selina Boan and Shaun Robinson, with Shazia Hafiz Ramji doing design and publicity. Their first three titles included Jake Byrne’s The Tide (2017), Megan Fennya Jones’ Normal Women (2017) and Beni Xiao’s Bad Egg (2017). Open to submissions, check the guidelines as posted on their website.
Similar in scope to Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press, Hamilton writer and composer Gary Barwin’s serif of nottingham was founded in 1985, having produced chapbooks, pamphlets and broadsides, predominantly of Barwin’s own work, including co-publications (and writing collaborations) with Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press and jwcurry’s 1cent, as well as a more recent shift to producing works by other authors: American poets Michael Sikkema and N.F. Huth, and Toronto poet Abby Fleming. In 2010, Barwin was a co-winner (with Sandra Ridley) of the bpNichol Chapbook Award for Inverting SONNETS (2016), a collaboration between Ross and American poet (recently relocated to Albuquerque from Chicago) Richard Huttel. More recently, another highlight would include Canadian expat poet Alex Porco’s chapbook, The Low End Theory (2017).
The combined Shuffaloff/Eternal Network publications emerged from a collaboration between Toronto poets and editors Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman, blending their two press names for the sake of a series of small chapbooks that have appeared over the past few years. I get the sense that the two presses are of roughly equal vintage, with self-authored limited edition items appearing from each somewhere in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The publications produced under the combined name are tied, predominantly, to a series of workshops that Coleman and/or Boughn had been running, which led to the occasional journal COUGH (a history similar to the Vancouver occasional journal, TADS, nearly two decades prior, by George Bowering, Wayde Compton, Chris Turnbull, George Stanley, Jason Le Heup and others), with each issue of their journal produced and edited by a different member of their loose poetry collective of elders and emerging. Some of the highlights over the past few years would include debuts such as Peter Clark’s feathereDinosaurs (2012), Oliver Cusimano’s Strands (2015) and Emily Izsak’s remarkable Stickup (2015), as well as a small handful of reissues related to some of Boughn’s own archival research and critical work. Given their deliberately-limited runs, there was a period where the press offered free pdfs of out-of-print titles, but that seems to have disappeared. New titles appear infrequently, and quietly. You just have to listen.
Produced as an extension of Vallum magazine, founded by poets Joshua Auerbach and Eleni Zisimatos, chapbooks produced through Vallum are both curated and produced through their annual contest, which nicely includes established writers (most of whom aren’t known for their chapbooks) appearing alongside emerging poets in very graceful yet limited edition works. With a dozen or so titles under their belt, some of their most recent titles include chapbooks by Bhanu Kapil, Jami Macarty, Jan Zwicky and Yusuf Saadi, but the most recent I’ve seen (which I would certainly recommend) include Vincent Pagé’s Veinte (2016) and Don McKay’s Larix (2015).
Focused on, as they say on their website, literary chapbooks and an upcoming (unnamed, undescribed) magazine, ZED Press is a relatively new press producing limited-edition chapbooks. With four titles under their belt, their “first series” (2016-2017) included Jon R. Flieger’s all the great and terrible and Hollie Adams’ Deliver Me from Swedish Furniture (which is a really remarkable prose poem sequence), and their “second series” (2017-2018; which I haven’t yet seen) includes Hanan Hazime’s Aorta and Khahsayar Mohammadi Moe’s Skin. I’m curious to see how this press progresses, and just what this magazine might be.
Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. There are plenty more Canadian presses that feature and focus on chapbooks. Doesn’t Toronto’s Book*hug still produce the occasional poetry chapbook title? As does Wolfville, Nova Scotia publisher Gaspereau Press. Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner, despite their busyness running Invisible Publishing out of Picton, Ontario, still seem to release the occasional title from The Emergency Response Unit, and Carleton Wilson’s Toronto-based Junction Books emerged out of a lengthy hiatus to win the bpNichol Chapbook Award for Sonnet L’Abbé’s Anima Canadensis (2016). Also in Toronto is Maureen Scott Harris, who runs the occasional press A Fieldnotes, producing gracefully-designed limited editions of lectures from Queen’s University’s Joanne Page Lecture Series, including Elizabeth Hay’s The Original Title (2016). Jack Pine Press still produces chapbooks out of Saskatchewan, but I never manage to see any of those, somehow. Closer to my corner of the world, Ottawa poet D.S. Stymeist runs the relatively-new Textualis Press, with a small handful of titles including chapbooks by Stephen Brockwell, Armand Garnet Ruffo and Vivian Vavassis.
There are others, such as Toronto’s words(on)pages (William Kemp and Nicole Brewer), and Ottawa publishers shreeking violet press (Marilyn Irwin) and phafours (Pearl Pirie), that appear to be on haitus, just as new publishers have emerged, brand-new in the chapbook-o-sphere, including two from Ottawa: Stephanie Meloche and Mia Morgan’s Coven Editions and natalie hanna’s battleaxe press. And of course, we can’t forget Kyle Flemmer’s The Blasted Tree out of Calgary, or Sacha Archer’s Simulacrum Press out of Burlington, Ontario, both of which are engaged with more ephemeral publications of experimental writing and visual/concrete poetry.
There are probably even more than that, but I either can’t think of them right now, or I haven’t yet heard of them.
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 title is the poetry collection Household items (Salmon Poetry, 2018). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a former contributor to the Ploughshares blog, 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