canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: rob mclennan

rob mclennan is a poet, editor, and publisher. He edits STANZAS magazine, and edited Written in the Skin (Insomniac). He is the publisher of above/ground press. He coordinates the Ottawa Small Press Fair & is the Ontario representative for The League of Canadian Poets. His most recent poetry collection at the time of this interview was The Richard Brautigan Ahhhhhhhhhhh (Talonbooks).

Interview by Michael Bryson, sometime around the turn of the millennium.


TDR: Define poetry. (Just kidding.) Give a brief summary of who you are and what you do.

MCLENNAN: what i do? i write stuff, publish stuff. published four books of poetry, & over two dozen chapbooks, & edited a poetry anthology that Insomniac Press published in the fall of 98, to raise $ for aids research. currently working on a novel, two poetry ms, & two anthologies. been editing/publishing STANZAS magazine, a free long poem/sequence mag since 1993 (just put out issue #21 - Natalie Hanna), & have made lots of chapbooks as above/ground press. i also organize the occasional readings, & run SPAN-O - small press action network - ottawa - which runs readings & a book fair twice a year, & will soon be doing writing workshops & lectures.

TDR: You have been a writer, publisher, reading host, all around literary organizer/activist. Do these different hats complement each other? How?

MCLENNAN: of course. i publish chapbooks & promote them cuz i write, & started doing my own. promoting other folks work seemed a natural extension. running readings then to give those folk opportunities to read, seemd the next logical step. the book fair to sell those books, again. reviewing seems, too, the best was to get new books & support other peoples work, when on a limited budget. etcetc etc. it all feeds into each other.

TDR: What sort of challenges do you set for yourself as a writer? What are you trying to "do" in your writing? (Please answer providing examples from your work.)

MCLENNAN: what am i trying to do? trying to keep my writing fresh by trying different things, & moving in different directions. Manitoba highway map was a prairie long poem, after sitting in the backseat of a moving car for 6 days. it helpt me, physically moving thru that space, to understand much of prairie writing in ways i hadnt seen before. had newlloves 'ride off any horizon' in my head the whole time. 'letting the measure fall where it may'. im interested in making each book different. if im going to keep making books, they have to have their own purposes, & be better than the previous, otherwise theer seems little point in continuing. these days, im trying to make the most out of the least, working on a collection of loosely connected love poems - 'paper hotel', & a book on the physical world + history as a long poem in segments - so far calld 'hazelnut', as well as a disconnected novel calld 'Plaec', that so far doesnt have any plot or characters. trying to build disconnected narrative as a series of photographs, that, once youve seen them all, you understand a kind of picture in the background.

TDR: How would you summarize the Canadian literary scene? Public perception of Canadian literature is obviously dominated by a few big names and a few big awards, but there is a whole range of literary activity (from 'zines to poetry slams) which is rarely handed any media spotlight. Where should people go to find out "what is really happening"?

MCLENNAN: can lit is regional, i think, with the token few that make it beig & simply stay there forever, desppite all. the best way to find out what is happening, is to go to a city & hang out, go to readings, pick up the little magazines & fliers going on. magazines like queen street quarterly out of toronto, or filling station out of calgary are good places. & whos to say that the famous folk arent the ones that are happening? big aint necessarily bad, hey? just different.

TDR: What is your assessment of the state of Canadian writing today? Does the new, younger generation of Canadian writers share a sensibility? If so, how would you define it? (Perhaps there is a sub-group of writers you'd prefer to identify and "explain".)

MCLENNAN: oh, there are far too many straightforward narrative writers who keep trying to take over things, such as the league of canadian poets. i like the peripheral wierdos, doing strange & eciting things off in the middle of nowhere, like sylvia legris, robert budde, or even christian bok. ive always liked the poetry of natalee caple, & wish there was more of it. im preferring poetry these days that really push the boundaries of language & form, & fall more into the abstract, letting the reader figure out things for themselves. judith fitzgerald rocks, man.

TDR: A couple of years ago Matthew Barrett, then-CEO of the Bank of Montreal, suggested that studying the poetry of Chaucer could lead to a prosperous career in banking (because of the training in recognizing and articulating patterns). What other purposes, if any, do you think the literary arts serve?

MCLENNAN: its all about the movement of ideas & attempting to see things in different ways. in any of the arts, right? these days, the best way to affect culture, they say, is through the film, where things like dogma are actually discusst on politically incorrect, where 50 years ago, it might have been the novel. been so long since a poem changed the world.

TDR: Any ideas about how the WWW and other digital innovations are changing the relationship between writers, publishers and readers? (Interpret this question as broadly as you wish.)

MCLENNAN: it connects folk in faster ways, & blurs physical boundaries. definition used to be physical, right, as far as city, province, country. if there aint no boundaries no more, then its scary to some folk, & they withdraw into what they can see. another tool, like anything else, that can help or hinder, both.

TDR: What's next for rob mclennan?

MCLENNAN: well, trying to get the bloody novel done. got another poetry book out next fall (fall 2000) with broken jaw, calld "bagne, or Criteria for Heaven". its 93 connected poems, & each title comes from the last line of someone elses work. its my millennial book. im also starting an imprint with broken jaw calld 'cauldron books', one or two books a year, trying to include single author books of essays as well. the first is a new ottawa poets anthol coming out spring 2000. no one has done an ottawa poet anthol since 89. with breathing fire, last word, word up & blues & true concussions, its time ottawa had their go. really, i think someone should do one in montreal, too, itd be interesting to see who the newer folk are, the ones i might not know about. also trying to work on a series of lit essays & personal essays, calld "post: tales from a confectionary". been slow, but going. after that, who knows. another novel? a kids book? ive got a show of paintingscoming up in ottawa in march, a portrait show - '27 people i never want to see again'. been trying different things, to see how they fit. who knows, maybe the album will be next. the feature film.




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