Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jill Magi reviews Brenda Iijima's SWAMP SWAMP (2017) at Harriet

Chicago writer, artist and critic Jill Magi was good enough to provide a review for Brenda Iijima's SWAMP SWAMP (2017) via the Harriet blog, alongside reviews of Eléna Rivera's recent Belladonna* Chaplet and A Transpacific Poetics, Edited by Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu. Thanks so much! And we must have similar tastes to Magi, given Rivera's recent above/ground press title, and even Samuels' long ago issue of STANZAS [see the STANZAS bibliography here]. This is the second review of Iijima's chapbook, after Greg Bem reviewed such over at Yellow Rabbit. You can read Magi's full review here. Her review of Iijima is below:
SWAMP SWAMP by Brenda Iijima, above/ground press, 2017.

In the photograph on the cover of this chapbook, Robert Smithson stands behind a woman, Nancy Holt, who is looking through a camera, operating it. Bob Smithson, arms folded, squints to see what she may be seeing. He is directing. As a project of resistance and disruption, Brenda has listened to Holt and what it means to not hear her clearly. And so Brenda doubles the film—hence the title SWAMP SWAMP—inserting an imagined texture, a talk-back session emanating from Holt, from the land itself, and from the forces of history.

I recall the Smithson show at the Whitney that Brenda refers to in her short essay at the end of the chapbook—and I distinctly remember loving the physicality of this film. The audio was disturbing to me as well; as if Holt was being pursued by Smithson’s ever art-forward purpose. I may have given over to the work, in a sense, deciding that the tension between them added to the disturbing rattle of the blindingly tall stalks of marsh grass. All of these memories mean that I was happy to revisit this work with the arrival of Brenda’s chapbook.

SWAMP SWAMP begins with the italicized line “Just walk in a straight line,” evoking obedience, discipline, and the language of poetry itself. It is Smithson’s voice. There’s an air of dismissal in the word “just,” and that word comes up again in the directives, indicating that Holt was taking some risks, displaying hesitancy. The first line is a directive to ignore the poetics of the meander, but Brenda, happily, intervenes by responding to all the directives with a lush interiority, and with historical remembrance.

Brenda writes the swamp as place and relationship—even though the site was really a marsh, as she points out. She returns the site to the complex ecosystem that it is, resisting easy access, comprehension, and the view that would call this site “nowhere”: “Some would call this no-man’s land—it is precisely the reverse.” At first I thought the reverse of “no-man’s” might be “everyone’s” but I don’t take Brenda’s project to be a universalizing gesture—so I came up with “yes-woman’s land” as a kind of “reverse,” though Brenda recognizes this land as already-inhabited, not empty, and so the text establishes itself as a North American post-colonial reclamation.

There are also snippets of Holt's autobiography: “My house was Tudoresque—a brick and stucco edifice. And the formative years, carefree—blithely unaware of what privilege consisted of besides the tree lined streets of the neighborhood where I would play unrestrained. How straight a line! How straight can I enter—logic to do with the body often foregrounds mechanistic functions, meanwhile hormonal impulses steer corporeal mass, meter motor control.”

It is glorious to me that Brenda has brought both “privilege” and “hormones” into the work—and in such close proximity! Yes, a body is not just mechanical—it is comprised of the perforating combinations of mechanics, chemistry, feedback loops.

Importantly, though, a woman’s body, as Brenda writes, is variously “unrestrained” according to class, color. And so Brenda moves this work away from a predictable and perhaps tired white feminist reclamation project that would position Holt as only oppressed vis a vis Smithson. Holt, spoken through Brenda’s voice, is, in fact, not without privilege. And so the complications gather.

I have always thought of Brenda’s poetry and editorial work to be pedagogical, an invitation for more voices, more inquiry, and an invitation to leave the traces of inquiry inside the work. And Brenda’s mode of inquiry always involves the body: a sensual epistemology. The chapbook’s culminating statement provides information on the project’s origin and this gesture of disclosure has the potential to inspire other projects. Her statement/essay concludes with this:

“A whispering subtext—an underlying dimensional reading into the triangulation: Robert Duncan’s poem of utopian yearning to return to the meadow of his imagination. The contrast between Duncan’s ideal meadow with a space that can’t hold out against chaos, disturbance, domination and appropriation—that is constantly managed and defined by historical ramification, lives in layer of relation and recognition.”

Reading this work, I would add that “a place of first permission” (Duncan’s line, quoted by Brenda) may also be a site, upon review, of misrecognition. Brenda’s work here takes the slippage of mishearing and misrecognition as the perhaps ideal site for poetry.

Monday, January 15, 2018

the launch of ottawater #14: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan

Come out to the launch of the fourteenth issue of ottawater, featuring new writing by Manahil Bandukwala, Stephanie Bolster, Sara Cassidy, Jason Christie, JM Francheteau, Spencer Gordon, Chris Johnson, N.W. Lea, Leah MacLean-Evans, Christine McNair, Colin Morton, Dani Spinosa, Priscila Uppal, Jean Van Loon, Ian Whistle and Maha Zimmo.

The launch, featuring readings by a number of this issue’s contributors, will be held on Friday, February 2, 2018, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm.

Lovingly hosted by editor/publisher rob mclennan.

Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

The issue itself isn't online yet, but all previous issues remain archived on the site. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

above/ground press at twenty-five: by the numbers,

As many of you know, 2018 marks TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of above/ground press production. While the official anniversary doesn’t actually occur until July (including the annual launch/reading/party, with launches of at least a couple new titles), I’ve been going through some of the numbers, realizing that the press is well over a combined eight hundred and fifty publications to date (including Touch the Donkey, but not including the two dozen or so forthcoming titles).

That is an ENORMOUS amount of publications. I daresay: there might be one or two chapbook presses that get close to the volume, or the quality, or the longevity, but rarely all three.

With a couple of items produced under different press names (or none at all) over 1992 and into 1993, the above/ground press officially emerged as the press name in July 1993, with the publication of a poetry anthology and a chapbook of my own, soon followed by a chapbook by Ottawa poet David Collins. With a focus on poetry chapbooks and distribution, the press has also produced numerous journals (five issues of Missing Jacket [see a bibliography here], forty-five issues of the long poem magazine STANZAS [see a bibliography here], sixteen of the twenty-five issues (so far) of The Peter F. Yacht Club, six issues of drop and sixteen issues (so far) of Touch the Donkey [see the list of issues + interviews online here]), as well as numerous anthologies, three hundred and forty-two “poem” broadsides [see a bibliography up to #287 here; link to the most recent publications here], occasional pamphlets, and even a single comic book by Greg Kerr in 1996. There have been publications produced for book fairs in Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa, Vancouver, New Orleans and Philadelphia, for conferences and AWPs across North America, literary festivals, readings and a variety of tours.

Some items appear quickly, within a day or two of acceptance, and others have been scheduled months in advance. I have folded and stapled every damned one (with the rare exception, of course) myself, usually sitting in front of the television with long-arm stapler (I’m on my third) and worn-down fingerprints. I’ve produced items in runs as low as fifty copies, and as much as twelve hundred. STANZAS held pretty consistently at a print run (distributed gratis) of a thousand, the same number of covers I currently produce for each issue of Touch the Donkey (making more copies of the insides as required). Chapbooks these days are most often in runs of either two hundred and fifty or three hundred (especially given I’ve nearly one hundred subscribers). We only have so much space, after all.

While numerous projects extend and have extended from above/ground press over the years (from the “Tuesday poem” series over at the dusie blog to Chaudiere Books to the “On Writing” series at the ottawa poetry newsletter and the “Spotlight” series via Medium, ottawater and seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, the more recent my (small press) writing day, and even the ottawa small press book fair and The Factory Reading Series), the press itself remains strong, existing as the ongoing foundation for basically everything.

I suppose I should mention now that there are plans afoot for an anniversary project or two, including one that has already begun work (but won’t be announced or launched until August/September, most likely). Either way, you can certainly still subscribe for 2018. I mean, why haven’t you?

I toyed with building a list of all the authors the press has published over the quarter century – anthologies, chapbooks, broadsides, journals, etcetera – but the list simply became too large and unmanageable. Instead, I’ll focus on the chapbooks: including the two dozen or so forthcoming items (he says, optimistically), the press has produced three hundred and ninety-six chapbooks by two hundred and twenty-nine separate authors (including translators). I feel incredibly fortunate to have been allowed to produce such stellar work by a large array of incredible poets, and the chapbook list of authors includes (alphabetically): Jordan Abel, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Carrie Olivia Adams, Cameron Anstee, Sacha Archer, Rae Armantrout, Josh Auerbach, Kemeny Babineau, Jennifer Baker, Nelson Ball, Douglas Barbour, John Barton, Gary Barwin, Eric Baus, Derek Beaulieu, Ashley-Elisabeth Best, Gregory Betts, Joe Blades, Michael Blouin, Jon Boisvert, Christian Bök, Stephanie Bolster, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Jamie Bradley, Shannon Bramer, Sean Braune, Alyssa Bridgman, Ross Brighton, Stephen Brockwell, Sarah Burgoyne, Andrew Burke, Brian Burke, Jenna Butler, Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Emily Carr, Christophe Casamassima, Jason Christie, George Elliot Clarke, Dana Claxton, Mark Cochrane, David Collins, Stephen Collis, Sarah Cook, Dennis Cooley, Valerie Coulton, jwcurry, Marita Dachsel, Frank Davey, Faizal Deen, Amy Dennis, Michael Dennis, Michelle Desberats, Jason Dewinetz, Anita Dolman, Rhonda Douglas, Sarah Dowling, Lise Downe, Buck Downs, Kristina Drake, nathan dueck, Susanne Dyckman, Amanda Earl, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Sue Elmslie, Lori Emerson, Greg Evason, Tamara Fairchild, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Ellen Field, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Judith Fitzgerald, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Flemmer, Neil Flowers, Eric Folsom, Sarah Fox, Laurie Fuhr, David Fujino, Hélène Gelèns, Artie Gold, Noah Eli Gordon, Adele Graf, Lea Graham, Allison Grayhurst, Catharina Gripenberg, Kate Greenstreet, Adrienne Gruber, Kristjana Gunnars, Anna Gurton-Wachter, Gwendolyn Guth, Helen Hajnoczky, Phil Hall, Brecken Hancock, Natalie Hanna, Robin Hannah, Sharon Harris, j/j hastain, William Hawkins, Hailey Higdon, Robert Hogg, Matthew Holmes, Michael Holmes, Carrie Hunter, Brenda Iijima, Marilyn Irwin, Roman Ivashkiv, Yuri Izdryk, Dean Irvine, Meghan Jackson (lynes), Matthew Johnstone, D.G. Jones, Megan Kaminski, Stuart Kinmond, Robert Kroetsch, Jennifer Kronovet, Ben Ladouceur, Seth Landman, Patrick Lane, Clare Latremouille, John Lavery, Warren Layberry, N.W. Lea, Katy Lederer, Anne Le Dressay, Jason Le Heup, John B. Lee, A.J. Levin, Sophie Levy, Erik Lindner, damian lopes, Jeanette Lynes, Shannon Maguire, Rob Manery, Donato Mancini, Sarah Mangold, Nicole Markotić, Camille Martin, Karen Massey, Shauna McCabe, Marcus McCann, Una McDonnell, Gil McElroy, Andrew McEwen, David W. McFadden, Barry McKinnon, kath maLean, rob mclennan, Kathryn MacLeod, Christine McNair, Max Middle, philip miletic, Jay MillAr, Rachel Mindell, Rachel Moritz, Erín Moure, Sandra Moussempès, Jennifer Mulligan, Sharon H. Nelson, John Newlove, bpNichol, Geoffrey Nilson, Peter Norman, Ken Norris, Wanda O’Connor, Catherine Owen, Abby Paige, Kathryn Payne, Pearl Pirie, Shane Plante, Deborah Poe, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Alessandro Porco, K.I. Press, Roland Prevost, Katie L. Price, Elizabeth Ranier, Marthe Reed, Monty Reid, Eléna Rivera, Lisa Robertson, Elizabeth Robinson, Miguel E. Ortiz Rodríguez, Stan Rogal, Sarah Rosenthal, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Kaia Sand, Larry Sawyer, Kate Schapira, Eric Schmaltz, Michael Martin Shea, Kate Siklosi, Natalie Simpson, Edward Smallfield, Jessica Smith, Pete Smith, Jennifer Stella, Jill Stengel, Fenn Stewart, Christine Stewart, Anne Stone, Sarah Swan, Jake Syersak, Bronwen Tate, Hugh Thomas, lary timewell, Janice Tokar, Dennis Tourbin, Amish Trivedi, Aaron Tucker, Chris Turnbull, Michael Turner, Emily Ursuliak, R.M. Vaughan, Death Waits, Rosmarie Waldrop, Andy Weaver, Andrew Wessels, Ian Whistle, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Julia Williams, Tal Yarkoni, Lesley Yalen, Deanna Young, Geoffrey Young and Eleni Zisimatos.

Thanks to all of them, and to all of you for your attentions! There is so much more still to be done (and so many more authors I would love to be able to produce chapbooks by)…