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Interview with ROB MCLENNAN


What drew you to submit your work to RED SKIES?

I saw the submissions call, I think via Twitter, and thought I might have something that fit the guidelines.

What writers have inspired you?

Lately I’ve been reading Julie Carr, Gary Barwin, Danielle Vogel, Sarah Manguso, emilie kneifel, Genevieve Kaplan, Zane Koss, Dennis Cooley, Fred Wah, Paige Carabello, Emma Tilley, Sawako Nakayasu and Aditi Machado, among others. They are all doing incredible work. Apparently Stephen Brockwell is putting the final touches on a poetry manuscript as well, which I find rather exciting.

What projects are you currently engaged with?

I’m currently working a co-prompt with Denver poet Julie Carr, in which we are writing poems that utilize elements of the others’ work. Her sequence is “River,” while mine is “estuaries :.” I’m thinking my sequence will fit in the “snow day” manuscript I started two years ago. Otherwise, I’ve been working on reviews, as well as a novel. I’ve a post-mother creative non-fiction manuscript as well I’m attempting to get cleaned up, but awaiting a friend’s edits before I move forward on that.

How have you spent the year 2020?

Much in the way I would have spent my days in the before-times: at my home writing desk as much as possible, and attending to our small children. Obviously, the shifts have been enormous—my wife, Christine, is high risk, so she has adapted our three-season sunroom into a home office (blankets and space heaters a-plenty), where she attempts to work full-time, and our small children have taken up different corners of our living room and dining room with their e-learning (junior kindergarten and grade two). Christine and I take turns lifeguarding their school. We work to keep their spirits up.

Although this was supposed to be a return to my own larger attentions, with our smallest moving from part-time preschool (which shuttered, obviously, in March) to full-time in-person school with junior kindergarten, freeing up my weekdays after nearly seven years of home-with-children. We’ll get there eventually. I’ll walk them both to school again, one hopes, come fall. What became important was that everyone remained safe.

Throughout lockdown, I’ve worked to maintain as many of my normal routines and structures as possible. I still post reviews and interviews daily on the blog, and produce publications via above/ground press. I didn’t wish to add above/ground publications as yet another absence during this period, especially for the one hundred and twenty or so subscribers I regularly post envelopes to. I’ve also written and mailed more than four hundred letters during this stretch of lockdown, fully aware how important it has been to touch base with people, to attempt to maintain connections; how important it might be for someone on the other end to receive physical mail.

I also founded an online poetics journal—periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics—back in March, which has included a ‘virtual reading series’ of more than one hundred (so far) short videos of poets (predominantly, but not exclusively, from across North America) doing short readings of their own work. I thought this, also, might work to stave off feelings of isolation during those first few weeks, first few months, of lockdown. Structured as an extension of some of my work through above/ground press, the site posts an array of monthly content, including poetry-related reviews, interviews, essays and works-in-translation, as well as a whole bunch of new poetry.

The first four months of 2020, also, were the final of fifteen months of occasional weekends caregiving my father an hour’s drive east, who was eroding due to ALS. He was home, where my sister had been lead on his care, attended by multiple nurses and helpers throughout his weeks, throughout his days. He was happily content and comfortable, even up to those final days, despite many close calls, and I was struck by how fortunate he felt, throughout, and how peacefully he died. On May 1st , he simply didn’t wake up.

How have you maintained your artistic skills during lockdowns?

As I said, I’ve been spending the time working, much in the same way I had in the before-times. Around the time of initial lockdown, I’d recently completed a poetry manuscript, so had been slightly at loose ends as to what to do next. I realized fairly quickly that I was being distracted away from writing due to the crisis, and decided to, therefore, make the crisis itself my work: I spent the first three months working on a suite of pandemic essays, “essays in the face of uncertainties,” which I posted weekly to my blog for months. Around the one hundredth day of lockdown, I think the project had begun to exhaust, and started working on a novel around the first week of July. Since October, I’ve been working occasionally on poems: I worked a small collaboration with Hamilton writer Gary Barwin—which was produced as the small chapbook SOME LEAVES (above/ground press) in November—and have been the weeks since working this occasional co-prompt with Carr. The work I sent your way was part of this small burst of poems.

You have spent a great deal of time building such a wonderful community of writers in Ottawa,

and outside. What has led you to start up so many different projects and series? How do you

balance your own writing and your work as an editor?

It has been argued that, given I do this full time, I have a larger attention with which to devote to my many projects. And I’ve never been good at working on only one project for too long.

I’ve been working each thread simultaneously—reviewer, writer, reader, editor, publisher, etcetera—for so long that I don’t really think about it. I mean, above/ground press, The Factory Reading Series and the ottawa small press book fair, for example, are each nearing three decades of activity. This is simply how my writing day, and my writing life, works.

With your upcoming release coming out soon, what five words would you use to describe 'the

book of smaller'

Five words: density, attention, lyric, prose poems.

Is community important to your work? Are there any magazines or small presses that you feel

particularly fond of?

Given the amount of time I devote to working on such, to your own suggestion, I would say community is an important element of how I wish to work, and exist in the world. Starting in my early twenties, I worked to support those around me as best as possible, from starting to work on reviews, beginning to produce chapbooks and small journals through above/ground, hosting readings through The Factory Reading Series, and co-founding the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair.

For my own writing, there are lots of go-to places I turn to, both as writer and reader, including The Capilano Review, FENCE magazine, filling Station, knife|fork|book, Simulacrum Press, Partial Zine, The Blasted Tree, Noemi Press, Ugly Duckling Presse, Les Figues, Wave Books, Happy Monks Press and post ghost press, among so many others. And I think Canthius magazine is doing great things.

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