Notes on Five Canadian Small (micro) Publishers

14 May 2012
AngelHousePress, Ottawa ON: Amanda Earl, editor and publisher

To introduce AngelHousePress at the offset of her ‘12 or 20 (small press) questions’ (March 22, 2010), editor/publisher Amanda Earl writes:

AngelHousePress is a conduit for experiments in sound, colour and text. It began in 2007 with three chapbooks I self-published in a limited edition of 26 copies. I had planned for AHP to be a sandbox where I’d play alone, but I have since decided to let others in to play along too. Invite is the key term for now. I’m not considering unsolicited manuscripts. I don’t have the money or time to do so. The Angel in The House is a Victorian concept and poem about a very weak and mindless woman whose sole responsibility was to be charming. Perhaps you can see the irony.

More recently, Earl explains in an email the impetus for founding the press:

… initially to publish my own experiments, mostly in colour, too expensive for anything but limited runs. then in my poetry workshop group, we decided to do a chapbook & I thought it made sense to do it under my own, AngelHousePress. I enjoyed doing the layout & design, found I gained insight into the work this way. next I was fortunate to read some great poetry by Jamie Bradley, who wasn’t well-published. I wanted to work with him & I wanted others to read his work. A graphic designer from Montreal, Patrick Edwards-Daugherty had this web comic I liked. I wanted to publish some of the comics as a chapbook. It was a beautiful & compelling comic called Secret Vespers: I Only Pretend to Hide & it sold out quickly. From there AngelHousePress has become a press inspired by raw talent, ragged edges & rebels. I think readers enjoy that too. It’s a bit of a rebel angel.

One could argue that the development of the press has very much been tied directly to Amanda Earl’s own as a reader, writer and editor, reacting very personally to her interests and tastes in a way that most other presses don’t. It’s been a decade or so since Amanda and her husband, the photographer and designer Charles Earl, took over the monthly Bywords calendar. Once theirs, the Earls quickly developed what had been a small photocopied monthly literary calendar with a couple of poems per issue, produced in a run of 500 copies with a limited local distribution, into an extensive web publication. Bywords now lists over twelve hundred literary events per year throughout Ottawa, including readings, workshops, festivals and calls for submissions and new publications, as well as the standard selection of poems by current and/or former Ottawa residents. Selected by a dozen editors, poems are sometimes republished from the website in Bywords Quarterly Journal, which hosts quarterly launches with readings and musical performance, along with the John Newlove Poetry Award Reading at the fall edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

With roughly a dozen chapbook publications since AngelHousePress began, books appear on a schedule tied to her own time and interest, and include Jamie Bradley and Brenda Dunn’s Compositions (50 copies, 2008), Amanda Earl’s Ursula (26 copies, 2008), Patrick Edwards-Daugherty’s Secret Vespers: I Only Pretend to Hide (50 copies, 2008), the writers’ group anthologies Whack of Clouds (Sandra Ridley, Pearl Pirie, Amanda Earl, Roland Prevost, Marcus McCann; 50 copies, 2008) and Pent Up (50 copies, 2009), Ben Ladouceur’s Alert (2009), Pearl Pirie’s over my dead corpus (50 copies, 2010), my own house: a (tiny) memoir (2010) and Christine McNair’s notes from a cartywheel (2011). Cameron Anstee, a writer and chapbook publisher himself, wrote in a review of McNair’s notes from a cartywheel on the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter blog (November 26, 2011):

AngelHouse deserves acknowledgement for the production of the book. As usual, the press uses lovely paper stock and thoughtful, personal design. A series of scanned objects illustrate the poems, ranging from wooden type and coins, to Polaroids and jewellery. The images extend the language of the poems, as well as assert the varied dimensions and modes of communication McNair is interested in.

Deliberately producing limited runs, AngelHousePress publishes titles that are unique in part for their intricate design, some of which includes full colour. Earl writes:

I think it does what I want it to do, which is to nurture & support excellent creative folk who don’t always fit in conventional publishing spaces. And to introduce readers to writers & artists they might not have heard of. Also it’s a flexible format. When I was sick a few years ago, I didn’t keep publishing chapbooks & that was ok. I had no deadlines. It’s flexible enough that it can adapt to my own schedule & to whatever my interests turn.

Part of what makes AngelHousePress so compelling is in the range of the type of productions that Earl has moved into, continuing a series of threads in various directions in print and online, while refusing to produce any one over another. After only a couple of print publications, both chapbooks and limited-edition broadsides, AngelHousePress expanded by founding the annual online pdf journal of experimental writing, experiment-o, in 2008, as well as an ongoing series of online essays by writers such as Monty Reid, Gregory Betts and Phil Hall, and the annual National Poetry Month website. Since then, she’s even broadened her scope by editing a response selection of works for the online poetry journal, ditch, and The Peter F. Yacht Club #12, ‘Fifth anniversary issue: Anarchy, Apocalypse, & Madness’, in 2009. Says Earl:

Small presses don’t have to satisfy a huge consumer demand so they can specialize. I think readers can appreciate the independent nature of small presses & trust that the works are being published because the publishers/editors believe in the work. Chapbooks can provide the new & experimental stuff of the writer or artist. Larger publishers often want same old same old, a tried & true formula because they have to make a profit. Chapbooks are a labour of love, they don’t have to be expensive to make, anyone can make them, they are not a huge business risk, so the chapbook publisher can take on the whimsical & the brilliant; these are people whose work isn’t often condoned or understood or supported by the mainstream.

I also think that small presses can support other small presses thru promotion & collaboration. One example of that is our recent online anthology published by ditch, called big bright amused, which features a bunch of AngelHousePress authors responding to poems published in ditch. I wanted to pay homage to the magazine, which shares the same values & mission as AngelHousePress. We both celebrate the ‘innovative, the non-conforming, the radical, the alternative, the surreal, the avant-garde, the non-linear, the abstract, the experimental.’

Over the past several years, Earl herself has emerged as an engaged and prolific writer, reviewer and blogger, with a handful of poetry chapbooks to her credit, including Eleanor (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2007), The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman (above/ground press, 2008), WELCOME TO EARTH, poems for alien(s) (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2008), Kiki (excerpts) (Mt. Pleasant ON: LaurelReedBooks, 2010), and the self-published titles Marauders of the Fold (2007), 8 Planets Speaking in Tongues (2007) and Postcards from the Museum of the Broken (2007). In the end, Earl has proven herself quite the advocate for chapbooks, and she usually produces a ‘best of’ list at year’s end on her blog:

Chapbooks are often a writer’s newest work. After the work comes out in chapbook form the writer sometimes wants to republish that same material in a book. Publishing limited editions means that the writer has free reign to do so & there’s no competition for the work. Also, I like the idea of the ephemeral nature of chapbooks. It’s a good way for a writer to experiment, feel free to try something new.

For the reader it offers the chance to collect something that is limited, turns it into more of a commodity than something that is available whenever the print run runs out. Plus if you are intent on making something that is designed well with good materials, unless you are a billionaire, you can’t afford to make endless copies, keep a large inventory or pay a distributor to distribute them widely. I believe in small, gorgeous runs of great work. And then move on to the next. And for those who want to read more by our authors, they can always check out all the online material we publish.

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