The beauty of the small

The warm weather isn’t here yet, but we can still dream! Come take a trip with us as we explore the past and present inspirations for our Spring 2018 authors’ work.

We spoke to Cameron Anstee to see what sparked the creation of his new release, Book of Annotations, and what continues to inspire him. Last but not least, we’ve got his author-curated playlist that serves as the perfect accompaniment to his exciting new work.

So crack open this fantastic title, put on your headphones and enjoy!

What inspired the creation of your work / how did it come to be?

Book of Annotations is my first trade collection of poetry, and is the culmination of more than a decade of work focused on composing small and smaller and minimalist works. I’d been working on poetry for four or five years when, in 2008, I took a course in Canadian Long Poems of the 1960s and 1970s with Rob Winger at Carleton University that sparked a turn to the minimalist. This seems odd, but it was the first place that I encountered Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems, a book that radically realigned my thinking about poetry. I’d always been drawn to small poems, but more often than not there would be only one or two small-ish poems in a book-length collection. To encounter an entire book built of small works (albeit, a long poem of connected small works) was something of a revelation. In the years that followed, (ten years more or less to the day since that course ended) I gradually wrote more and more small work, finding myself able to let go of composing what I thought poems were supposed to look like (single-page fairly dense blocks of text) and instead, embracing the small as a compositional challenge and choice. In one of those nice events the universe lets you have from time to time, Rob Winger very kindly edited Book of Annotations, bringing the last ten years of this work full circle.

The poems in the book work through different ways to be small; they are built in different ways, some of only a few lines, a few words, or a few syllables. Some I can trace back to 2008 or 2009 in the form of longer versions, and find that only a handful of words have survived years of editing and trimming. Some of the poems work with a restricted vocabulary that is arranged and rearranged in a search for what can be done with only a few elements. Some incorporate concrete and visual elements. The middle section of the book is a set of erasures performed on already small poems, trying to carve them down to something even smaller. I wanted to try to build a book of entirely small works that would survive re-reading, that wouldn’t see the smallness of the poems as a novelty but rather as something fundamental to each poem, and I’m very curious to see how it is received.

The book is important to my own writing as my first book, but the manuscript would have been equally important to me even if it had gone unpublished—completing it gave me creative license to write exactly the kind of poems I want to write, and I’m excited to see what the next manuscript might look like (presumably in another decade!). I’m already writing new poems that are perhaps even more aggressively minimalist, as well as composing typewriter-visual works that are also invested in minimalist strategies, but that explore them through the particular material constraints, aesthetic concerns, and literary history of the typewriter.

What were your sources of inspiration / creative energy during the creation of your work?

Poets of particular influence on the book include Phyllis Webb, Nelson Ball, Aram Saroyan, Robert Lax, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Mark Truscott, Lorine Niedecker, Joseph Massey, Erica Baum, jwcurry, Michael e. Casteels, Noelle Kocot, Monty Reid, and many others. I’ve lived in Ottawa my whole life, and have to cite this city and its small press community as a vital source of solidarity and inspiration. I also want to include my wonderful partner and our home, and the things we do that are not poetry related! She is a photographer, and her work, much of which hangs on our walls, was with me through the majority of the book’s composition and editing and is there in the book’s DNA.

What’s something that you can count on to stoke your creative fire?

Reading always does something to the part of my brain that writes poetry (whether poetry, criticism/non-fiction, fiction). Walking is a great source for me, moving through physical space always makes something happen—my partner and I try to walk and bike as much as we can during the warm months, and snowshoe during the cold ones. I’m lucky enough to have a 30-minute walk to work instead of a bus or car commute.

What are you currently drawn to right now?

Books on typography and book design are a point of focus at the moment. I got my hands on a reprint of the CBC Graphic Standards Manual from 1974 that is astounding. I’ve been reading Carl Dair’s correspondence about the creation of his Cartier typeface. I purchased a new set of rubber stamps and I’d like to do more publishing via that method. I also have a day job now that has nothing to do with poetry or small press publishing (for the first time in…well, a decade?), so that has been an adjustment to how and when I can work on poetry-things, but is also stimulating different parts of my brain.

What are your current top 5 reads of late?

Jack Davis, Faunics (Pedlar, 2017)
Kristine Tortora (Ed.), Carl Dair and the Cartier Typeface: Selected Correspondence (Gaspereau, 2017)
Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (Knopf, 2006)
Nelson Ball, Walking (Mansfield, 2017)
I also want to point at a few chapbook presses that have appeared in the last few years that are keeping me excited about chapbooks—bird, buried press (Peterborough), Coven Editions (Ottawa), Gap Riot Press (Toronto), and Rahila’s Ghost Press (Vancouver). Go look them up and buy their stuff!

What are you working on right now?

I have just finished reviewing final proofs of the book! I am working with a printer in Peterborough, Jeff Macklin of Jackson Creek Press, on some wood-type broadsides to celebrate the publication of the book. I am writing an academic paper on painter / publisher / poet Barbara Caruso to present at Kanada Koncrete in May. I have a few projects with my chapbook press Apt. 9 underway (that I am woefully behind on—sorry authors!). I am trying, slowly, to write some new poems. I have a pile of academic/critical projects sitting in a to-do pile, and need to figure out how to prioritize those. I am trying to read for pleasure, and to not worry too much about how slowly I work. I am also trying to enjoy times of not writing. I’m still coming out of the post-PhD and post-book period of intense writing and editing, and I need to recover a bit still. In terms of non-writing things underway, my partner and I are planning a few exciting trips this year, and after I submit these answers, we’re off to a paper marbling workshop and I can’t wait to see what that will produce.

If your book was a cocktail what would the recipe look like?

The book works with such a deliberately restricted set of elements, I don’t know how to translate those into a cocktail! Pour yourself whatever your favourite is over ice (or not, if you prefer)—I’ll have a scotch.

Cameron Anstee lives and writes in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press and holds a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature from the University of Ottawa. He is the editor of The Collected Poems of William Hawkins (Chaudiere Books, 2015). Book of Annotations (Invisible Publishing, 2018) is his first full-length collection of poetry.

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