Breaking ground, breaking rules:

ground_rules_thumbrob mclennan, ed. Ground Rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003 – 2013 (Chaudiere Books 2013).

There are a lot of Canadian (& other) poets who are grateful rob mclennan runs above/ground press & somehow manages to publish a huge bunch of chapbooks, magazine, & broadsheets every year, no matter what else he also gets up to. And he’s been doing so for more than 2 decades now. In Ground Rules, he offers up a generous sampling of what above/ground does for those readers who just haven’t been paying attention or else couldn’t keep up.

Some critics & poets argue that eclecticism makes for weak editing, but mclennan, who has also spent all that time learning as much as he can about (especially) modern & contemporary Canadian poetry, has made it into a virtue. He likes & publishes a very wide range of poetry, but, if this anthology is anything to go by, he has a pretty good sense of what works in any particular area. Ground Rules has a smattering of single poems, including a couple of concrete beauties from derek beaulieu; but the anthology really shines in its many & varied chapbooks. These range from Nathanaël’s gender bending self-examination, ‘what exile    this,’ through the faux (& witty) ‘Text Panels’ of Lisa Samuels’s ‘The Museum of Perception,’ to Rachel Zolf’s lovely minimalist homage, ‘the naked & the nude’; & that’s just the first three.

mclennan appreciates poetic comedy: see Sharon Harris’s ‘more fun with ‘pataphysics,’ with its ‘amazing’ (& always amusing) ‘findings’ & ‘experiments in progress’; or Stephen Brockwell’s ‘Impossible Books (the Carleton Installment),’ which includes (‘From Metonomies: Poems by Objects Owned by Illustrious People‘) these lines by ‘Stephen Harper’s Shoes’: ‘Long days holding up the country, / short nights breathing fresh air,’ & ‘My steel / shank would never pass security / if the face did not control it personally,’ in which the ambiguity of that pronoun speaks volumes.

mclennan appreciates the elders: see, among others, D.G. Jones, with the sly & sophisticated lyrics of ‘standard pose,’ & Robert Kroetsch, with the subtle & actively probing wit of his letters to other poets in ‘Further to Our Conversation’ (one of his last chapbooks, generously offered to various small presses). He also appreciates formal experiments, such as Emily Carr’s ‘ ] / & look there goes a sparrow transplanting soil / ] /[3 eclogues]’ or Gregory Betts’s deconstruction of the Canadian documentary poem in ‘The Cult of David Thompson.’ I also especially enjoyed Monty Reid’s striking serial poem, ‘cuba  A book,’ Marilyn Irwin’s ‘for when you pick daisies,’ Natalie Simpson’s ‘Writing the writing,’ Julia Williams’s ‘My City is Ancient and Famous,’ & many of Eric Folsom’s ‘Northeast anti-ghazals.’ No anthology can satisfy everyone, but Ground Rules has a higher percentage of the worthwhile than most; I found all of the chapbooks worth my reading time.

As a valuable overview of the kinds of poetry above/ground press publishes or just of the kinds of poetry being written in Canada (or North America) during the first decade or so of the 21st century, Ground Rules has much to recommend it. Because it gives each poet real room, & also because it publishes new work, it provides a genuine insight into a lot of what’s happening now. Anyone interested in getting a sense of what a number of our most interesting poets have been up to recently will find Ground Rules offers a terrific introduction to their work.

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