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Profile on Amanda Earl’s NationalPoetryMonth.ca, with a few questions

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Amanda Earl

One of the few Canadian websites doing consistent work for the sake of National Poetry Month is Ottawa poet, publisher and fiction writer Amanda Earl’s NationalPoetryMonth.ca, posting daily pieces throughout April since 2009. Publishing a range of visual, concrete and text works in what she calls “an annual celebration of poetry,” this year she has even moved into including audio of sound poetry. The first week of Earl's 2016 series has already included work by Gary Barwin (Hamilton), Jason Christie (Ottawa), michèle provost (Gatineau), Carrie Hunter (San Francisco), Judith Copithorne (Vancouver), Tom Walmsley (Toronto) and D.S. West (Boulder).

Given that most acknowledgments of National Poetry Month are from larger, more official (and often, more conservative) organizations, whether The League of Canadian Poets in Canada, The Academy of American Poets or the American website NPM Daily (this is the third year, also, that poems are being posted on the Chaudiere Books blog as part of National Poetry Month), part of the pleasure of engaging Earl’s NationalPoetryMonth.ca is knowing that it deliberately focuses on less prevalent poetic forms, publishes a wide range of work from poets worldwide, and is produced in Canada. One might even be amazed to realize that more official corners didn’t bother picking up the url, allowing it to even be available. On April 1, 2013 American poet Geof Huth did a brief write-up on the annual series:

Even better is National Poetry Month (.ca) run by Amanda Earl, proprietress of AngelHousePress, where the poetry is different and strange, and interesting, and where this month of April will be celebrating the month, this year, with nothing but visual poetry. Here’s Amanda’s announcement:

AngelHousePress presents NationalPoetryMonth.ca, a celebration of poetic form of all kinds and an homage to those poets who try to extend the definition of poetry. This year’s edition, which marks our fifth anniversary, is a tribute to the Last Vispo, an anthology of visual poetry edited by Nico Vassilakis and Crag Hill and published by Fantagraphics in 2012. The site contains visual poetry, asemic writing, collage, concrete poetry and other forms of whimsy by artists from Australia, Canada, the USA, Finland, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden. Each day in April a different visual poem will be shown. AngelHousePress thanks all who participated and sent work for consideration and wishes the month had at least forty five days in order to showcase all the great poetry we received.

Starting April 1, please visit NationalPoetryMonth.ca for a different visual poem every day.

It should prove to be a great month of poetry if my friend Gary Barwin’s opening bpNicholesque poem of the two descending legs of one fine capital letter are any indication. Follow along. Breathe poetry. Don’t let poetry breathe you.

NationalPoetryMonth.ca is built as an extension of work she produces through AngelHousePress, a press she established in 2007 to publish “raw talent, ragged edges and rebels through its limited edition chapbook series, NationalPoetryMonth.ca, an annual celebration of poetry in April, Experiment-O.com, an annual online PDF magazine that comes out in November, and its online essay series.” Separately, she is also the managing editor of the Ottawa-based literary site, Bywords.ca, and a prolific poet and fiction writer. She is the author of a first trade collection of poems, Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014), an erotic novella, A World Of Yes (DevilHouse, 2015), and a collection of “smutty short fiction,” Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl (Coming Together, 2014).
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rob mclennan:

What first prompted you to start NationalPoetryMonth.ca?

Amanda Earl:

I wanted to expand the type of poetry that was being celebrated; I thought there was also space for a celebration of visual poetry, of poetry that was eccentric, in keeping with the goal of AngelHousePress, which is to publish ragged edges, raw talent and rebels.

Also I thought it would be interesting to expand the territory. National Poetry Month, which began in the USA in 1996 by The American Academy of Poets and in Canada in 1998 by the League of Canadian Poets was for North American work only; I wanted to include work from all over the world, to celebrate the nation of poetry rather than poetry from North America only. I wanted to include translations from other languages as well.

I wanted poetry enthusiasts, including myself, to question our preconceived notions of what poetry is. I wanted and still want to see how far such an exploration can go and where it will lead.

There’s also this need in me to rebel against the establishment and its rules in an anarchistic way.

mclennan:

How do you feel this expands, or even connects to the extensive work you’ve been doing over the past few years, whether Bywords Quarterly Journal/Bywords.ca, Experiment-O, AngelHousePress or DevilHouse?

Earl:

Bywords exists specifically to promote and publish current and former Ottawa residents, students and workers. It has a 10-12 member selection committee. I started AngelHousePress to do something different, to make my own choices about what to publish according to my own aesthetic, which is eccentric and rebellious. I wanted anything AngelHousePress did to not be focused locally per se, but to go wider. NationalPoetryMonth.ca is a natural extension of this. Experiment-O takes things even further, publishing a art, poetry, visual poetry and prose.

Both AngelHousePress and DevilHouse also have the mandate to publish writers who have escaped the mainstream’s notice, whether because the writers are up and coming or because they kick against the pricks in some way or another. NationalPoetryMonth.ca is part of that.

In every publishing activity I engage in, I’m always trying to provide an opportunity for voices that aren’t heard as often as they should be to be heard.

mclennan:

Had you any models you were influenced by? When you started the project, there weren’t really any other sites in Canada that I’m aware of posting poems for National Poetry Month.

Earl:

I don’t remember there being any models that influenced it per se.

mclennan:

Your NationalPoetryMonth.ca is a couple of years old now. How has the project shifted over that time? What has the response been?

Earl:

It’s in its seventh year. It’s gotten more international over time and more variety of poetry. This year we’ve included a sound poem for the first time, from Gary Barwin on April 1.

The response has been overwhelming, both from those who’ve sent work and admirers. My favourite response is always: “that’s not poetry.”

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Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.

Photo of rob mclennan by Stephen Brockwell

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