Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Glass Manifesto: on blogging,

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By rob mclennan

I can see through you; can you see me? I blog to reach out into the world, to further a conversation. Literature is no more about me than it is about anyone; not about you, either. These days we see dying literary journals, and fewer book reviews of any kind, and newspapers, barely at all, but for a select few. And yet, the volume of books in a year increases. How can we continue to produce work without talking about what we have already done?

Everything connects, they say, to everything else. When I first started posting reviews and small essays on my “increasingly clever blog” in June 2005, it was after half a decade of frustration, feeling as though I was spending more time trying to find homes for wayward pieces than actually producing. From mid-1994 to the end of 1998, I’d a weekly books column in The Ottawa X-Press and was able to write up to three small reviews per, writing about a range of novels, short stories, poetry, art books and even comic books. There was a range and an increasing depth, if not always much space, and making a point to discuss works from a broad range of geography and style, while focusing on Canadian small press. Around the two-year mark, when my column went to every two weeks, a year later to three and finally pushed out to four, I quit in disgust, knowing full well that there would be little to no small press book reviews published anywhere in the city once I left. Where would I be able to continue?

I originally started my tenure at the X-Press thinking that book reviewing was an entertaining and lively way for me to remain engaged with contemporary writing, not only to feed myself as a struggling writer, but to be helpful to readers, as well as the authors I wrote about, attempting to focus my attention on first or otherwise lesser known Canadian authors. Given that I was writing book reviews in the local alternative weekly in the National Capital, I stayed away from big American hardcovers; why not talk about what might otherwise never be spoken? It was only later that I realized, for example, that I was the first to review Vancouver poet Mark Cochrane’s first poetry collection, Boy Am I (1995), and possibly the only reviewer for Toronto author Martha Baillie’s first novel, My Sister, Esther (1996). With years of posts sent out into the ether, it seems strange when authors tell me, whether or not I actually liked their books in my review, that I was the only reviewer to understand what it was they were doing. Worthy praise, certainly, to keep one going, but every time I hear that, I wonder: why haven't there been others? Shouldn’t there be others doing this too? If I can work to try to understand a book, shouldn’t others be able, or even willing, to do exactly the same?

Art is not a democracy, certainly. But there’s little point in creating more unless we’ve discussed and attempted to understand what has already occurred. Why invent the wheel a thousandth time? And with newspapers and literary journals cutting down on reviewing space, where else might these conversations happen, if at all? There is something about knowing that mine might be one of the few sites that come up in Google searches for Gerry Gilbert, Peter van Toorn, David Phillips, jwcurry, Judith Copithorne, William Hawkins or Maxine Gadd, for example. Just to consider that, doesn’t it put the burden of responsible writing even further on these eastern Ontario shoulders? My friend Randy Woods says that the internet is a series of hubs as opposed to a linear string of connections. Central points where communities congregate and further, return.

I know there are some writers who are unwilling to review, for the sake of (they claim) "keeping friends." I know others say that if they are to write, they can't give the time or attention to writing critically in any capacity. If you’ve ever seen Ottawa poet/bookseller/archivist jwcurry cook, or build his formerly-annual snowforts behind 858 Somerset West, you’d see the attention; each is given as much of his attention to immaculate detail as any of his literary/cultural work. Not that mine is so broad, but everything I do as a cultural worker, in my mind, is part of an ongoing practice: writing, editing, publishing, reviewing, events organizing, the Ottawa small press book fair, interviewing and blogging. All of it is part of that expansive practice, that ongoing conversation of whatever it is we are all constantly doing. How can one be separated so easily from the other?


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than 20 trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011), 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010) and wild horses (2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottwater.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 Jenn Farr

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