Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Profile of The Emergency Response Unit, with Questions

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The Emergency Response Unit

Since appearing with a small handful of chapbooks in 2008, Toronto chapbook publishers The Emergency Response Unit — otherwise known as the now-married writers Andrew Faulkner and Leigh Nash — have produced over a dozen limited-edition chapbooks with beautiful hand-made covers, as well as a couple of broadsides and a co-published anthology. In a review of Nashira Dernesch’s chapbook This Snowing Under (2008) (on lipstickindie.com), Anne F. Walker described it as “well-bound and pleasant with graceful crafting.” Focusing on emerging writers, many of these publications have been one of the first, if not the first, single-author publication by many of their wide list of authors, most of whom are based in the vibrant writing community around them in Toronto. Some of their authors include Aaron Tucker, Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts, Julie Cameron Gray, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Anya Douglas, Carey Toane, Nashira Dernesch and Jacob McArthur Mooney, and Faulkner and Nash have also produced some of their own work through the press. In the past, Nash has offered that the press has worked very deliberately in being a collaborative effort, with some of their authors editing each others’ small publications, adding to the feeling of community and conversation. In Broken Pencil, Toronto writer Spencer Gordon wrote of the press:

Perceiving a dearth in dedicated chapbook presses in Toronto, local residents Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner pooled their resources and formed The Emergency Response Unit, a brand new micro-press committed to publishing affordable, quality chapbooks. “We aim to fill the space between one-off poems published in journals and full-length books,” says Faulkner. “We’re attracted to the idea of poems not necessarily as a sequence, but as a bundle, and the chapbook is ideal for this type of presentation.” Having laid the groundwork for the outfit in early 2008, their first titles rolled off the press this November, featuring books by Nashira Dernesch, Anya Douglas, Marcus McCann, and Nash and Faulkner themselves.

Part of what makes their publications interesting, apart from the impressively high quality of writing and physical production of each of their titles, is in how Faulkner and Nash work to engage their publishing work directly with the community around them, whether through cross-editing, publications for events or even working for other presses. Leaving Ottawa for post-secondary studies in Toronto, Leigh Nash didn’t meet Faulkner until a couple of years later, when they were both students in Guelph’s MFA program. Before Toronto, Faulkner attended the University of Ottawa, where he was involved with the on-campus journal The Ottawa Arts Review, and the two have since returned to participate in the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair. Keeping their Ottawa connections, Nash had a small poetry chapbook of her own with Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press, producing her Landforms in 2010, and the press has published more than a couple of Ottawa authors as well, from Nicholas Lea to Marcus McCann to Anstee himself. Each season of their small publications appear as batches with similar production, as Nash responds in an email:

Well, our chapbooks are commercially printed and saddle-stitched, but we hand-make the covers — a delicate balance. They've been different for each season we've done — but we love them all equally! — and it’s a challenge to come up with covers that and imagery that match each book's content. We love watching our books be manhandled at small press fairs — it’s a huge compliment that people just want to touch them, because they’re good looking. […] We started TERU because we wanted to make something, to put good writing out into the world in pretty packaging. Greenboathouse’s production values sold us on the chapbook form, and the chapbooks we’d picked up from other small presses — like Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales, Gary Barwin’s serif of nottingham and above/ground — set a high bar for content. Our goal at first was to make chapbooks that filled the space between the gorgeous, expensive, limited-editions and the cheap(er) and cheerful photocopies.

In an interview on Steel Bananas in February 2010, Spencer Gordon, Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner spoke of the process of hand-making chapbooks:

Spencer: [To Leigh and Andrew] Do you guys physically enjoy making books?

Leigh: Sometimes. Some days its fun, but other days its like a chore. Like those books (points at latest chapbook helping from the ERU) we have to make outside because we’re using spray adhesive for the covers, so right now its hell to make them.

Andrew: We make them in 5 or 10 batches, but the pages are so weighty and wet, we have to set up a tarp over half of our backyard and huddle underneath it spraying and I'm trying not to get the glue in my hair. I go inside and stick to everything.

Since arriving in Toronto, Nash has worked for Mansfield Press (who later produced her first trade poetry collection) and Coach House Books, and both have worked for the now-defunct Scream in High Park, producing a selection of event-specific publications to line up with Scream events.

Both of us volunteered for the Scream for several years, so it was a natural fit when Bill [Kennedy] asked us to produce chapbooks as ephemera for the second-last Scream Literary Festival. For a while, our chapbook edition of David Antin’s essay ‘what it means to be avant garde’ was the only version of the essay available in print, and our chapbook ended up on a course list at Penn State — that was pretty amazing. The Scream was our first foray into broadsides, which are a whole different kind of project. But they turned out awesome, and they sell super well — we've done a couple of reprints already. TERU works because there's two of us to share the workload, and also because it's a labour of love, and not money. We don't really have anyone to answer to — we exist completely outside of any funding structure, like most chapbook presses — and while that means we sometimes had to scrounge to pay the printing bill, it also means we only publish things we really love. Not having a set schedule (though we do have a reading period, but only to make it easier for us to respond to unsolicited submissions) means that we can take requests for projects and see them through without too much trouble.

Again, one thing connects to another thing; The Emergency Response Unit author Aaron Tucker was another writer involved with the Scream in High Park. Tucker is the author Apartments (The Emergency Response Unit, 2010), which was short listed for the bpNichol chapbook award. One of their more unusual publications is Dinosaur Porn (2010), a perfect-bound anthology edited by Spencer Gordon, Andrew Faulkner and Leigh Nash. It is a co-presentation between their two small Toronto publishing houses, Ferno House and The Emergency Response Unit. For the anthology, the publishers asked potential contributors to submit poetry and/or fiction on the theme of “dinosaur porn,” and the book was published with the following warning at the beginning, seemingly in lieu of an introduction:

WARNING: This anthology contains sexually explicit material and/or fossils. In order to excavate this anthology you must certify to the following:

Under the governing law of my continent, I have reach the epoch of majority and the epoch required to excavate sexually explicit material and/or fossils (i.e., at least the Lias Epoch). I am excavating this anthology from a location where sexually explicit material and/or fossils are legal and permitted. Furthermore, I will not permit any person or hatchling to excavate this anthology if said person or hatchling is not legally permitted to do so.

I would presume so much of this anthology, even to them, is either self-explanatory or, like a joke one doesn’t get, impossible to explain. Responses vary, but highlights included work by Nathaniel G. Moore, Gary Barwin, Andrew Faulkner, Louise Bak, Leigh Nash, Carey Toane, Christine McNair and Shannon Rayne. Later in the same Steel Bananas interview, Faulkner spoke of the project:

So many anthologies have come out recently and I think a lot of it was that we wanted to be able to see how high quality of a thing we could make that was ostensibly so ridiculous. And we did end up getting tons of really excellent submissions; lots of things that stand alone, outside of the limits of an anthology called Dinosaur Porn. And the book quality is stepping up...

With their recent marriage, the press took a bit of a break, reemerging in the fall of 2011 with Ottawa poet Nicholas Lea’s Actual Girl and Toronto poet Julie Cameron Gray’s Coordinating Geometry.

For more information on the press, their website is www.theemergencyresponseunit.com, and, as Nash says, they’re “the first thing that comes up when you Google the phrase ‘emergency response unit.’ Which is both amazing and a bit terrifying.”


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, his most recent titles are the poetry collections A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 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 Christine McNair


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