Show and Tell Poetry Series is a new reading series in Peterborough that features local emerging and established poets from Peterborough and beyond, held at Curated in the Charlotte Mews (203 Simcoe Street, Unit #5), “a little shop in Peterborough specializing in appraisals, artwork, handmade, vintage, and antique pieces.” Co-organized and co-founded by Justin Million and Elisha May Rubacha, the Show and Tell Poetry Series recently celebrated its first anniversary with an outdoor event in Million and Rubacha’s backyard (the audio of which exists online, here), and over the past year-plus, some of the writers featured at the series have included Monty Reid, Frances Boyle, Joseph Cassidy-Skof, Mark Sokolowski, Jess Rowland and Tammy Bunce-Yaxley, as well as performances by Million and Rubacha themselves, including one of his that promised a feature of “a piano, a typewriter, and beer.” After spending some time in Ottawa as part of In/Words Magazine and Press, as well as host and curator of the In/Words Reading Series, Million has published poems in a variety of venues, and is the author of three chapbooks with Ottawa’s Apt. 9 Press, three collaborative chapbooks with Jeff Blackman, and “a number of other Canadian small press poetry ventures.” Rubacha is a writer, designer, and community-builder who has also published poems in a variety of litzines and journals, and more recently, is known for producing The Linen Thread, a 10 issues zine series.
A few weeks ago, Million and Rubacha put out a call for submissions for a new publishing venture to exist as an extension of the reading series, bird, buried press, and were immediately deluged with more submissions than they could handle. The first publications have yet to see light of day, but they promise an array of chapbooks, broadsides and other paraphernalia by both local and established poets from Peterborough and beyond.
What first drew you to found a reading series in Peterborough? Your website mentions that Show and Tell is “Peterborough’s only page-poetry reading series,” but what other literary activity exists in the city these days (that you’re aware of)?
When I moved back to Peterborough about two years ago, I went to a reading at Melinda Richter’s shop called Curated in the Charlotte Mews. Michael e. Casteels out of Kingston had organized a launch for Andrew Nurse’s book The Hopeful Barnacle, and had asked me to read at the launch also. Before the event started, I introduced myself to Melinda and a few others, and expressed that I had a desire to start a reading series in the city. Melinda kindly offered, on the spot, to let me use her amazing space, free of charge. So then I had no excuse, I had to start something. I started reaching out to local poets, as the original intention was only to invite Peterborough poets to read at the series, with little success. In the first year of the Show and Tell Poetry Series, we held six events, of varying success. As soon as the first reading took place, we were suddenly the only page poetry reading series in the city. There is a lot of slam activity here in the city, as the Peterborough Poetry Slam Collective are well organized, funded, and frequently putting on events. Just today I walked into The Spill on George Street and walked smack into a new start-up called the Peterborough Poetry Club, who plan to meet at The Spill every Wednesday to talk poetry, workshop poems, and read aloud. There is a lot of other literary activity in the city, but not many organizations. There is a group of sci-fi fiction writers who meet regularly, and a few other smaller literary groups, but in terms of putting on public readings and poetic happenings in the city, there are only a few players.
Your website mentions that you aim to work with poets until they are ready to feature at the series. What is it that appeals about such a process?
When I started the Show and Tell Poetry Series, I came up with a series of “interactive stations” that our readers would curate for our audiences. The stations included “Process”, where writers would bring in rough drafts, sketches of poems, notebooks, post-its, etc., that would elucidate the writer’s process in such a way as to create inroads for the audience into how the writer writes, succeeds, and fails. Really, I wanted to offer an alternative to the dynamic of the traditional reading series, wherein an established “genius” presents his or her poems to the audience, and the audience marvels at the complexity of the ideas presented by a seemingly infallible artist. I was trying to do something different. The writers that I approached to read in the series were unevenly split: most writers loved the stations and curating the reading space with notes, items, and ephemera that speak to who they are, while others found the process to be too invasive, or maybe they just wanted to do a traditional reading. After bringing my partner Elisha May Rubacha in to split responsibilities of the series, and after Curated changed locations, we’ve since branched out to different spaces to hold events in the city, like The Spill, The Garnet, and outdoor events in our own backyard. However, we insist on working closely with our writers in the series to make sure that they feel comfortable, respected, and valued as contributors to the cultural fabric of our city. I find that a lot of emerging and younger writers really appreciate the attention we give their work, as they are likely given very few chances to read or publish. Elisha and I know how hard it is for emerging writers trying to break through, so we do our best to include them in the scene. All we’re doing these days is organizing as many poetry events as we can (with no funding, yet) and giving as many writers as possible an opportunity to read in order to grow the page poetry scene that might already exist here – though you wouldn’t know it. I certainly didn’t when I returned to Peterborough. We’re hard at work building essentially from zero.
It’s not easy for writers to find people to read their work who will give real, useful advice. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a community of committed writers around you, your earliest readers are usually family or friends who will tell you everything you do is great. That’s well intentioned, of course, and sometimes good for the ego, but it doesn’t do much for your development. Lately we’ve been working closely with Pete Gibbon on the first bird, buried press chapbook. He’s really eager for our notes, and Justin and I have been enjoying agreeing with each other on things. We both love editing, so we’re delighted to fill that void.
You recently launched a small publishing extension to the reading series, your bird, buried press. How does the press relate to the series and what are you hoping to accomplish?
At least in part, the press emerged out of a frustration with the publishing world. It isn’t made for writers. Reviewers are being paid more than poets, and no one will publish anything that’s already been published. Essentially once a piece is accepted, it’s buried. The name and logo – though they do refer to a bird we buried in Jackson Park – were intended as a way of capturing the inherent paradox in publishing. As soon as it’s alive, it’s dead. It gets printed or posted, it lives for a glorious second, and then it’s never to be seen again (except maybe by Cameron Anstee). The press and the series are both at their core built for writers. We promise quick response times and thorough notes, but most of all we aim to produce work and events that really reflect our writers’ identities. With the series and the press, we are able to offer everything a writer needs. Support group coming soon.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). In fall 2015, he was named “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and recently became a regular contributor to both the Drunken Boat and Ploughshares blogs. 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.