Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Curious to know more about Montreal-based publisher Metatron and their poetry booklets, I asked Guillaume Morissette—whose novel, New Tab, was recently published by Véhicule Press—to interview Ashley Opheim, Metatron’s managing editor. Guillaume and Ashley are good friends and frequently collaborate on various projects - Carmine
Metatron started a year ago when Ashley Opheim, Sarah Brunning, Jane Penny, Matthew E. Duffy, Rebecca Storm and Claire Milbrath, all Montreal-based writers, artists or designers, successfully applied for funding from Emploi Québec’s Young Volunteer Program. Since then, they’ve put together and released six poetry pocketbooks. Two are by members of the collective, one is by Ashley and another is by Matthew Duffy, and the last four are by Montreal writers Laura Broadbent, Roland Pemberton (also known as the rapper Cadence Weapon), Jay Winston Ritchie and Ali Pinkney. The booklets look great, but more importantly, they embody and communicate Montreal’s youthful energy and hyper-collaborative spirit.
Guillaume: What’s Metatron? Well, obviously, I know what it is, but I mean, could you just talk a little about what it is to you, and how you view the poetry pocketbooks that you’ve put out?
Ashley: Metatron was founded after a long, depressing period of post-grad unemployment. Applying for jobs in the publishing world proved to be an exhausting feat. I spent months researching the industry, writing unique cover letters and applying for jobs at every publisher that excited me in Eastern Canada. I don’t think I heard back from one job I applied for. Nothing. Not even a thanks, but no thanks. I found this immensely annoying and frustrating, and found myself falling deeper and deeper into a “I’m not good enough” mindset that is probably common with many post-graduates.
Instead of giving up, I decided to join forces with five other active Montreal-based curators and artists and begin Metatron. Under the mentorship of David McGimpsey, we managed to secure the largest grant the Young Volunteers program offers.
It’s no secret the publishing industry is male-dominated, and that poetry sells poorly, but that makes Metatron and our pursuits that much more important. Five of the six members of Metatron’s editorial team are women, and half of the poets we published with the first books are women. My grandmother, who has been honored with numerous awards for her work in drug education including the Order of Canada (1991) and the YWCA Woman of the Year Award (1985), often says, “undertake challenging activities instead of easy ones” and that has really resonated with me. So for me it’s worth the struggle because both women and poetry are incredibly important to our society and, I feel, largely under-represented.
When I hold the Metatron books in my hands or see them in bookstores, I get a tingly feeling inside that is the opposite of depression: it’s joy.
Guillaume: I like how you guys all have your own projects. Claire Milbrath and Rebecca Storm from Metatron also do a magazine called The Editorial together. Sarah Brunning curates Weijia Quarterly. Even the covers for your poetry booklets seem to be collaborative in nature. Anjela Freyja, who’s an absurdly talented graphic designer, did yours. One of Rachel Shaw’s paintings is on the cover of Rollie Pemberton’s pocketbook. That seems very true to Montreal to me, these constant transactions of skills to put together various projects. Does that make sense to you?
Ashley: When we first secured the grant, I was really pushing for us to do something completely collaborative, like start a new publication with a new name and somehow collapse all of our projects into it. This quickly proved to be against our nature. We were all very independent and personally devoted to our own projects. Instead of collapsing the projects into one, we embraced disparity. The funny thing is that in embracing our disparity we created a space for collaboration to happen organically and not forcibly. It’s funny how things work like that.
Collaboration is at the heart of Metatron, and, I believe, at the heart of the Montreal arts experience. All the artists that have been involved with Metatron since its inception are trying to do good, meaningful things with their time here on Earth. It’s not a selfish community. We all want each other to succeed. We make each other better and help one another achieve things that would be impossible alone. It’s non-competitive collaboration.
Guillaume: Non-competitive collaboration, that’s a great way to put it. I feel like we should talk a little more about each pocketbook. We’re friends, so I am probably not an impartial observer, but I liked reading I Am Here, your pocketbook with Metatron, and I really admire what it’s doing. It feels like a mix of wonder, bliss, longing and a kind of contemporary confusion, and it reminds me of work by writers like Melissa Broder or Ariana Reines. Could you talk about the other five booklets maybe, like a brief description or maybe other books that they remind you of?
Ashley: Ali Pinkney’s book Tampion is the one I feel closest to as an editor. Putting Tampion together was the most challenging of all the books, but in turn also the most rewarding. Ali and I debated content, order and edits literally until the last possible moment. She challenged every decision I made, which really strengthened me as an editor. This book is wrought with emotion and sentiment and is ominous, unique and captivating. It would fit well with readers who enjoy Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath.
Laura Broadbent is the only writer of the bunch who had previously had a book published. Her manuscript Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Fiction in 2012 and was subsequently published by Invisible Publishing. The book captivated me. When Laura sent me the Interviews manuscript I tore through it as quickly as my eyes and mind would allow me. When I finished reading, it felt like my heart and mind were soaring as one. It’s an amazingly coherent book. I would compare her writing to writers like Clarice Lispector and Anne Carson.
Magnetic Days is a collection of poetry from Roland Pemberton that reveals another side to his character. For someone who is known for his award-nominated lyricism [Polaris Prize] and who fulfilled the role of Edmonton’s Poet Laureate for 2 years [2009-2011], how had he never published a book? His writing exercises wisdom, restraint, humour and vision and covers topics like race, class, history, social politics, leisure and love.
The longest and most experimental of the books is by Matthew E Duffy. Les Oeuvres Selected was composed using prose and poetry that Duffy had emailed me [as a friend] over the 3 years I have known him. It is a book that makes use of a new language composed of broken English, French and Arabic, and is packed full of footnotes. His writing is charged with beauty, mysticism and a passionate aggression. It does not exist in the realm of instant gratification; its essence must be earned through careful reading and re-reading. I would say that Duffy’s writing has aspects of deconstructionism and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry present in it.
Jay Winston Ritchie is an undeniable literary force. He has his first book of fiction coming out with Insomniac Press soon called Something You Were, Might Have Been or Have Come to Represent. In the few years I’ve known Jay I’ve witnessed him develop into a very seriously talented writer and reader. His writing is clear-headed, earnest and funny and would fend well with fans of Frank O’Hara or Irving Layton. I will always be honored that I was the first to publish him with his book of poems How to Remain Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside.
Guillaume: You also organize readings and aren’t afraid to experiment. Last year, you put on a “Skype” reading, where authors from all over North America were reading their works live on Skype for a Montreal audience. What would be your “dream” reading? If you could choose any author currently alive, who would you book? What kind of venue would you get?
Ashley: I would love to do a reading at a spa, where people are hanging out getting hot stone massages, chilling in steam rooms and swimming in warm pools of colorful light. I would want Ariana Reines there, James Franco, Miranda July, Tao Lin… And to bypass your requirement of living writers, I would want holograms of Allen Ginsberg, Anais Nin and Rumi present.
Guillaume: I like how you’ve been updating Metatron’s blog lately, showcasing stuff by Montreal artists of various disciplines. You have poems, music videos, photos, art, etc, which really makes it feels like a thriving community. What’s next for Metatron? Where should people go if they want to find out more about Metatron and their pocketbooks?
Ashley You know how the ancient Egyptians carved their stories into the walls of their temples? My initial intention with the site was to create a space to both feature and archive the art that is being created within my reach. In doing so, I hope to create a space that people feel excited about being a part of.
I am currently planning a new video series I hope to launch by the end of the summer that features local poets. I am also working on solidifying our Fall 2014 titles. I know Claire and Sarah are working on the next issues of The Editorial and Weijia Quarterly, so all I can say right now is to expect some exciting new titles from us by fall 2014! In the meantime, keep in touch via our website, which we will be continually updating with unique content.