I’m not neutral by any stretch of the most nubile imagination (rob mclennan is my partner). But Zachary Houle’s recent ‘Letter to the Editor’ riled me and I’m quite difficult to unrile.
The letter itself is absurd. While I’m very sorry to hear that Mr. Houle had such difficulty getting his ex-partner to attend his readings, it hardly seems fair to blame rob. We are adults and if we wish to be supportive of our (writerly) partners: we go to an event. Period. Perhaps she simply did not enjoy readings. There is nothing that would prevent me from supporting someone that I care about. Ain’t no mountain high enough (etcetera).
To be fair, I wasn’t at that event and can’t comment on the mclennan of decades past. I can only comment on the three years that I’ve known him, during which I’ve seen him be nothing but supportive of visiting and local authors in Ottawa. Just within that period he hosted readings for:
Amanda Earl, Angela Szczepaniak, Aurian Haller, Ben LaDouceur, Brenda Leifso, Bruce Taylor, Cameron Anstee, Chris Turnbull, Christine Leclerc, Christine Stewart, Clint Burnham, David McGimpsey, Diane Tucker, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Emily Falvey, Eva Moran, Faizal Deen, Gary Barwin, Garry Thomas Morse, Gillian Sze, Gwendolyn Guth, Helen Hajnoczky, Janice Tokar, Jason Camlot, Jay MillAr, Jeanette Lynes, Jen Currin, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Ken Belford, Kim Minkus, Laurie Fuhr, Lea Graham, Lisa Pasold, Marcus McCann, Mark Goldstein, Marilyn Irwin, Matt Rader, Michael Dennis, Michelle Desbarats, Mike Spry, Monty Reid, Natasha Nuhanovic, Nicholas Lea, Nick McArthur, Paul Tyler, Pearl Pirie, Peter Gibbon, Peter Midgley, Peter Jaeger, Phil Hall, Roland Prevost, Sachiko Murakami, Sandra Ridley, Shane Rhodes, Spencer Gordon, Stan Rogal, Stephen Brockwell, Steve Zytveld, Stuart Ross, Suzanne Bowness, Teresa Yang, Wanda O’Connor, and Wes Smiderle.
Which to my mind represents a diverse range of writerly voices belonging to different aesthetics, personalites, styles, and regions. He’s published chapbooks by many of these same writers and more through above/ground press. Recently, the Dusty Owl reading series needed some help and mclennan was the one to find them a new venue, book new writers or hosts, and increase their promotion tenfold. I’ve seen him support young writers, give out publications to those he think might like them, and review books that might not be reviewed elsewhere. He runs a twice-annual small press book fair where small presses, zines, local artists, papermakers, and printers can sell their work. He isn’t paid to do any of this. It’s a gift of time and energy.
A poisonous atmosphere in Ottawa? Writers from all schools mingle here in a whole slew of venues that cater to every aesthetic. mclennan is a vital part of the Ottawa community but he is just one of many writers and reading organizers in this town. If you want to write and participate in Ottawa literary culture, you can do so. Hell, you can do so without even exchanging a single syllable with mclennan if that’s your fancy. (And for the record, I’ve never once heard him say snarky comments from the audience excepting mutual teasing with good friends.)
rob has his critics, as do most figures of any public presence but it is ridiculous to see such a personal screed by someone who hasn’t participated in the Ottawa literary community for years. He seems to have no sense of this city’s character. I agree with only one point in the entire letter. Please do come to a poetry reading in Ottawa. Come to several. Come to VerseFest, the new annual poetry festival in March.
And I’ll include Houle in this one. If you want to be supportive of indie/small press culture in Ottawa or elsewhere: participate. Don’t throw a hissy fit over one paragraph in a fifty-item list because you have a personal problem with an old acquaintance. Write your own work, make your own books, show up, for Christ’s sake. Else-wise, the only asinine, vitriolic, and spiteful comments that I see in the vicinity of mclennan are yours.