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Q&A: Goose Lane launches new poetry imprint, Icehouse Press

Fredericton’s Goose Lane Editions, which printed its first poetry collection, The Stunted Strong by Fred Cogswell, in 1954, is shaking things up with a new imprint called Icehouse Press.

Icehouse is run by a multi-city editorial board, led by Goose Lane poetry editor Ross Leckie, who is joined by Montreal writer and editor Katia Grubisic, St. John’s poet James Langer, and Toronto poet and filmmaker David Seymour.

The first two Icehouse titles, Patrick Warner’s Perfection and Stewart Cole’s debut, Questions in Bed, were celebrated at a launch in Fredericton on Sept. 29. A Toronto launch takes place tonight at the Magpie Taproom.

In advance of tonight’s festivities, co-editor David Seymour spoke to Quillblog about what Icehouse will bring to Goose Lane and Canadian poetry in general.

How did the imprint come to be?
Last winter, Ross Leckie, in conjunction with Goose Lane’s assistant poetry editor, Ian LeTourneau, appointed Katia Grubisic, James Langer, and myself to an acquisitions board in hopes of creating a more substantial presence and readership in centres outside of the Maritime region. Ross’s selection of the board members (aside from our other qualifications), was very deliberate, geographically speaking, as we all encounter writers with whom he doesn’t regularly come into contact. Ideally, we’d like to add a member who lives on the West Coast.

Goose Lane publisher Susanne Alexander has supported the imprint by improving the quality of the books themselves, which are now being printed at Coach House Books here in Toronto.

As an editorial board, what are you looking for?
We have an extremely enthusiastic, discursive, fractious board that wants to educate itself beyond the limited viewpoint of each of its constituents. We all have fairly different tastes and writing styles. We’re not entirely single-minded about anything other than our desire to publish strong work.

So I guess what we’re looking for is exceptional poetry “ be it avant-garde, lyric, experimental, formalist, conceptual, cross-genre, you name it. I don’t think I’m being naive with this open-armed posture. Like any reader, I’m continually trying to move away from prejudices or resistance to certain poetic genres, and move toward a finer discernment between the good and bad within those genres. I want the poetry we publish to take the top of your head off, regardless of how it was conceived or constructed.

Were you striving for variety by launching with a seasoned writer and a debut?
It was circumstance and a bit of luck that our inaugural books consist of an established poet’s fourth collection alongside a debut. They’re quite different books, too, in their style and tone, and we’re very pleased about that.

We had less than half the time usually required to prepare a manuscript for publication. As a result of that squeeze we sought out writers we knew were at a final, or finishing, stage of their manuscripts. This is not to say they went to press unedited, only that the process was intensified.

For the spring season, the configuration’s the same, though for different reasons. We’ll be publishing Carmelita McGrath’s third book of poetry and Adrienne Barrett’s first.

Are you soliciting manuscripts?
Our choices will be determined to a large extent by what gets submitted. For that reason we’ve decided to accept submissions year round, but we’ve also decided to solicit manuscripts from poets whose work we know and appreciate, or would like to learn more about. Solicitation accomplishes a two-fold purpose: it circumvents the slush pile for those poets who have caught our attention and it generates a word-of-mouth interest among poets we don’t yet know. Hopefully this will lead to more varied submissions.

Will you continue to produce two books a season?
Yes, we’ll continue publishing two books for the fall and spring seasons for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re already entertaining the possibility of publishing collected works and anthologies, so you can expect exceptions to the rule in the coming years.