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Amanda Earl (she/her) is a pansexual polyamorous cis-gendered white woman in her fifties with a penchant for whimsy, exploration, and connection with kindred misfits. She lives in Ottawa with her husband, Charles, her darling co-conspirator in many a shenanigan. She’s been a published writer for twenty years and a publisher/editor for seventeen and has been running Bywords.ca since its beginning in 2003. Her husband, Charles Earl takes care of the site, does layout and design of chapbooks, and handles the money.
Tell us a bit about your press. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
Bywords.ca (est 2003) is the sequel to Bywords, a monthly magazine distributed freely in pubs and cafés from 1990 to 2001. It contained poetry and a calendar of literary events, and was edited by Seymour Mayne and Gwendolyn Guth from the University of Ottawa, and Heather Ferguson of Agawa Press. I was one of Mayne’s students when the magazine ended and volunteered to run its replacement.
Our mission is to debunk Ottawa’s reputation as a literary backwater, to publish poetry by current and former Ottawa residents, students and workers through our monthly online magazine, and to promote the City’s literary, spoken word, storytelling and nonfiction publishers, organizations, and authors through a calendar of literary events, a news section featuring announcements, links, calls for submission, etc. We also produce Access Word Ottawa, a guide to accessible venues, a guide to creative writing programs and courses, writers’ circles and workshops, and a guide for publishers and out-of-town writers.
Our original influences were the Bywords magazine and chapbooks edited by Mayne through Friday Circle Press. Toronto’s The Mercury Press came to fairs in the early aughts with Word, which had a supplement listing literary events. Stuart Ross has published an e-mail list of Toronto events called the Patchy Squirrel List Serve for many years, and Katherine McLeod has a site called WherePoetsRead.ca which has a list of Montreal literary events, but I’ve never seen other online combos of event calendar, poetry magazine and lit community news.
We run Bywords.ca with the help of our advisors, poets Guth and Ferguson, and a volunteer selection committee who reads the submissions, not seeing the names of the poets or their credentials. We receive between twenty and sixty poems monthly.
We are grateful for funding from the City of Ottawa, which allows us to pay our contributors.
What about small press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
In Ottawa, there has been in increase in community-oriented small press activity initiated and organized by women including BIPOC and queer editors.
Ottawa new small presses, such as & Co Collective by Nina Jane Drystek, Coven Editions by Mia Morgan and Stephanie Meloche, Battle Axe Press by Natalie Hanna, and post ghost press by Dessa Bayrock; new reading series such as Riverbed, run by Ellen Chang-Richardson and Nina Jane Drystek and In Our Tongues Reading and Art Series, run by Shery Alexander Heinus, Mailyne K. Briggs, which centers BIPOC writers and artists; Canthius, a feminist magazine. Even the long-standing Tree Reading Series is now run by a collective that includes queer writers, and Urban Legends Poetry Collective is directed by Namitha Rathinappillai, a Tamil-Canadian spoken word poet, artist, and writer. Little Birds Poetry, an editing workshop run by Ellen Chang-Richardson offers emerging and established poets a chance to share their work.
I’m always excited to see poets published on Bywords.ca as an early or first-time publication gain recognition and experience. Conyer Clayton, Ellen, Nina Jane and former Ottawa resident Manahil Bandukwala are starting to receive accolades and have their work published in book and chapbook form, and on line as well.
Through mentorship and organization, the current generation of editors, writers and spoken word artists can go on to mentor the next generation so that Ottawa continues to thrive as a literary and spoken word community.
How does your press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
Through our calendar of events, news and links section, and social media. Every morning, shortly after five a.m., I share events happening on that day through our FB page and our Twitter account. I also share info about contests, calls for submission, etc from presses throughout Canada.
Since early on we’ve felt that community outreach is an important part of our mandate. We published the Bywords Quarterly Journal, a print magazine for a decade (2003-2013), which is still available for purchase in our store, and held four readings a year at local bookstores and pubs. We hosted a local musician and the readers from the issues.
Each year we held a fundraiser for the Cornerstone Housing for Women, a local organization that provides shelter and support to Ottawa’s homeless women.
When AIDS Walk took place, we had a Bywords team and raised money to help increase awareness and support for those with HIV/AIDS.
Access Word Ottawa, our guide to accessible spaces is meant to help organizers choose wheelchair accessible spaces for their events, and also to think of removing other accessibility barriers that exclude disabled performers and audience members.
We receive poetry from established and emerging poets alike. We’re always trying to find ways to mentor and support all levels of writers from the beginner to the well-published. Our guides, calendar, news and links help to foster writers and promote their work.
Tell us about three of your publications. What makes them special, needed, and/or unique?
I’m going to break the rules and talk about a series instead of individual chapbooks:
After publication on Bywords.ca, the poems are considered for the John Newlove Poetry Award, which is judged by a well-known poet who doesn’t live in Ottawa. The recipient receives the chance to have a chapbook edited and published by the press.
Through the John Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook Series, we have published fifteen chapbooks in limited editions of one hundred-and-twenty-six copies, with the latest chapbook, “What the Haruspex read in the Small hours of my Body” by David Groulx, to be published in October, 2020.
After Newlove Award recipients read at the festival in October, they submit a chapbook manuscript to us by January of the following year. There are two editing cycles and the chapbook is published in time for launch at the fall festival.
The poet receives twenty-six complementary copies. This number is significant. John Newlove’s widow, Susan told us that he would sign twenty-six copies of each of his books with a letter of the alphabet. One year we gave a Newlove Award recipient a book inscribed by John with a Z.
We started the award after doing a memorial issue online when John Newlove died in 2003. John was a Saskatchewan poet who had lived in Ottawa for the last twenty years of his life. We published a chapbook of his poems and poems by some of his admirers entitled “Moments Not Monuments” (2004). There are four different covers, which are photographs of John Newlove taken by the late Fred Douglas and provide by Susan Newlove. The chapbook is still available, as are a number of titles from the John Newlove Award Chapbook series in the store.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the press?
Our annual event usually held at the site of the Ottawa International Writers Festival in October will now be held virtually as part of the festival’s programing. I haven’t hosted a reading on Zoom yet and I’m nervous about it, but also grateful that the event is will happen, and looking forward to seeing how we can keep the information a secret until I make the announcement of this year’s winner and honourable mentions during the reading. Quite a challenge!
We haven’t been in touch with the printer of our chapbooks, Elephant Print, a local and independent printer whose owner, Naheed Davis has been printing our chapbooks almost from the beginning, but I’m assuming she is still going to be able to print the books.
We won’t be able to sell copies at the event but will ensure they are available from our online store. I will also mail out the recipient and honourable mentions’ cheques, certificates, books and chapbooks. With the exception of those not currently in Ottawa, readers usually receive these at the event.
I’m going to miss handing the award winner and honourable mentions their certificates in person, and chatting with them and their families and friends at the event, seeing the glow of pride on the faces of moms and dads, grandparents and the gentle gibes of siblings and friends, but I think we can make a beautiful event, and all participants have confirmed. Our musician this year is Kimberly Sunstrum.
Death Is A White Balloon
Tomasz W. Wiszniewski
Sasanka (Wild Flower)
The Tiger with The Crooked Mouth