Messages from Stan Dragland and Don McKay, founding partners of Brick Books, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Brick Books in 1995
I wasn’t wanting a publishing house when Murray Boyce and Carolyn Struthers came looking for someone to take care of theirs in 1975, but caretaking is not the same as publishing so I let them leave Nairn Publishing House (Ailsa Craig, Ontario) with me. They said one fatal thing: I could use the imprint to publish if I wanted to. Before then I had been part of a group of U.W.O. English teachers calling itself Clean Snatch Jerk n Press that held together just long enough to produce one book. I decided to use the Nairn imprint for what would have been the next one. I set it by hand and had it printed offset by Applegarth Follies in 1975. Applegarth Follies was the London publisher of a number of books, and also of the little magazine Applegarth’s Folly. I had become the book review editor for Applegarth’s Folly in 1973. The review section grew and detached itself into Brick, a journal of reviews (no. 1, 1977). Don and Jean McKay joined Truus Dragland and myself in Nairn the same year; the two-family energy (and finances) led to the publication of a number of further chapbooks. Brick, the journal, wouldn’t be part of this story except that its name came in handy when it began to look as though Murray and Carolyn might return and take up where they left off, with McKays and Draglands now caught up in publishing. We became transitionally Brick/Nairn in 1979 and Brick Books in 1981. Why Brick? In the editorial to Brick 1, I explain how establishing a connection with southwestern Ontario’s white or buff brick was important to my sense of belonging in London. There is no logical link between that and the name of the magazine, but logic was not needed.
After that complicated beginning, the rest of Brick Books’ two decades unfolded straightforwardly towards its present flourishing condition. A detailed history of the house would trace what must have been a quest for a perfect printer, The Porcupine’s Quill, though it felt like a floundering. There would be the progress toward granting status with the arts councils, association with the Literary Press Group, and distribution by General Distribution Services in Canada, the United States and internationally. One by one, new editors Jan Zwicky, Marnie Parsons, Sheila Deane, Gary Draper, Clare Goulet and Barry Dempster have joined, as did Kitty Lewis, General Manager, and Sue Schenk, Production Manager and Sue Leclaire, currently Production Manager – the group now spreads from Victoria to Halifax. And so on. This is not the place for the whole works. [This paragraph has been edited to reflect the current 1999 staff.]
But all the dates and names and facts comprising the works would be nothing but shell anyway without saying why. Why are we moonlighting in this demanding, non-paying job? I’m not sure we’d all have the same answer, but a composite response would have to stress the deep satisfaction of being members of a thoroughly professional body with an amateur heart. We do it for love. Have done, by gum, for 20 years.
A Word in Your Ear
Does poetry have an audience? Why publish poetry in a time, for a culture, that does not seem to value it? These questions have proven so durable that their longevity may be taken, all by itself, to serve as an answer. The fact of the continued existence, and growth, of a press like Brick Books, which publishes only poetry, might constitute another. Poetry may have been ‘relegated’ to the margin or the underground, but its existence there, as anyone who has worked for a small press or a literary magazine can testify, is vibrant, bee-bright, sinewed like mountain folk.
But a more interesting answer may be found by simply improving the question. Does poetry have audience? Audience is not just who shows up or buys the books, but attention given to the other. We might in fact say that poetry is audience, is listening in a way that fosters intimacy, that opens into the textures of another who speaks. In fiction, we read and are addressed as members-of a culture, a society, a country, a race, maybe even a species. We are gripped by a story that is, at bottom, public: a tale of the tribe, a shout in the street. In poems (reading, composing) we are at once solitary and communicative, intimate with ourselves, yet also with another voice that whispers across a kitchen table, around a fire, through a wall, in a bed. We dwell in that teeter between oneness and withness which is audience. Our voices grow ears.
It is often remarked, and often sadly, as the handful of listeners slowly dissolves into the night, that the audience for poetry is mostly poets. But of course it is; this would be so if that handful had been, as it has been, other times, in other places, a multitude. We are all mostly poets when we listen this way, whether we set pen to page or not. Does poetry have audience? That imaginary line dividing the speaker from the delicatest ear of the mind becomes the phone line which connects them. There is a poem in the air; there is a word in your ear.