25th Trillium Award

At the Desk: rob mclennan

 
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rob mclennan's desk

Born in Ottawa, rob mclennan currently calls Canada's glorious capital city his home. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010 and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. He recently won the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Artist Award, announced at a gala on April 22, 2014.

He has three forthcoming titles this year alone. The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, May 2014), his first collection of short stories, explores history, contemporary culture and human relationships. Author Arjun Basu says of the collection, "each story, and thus each page, is a surprise, a discovery, and a reminder that art exists in even the smallest nooks and crannies." Other forthcoming titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, June 2014), as well as the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, September 2014).

Today, rob mclennan joins us as part of the At the Desk series in which writers speak about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them, telling the stories behind the books that sit on our shelves and in our hands.

He talks with Open Book about the evolution of his morning rituals, the tokens collected through the years that awash his office and pretending to have a schedule.
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For most of the past two decades my writing has originated in longhand drafts that once typed and printed are daily marked with pen, carved, and added to through a cycle of longhand back to the printed page. I?ve composed at Centretown?s Second Cup, The Carleton Tavern, the Rideau Centre food court and Berryman?s Pub, among so many other public venues. Given the evolution in my home life I?ve been slowly shifting to composing directly onto my laptop in a home office space. For two years, this was an office space at the back of the Centretown apartment I shared with Christine McNair and Lemonade the cat. In September 2013, our household moved, as I began to piece together a slightly smaller office in a house on Alta Vista Drive we now share with our newborn Rose.

My mornings for well over a decade are well-documented: daily outings to the Second Cup at Bank and Somerset. Here I would enjoy my morning window, first-thing coffee, and various newspapers alongside a stack of books while sketching out drafts of poems, fiction, non-fiction, reviews and whatever else my fancy gathered. The small round table would be piled with books as well as print-outs I would scratch up, rework, and add to. I?d eventually return home for the sake of printing out brand-new versions of accumulated drafts.

Now that I work more at home, there are podcasts and the CD player. My days are filled with music. The past few years, more than eighty percent of what I listen to while working is on permanent repeat, provided via monthly mix CDs by Amanda Earl. She feeds my writing. I have no truck for silence. The farm was filled with it. A major crop. Even silence shorn through memory, as another song sticks inside the carriage of my head. Humming, singing, remembering.

The office in which I work is awash with years of tokens. My Doctor Who Tardis, akin to Craig Ferguson?s upon his own desk. The Boy Scout pen holder and engraved plaque, ?88th Cub Pack 1967,? gifted to my mother when she married and left home. A mug from a recent conference at the University of Ottawa in which I contain my overflow of pens. The dipping bird, gifted years ago by daughter Kate. She knew I wanted one.

Where we now live, across the street from the church where my parents married; where my mother and grandfather were Boy Scout leaders. Tokens, and a placement.

My writing in this space and from this place. I can?t help, it seems, to write from where I physically am. A poetry collection due this fall composed during multiple house-sits in Stephen Brockwell's house in Ottawa?s Lindenlea neighbourhood.

I write in a space of paper stacks and spreads, shelves of books and stacks in various states of review, mounds of non-fiction and literary journals, various keepsakes, comic books and printed mugs. Marvel superhero figurines, a handmade bowl, a hand-painted plastic cup from Diane Woodward, an Ogopogo pilfered from a restaurant in Kelowna, B.C. A Bay photo studio portrait of my daughter Kate and I in nose glasses, when she was six years old. Christine grows weary of the tokens that once lined bookshelves in our previous space. I attempt to keep them contained within the boundary of office shelves. Photographs of my daughters sprinkled liberally throughout.

Tokens: a corkboard increasingly covered in notices for the dead?John Lavery, John Newlove, Aunt Carol Ann, Uncle Bob, Siobhan Rock-Zych. A postcard from Robert Creeley.

My office space in-progress. Too many boxes not yet unpacked and an old computer with all back-up files not yet set up. Posters and papers and packages poured across the hardwood. Would rather work than unpack. Would rather it already done.

The black Ikea writing desk with accompanying chair were both left by my brother-in-law once we took over his apartment on McLeod Street. They have become my predominant writing, reading and thinking surface. No more mornings in coffee shop or afternoons in the corner pub or at The Carleton Tavern. Such time is possible, but rare. Instead, anything to do with work occurs amid the schedule and whims of baby Rose. First thing in the morning, she feeds as I open email, make coffee, read the paper and attempt a few minutes until she begins to drift, and Christine tags me in. If I can convince Rose to sleep, I can often manage half an hour typing single-handed, baby lying prone across my torso. Once she wakes, another hour or so of work as baby feeds and drifts again to sleep upon her mother.

This is us, pretending to have a schedule. Baby Rose is barely five months old. We pretend, but there might be no such thing. What is work? What is sleep? What is schedule?

Piles of books and manuscripts and projects might lie prone for weeks, untouched. I move myself through an exploration of exhaustion and sheer will. I poke and prod and strike out. Sometimes, nap.

-rob mclennan

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the forthcoming poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at http://robmclennan.blogspot.ca/.

For more information about The Uncertainty Principle: stories please visit the Chaudiere Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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