Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Profile on The Peter F. Yacht Club, with a few questions

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The Peter F. Yacht Club

By rob mclennan

In late August, 2015, I sent out the following email:

Apologies for the mass email; I’m typing with one hand, as toddler sleeps upon me.

I’m thinking of working a profile on The Peter F. Yacht Club for Open Book: Ontario and seeking responses to include from a variety of contributors (“members” and “non-members” alike). I’m curious as to your thoughts on such, from the original sessions on Rochester Street to subsequent sessions at Anita’s apartment, Melanie and Peter’s apartment and Pearl and Brian’s (don’t worry about commenting on stuff that might have occurred prior to your associations), as well as to the journal itself, and our readings/regattas. Or possibly you are attached from afar, and have only participated through the pages of the journal. There obviously hasn’t been any overarching aesthetic to our loosely-associated group, but I’m curious as to what impact any of this activity/association/publication might have meant for you, for your work (if anything). Thanks so much!

An hour or two earlier, I’d received a package in the mail from Vancouver poet Danielle Lafrance that contained issues two and four of AAB (“About a Bicycle”), a publication that emerged from a writer’s collective. I’d long been fascinated by publications that come out of writers groups, as well as the groups themselves: how and why they are formed, what they aim to accomplish, and how well they accomplish their stated goals. Far too often, these groups are short-lived, existing as small bursts of activity before individual members shift toward other activities. There have been more than a couple of examples I’ve been quite taken with over the years, such as Vancouver’s 1990s-and-beyond TADS, and Victor Coleman and Michael Boughn’s COUGH. Closer to home, the anthology Soundings (Ottawa ON: BuschekBooks, 2005), edited by Christopher Levenson and Brian Cameron, for example, showcased the work of fifty different poets that came through the doors of Levenson’s Ottawa Poetry Group (1973-2002), a group I actually wasn’t really aware of until the anthology was produced.

It made me curious: what do the loose-grouping of participants in The Peter F. Yacht Club, a writer’s group and publication I helped push into existence more than a decade back, feel about what the grouping may or may not have accomplished? Has it accomplished anything at all? I’ve written on the origins and continued activity of the publication myself, but wished to hear from some of those who participated, whether through the journal, the informal gatherings and/or poetry workshops or the readings (or all of the above). Twelve participants were good enough to respond, apart from one, who suggested the journal, but for a good excuse for social interaction, didn’t accomplish anything at all. Perhaps hidden within the accumulation of all thirteen responses I might possibly discover an answer.

We push slowly towards the twenty-third issue of our small publication, most likely for the sake of the annual Christmas party/reading/regatta, held somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at The Carleton Tavern.

Laurie Anne Fuhr: Peter F. Yacht Club (PFYC) started as a workshop gathering at rob mclennan's Rochester Street apartment in Chinatown. Back then, we had no name for the group; I thought of it as the 50 Plus Club because someone always seemed to bring Labatt 50 to the meetings. I was usually the youngest in the room, 17 or 18 then, and I felt clever for being welcomed into their company, but also that I had much to prove. Despite fear of rejection, how could I miss an opportunity to hang around and soak up this evidence that a writing life, that writing poetry and talking poetry and being around other poets, and eventually publishing books, was a possible dream?

That sense of possibility, of the legitimacy of writing attempts, and the tools learned for editing through workshopping with poets of differing vision, in addition to friendships forged and strengthened at Yacht meetings have stayed with me; they’ve carried me through the many moves of military brat life and the hardships and heartaches of a low-budget 20- and 30- something adult experience. Throughout, I always felt there were people and a place to go back to if everything were to fall apart, an alternative home. And, my life had a driving purpose to carry me: through it all, I have continued to write and publish poetry.

Now I find myself for 10 years in Calgary, Alberta, and I was in Cold Lake for 2 years before that, a total of 12 Albertan years spent away from Ottawa, and I still miss that town and those poets every day. We stayed in touch with letters and email, and now Facebook, and after 10 years, I have finally had opportunities to visit sometimes. Meanwhile, I cherish every memory, and every issue of PFYC for which rob has kindly continued to welcome my submissions.

Though an air force brat officially has no home, I feel that Ottawa is my most significant of homes, after Cold Lake, Alberta where my parents still live today. And it started by walking, by chance, into a Dusty Owl reading at now-defunct Cafe Wim, where rob handed me fliers about upcoming events, and later invited me to join PFYC. The only yacht club I’ll ever afford membership in is a significant part of who I am and who I want to become. I am grateful and thankful for it, and that it continues through so many years, picking up new sailors along the way, brings me much joy. Congratulations, Yachters!

Anita Dolman: The PFYC has added a lot of good— including my spouse—into my life. We met at the first writers group meeting I attended in Ottawa, when the group had no name yet and its meetings were in a scruffy house on Rochester that rob mclennan shared with roommates I don’t think I ever saw. rob invited me after I’d shown up, still relatively new to town, at some local readings, enthusiastic for more poetry, more knowledge and a return to the workshop structure I’d missed since finishing university.

jwcurry sat on the stairs, commenting on the proceedings from afar. rob, Bruce Harding and James K. Moran, my far-in-the-future-husband-to-be, sat at the kitchen table set up in the living room. I think Clare Latremouille was there for a while that night, too. It was a ridiculously cold night in December, and rob was talking about Roy Kiyooka, whose work I didn’t know anything about. At some point, rob played a recording of Al Purdy’s “At the Quinte Hotel,” and it’s the manly, guttural reading of “I am a sensitive man; I write poems about flowers,” that sums up the irony and the usefulness of a group like PFYC. I had never heard that poem read aloud, and, although I had been to readings and had even read in front of classmates in school, it’s this reading, not even live, that probably made me realize the power of reading poetry aloud to others, of hearing it read.

I know there was beer that evening, and a lot of talk. We may or may not have workshopped some poems. But it was an inviting introduction to Ottawa’s poetry scene, and one that was educational for me. As I gained my footing over time, coming to more workshop meetings, doing more readings, being coaxed by fellow poets to write more and read more and share more, I felt I was starting to contribute steadily more, too.

Over the years, the group changed repeatedly. Our purpose became more defined and workshop-oriented, and then much less so. We moved from rob’s place to my new apartment on McLeod Street, overlooking the Museum of Nature, and later on to Melanie Little and Peter Norman’s apartment, and then to wherever we could meet, before actual meetings seemed to cease entirely but for occasional reunions.

It was before a meeting at my McLeod Street apartment that rob found a pair of pillows labeled Peter F. Yacht Club in a giveaway pile in the lobby. No doubt, a tenant had died and their family and friends, if any, had no idea what to do with a pair of shiny, purple, crested yachting pillows. I like that we’ve never, despite research efforts, been able to figure out what the Peter F. Yacht Club was. Was it an actual, formal club of yachters? Was it a small club of row-boaters with aspirations, or just a good sense of humour? Where did it exist? Who were its members? Or was it all only an idea in the mind of the person who embroidered the pillows, or maybe of the one who received them?

We’ve been a lot of things, this little group. When rob started the PFYC publication, it seemed to me a fun idea that would probably run a couple of times before the novelty and the energy for it wore off. It’s lasted over a decade since. In that time, my work has appeared in many of the issues, though not all. The gaps have often marked my own life circumstances—marriage, child, travel, work. rob recently invited James and my son to contribute something soon. That publication will mark a circle I could not have anticipated when I showed up at rob’s house in 2000 any more than I could have anticipated the love, the friendships, the education, the perspective or the poetry that has resulted from being involved in this little club.

Nowadays, I often don’t personally know many of the writers who contribute to issues of the PFYC. I know some writers only know me from my work in past PFYCs. That, to me, is amazing—like every time that PFYC is published or rob arranges a PFYC reading, I’m still showing up at some stranger’s house again, ready to see what poetry has to say for itself, and what I might be able to offer in return.

Vivian Vavassis: Peter F. Yacht Club. A mysterious pillow. An alluded seafaring patron saint. A community of people in a strange city all engaged in the same bizarre activity of shaping words into poems, of wondering who those poems are for, of licking stamps and leaving the rest up to Canada Post and the discerning tastes of an unseen magazine editor who was somewhere. Out there. For myself, PFYC was a homecoming. I had just finished university and moved to Ottawa, where I didn’t know many people or have any real plan. I didn’t know the world outside of academia. I was still running a journal I co-founded back in London, but I sorely missed the daily contact of other people engaged with words, with arranging them, stretching them, flipping them sideways. I had taken formal and informal poetry workshops throughout university, often meeting in friends’ flats for an evening of poems, wine and chat. That’s home to me.

I met Anita Dolman and James Moran through Tree and soon after, an invitation was extended to her apartment and my first PFYC experience. That was such a marvelous example of the warmth that exists among writers in Ottawa. I’m constantly amazed by the openness of the writing community here. Inclusion and support that isn’t mirrored in every city. There were nights at Melanie Little and Peter Norman’s place (with Laurie Fuhr a voice dialed in – ha! It was so great to finally meet her at the Piries’ in person a year and a half [?] ago) that ran into the wee hours of the morning. The drink and chat was great fun, but I also really appreciated the chance to get feedback, to know I wasn’t working on a little island and also to also grapple with what other poets were trying to accomplish. I learned a lot—even when poets disagreed. Maybe especially when poets disagreed. Some insights stayed with me for years. I remember one night, jwcurry saying: “A good poem teaches you how to read it.” I scribbled down that beautiful, brilliant line and when I got home I tore off that corner of my page and scotch taped it over my desk. (He’d roll his eyes if he read this).

Without getting overly rainbows and unicorns, PFYC inspired all of us to step up our game, I think. There were so many great poems that showed up in people’s living rooms.

Peter Norman: I can’t really think of anything particularly interesting I could say.

I enjoyed hosting a session, and it guaranteed that we tidied our apartment at least one time more often than we would have. Then and at other meetings, I got some good feedback on some pieces I’d written. Melanie and I edited one issue of the mag, which was cool. After leaving Ottawa, as you know, I’ve occasionally published in the mag, and it's been nice to have that venue for some of my work. Ottawa still very much feels like one of my home-base cities as a writer, and my association with the group contributed to that.

I wish I had something better for you, like:

I’ll never forget the time Brockwell brought a live goat into our apartment and fed it printouts of poetry he didn’t like. It took us weeks to clean the dung from the carpet, and even then we didn’t get our damage deposit back. And oh yeah, I’ll never forget that all-nude meeting we had on the steps of Parliament.

But that would be false in its entirety.

Amanda Earl: i was first invited to join the PFYC as an irregular by Melanie Little & Peter Norman for their 2003 issue. before that i’d looked on in envy as other pals had work in the issue. it looked like fun, less polished, more rebellious than yr typical Can Lit magazine. the style of it felt freeing. a few years later rob mclennan invited me to join the regular folk, then for its 5th year anniversary i asked to curate an issue, the Anarchy Issue. i’m still very proud of that particular issue. it’s a brick with a lot of great, eccentric work. what i love about the PFYC is that it gives me the opportunity to share new, quirky work & to see what others are up to. i also enjoy the reading at xmas time. in 2008 just after i had my wisdom teeth out, i read, still wired on Tylenol 3s. it was fun. refugees who aren’t able to go hang out with their families over the holidaze or simply don’t want to come to the reading. sometimes there are very few people, sometimes a whole bunch. once it was at rob & Christine’s place in Alta Vista & we didn’t even read at all, we just ate delicious food. i have fond memories of a fruit crumble made by rob. He’s very talented.

this is another example of how fabulous mr. mclennan is. he ensures that the PFYC keeps going, nudges us a few times a year to send work, gets special issues organized for VERSeFest, Ottawa’s annual poetry festival. in a world where poets are ignored, he makes you feel like you aren’t dog meat. It’s pretty cool.

Peter Richardson: Having been lucky enough to sail aboard the Peter F. Yacht Club Official Schooner for a brief tour of the Ottawa river below Chaudière Falls, I can attest to the boat’s jovial atmosphere. Its maneuverability always surprises me. In the tricky waters frequented by National Capital Area versifiers there are many competing currents, and Peter F. Yacht Club brings them under one cover so that the craggy variedness, the motley potential of the region’s writing scene becomes apparent. Long may that rakish sailboat stay afloat.

Wes Smiderle: I was only in one issue and never participated in the sessions but for what it’s worth, as a reader/contributor, I liked the mood of spontaneity the issues always have, even down to the name which, if I remember correctly, was taken from an item or clothing or a pillow found at a garage sale.

Janice Tokar: So, my first real encounter with “the Ottawa poetry scene” happened in late 2005. I had climbed up a dark wooden staircase—feeling both excited and apprehensive—to the second floor of the Carleton Tavern for an event curiously/intriguingly billed as The Peter F. Yacht Club Regatta. The room was packed with people of all ages perched on rickety chairs, and the place was buzzing. Okay, everyone here knows everyone else, I thought, feeling a little out of place. But the outsider feeling didn’t last long. Soon, a larger-than-life character named rob mclennan addressed the room, and by turns praised, cajoled and playfully harassed a series of approximately eight to ten amazing readers, several of whom donned a sailor hat when taking the podium. I have a clear picture in my mind of Max Middle, Clare Latremouille, Anita Dolman, Sandra Ridley and the inimitable Stephen Brockwell (am I misremembering, or was he illuminated only by a flashlight??), among others. The readings were an eclectic (and electric!) blend of the witty and the poignant, the hilarious and the experimental. The crowd was engaged, warm and interactive. I felt energized, blown away by this (previously unknown to me) dynamic community of writers.

If anyone that night would have told me that a little over two years later, I would be asked to become a member of the PFYC, submit to its publications and participate in its readings, I would have done a back flip right off my chair. As a relatively fledgling writer, the invitation provided me with a strong shot of encouragement at a time when I really needed it. Being called on to contribute regularly to the issues pushed me to try to write more, and the calibre of the PFYC crew inspired me to try to write better. My thanks to the Captain!

Pearl Pirie: I joined the workshops later than most but the regattas have provided a welcome poetry-family feel. In the crush of holiday obligations the lights are on late with poets to set the world back right.

The poetry in what workshops I’ve seen is left of mainstream, more solidly with footing in river’s language than banks of memoir. Most poets in PFYC seen more read and diligent than your average slice of pi. The conversation goes deeper into articulating why and how effects are made. People aim, it seems, to not make one brush poetry but continue the lines a writer is heading along, which is a very rare thing from what I’ve seen. I can’t recall exactly what has been said but I recall how it made me feel: respected, equal, even if at the same time wowed by the articulacy in the room.

Cameron Anstee: I first appeared in the pages of Peter F. Yacht Club in Issue 12 (September 2008), guest-edited by Amanda Earl (“Fifth Anniversary Issue: Anarchy, Apocalypse, & Madness”). I certainly didn’t understand it at the time, but in hindsight it seems clear that it was an early moment of Ottawa’s greater community opening up for me. My time as an editor at In/Words was more or less over, I was still a full year from launching Apt. 9 Press, and I had really only self-published so far. When asked about Ottawa’s community, I generally say something about it being welcoming, a community where you can carve out a little corner by doing something interesting and engaged, and provided that you look around at what other people are doing you’ll be embraced and taken seriously. Amanda soliciting work from me for Issue 12 was one of my first experiences with that. I continue to be deeply grateful for it, and I try to model that spirit whenever I can.

Ben Ladouceur: One thing you learn, as you start taking poetry seriously as a vocation, is that a goal-based approach to the craft is pretty futile. An accomplishment that’s loaded personal meaning and validation for you (a certain magazine publication, a certain award) will be met with a pat on the head, while a relatively minor but impressive-sounding achievement (some other publication, some other award) will get loved ones all aflutter. Dad might even shoot Aunt Linda an email about it.

There’s a discrepancy between the accomplishments that make you feel good, as a poet, and the ones that win you respect, so it’s best to avoid thinking in such subjective terms. And don’t get me started on the terminology others feel comfortable applying to you at seemingly random intervals—emerging, promising, up-and-coming, new. (Here, “you” means me, obviously. But maybe it means you too.)

I was published in the twelfth issue of PFYC, edited by Amanda Earl. It wasn’t my first publication; I’d been in In/Words, Bywords and even a couple of small online magazines without the word “word” in their names. Boy was I proud of this one, though. I’d been solicited for work! The poems were long and weird but still deemed worthy of paper, of ink! I was in the same pages as writers I admired! Goodness me.

The magazine was floppy and functional, printed in portait orientation on 8.5x11’s, stapled matter-of-factly on the sides. Even for a literary magazine, it had a bizarre name. Such an object would not rouse much admiration from a coworker, a cousin or a roommate. The accomplishment, it dawned on me, was mostly mine to relish. It was also best that way. So there’s this conclusion I was able to come to, from which I’ve since benefitted greatly, and I have PFYC to thank for it. I’m really happy to have had work in the magazine, and to have joined the ranks of its contributors.

Marilyn Irwin: My earliest recollection of The Peter F. Yacht Club as a thing was as audience member which, I believe, was due to my first appearance in Issue #15, in 2011. I sent you (rob) four poems to consider and you published them all. I am unsure if this means you were enamoured with the pieces or if your choice(s) spoke to the diversity of the content or perhaps it was a space issue, given my poems have mostly been on the small side. No matter the reason, I am better for it. I’ve appeared in every issue since 2011, thanks to you of course, but also because of its appeal. This annual project always feels like the perfect outlet to send a poem or two that I’m on the fence about, for one reason or another. Sending one’s work out for publication can be a daunting task with most renowned and/or long-running serials because of their criteria or preferred themes or styles but I see the annual PFYC publication as an opportunity to try out some pieces that otherwise might never be read or commented on by others and it’s that validation and valuable feedback which gives me impetus to create more things.

The PFYC really is a sort of “club”; a somewhat steady and infrequent group of contributors and outliers you feel a sort of familiar kinship with—regardless of who you knew and didn’t before your names and words were collated together. And the regatta reading, the event held half-way between Christmas and New Year’s, is always a welcome reprieve from the season’s festivities. My first time attending such a reading (though it could easily have been any year since), I was my tentative, sit in the corner self and the upstairs room of the Carleton Tavern felt every bit a poetry reading as it did homecoming and casual office party. Within the hour, festive libations and throw-caution-to-the-wind poetry swelled the room to a blizzardous cacophony brought on by folks who hadn’t had their poetry fix in the quieter weeks of non-events leading up to the end of the year and by folks who relished in being able to speak their mind—on “stage” and off—after one too many nights with their families and, at times, forced good cheer, and by folks who felt none of any of that at all. And by the time it’s all over, most of the cookies and tangerines were gone and the beer remaining was swill and the last table packed up and headed back out into the cold city air, arms full of handouts, without regret. I’m not sure how I fit in to any of this or how I came to be a part of it but I have a feeling, if it weren’t for you, the Carleton Tavern, the early PFYC workshop crew and two mysterious purple pillows, the Ottawa Poetry scene—and people like me—during the holidays would be sucking a hell of a lot more humbugs.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He also curates the weekly “Tuesday poem” series at the dusie blog, and the “On Writing” series at the ottawa poetry newsletter. 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 He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.

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