Friday, May 20, 2011

Audio Interview - Contact Press: ‘the most important Canadian small press of its time’

Audio Interview with Michael Gnarowski on Contact Press: ‘the most important Canadian small press of its time’

Literary Tourist

May 19, 2011

Professor, poet, editor and critic, Michael Gnarowski was born in Shanghai, China in 1934. He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Ottawa in 1967. While an undergraduate at McGill, he contributed to, and co-edited, Yes (1956-1970) magazine. He also wrote for and/or edited Le Chien d’or/The Golden Dog (1970-1972), Delta, Golden Dog Press (1971-1985), and Tecumseh Press, and was series editor for McGraw-Hill Ryerson’s Critical Views on Canadian Writers Series (1969-1977) and co-edited Canadian Poetry (1977- ) with David Bentley.

In 1970 Gnarowski wrote a brief history and checklist of the Contact Press. Here’s his entry on Contact in the Canadian Encyclopedia:

"Contact Press (1952-67) was founded as a poets’ co-operative by Louis DUDEK, Raymond SOUSTER and Irving LAYTON, who were generally dissatisfied with the slight opportunities for publication available to Canadian poets. Contact went on, in the course of its 15-year history, to become the most important small press of its time. Launched at the mid-century, it published all the major Canadian poets of the period, and transformed literary life and small-press activity in Canada by its openness to a variety of poetic styles and its assertiveness of the poet’s role in the production of his own work. Beginning before subsidies and government aid to Canadian book publishing had become a mainstay of such activity, Contact was a self-financed act of faith on the part of its founders.

While its main thrust was in publishing the new work of individual poets, it produced a milestone anthology, Canadian Poems 1850-1952, co-edited by Dudek and Layton in 1952, and an avant-garde manifesto of young poets published as New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry (1966). This was a successor to Souster’s Poets 56, which had featured young poets in response to Dudek’s query "Où sont les jeunes?"

Essentially a "no-frills" press, Contact published handsome, workmanlike books with, on occasion, a mimeographed pamphlet. Its writers ranged from F.R. SCOTT, one of the early moderns, to the newest wave represented by Margaret Atwood, George Bowering and John Newlove."

I met with Gnarowski recently at his home in Kemptville, Ontario to talk about the history, and collecting of, Contact Press. Please listen here to our conversation on the website as linked above.