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Crow Reads is a podcast series by Rayanne Haines, who interviews intersectional women, LGBTQ+, and non-binary authors, publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, and more—all of who live and work in Alberta— about the current state of the publishing industry. Her first interview since joining the Read Alberta team is with Ellen Kartz, founder of Armistice Press, an Edmonton-based chapbook publisher working with up-and-coming LGBTQ+ poets.
Rayanne Haines: Recently, conversations around intersectionality have entered the mainstream narrative. A theoretical framework, intersectionality posits race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status intersect at the micro level of individual experience to reflect systems of privilege and oppression at the macro, social-structural level. In publishing, this theory could infer that women’s voices must not be exclusively viewed from a white heteronormative lens but that the intersection of diverse voices is where vigorous literature begins.
In today’s episode of Crow Reads we speak with Ellen Kartz, poet and small press publisher. Ellen and I talk about lived experiences as catalysts for change, chasing and catching dreams, the social landscape evolving conversations and creating dialogue within Canadian publishing, and om mani padme hum.
In 2016 Ellen made a trek through Nepal’s Khumbu Valley to Mount Everest Base Camp. The life-changing experience led to, among other things, the creation of her one woman poetic show and chapbook, The Tenderness of Stone. The poem Prayer from that chapbook speaks to the presence of om mani padme hum. A Tibetan mantra used in daily life, and especially for a prayer walk (kora) that can hardly be described by a white westerner such as myself, his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama says this, “the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind…” Of her experience and daily ritual Ellen notes, “At some point, something shifts and it’s at the same time extraordinarily comforting and extraordinarily terrifying. Because you realize that something has to change in you.”
the words etch themselves
into your bones—
om mani padme hum
a prayer for peace
in breath as kind
as a Himalayan Namaste
gentle as dust
in plumes and storms both
you take and take and take
it in because it’s all
so much larger than thought
(an excerpt from Prayer)
That change meant a renewed belief in herself as an artist and recognizing her voice could be a catalyst for giving other queer poets a platform to share their work. “In the last provincial election, the provincial government went back to UCP, and one of the first things that they did was they rolled back legislation that protected Gay/Straight Alliances in high schools, and made it possible for some high schools to out queer kids to their families and friends. And it was, for me, it was a moment that was reminiscent of how things were back in the ’80s when I was a kid, and that feeling of that threat on the doorstep of the queer community was palpable…when they rolled back the legislation protecting queer kids in high schools, I thought, this is what I need to focus on.”
In February 2020, Ellen founded Armistice Press, an independent chapbook publishing house dedicated to publishing work by LGBTQ and gender non-conforming poets. In its first run, Armistice Press published four chapbooks. All four books hit the Edmonton Bestseller list.
When I asked Ellen about what she’s seen as some of the biggest changes in CanLit since coming out of her Masters in Creative Writing program at UBC, she responded with, “I think what we’re seeing now is an awareness of the intricacies of our cross section of what Canadian culture really is, rather than a dictating to and deciding what Canadian culture is.” This awareness and the response from the book buying public in Alberta has only solidified her respect for the Alberta literary community. “There’s an appetite for discussion. And all of that, I think, works toward undermining tokenism and stereotyping. That’s where the battleground is because then what you end up with are real stories told by the people who lived them.”
You can listen to the full episode here:
Rayanne Haines’ writing has appeared in Fiddlehead, Freefall, Funicular, and Indefinite Space among others. She is the Vice President for the League of Canadian Poets and a 2019 Edmonton Artist Trust Fund Award recipient. Her current work focuses on mental health and intergenerational female trauma. Tell the Birds your Body is Not a Gun (her third poetry collection) released April 2021 with Frontenac House.
Ellen Kartz holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and is an active writer and freelancer. Ellen worked with and for the Edmonton Poetry Festival for many years as a volunteer coordinator, event planner, founding member, and board member. Currently, she is the Communications and Partnerships Coordinator for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. In 2018, she self-produced a one-person stage show and poetry chapbook, both titled The Tenderness of Stone about a trek she made in 2016 through Nepal’s Khumbu Valley to Mount Everest Base Camp. Most recently, Ellen founded a small poetry chapbook press and launched a quartet of chapbooks by emerging queer Edmonton authors.