Monday, January 23, 2023

The 40 but 10 Interview Series - rob mclennan


New year, new interview series! Looking forward into 2023, I have decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today, rob mclennan joins us! Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than 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 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include the poetry collection the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and Touch the Donkey ( He is editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). 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



Why do you write?

Writing has become my best thinking form. I work to document, articulate and comprehend. I am trying to figure everything out. I suppose, even to keep missing a moving target allows me to capture some sense of that patterning of motion.


What made you start writing?

Compared to paper and pen, art supplies were expensive.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

Live, mostly. Sleep, watch television, read, errand. Review. Attend children, house, laundry, dishes. Edit/publish journals, chapbooks. Fold and staple. Organize readings and a small press fair. Attend others’ readings. Hang out with friends. Spend time with dear wife.


Do you have any hidden talents?



What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?



How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

Consider what might come next.


Describe your book in three words.

We stayed home.


What are you currently reading?

I’m in the midst of a mound of titles (as per usual), including Manahil Bandukwala’s Monument (Brick Books), Emmalea Russo’s Confetti (Hyperidean Press), David Dowker’s Dissonance Engine (Book*hug), Sarah Heady’s Comfort (Spuyten Duyvil), Ewa Chrusciel’s Yours, Purple Gallinule (Omnidawn) and Brian Teare’s The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven (Nightboat), etcetera. I’ve been working through some Bernadette Mayer titles lately as well, including Works & Days (New Directions) and MEMORY (Siglio), and rereading Rosmarie Waldrop’s Gap Gardening: selected poems (New Directions). I’m simultaneously reading a variety of trade editions of X-Men, Doctor Strange, Green Arrow, Doom Patrol (Silver Age). I’ve the new issue of The Capilano Review beside my desk, but I haven’t had a moment to open that yet.


What would you do if you could live forever?

Investing money might be a requirement, for the sake of future expenditures.


Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

I feel the world “hoard” in regards to book collecting is incorrect. I have constructed and curated a personal library some ten thousand titles deep (not including the eight to ten thousand comic books assembled downstairs), most of which sits on our living room poetry shelves. I delve into this library regularly. Hoarding suggests one has absorbed thoughtlessly, and for no purpose beyond gathering for its own sake. Every library has purpose.

 I know some writers who curate their collections with a greater precision than mine, such as Cameron Anstee, Gregory Betts or Derek Beaulieu, but I’ve always leaned far more into the excesses of writer/reader-collectors such as jwcurry or Dennis Cooley. The stacks are endless.

 That being said, I regularly gift doubles of books already set on our shelves. We don’t need more than one.



essays in the face of uncertainties
Mansfield Press, 2022
This suite of pandemic essays exist within those first one hundred days of original lockdown, marking time through moments, anxieties and the elasticity of time itself. What are days, weeks, months? In this stunning collection of deeply personal essays, Ottawa writer rob mclennan wanders through literature, parenting, family, the constant barrage of cable news and the slow loss of his widower father across the swirling, simultaneous anxieties and uncertainties of an increasing sense of isolation.

“mclennan’s writing is clear and haunting. This is a book that will stay with you for years to come.”
—Anne Th√©riault
“The short lyric essays that comprise this book in one long meditative stream are indeed written in the face of uncertainties: not knowing where the pandemic of 2020 and on will lead us or how it will change us. The narrator/author stays home with his wife and two daughters while the map of the fallen to Covid expands and the numbers mount. In the face of the terrifying reality of death and political neglect, we are ensconced in the peaceful home of a small family that continues to work and play in isolation. mclennan writes with great elegance and compassion, and his expansive reading of books and authors from all over the world is brought into his narrative with great skill and ease. As a result, we find ourselves at the centre of a very large world of writers talking to each other across the globe and we see clearly that in this lockdown we are not alone. We never were alone. This book is a beautiful companion for our time and a very absorbing narrative that is hard to put down once you begin.”
        —Kristjana Gunnars

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