Mini-interview: rob mclennan

rob mclennan lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with two wee girls. He is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He is the winner of the John Newlove Poetry Award, the Ottawa Council for the Arts Mid-Career award, and he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour in 2014.

About the poet: He’s been called the hardest working poet in Canada by more than a few people. He promotes others’ work, does reviews and interviews, articles and journals and chapbooks for others and still makes his own careful work. An old mantra of his is: everything counts. With enough minutiae a pixelated record of pattern emerges. What is outside the subject is often as interesting as the designated subject. Let those details leach in to where they already are in life.

He used to say, there’s no need to make stories as poems as there’s a thing called stories already. Poetry can explore the fringes of what is possible for language to do. In his previous book, Life Sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019) and to a lesser degree in A Halt Which is Empty (Mansfield, 2019) his form shifts from scattered over the page towards compressed bricks that are chunked tighter in theme.

Book: the book of smaller by rob mclennan (University of Calgary, May 2022)

the book of smaller (University of Calgary, March 2022)


Ars poetica 

Endlessly precious. No foothold. The world spins at astonishing speed. A balance of sponge and sun and will. Gestations, alight. Inaudible. Genealogy: more of a question, and less of an inventory. Someone cheers. Pregnant pop stars announce. Who are you. Stardust, atoms, Barcalounger. Curious, still. I cringe at such blunder. Lies, laments, imprecision. These talking heads spin. I write it all down. 

Book description: rob mclennan presents a collection of sharp, challenging prose poetry that asks what can be achieved if we try a little smaller.

Each poem is a still moment, a memory, a burst of observation, suspended outside time and held up to the light as the world whirls around it. Some are intimate, some are public, all are grounded personal, domestic space. With trademark intelligence and daring, rob mclennan uses radical structures to express the concision and disorientation, jumps in sense and mood, the collapse of time and duration, the shattering joy and powerful fears, of full-person, full-time parenthood.

With an unparalleled knowledge of modern poetry and poetic evolution, mclennan breaks the sentence into its most vital pieces, then breaks it further, smashes punctuation out of the expected into spaces of risk and uncertainty, pushing conventions to the edge and then beyond to challenge what writing is, and what a reader can be.


rob mclennan’s accomplished, agile poems build rooms for tenderness, humility, and awe to accumulate. The illuminated paragraphs that make up the book of smaller collect into an intimate and animated series of atmospheres, infused with an awareness that “We are never at rest.” Here, we are invited to see feelingly as a self dissolves, rebuilds, and atomizes again and again, always in relation, always aware of how we hold and are held by one another’s utterances. Each diastolic pulse grounds itself in sound, then hovers momentarily in the space that emptiness articulates. As mclennan writes: “All my years hold their breath.” My breath has become bound to the rhythms of this book, and the grace of its iterations.
—Eric Baus, author of The Tranquilized Tongue

In the book of smaller, rob mclennan continues his sprawling, lifelong commitment to the everyday. In these poems, mclennan braids together the details of his domestic life with a measured attention to the form of the sentence. We meet his kids and his kitchen, his traffic and his drift. Syntax, weather. These looping, cyclical prose poems pool up paratactically. They piece slight movements into panoramas. They count the moments of the day to bleed them together. They wait, rumble. In this small book, mclennan lives.
—ryan fitzpatrick, author of Coast Mountain Foot


PP: What was your aim with the book? 
rm: The idea of focusing on the prose poem had been slowly percolating at the back of my attention for nearly a decade, and finally presented itself as something that I was ready to approach in a full-length manuscript. This thought coincided with the onset of my time home full-time with both small children, after Christine’s second year-long maternity leave ended, so the possibility of writing short bursts of single-stanza prose poems fit perfectly with my limited attentions. My aim was to push the form for as long as possible, and I managed one hundred and five short, single-stanza self-contained prose poems as a book-length suite across the space of nearly a calendar year before the tank simply ran dry, which usually means a pause for a breath, before moving on to something else, something other. 

PP: What was or will your favourite moment(s) in making this book? 
rm: In hindsight, my ability to marry my limited attentions with form seem quite clever. But I suppose I also very much enjoyed those rare times I managed to catch up on sleep. I was home with two wee monsters, after all, both of whom had, until quite recently, still both been in diapers. 

PP: How do you see it in relation to your other books? 
rm: I see this book as part of an ongoing and continuous thread, but also the beginning of a particular structural shift: a stronger focus on the prose sentence. After the book of smaller sits the manuscript “Book of Magazine Verse,” with the side-project “snow day” (my 2019-2020 poetry manuscripts) which were both immediately followed by “book of the sentence” (my 2021 project). I’m already working on “Autobiography,” a furthering of that particular line, that particular sentence. 

Whereas bpNichol did work on other projects, for example, during the composition and publication of The Martyrology (including a four-volume thread), I see this particular grouping, structurally, akin to Erín Moure’s five-volume grouping of poetry titles around the notion of the “citizen,” something that wasn’t composed in-parallel, seemingly, with other elements of her work, but a thread of accumulating titles that simply pooled into a grouping in terms of structure, content and approach. What followed that grouping was far different than what came before.