Montreal publisher Metatron puts poetry in print

The small press launches its first collection this week. We spoke to managing editor/author Ashley Opheim about Metatron’s mandate & goals.

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Metatron pocketbooks. Photo by Mason Windels

“When I graduated from creative writing at Concordia, there were a couple of options that I could pursue for publishing my writing,” says Ashley Opheim, “but I just thought that there was kind of a lack of an exciting, young, publishing house [in Montreal].”

About a year ago, Opheim and a team of five other Montreal-based artists, designers and writers successfully applied for funding from Emploi Québec’s Young Volunteer Program with the purpose of filling that void in the city’s anglo publishing scene.

I Am HereOne year later, Opheim is the managing editor at Metatron, which has released six “poetry pocketbooks” featuring an array of emerging local writers such as Roland Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon), Ali Pinkney, Laura Broadbent, Jay Winston Ritchie, Matthew E. Duffy, and Opheim herself. The books are small, well-designed productions that fall somewhere between zines and the catalogue of San Francisco publisher New Directions.

“Sometimes I think that books can be really good but they’re not interesting to look at, or you don’t want to pick them up because they have a bad cover. So it’s your first impression, you know. And I think these books…you want pick them up. So I definitely feel that aesthetic is something that’s important to us and something I spend a lot of time thinking about,” says Opheim.  She admits that the collective takes a lot of inspiration from New Directions, which focused on documenting and fostering their community’s writing scene not just through publishing, but through hosting readings and literary events as well.

Metatron’s most recent launch, an invite-only event, was a collaboration with Arbutus Records, and guest starred one of the label’s bands, TOPS. Before Metatron, Opheim co-founded a reading series with local writer Guillaume Morrisette called This Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not, which is how she got to know many of the writers whose work she now publishes.

“What drew me to these writers was knowing their writing in a spoken word environment and knowing that they were trying to deliver something that was true to themselves and true to their life experiences. That’s something that I really value: the individual pursuit of self-understanding. And these are all writers who aspire to do that, and who do it successfully,” Opheim says of the ties that bind the work of Metatron’s first six writers.

Magnetic DaysAt this stage, Opheim hopes to expand the publisher’s catalogue beyond writers in her social circle. “The first [books] that we did, we solicited. These are all people I know and it was quite an intimate experience working on the books with them. Moving forward, I want to keep it open, so I’m going to accept manuscripts from other people. But at the same time, I still want to represent people who are part of the community at large,” says Opheim.

You may have already seen the Metatron books for sale on the Drawn & Quarterly or Argo Bookshop racks, but don’t bet on them being around forever. The press has made a conscious decision to print a maximum of 100 copies of each title.

“It is a matter of budget but I think there’s also something special about limited edition books. And having a limited edition book with unique art… These are artifacts that are going to exist hopefully for a long time, if they’re taken care of.”

The rest of the Metatron masthead includes Jane Penny, Sarah Brunning, Matthew E. Duffy, Rebecca Storm and Claire Milbrath. It’s been a semi-financially successful venture so far, according to Opheim, but she appreciates the collective’s success in other ways.

“I feel really good that people I don’t necessarily know come to me and express interest in being part of it in the future. That tells me that what I’ve done here is good and special and needed. I just really value the opportunity to give other people a forum to express themselves and to share something with the world.” ■


Metatron launches its first collection with readings by Laura Broadbent, Jay Winston Ritchie, Ashley Opheim, Roland Pemberton, Matthew E. Duffy and Ali Pinkney at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard) on Friday, June 13, 7–8 p.m.