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October 24, 2002 What ho, Mercutio: Ben Kalman starts up literary press



by Scott McRae

Ben Kalman, an English Master’s student at Concordia, first thought about starting his own publishing company more than two years ago to fill a gap: “There were no chapbook presses in Montreal.” A chapbook is a small book of poems and ballads.

As an executive member of the English undergraduate society, Kalman invited small-press publishing legend Rob McLennan to Concordia to give a workshop. According to Kalman, McLennan told the group that publishing chapbooks is deceptively easy; all it takes is a computer and access to a photocopier.

Inspired, Kalman decided last September to carry through with his dream. He set up a Web site, ran off 60 copies of a collection of his own poems, and distributed them to friends and bookstores. Mercutio Press, a name borrowed from his favourite Shakespearean character and chosen to lend literary respectability, was in business.

Kalman says that he hopes the press will be a showcase for prose and poetry writers who might not get published otherwise. Some writers have already submitted their work to him. “I did this because it is a venue for people to share their own writing, and for me to share my own.”

His peers, his professors and the publishing community have been quite supportive, and Kalman admits that his extensive connections have made his work much easier.

Past business experience helps, too. Kalman, 26, has already established a successful e-Bay business, an undertaking that taught him that any new venture requires an initial investment of time and money.

He expects his press to be self-sustaining by its fourth or fifth publication.

While the idea of publishing and writing professionally appeals to him, he acknowledges that it is probably not realistic. Instead, he plans to earn a PhD and teach university-level English while writing and publishing on the side.

In the meantime, Kalman will concentrate on building Mercutio into a well-recognized press that attracts good writers.

“I want someone, sometime in the future, to raise an eyebrow and say, ‘Mercutio? They put out crazy good stuff.’”

Mercutio Press will launch two new chapbooks, Five Muses, by Michelle Tracy and Marlene Malenfant, and Possession, by Concordia student Patrick de Moss, on Feb. 16, 2 p.m. at Nicholas Hoare, 1366 Greene Ave. There will be readings by the authors and special guests Stephanie Bolster, rob mclennan, Susan Gillis, Harold Hoefle and Ben Kalman.