06 June 2017

Poems of My Past, Episode 1 — Razovsky

I write a lot, and I'm kinda old, so I have all these poems from way back. Some of them I remember very well. Some of them surprise me when I rediscover them.

For Episode 1 of Poems of My Past, I go back to about 2001, when I began writing my "Razovsky poems." I think there are about a dozen altogether by now, though I haven't written one in a couple of years. In this reading, I offer up the first three I ever wrote: "Razovsky at Peace," "Razovsky at Night," and "Razovsky on Foot."

Some of the poems in A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent could almost have been Razovsky poems. But I chose to make them more directly autobiographical. I do hope to write more in this series, but lately it's felt like I'd be forcing them.

Wouldn't want that.

Hope you enjoy this reading.

Over and out.

16 March 2017

My first poem in Trumpish

My most popular poems, whatever that means, have probably been my "Razovsky" poems — the ones about my father and grandfather and all those old bearded Russian guys in the crumbling photographs I have in a box in a cupboard here.

But I want a greater readership. And so I have translated my Razovsky poems into Trumpish. It was cool how they all rolled into just one concise poem.

Believe me, 
 nobody's father
has died more than mine.

Over and out.

17 January 2017

1,000 Bird Poems By Necakov: A PEN Fundraiser Marathon

Here's a thing I took on organizing that I didn't have time to take on organizing! But, hey, it's happening tomorrow, and while it feels like a bit of tightrope-walking, I think it's going to go great.

A fantastic lineup of readers — poets and others in the arts world — reading the 1,000 poems Lillian Necakov posted on Twitter during 2015-16. It's a remarkable work. And money raised is going to a remarkable cause.

Over and out.

03 January 2017

Finding support for writing

Last spring, I decided to create a Patreon campaign to find out if there were a few people on earth who admired my writing, and/or my literary activism over the past 35 or so years, and would be willing to support me in my endeavours on a monthly basis.

My hope was to have a modest bit of extra regular income to make things easier and give me more time to write. In exchange, I'd offer some perks: poetry leaflets and chapbooks, online readings and workshops. Plus a monthly writing challenge and exclusive peeks at various works in progress.

Since I left Toronto in 2010 and moved to Smalltown, Ontario, it's been tougher to get work (I'm not in Canada's publishing/writing centre and shmoozing all the time) and to get read (ditto).

I really wrestled with the idea of asking people to support me beyond buying my books. After all, most everyone I know is a writer, and many of them are struggling as well. But I considered my own contributions to the literary community: decades of organizing readings and other events, ten years (probably 600 or 700 volunteer hours) of the free Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, publishing mags and chapbooks at great cumulative expense, supporting others' events, mentoring, advising, literary matchmaking, some pro bono editing, and more.

So I figured I'd go for it. It's been an honour to discover nearly two dozen people have been willing to help me out with anywhere from a buck a month to $50 a month. It's taken some pressure off, and is likely one of the reasons I've had a pretty productive 2016.

I still welcome new supporters, and I'm open to hearing about the kinds of perks that might make such patronage feel worthwhile.

You can find my Patreon campaign right here.

Over and out.

01 January 2017

My New Year poem for 2017

I don't recall exactly when I started my practice of writing a poem on New Year's Day and sending it out to my correspondents. Maybe a couple decades ago? For the first bunch of years, the poem went out through Canada Post in leaflet form. Then I started sending it out by email.

What follows is this year's poem, written early this afternoon. I've rarely managed to get a poem done and delivered so early in the day. I was a little insecure about this one, so I put out a call on Facebook, asking if I could phone someone and do a test-run of it. First taker was Toronto musician Alan Gasser. I read him the poem and we had a good chat about it. Then Jay Miller, a writer who lives in Kingston, volunteered. He was with his friend Lucy, sitting in a car at an A&W waiting for fresh coffee to be made. I got a pretty good response from both of them, and then Lucy dug into her notebook and gave me a rapid-fire reading of a bunch of her poems. It was a nice exchange.

Here's my poem.


Yesterday the newspaper said one thing;
today it says something entirely different.
And all we did to make that happen
was sleep. Today, I looked in the mirror,
and I was unrecognizable! A meadowlark
with a broken wing. The news
is printed on paper while the meadow
is printed on lark, and we focus
our camera (a Filmo Sportster
manufactured 1947 by Bell & Howell)
on it as it zigzags into the air,
carrying just one thing under its bum wing:
a copy of Company, by Samuel Beckett
(published 1979 by John Calder). The pollsters
find that people want to hear seven words
from Company. The meadowlark, although
struggling to remain in flight, complies:
“girdle,” “inkling,” “confusion,” “vertex,”
“mountains,” “hitherto,” and “furthermore.”
Seven words of inspiration! Today
the people are frightened but
tomorrow they will rise up. Imagine
what might be possible! In 1702, when
this poem was written, the author
was put to death: an enemy of the state.
In crafting this translation, I have
striven to maintain the vitality
of the original. In this way, the frightened
people will rise up, probably tomorrow.
Imagine what might be possible!

Stuart Ross
1 January 2017

Conan Tobias, the publisher and editor of the Toronto-based litmag Taddle Creek, has recently made it a practice to have me read my New Year poem to him over the phone, and he then immediately posts it on the TC podcast site. So here I am reading my poem.

Wishing you fine New Year.

Over and out.

Toronto Poem

Over and out.

30 December 2016

So long, Mansfield Press. It's been surreal.

This past fall, I said goodbye to my partnership with Mansfield Press, where I had been acquiring and editing books of Canadian poetry, fiction and non-fiction for a decade. As an experiment, Mansfield founder/publisher/editor Denis De Klerck brought me aboard to broaden his list with a single book in 2007. When we couldn't decide between the two I proposed, we went with both, titles by Steve Venright and Lillian Necakov. Each season after that, I brought on between one and six books.

Working on the 46 books, by 30 different authors, was one of the most exciting and fulfilling facets of my literary life so far. It was a thrill to help an author's first book into the world, or to work with a seasoned pro I'd admired since I was a kid, and equally to see an already-published author move into the mid-career range with second, third, fourth books.

I'd like to think that with my contribution to the press Denis launched with four poetry titles in 2000, Mansfield's audience expanded, just as did its aesthetic.

Under my "a stuart ross book" imprint, I was responsible for bringing out stunning first full-length books by Natasha Nuhanovic, Nick Papaxanthos, Sarah Burgoyne, Tara Azzopardi, Paula Eisenstein, Aaron Tucker, Leigh Nash, Jaime Forsythe, Robert Earl Stewart, Carey Toane, and Peter Norman. In the cases of Robert and Peter, I also helped their second collections into the world.

I also co-translated and saw through the press the first English-language book by francophone Montreal poet Marie-Ève Comtois, which was an amazing experience.

In the mid-career category, I ushered in new books by Dani Couture, Meaghan Strimas, Stephen Brockwell (two collections), Jason Heroux (three collections), Laura Farina, Jason Camlot, Alice Burdick (three collections), Lillian Necakov (two collections), Kathryn Mockler, Christine Miscione (her first novel), Steve Venright, and Gary Barwin.

As for the old-timers, I had the privilege of working with these guys, all of whom I'd been following for decades: David McFadden (five books, including one memoir), George Bowering (a poetry collection and an essay collection), Nelson Ball (three collections), Frank Davey, Tom Walmsley (a novel), and Jim Smith (two collections, including a New & Selected).

I also did another really unusual book: a collection of collaborations between me and 29 other Canadian poets.

The one book I see I neglected to add to the stack in that photo above is David W. McFadden's 2015 collection, Abnormal Brain Sonnets. It's been a fulfilling journey with Dave: I've loved his work since I was a teenager, and he was a big influence on my own writing. Around 2004, Paul Vermeersch asked me to edit a Selected by McFadden for Paul's then-imprint with Insomniac Press. An incredible, exhilarating experience, and one followed up by a Collected Long Poems. Dave and I had a lot of success with his books: one was short-listed for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, and two for the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize — with the second, What's the Score?, winning that most prestigious award. A nice recognition of Dave's remarkable six-decade writing career.

All these books are out there in the world, and you can still explore them. Find them in your local library, order them from Mansfield, or order them through your local indie bookstore or big-boxer. You might even find copies of some of the more recent titles on bookstore shelves.

I know I'm not exactly objective, but I believe many of these books are among the most exciting and unusual that contemporary Canadian poetry has produced. I wish I'd written most of them myself! There were more books I had hoped to bring through the press, too, but I had to accept it was time to move on.

Some of these books received a lot of attention, but many that were more than worthy never even got a singe print review. That's the struggle, increasingly, that Canadian publishers face. That, and finding space on bookstore shelves. Well, Canadian publishers face a lot more challenges than even those.

Although not all the books I championed through my imprint were surreal or post-surreal, "a stuart ross book" still feels to me a bit like a continuation of my 2005 anthology, Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press). And while I'm proud of what I accomplished at Mansfield, my imprint isn't without its shortcomings. I need to think more about those, and I'll try to talk about them in a future blog.

Meanwhile, my gratitude to Denis for the opportunity to make what I feel is a significant contribution to the dialogue that is Canadian poetry.

Other projects are afoot, and more about those later.

Over and out.

28 December 2016

Six poetry books for 2016 + a bonus for the kiddies

Truth is, I didn't read enough of 2016's poetry output to offer up a "best of." Whatever a "best of" is. But I read enough to be moved to write about six poetry books published this past year that especially
stood out for me.

Certainly there were others from 2016 that made their indelible mark on my skull. For example, the six books I ushered through Mansfield Press in my final year at that outfit: Yes or Nope, by Meaghan Strimas; All of Us Reticent, Here, Together, by Stephen Brockwell; Chewing Water, by Nelson Ball; Book of Short Sentences, by Alice Burdick; Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines, by Jason Heroux; Saint Twin, by Sarah Burgoyne. Every one of those wildly different titles is a brilliant contender. Here's what I say: collect the whole set.

I have also left out other books I loved, but had some kind of editorial role in. And other books I loved, but had no editorial role in.

Why didn't I read as much new poetry as I usually do? Well, a few reasons. For one, I spent far too much time reading about the terrifying decline into redneckery of the United States of America. Also, I read a lot more fiction, and a lot more essays, than I did poetry in 2016. And then there's this: I've been concentrating on reading some of the many hundreds of books I own that I haven't yet read, so I didn't pick up as many new books as I usually do.

But here are six poetry books I did read in 2016 that numbered among my favourites.

COMMOTION OF THE BIRDS, by John Ashbery (Ecco)
One of my favourites by Ashbery of the past decade: some tiny poems in here, some prose poems. I find this book so often hilarious, which isn't to say it isn't often moving.

A PILLOW BOOK, by Suzanne Buffam (Anansi)
Rich and rereadable, with surprises at every turn. Prose poems, lists, one-line poems, and abecedariums. How could I not love this book?

POUND @ GUANTÁMO, by Clint Burnham (Talonbooks)
An unsung hero of 2016, this collection is as chaotic and over-the-top as anything Clint writes. And that's what I love about him, that and his fearlessness.

ARCHEOPHONICS, by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan)
There are so many things going on in here, and all of it intelligent and readable. Gizzi continually explores what it is to be human in this world, through prose poems, list poems, lyrics and more.

CALAMITIES, by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)
A dense and exciting hybrid of prose poem/essay/fiction, with each piece beginning "I began the day" and then going somewhere entirely unexpected.

THROATY WIPES, by Susan Holbrook (Coach House)
This book is both complicated and fun. It's also refreshing. I love its eclecticism of form, and know I'll be visiting it again and again. A great follow-up to Joy Is So Exhausting.


A VOLE ON A ROLL, by Nelson Ball, illus. JonArno Lawson (Shapes & Sounds Press)
Who knew that seventy-something poet Nelson Ball would come out with his first book of poetry for children this year? Well, I knew, because he showed me the manuscript last spring. These poems are delightful, and they are pure Nelson. JonArno Lawson's scrappy illustrations are a lovely accompaniment.

Next year, I'll try to keep up a bit more on the current output. After all, poets will have their work cut out for them in 2017.

Over and out.