30 April 2019

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs — the first review

My newest collection of poetry, Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, out from Vancouver-based Anvil Press in a couple of weeks, received its first review — and hopefully not its last, though I'm not holding my breath — in Quill & Quire. It's a group review that also looks at Hymnswitch, by Ali Blythe, and Cluster, by Souvankham Thammavongsa. The review is written by Jesse Eckerlin.

Here is the intro and the section on my book:

According to Freud, a dream is the fulfillment of a wish. A deceptively simple formula that implies a double-pronged question: what manner of wish and how fulfilled? Freud’s answer is somewhat as follows: a repressed, unconscious wish fulfilled in disguise. For Freud, then, the dream is a representation, by other means, of a desire inadmissible to the dreamer.

What can Freud’s hypothesis tell us about poetry? It is true that the three collections  under review trace unique aesthetic trajectories along the axes of dream and desire. But more fundamentally, they understand poetry to be the discursive mode that confronts language with the unsayable at the heart of its unconscious. If poetry is to language what the dream is to the dreamer, its paradoxical wish is to give voice to the ineffable. One way poetry stages this confrontation is by disrupting expectations of linguistic sense and narrative continuity. Favouring a gleefully lowbrow neo-surrealism more likely to traffic in radioactive bingo parlours and talking cheeseburgers than erotic seances or lobster telephones, Stuart Ross is an adept of both. An admirably light touch; a democratic sense that all risks are created equal; an irrepressible need to play the clown, even when it results in self-sabotage: Ross’s stylistic hallmarks are on full display in Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.

In Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, prose poems rub shoulders with centos, and impossible lists cavort with commemorations. In Ross’s poems, subject-object relations threaten to become topsy-turvy at the slightest provocation: “A cigarette cupped my hands, / pulled the phone from / my pocket.” Figures of speech grow flesh: “someone’s unleashed cocker spaniel / pounced on my grammatical error.” Inanimate objects prove self-sufficient actors and spectators: “ovation: / the egg stood up / for itself.” And physics and ratio play a psychedelic game of Ping-Pong: “I / shot a star across / the room and it landed / in chicken soup dribbling / off the roof / of a nine-storey apartment.” By voicing linguistic accidents and non-human entities, Ross seeks a poetic illogic free to dream beyond the restrictive bounds of moral edification and calibrated intention.

Over and out.

06 March 2019

a short poem i wrote today

lang leav
on the
where he

07 June 2018

A dash of Dave McFadden in every reading!

Still getting used to the idea of a world without Dave McFadden. But there is this: thirty of his poetry books, several volumes of fiction and travel writing — he's left us all that, and it's all worth reading again and again.

I have decided that for the next year (at least),  at every reading I give or host, and every workshop I lead, I will read a poem by Dave or a passage of his prose. Because I really believe that Dave is one of those rare writers whose work actually improves the world.

Dave's writing has the incredible ability to actually imbue its sense of wonder, awe, curiosity, and marvelling in those who read it. His writing amuses us, teases us, provokes us, comforts us. Makes us look at the world around us differently.

A couple of months ago I started up a Twitter account called Poetry of David W McFadden (@DWMPoetry). As often as I can, I tweet a few lines of Dave's poetry, hoping that it gets out there and seeps into the world, finding Dave's fans and creating some new fans.

It's a continuation of my project of helping to bring Dave's poetry to a bigger audience. That project began when Paul Vermeersch asked me to edit Dave's selected poems for Insomniac Press back in 2006. The huge and beautiful result — Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden — came out in 2007. It was an incredible and humbling experience working with my literary hero on such a project. It was followed by another book for Insomniac — Why Are You So Long and Sweet? Collected Long Poems of David W. McFadden (2010) — and five entries in my "a stuart ross book" imprint for Mansfield Press: Be Calm, Honey (2008), What's the Score? (2012), Mother Died Last Summer (2013), Shouting Your Name Down the Well: Tankas and Haiku (2014), and what was to be Dave's final book of poetry, Abnormal Brain Sonnets (2015).

How lucky have I been to have found Dave's work, to have become his friend, to have worked with him editorially?

It's a lifelong project. A way of giving back for what Dave's work has brought to me since I was fifteen years old.

Over and out.

06 June 2018

Saying goodbye to the magnificent Dave McFadden

David W. McFadden, October 11, 1940 – June 6, 2018

The sky stretching out forever is me, is me, is me

it made my fingers, grew my hair, animates me

fills me full of light, makes me radiant.

"It's Unbelievable" (1971)

I'll write more later about David. But for now, just sending love and warmth to his wife, Merlin Homer; and to his brother, Jack; his daughter, Jenny; his grandchildren, Chloe and Benny.

Over and out.



19 May 2018

Improv sound poetry with Gary Barwin...

Gary Barwin and I first performed sound poetry together in 1991. It was around that time we were invited to present at two festivals in Cleveland: the Cleveland Performance Art Festival and Recurrent Irritations. There is a cassette of our performance at Recurrent Irritations — These Are The Clams I'm Breathing, These Are The Clams I'm Breathing. I believe our material there was mostly scored, with maybe a bit of improvisation in some of the pieces.

We didn't perform again until last year in Hamilton. My own interest has veered more and more toward improvisation, which was at the heart of the work I did with the trio Donkey Lopez (RIP). So improv was almost exclusively on the menu for our gig in Hamilton, and then again earlier this month, when we appeared at the Kanada Koncrete conference at the University of Ottawa.

This clip here is the last piece we performed in our twenty-minute set.

Over and out.

27 January 2018

Razovsky on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I grew up hearing a lot about the Holocaust, mostly from my parents. My mother spent a childhood hearing about little else. She describes the solemn atmosphere in her household in Toronto, everyone gathered around the radio listening for news. Most of her aunts and uncles had stayed behind in Poland, while her parents, Samuel and Nina Blatt, had come to Canada around 1919.

I haven't written a lot directly about the Holocaust. I don't think it's my place. But the Holocaust exists in my writing, in passing, in periphery, in spirit.

Here is a poem of mine from my 2007 collection, I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press), that is imbued with the consciousness of the Holocaust.


The tumbling shelves
of button-filled jars, the dandelions
dotting the glistening lawn.
In the cupboard beneath the sink,
dented tins of shoe polish: black, brown,
red-brown. The rags that spilled
from the bottom drawer, from every
bottom drawer. And in the garage,
the nest of rusted pliers,
snapping, creaking.
Razovsky counted everything.

His fingers never stopped moving,
like his lips, and his eyeballs. He
inventoried, enumerated, catalogued,
whispered the names of all things,
and the things
that had no names. He counted dead uncles
he’d never met, each strand in their
long white beards, the threads
that hung from the cuffs of their
trousers. Razovsky counted
the sons they’d never had,
and the sons of the sons,
and he gave them all names.

“You’re a Razovsky,
and you a Razovsky, and your
name’s Razovsky, and I’ll call you
Razovsky.” And he counted each one
on a separate finger, because that
is what he did, he counted,
and when he ran out of fingers,
he used his toes, and then
the stones in his pockets, the teeth
in his mouth, the eyes on the fly
on the window ledge,
the scampering legs of a silverfish.

And when he was done,
he sat down with them, and
he counted the chairs around
the table, and counted the prayers
that had never been uttered,
and the prayers choked by smoke,
and Razovsky knew then who he was,
and he pinned a tag
to his shirt: “Razovsky.”

In fact, I think that all of my Razovsky poems (Razovsky was my paternal grandparents' name before they swapped it for Ross in the 1950s) are in some way about the Holocaust. My Razovsky poems appear in my books Razovsky at Peace (ECW, 2001), I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press, 2007), and You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012). I have struggled to write more, but it hasn't happened. I hope it will again.

Over and out.

31 December 2017

17 poetry books from 2017, plus some stuff I had a hand in

I didn't read a ton of new poetry during 2017. I was pretty buried in editing jobs most of the year, and visiting schools, and leading workshops, and obsessing over American politics, and wrestling with my brain.

But I've chosen 17 books to highlight here on Bloggamooga. They are not the "best" of 2017. They are simply 17 books that really impressed me. You've probably heard of some of them; others might be new to you.

I have deliberately omitted any books I saw through presses myself. And 2017 was a busy year in that way for me, too. I'm really proud of the four books I helped usher into the world and I'll ramble on about those a bit before I get to my list of 17.

Early in the year, Wilfred Laurier University issued Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, edited and introduced by me, with a fascinating afterword by Nelson. Paul Dutton had suggested this project to me, and I'm grateful to him for it. I got to read every published poem by Nelson, work spanning six decades, and Nelson gave me permission to include more than one poem per page, when they fit, so I really got to cram a lot of Nelson's poems in there! It's beautiful to work on such a project with a good friend who is also a favourite poet.

Next up was Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems, by Michael Dennis, from Anvil Press. Again, I edited and introduced this hefty volume. Michael and I have been friends since he found me selling my books on the streets of Toronto in the early 1980s. Like Nelson, Michael is a poet whose work is instantly accessible, straightforward, and about the everyday things of our lives. Again, I got to read through every published poem by Michael, and also select from about 60 or 70 new and unpublished poems he provided me with. This project was pure pleasure for me.

Then, this past fall, I worked with Nelson on another book, for which I returned briefly to my imprint ("a stuart ross book") at Mansfield Press. Walking is a stunning new full-length collection, and Nelson's most "social" book yet. It reads almost as a meditative novel of mourning and love and mindfulness. Many of the poems feature Nelson's dear friend Catherine Stevenson, and I wondered if it might be a neat idea to let her have her say in the book too. So this collection features a brief afterword by Catherine, and another by the Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg, who also admires Nelson's work.

Finally, a book a long time in the making. The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected & New Writings, by Steve Venright, compiled and with an afterword by Alessandro Porco. This massive compendium is the first instalment of my new imprint with Anvil Press, "A Feed Dog Book." It's also one of the weirdest, funniest, and most intelligent books of poems and prose poems and poetic fictions you'll ever meet. Like Nelson and Michael, Steve is a friend of mine stretching back several decades. He is, for me, the heart of Canadian Surrealism. Porco is a huge Venright fan, and his back-of-book essay is a beautiful exploration of what Steve has accomplished.

Now for the 17 recommended reads from my own modest and inadequate survey of 2017's poetry publications in English. Of course, this list could've been — and maybe should be — much longer, but such is the nature of these sorts of lists. I still have a pretty big heap of 2017 poetry books I haven't read yet!

In alphabetical order by author:

Kaveh Akbar. Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Alice James Books.
Chris Banks. The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory. ECW Press.
Gary Barwin. No TV for Woodpeckers. Wolsak and Wynn.
Kevin Connolly. Xiphoid Process. Anansi.
Clark Coolidge. Selected Poems 1962–1985. Larry Fagin and Clark Coolidge, eds. Station Hill.
Lynn Crosbie. Corpses of the Future. Anansi.
Jack Davis. Faunics. Pedlar Press.
Helen Dimos. No Realtor Was Compensated for This Sale. The Elephants.
Angela Hibbs. Control Suppress Delete. Palimpsest.
Sonnet L’Abbé. Anima Canadensis. Junction Books.
Layli Long Soldier. Whereas. Graywolf.
Canisia Lubrin. Voodoo Hypothesis. Wolsak and Wynn.
Sina Queyras. My Ariel. Coach House.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Prosopoeia. Anstruther.
Matthew Roher. The Others. Wave Books.
Suzannah Showler. Thing Is. McClelland & Stewart.
Gillian Sze. Panicle. ECW Press.

The way I see it, this would make a pretty exciting reading list for a course in contemporary North American poetry.

Check back here on January 2 for my 2018 New Year's poem.

Over and out.