24 November 2016

New Adventures at the Indie Literary Market!

Last Saturday, the Indie Literary Market, put on by the Meet the Presses collective, happened at Trinity-St. Paul Centre in Toronto. Although I'm one of the founders of the collective, which is named after a monthly small press event Nick Power and I put on throughout 1985, I'm no longer a member, having resigned to make way for other stuff — like my own writing. So it was fun just being one of the presses sitting behind a table.
One of the items I featured was the brilliant poetry mag The Northern Testicle Review, featuring work by over 25 amazing poets from Canada, the U.S., Norway, Argentina, and South Korea. It's "Issue #1 — The Final Issue!" And it's produced in a format I've never used before: letter-size sheets stapled down the left side into cardstock covers. As for the title, it's a response to New Orleans poet Joel Dailey's mag The Southern Testicle Review, which contained some of my work.

In addition to that mag, a whole bunch of my books from various publishers, and a lot of old and recent Proper Tales Press chapbooks and books (including Richard Huttel's first full-length collection, That Said), I was offering three new wonderful chapbooks: Stories for My iPad, by Clint Burnham, who lives in Vancouver and whose powerful Pound @ Guantanamo came out from Talonbooks earlier this year; Those Problems, a selection of prose poems by Sarah Moses, who lives in Buenos Aires — this is her first book in English, after a self-translated collection came out in Spanish last spring from Socios Fundadores; and Outdoor Voices, a selection of recent prose poems by Leigh Nash, who calls Picton her home these days and whose recent work has been eagerly anticipated.

Another treat last Saturday was finally holding a copy of Sonnets, a collaborative project Richard Huttel and I undertook over the past year. This beautifully produced chapbook, published by Gary Barwin's serif of nottingham editions, contains 28 sonnets Richard and I wrote, exchanging lines over the Internet. When I was in Albuquerque in October, we presented a selection of them at a reading we gave and we also recorded all 28 sonnets; I hope to have that recording available soon for anyone who's interested.

And, as usual, I accumulated a lot of exciting stuff at the Indie Literary Market. There was plenty more I wanted to buy, but I restrained myself. Here's what I came home with:

David Alexander, Modern Warfare, Anstruther Press
Nelson Ball, A Vole On A Roll, Shapes & Sounds Press
Gary Barwin, My Father, Nazi Ventriloquist: Part One, serif of nottingham editions
Victor Coleman, Kate Van Dusen/Kate Van Dusen, After the Blue Flower (two-sided broadside)
Cough #9, featuring work by Victor Coleman, Emily Izsak, Michael Boughn, and others
Dani Couture, Black Sea Nettle, Anstruther Press
From The Root #3, edited by Whitney French & Melana Roberts
Emily Izsak, Stickup, shuffaloff/Eternal Network
Karl Jirgens, Big Bang Blues, A Rampage Chapbook
Long Story Short: An Anthology of (Mostly) 10-Minute Plays, edited by Rebecca Burton, Playwrights Canada Press

Finally, there was an awful lot of excitement in the room when Nelson Ball, one of Canada's greats, won the $4,000 bpNichol Chapbook Award for Small Waterways, from Cameron Anstee's Apt. 9 Press. In fact, three of the five shortlisted chapbooks this year were published by Cameron. So far as I know, this is Nelson's first award. And it's a fitting one, given the minimalist nature of Nelson's work and given his three-decade friendship with bp.

This Saturday: off to Ottawa for the Ottawa Small Press Fair!

Over and out.

01 September 2016

My bloggy August adventure!

I had a really bloggy adventure in August. I was invited to act as that month's online writer in residence at Open Book Toronto. That meant posting a blog on whatever topic I wished every couple of days. If you don't know Open Book, check it out.

The first half of my summer was packed with deadlines, and so I didn't get a lot planned in advance: mostly I created a list of about 30 possible topics, most of which I abandoned when the time came. Since I tend to write well to deadline — in fact, I almost need that pressure — it was an exhilarating scramble over those four weeks. In the end, I found it so inspiring, so motivating, I have decided to at least try to keep up the momentum here in Bloggamooga. I think it'll be good for my writing life, which has caused me a lot of struggles especially since I left Toronto six or so years ago.

I'm going to try to write in this space every three days, more or less.

Here is what I wrote about on Open Book. Click and read to your heart's content!

• The aforementioned struggle to find my writing life here in the small town of Cobourg. Plus, my fear of spiders.

An interview with my awesome American friend debby florence, who lives in Missoula, Montana, and has neat connections with Canadian poetry.

• My wrestling match with my Jewish identity, and a meditation on reclaiming my old family name of Razovsky.

My first publication as a teenage writer, along with my childhood friends Mark Laba and Steven Feldman.

• A remembrance of the late Toronto literary undergrounder Crad Kilodney, and how he introduced me to an obscure chapbook that has influenced my writing.

• An impassioned defence of why I led a movement to boycott my own latest book of poetry.

My relationship with science-fiction – and sci-fi writer Robert Sheckley's astounding avant-garde masterwork.

• The true, fish-on-a-bicycle story of my almost entirely ignored anthology of Canadian post-Surrealist poetry.

• An interview with my oldest friend, Mark Laba, an almost entirely ignored literary genius.

13 reasons to say goodbye to "closure" — that artificial and overrated and usually uninteresting literary goal.

• An interview with my other awesome American friend — and collaborator — Richard Huttel, a Chicagoan (now an Albuqueran) who also has ties with Canadian poetry.

• 50 exciting ways of distributing your poetry leaflets so that you can change the world.

An interview with my friend Carolyn Smart, the wonderful and formidable poet, memoirist and writing teacher at Queen's University.

• The influence of legendary Hollywood icon Kim Novak on my writing — and her appearances in my poetry and fiction.

• Why you should tell writers whose work you like that you like their work — plus a tribute to my hero and friend Dave McFadden.

Enjoy! I sure enjoyed writing these.

Over and out.

29 July 2016

Sparrow reviewed in Winnipeg Free Press

Jonathan Ball is a Canadian poetry hero. He runs the only — so far as I know — regular poetry-review column in a Canadian newspaper. He crams three or four reviews into each installment, so they are short, but he always makes his point, and in a lively fashion.

In the June 25 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, he wrote about A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, along with three other really interesting books, including Jason Heroux's Hard Working Cheering Up Sad Machines, which came out this past spring under my "a stuart ross book" imprint with Mansfield. Here's what he wrote about Sparrow:

Stuart Ross’s A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn/Buckrider, 68 pages, $18) captures one of Canada’s most inventive and overlooked poets in fine form. "This is a poem about Johnny Cash / as the line above this one clearly states" — this fun, plain-spoken assertion seems to set the stage for a silly poem, but actually presages a crushing, sad scene.

This is Ross’s oft-utilized but never-predictable method: to combine an observation that seems tossed-off and un-poetic with a harrowing image or something more complex than it at first appears.

"The books are full of words / but what’s a word?"

"I wrote a poem. I was / lonely. I wrote a poem / describing how I was / lonely. Many a person / said I should write a book."

There’s a clever joke and an existential crisis both crushed into those clean lines. Ross wins again.
 Over and out.

20 July 2016

The story of Pockets: my second solo novel

I'm pleased to announce that I recently signed a contract with ECW Press for the publication of my second solo novel, Pockets. It will appear in fall 2017 under Michael Holmes's Misfit imprint. This will be my sixth book with that press since 1996 (they published my first four poetry books and my first solo novel).

I had three other novels on the go (and still do), but this one broke out of the gate and crossed the finish line in the blink of an eye. Last December, I sat down to reread, for the umpteenth time, Toby MacLennan's astonishingly beautiful 1972 novel from Something Else Press, 1 Walked Out of 2 and Forgot It. I first read that book when I was still in my late teens. I hadn't read anything else like it, and still haven't, but I decided on that day in December that I would model a novel after MacLennan's. I liked the way the little chunks of prose rested on the bottom of each page. I liked the tone and the magic of the book.

That day I wrote about 40 pages of the novel I dubbed Pockets. (Some of the pages were only a couple sentences long.) I picked it up again in February, and started adding a new strand to it. I wrote another six or seven pages. Through April, I wrote on three separate days — first, eliminating the February strand (I'll use it elsewhere) and then expanding, lengthening, twisting. The novel reached about 70 pages (with a word count much shorter than your average Derek McCormack novel).

After those five days of work, I inserted epigraphs by Toby MacLennan and John Lavery into the manuscript and spent a week trying to decide where to send it. Perhaps because it is related so closely to my novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, I sent it to Michael at ECW, and within a few days he had accepted it. (In my dreams, SDJ was going to be the book that would launch me into the big time, but that never happened, and the tiny, experimental Pockets certainly won't do it; I'm in the time in which I will remain.)

I've worked on Pockets for one more day, and I think I've got another few days' writing left, which I hope to accomplish by summer's end. (If you want to help facilitate my writing, please visit my Patreon page.) Then I'll see what Michael has to say about what will hopefully be a 90-page manuscript by then (about the length of Toby MacLennan's book). He has been a great supporter of my writing for two decades.

One nice side-effect of all this is that I decided I should finally search out Toby MacLennan and thank her for writing that book, and let her know how much it has meant to me. It wasn't hard to find her online, and I wrote her, and we've had a really lovely and inspiring email conversation that I hope will continue. As I get older, I realize how important it is to let writers — writers who are important to you — know the impact their work has had on you.

Over and out.

17 June 2016

Bill Berkson Will Pass Among You Silently

Just heard that the American poet Bill Berkson died yesterday. He was 76 years old.

Berkson was the author of over 20 wonderful books of poetry, as well as volumes of art criticism, lectures, and memoir. He was also an enthusiastic collaborator with many other writers and artists. Among my favourite books of his are Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently, Fugue, and Serenade. But everything he wrote is worth reading.

A few years back, I had the honour of including some poems by Berkson in my mag Peter O'Toole: The Magazine of One-Line Poems.

My new book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, contains a poem for Bill Berkson, which I'm glad I got around to sending him shortly after I wrote it. (His response seemed, well … bemused in a friendly way.)


The pure pleasure of reading Bill Berkson’s Serenade (Zoland Books, 2000; cover and interior drawings by Joe Brainard) while I’m lying in the claw-footed bathtub is such that I levitate. My body rises beyond the rim of the tub, then about another metre, till I can see sweet cobwebs flutter from the ceiling, and I hear the water drain below me, and drops sail down from my naked body, and as they fall they turn to various colours of paint and, landing in the tub, they make a portrait of Bill Berkson. His features are hewn and striking, and he wears a white hat, which the drops quickly change to brown with a white band. I raise a hand and brush away the cobwebs, “Fragile as the glitter on Dame Felicity’s eyelid,” and the ceiling opens, an Underwood typewriter lowering until it’s hovering just over me, a sheet of white foolscap rippling on the platen. I type this poem, shave, dry myself off, pull on some jeans and a madras shirt, and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

To Bill Berkson: good night and sleep well. Thank you for enriching the world of poetry with your incredible work. (Beautiful photo below, full of spirit and joy, by Robert Eliason.)

Over and out.

06 June 2016

The Sparrow continues its flight

The Sparrow is landing in five more towns, starting tonight! I'm spreading my mainstream sensibilities far and wide with A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, my new book from Wolsak and Wynn.

Monday, June 6, 7 pm — Cobourg, Ontario
The Human Bean, 80 King Street West
Also featuring: Ashley-Elizabeth Best, launching her debut poetry collection, Slow States of Collapse (ECW Press), and a musical set by Rhonda Murdoch of VanLand.

Tuesday, June 14, 7 pm — Hamilton, Ontario
Mills Hardware, 95 King Street East
Wolsak and Wynn spring launch party. Also featuring: Kilby Smith-McGregor with Kids in Triage; Susan Perly with Death Valley, and Rachael Preston with The Fishers of Paradise.

Thursday, June 16, 6 pm — Wolfville, Nova Scotia
The Box of Delights Bookshop, 466 Main Street
Also featuring Alice Burdick, launching Book of Short Sentences (Mansfield Press).

Saturday, June 18, 7 pm — Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Lexicon Books, 125 Montague Street
Also featuring Lance La Rocque, author of Vermin (Bookthug).

Thursday, June 23, 7 pm — Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia, 1113 Marginal Road
Also featuring Alice Burdick, launching Book of Short Sentences (Mansfield Press).

Look for future launches in Ottawa and Montreal — and maybe even Alberta and British Columbia in the fall!

Over and out.

29 May 2016

A poem for the Little Criminals

For a very long time, maybe a couple of decades, I've belonged to a list-serv dedicated to the great singer-songwriter Randy Newman. This guy:

Randy Newman is one of my Top 5 favourite songwriters, along with Nick Lowe and Bob Dylan and Aimee Mann and David Ackles. (Sometimes Van Dyke Parks is on that list, sometimes Kristin Hersh, but Randy is always on the list.) We on the list-serv call ourselves the Little Criminals, named after the Newman album of the same name. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to meet half a dozen or so Little Criminals, and what amazing people they are. There are many more I haven't met but who I consider friends.

On November 28, 2002, I wrote a poem called "Poem for Randy Newman's Birthday." It appears in my 2003 collection, Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (ECW Press).  The same book also contains the poem "Sonnet (Storm & Cat)," a poem about Toluca, a cat that lived with a Little Criminal named Joan, down in California. The Little Criminals are all over the world. Some are poets, some are musicians, others are impresarios, airline employees, students, nurses. They have been great supports at difficult times. They are intelligent, funny, interesting people. I mean, they must be if they love Randy Newman, right? And they have made it possible for me to meet my hero a few times in Toronto and once in Rochester.

In my new book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak & Wynn), Randy makes a very significant appearance in a poem I wrote last year, "And Oscar Williams Walked In." It's about the time the poetry anthologist Oscar Williams, who probably edited just about every American poetry collection up until the early 1960s, visited me at my home on Pannahill, about a decade after his death. Oscar Williams is this guy:

Anyways, Oscar Williams came to visit. So I went to the park and I took some paper along, and that's where I made this poem, posted here as a gift to my dear friends the Little Criminals:


I’m sitting in my bedroom listening
to Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel
and then Leo Sayer’s Just a Boy
and after that Randy Newman’s Sail Away
for which I read the lyrics on the record sleeve
while it plays, every word, even though
I’ve listened to it about a hundred times before
and my mother’s in the kitchen burning steaks
and making mashed potatoes and she yells up,
“Stuart! Your friend is here!” and Oscar Williams
(as I later find out his name is) walks in
wearing a bow tie and John Lennon glasses and
says, “I see you like reading,” and it’s not because
I’m reading the lyrics to “Simon Smith
and the Amazing Dancing Bear” at that
moment but because—I follow his eyes—
one wall of my room is covered in bookshelves.
I find him pretty creepy even though
I have lots of friends who are older than me
mostly because of this poetry workshop
led by a guy named George Miller
I go to every Saturday with Mark Laba
where everyone is older than us.
“Have you ever read this?” asks Oscar
Williams and he holds out a mouldy copy of
Immortal Poems of the English Language.
“I saw you have a mother down there. My mother
was named Chana Rappoport and my father
was named Mouzya Kaplan. I am Williams
in the same way you are Ross. Have you ever
read this?” Oscar Williams asks and he holds
out a dog-earred copy of The New Pocket
Anthology of American Verse from Colonial
Days to the Present. “They’re pretty good,
you know, they have poems by people like
Ezra Pound and Robert Frost and Edna St.
Vincent Millay and William Carlos Williams
and Oscar Williams of course. Do you want to go
hang out at the cigar store?” The album cover for
Sail Away has a big picture of Randy Newman’s
face and I hold it up over my own face so it
looks like I am actually Randy Newman.
“Pardon me,” says Oscar Williams, “I thought
you were Stuart Ross, teenage author of such
immortal poems as ‘jesus tobacco’ and ‘Ritual
of the Concrete Penguins.’ I died in 1964
so I sometimes get confused.” And then he is gone.
Like it was a dream. I go downstairs where
my mother is opening a can of peas and say,
“Why did you let that guy in, Mom?” and she says,
“What guy? All that rock music you play is giving
me a headache and you hallucinations. Go wash
your hands, we’re having dinner soon.”
It is 1974. In forty-two years I will include this
poem in a book called A Sparrow Came Down
Resplendent. Barry and Owen sit down at the table,
and me and my mom and dad. We take turns
trying to pronounce Worchestershire.

Over and out.