30 November 2005

a day in the life of stu egg

I wonder if I'm imploding on the Lexiconjury list. Funny thing about listservs, you sometimes watch people implode. Anyway, I'm getting myself into trouble, though not by design. It's a real weird balance in the poetry community — how can you criticize someone's work when they're sincere? But there is a lot of bad sincere poetry. But you want to applaud them for trying, for putting the effort into poetry, and they might get better anyway.

Do we applaud everyone's efforts, just because they've made an effort? Do we sometimes, then, reward and encourage crap? I think George Bowering did everyone a favour my calling "spoken word" horseshit. Not only because I mostly agree with him, but because the debate is important. Just getting people to think about poetry -- that there might be good poetry and bad poetry -- is a worthy cause.

Anyway, here I am on the cusp of starting a new reading series, The Fictitious Reading Series, with Kate Sutherland, and I'm alienating people. That might be bad form. I just don't know. I don't mean, or want, to alienate people.

This afternoon, for example, I hosted a teen open mic at Runnymede Library. I had a great time, and I think the kids there did too. The library's Youth Advisory Group -- a thing that I don't think existed when I was a kid -- did a fantastic job of spreading the word, and the room was full: about 20 or so teens, and a few adults. I read a few of my poems, a couple by Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, and Lisa Jarnot, told some anecdotes (like my first meeting with Ron Padgett), and introduced the kids who wanted to read.

There was a lot of good stuff, and there was some pretty bad stuff, too, but these are teens, and they are writing poetry, and they are coming out to a poetry reading. I encouraged them all around, with additional good words for the ones who particularly showed talent. I feel like I've come a long way in working with kids: I used to be so nervous about it — being an old guy and all — but I think I'm pretty good at it. Especially if I'm working with a group who are there voluntarily, like a teen reading, or a creative writing class, or a creative writing club.

Tonight was the Mercury Press fall book launch. Lots of great books: I bought four of them. Especially looking forward to reading the new book of art essays by Barbara Caruso, who was not there tonight. But also the Shift & Switch anthology, Gary Barwin and Derek Beaulieu's haiku variations, and the new Richard Truhlar fiction collection.

I was amazed at how many Mercury old-timers showed tonight, people who haven't had Mercury books in years: Douglas Ord, Gerry Shikatani, and Leslie McAllister, who I don't think I've seen almost at all since we worked together at NOW about five years ago. Says she's writing again, and poetry.

It was a nice night, all right, but a bit overwhelming. So many people I would just have liked to hang out with individually for an entire evening. Such is the nature of these big literary events, I guess. Oh, and I must have had about 50 people to apologize to tonight, because I've been so errant with my email lately.

I was feeling something like a writer today, because I had a big breakthrough with my novel last night. I think I can plough through the thing and finish it now: I found a way to distance myself from the largely autobiographical material that makes up so much of the thing. Well, I distanced myself by making it less autobiographical. I guess that's an obvious thing to do, but I'd had such trouble up to now doing it.

I was also feeling productive for other reasons: after a bunch of unique confusions, I got the final elements of the January This Magazine lit section in to Emily, and I sent a Hunkamooga column off to Brian at sub-Terrain.

Gotta stay in this productive mode until Chile.

Over and out.

27 November 2005

poetry fiction poetry fiction

Yesterday I led my first "Advanced Poetry Boot Camp" at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, designed solely for people who had participated in my earlier "regular Poetry Boot Camps." I was pretty nervous about it — would I be able to come up with a sufficiently challenging and diverse set of projects for them?

On Friday I had a good chat with Camille about workshops, and we discussed words to use instead of "exercise" or "assignment" -- she suggested "experiment"; I came up with "method." I don't know exactly why this is so important to me, but every time I've ever said "the next exercise..." in a workshop, I cringed inwardly. Perhaps because an exercise sounds like it's "practice," like nothing final can come out of it. And I certainly believe actual poems can emerge from all these projects (actually, "projects" is a pretty good word, too). Anyway, it was a mighty helpful discussion. We shared some of our workshop strategies, and she sparked some pretty good ideas in me.

The all-day Advanced Poetry Boot Camp, with eight seasoned Boot Campers, went extremely well, as it turned out. Man, there was so much good stuff written in the course of that day. And I felt far more relaxed than I had expected to, and actually participated in six of the methods myself. Two or three of my poems are definitely going to be keepers, with a little work. We did some sound poetry, which was a lot of fun: none of the participants had ever done any sound poetry before. What we ended up with was a bunch of homages to bpNichol. Nice to make funny noises again; it's been a while.

At the end, I invited everyone to take part in a chapbook anthology I'll publish of the "best of the day" through my Proper Tales Press. Very excited about that project, too.

But now I have to think about fiction.

Next Sunday, Kate Sutherland and I are hosting the first instalment of our Fictitious Reading Series, an all-fiction monthly series we conjured up. The December 4 inaugural event will feature Heather Birrell and Harold Johnson. Will people come? Will the idea of a non-poetry event be a turn-off or will it intrigue people? Does anyone read fiction anymore? I mean, anyone who comes out to readings? We'll find out soon enough.

Over and out.

24 November 2005

For my American friends

The giant turkey

jumps into the ancient pond.

Resonant dinner.

22 November 2005

The man who couldn't afford to orgy doesn't have to be Jewish

A week ago Sunday, Dana and I went to Lula Lounge to see John Cale. It was an amazing show — Cale, with guitarist, bassist, and drummer, was pure punk. It was so exciting to see a guy in his early 60s rip the place apart like that. And what a contrast to the last time I saw him, probably nearly a decade ago, at the Diamond, when he did a solo show as elegant gentleman at piano. Lots of new songs this time around, and very little pandering to the audience with hits. His rave-up on Pablo Picasso was mind-blowing.

This past Sunday, Dana and I went to Massey Hall to see the first-ever stage version of You Don't Have To Be Jewish. I'd totally forgotten about this phenomenon until Dana brought the vinyl of it over a few weeks ago. Suddenly all those punch lines came back to me: "I'm hiiiiiiiding... in the front cloooooooset!" The stage version featured Jamie Farr, of M*A*S*H fame, and four other actors. They were all really capable performers, and likeable too, but man was it ever corny. It was pretty much word-for-word loyal to the two LPs of the 60s. Which I liked. I liked its corniness.

Going to see live things is a nice break from reading online news 24 hours a day.

Over and out.

18 November 2005

Bathurst & Lawrence

In and out of cold symptoms.

This afternoon I drove up to Bathurst and Lawrence, to the Negev book and gift shop to find a bar mitzvah gift for my cousin's son, Harrison. Harrison is obsessed with computers and sports, so I decided to get him a poetry book. I'd call that a prescriptive bar mitzvah gift, instead of a descriptive bar mitzvah gift. Wound up with a hardback volume by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, and a graphic novel called The Rabbi's Cat, by Joann Sfar. It was a really emotional feeling being in that very very very Jewish place. In that very very very Jewish neighbourhood. Got weepy when I left and felt anxious for the rest of the day. My missing family, my missing religion, my missing.

Yesterday was a book day of a different nature. Katherine Parrish organized the second Going To Press at Marc Garneau Collegiate in East York, and I was the keynote speaker. On two hours' sleep I delivered a talk I'd completed only a few hours earlier. Seemed to go over well, at least among the kids who were listening. As always, I became a little flustered and forgot an important element -- a bit of show and tell of some items I'd spent hours digging up the night before: the box issue of Scat, a poetry T-shirt of mine (E.V.M.) and a couple other things.

Part of Going To Press is a small press book fair, and I had a table at that, along with 15 or 20 other small pressers. I don't expect to sell anything there, because it's mainly high school students, but I did sell a few things, primarily to visiting teachers. It was a lot of fun, as it always is to sit behind a book table. Spent far more than I made, and here's what I bought:

Edward, by Rose Red (Feed My Eyes), an amazing ziney story with fantastic scratchy visuals.
The Archival Stone, by Beatriz Hausner (Lyrical Myrical), a poetry book.
Stormy Weather/Foursomes, by Stan Dragland (Pedlar Press), a gorgeous collection of short prose pieces.
The Amazing Challengers Of Unknown Mystery, by Evan Munday (Building & Loan Comics), a comic book about the kidnapping of Avril Lavigne.
Monstress, issues 2, 3, 4 and 8, edited and mostly written by Una Crow, and this film/etc zine looks to be excellent.
Hung No. 1, by Shannon Gerard, a graphic fiction thing. Vigilante Poet Shannon sat beside me and we had great discussions about art interventions.
Year, by Shannon Gerard, a crazy little artist's book, again with fascinating images and fine text.
Feral Delights #2, ziney poems and texts by Rose Red.

After the fair, Jen LoveGrove and Sandra Alland and I went to a Goodwill about a block away and I bought:

So Beautiful, by Ramona Dearing (The Porcupine's Quill)
Billy Tinker, by Harold Johnson (Thistledown Press)
Mile End, by Lise Tremblay (Talonbooks)
The Stand-in, by David Helwig (The Porcupine's Quill)
Loitering With Intent, by Peter O'Toole (MacMillan)
Open Letter, Ninth Series Number 3: Summer 1995
Baroque-a-Nova, by Kevin Chong (Penguin)
The World's Best Optical Illusions, by Charles H. Paraquin (Scholastic)
The Cat, by Pat Gray (Ecco)

Today I finalized the venues and dates for two literary events: the first instalment of The Fictitious Reading Series, which I'm organizing with Kate Sutherland and which will feature Harold Johnson and Heather Birrell; the Mud Game 10th Anniversary Complete Reading, which I'm doing with Gary Barwin. Both events at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, on December 4 and 15 respectively, both at 7:30 p.m.

Better go get some sleep so I can wake up and pick Dana up so's we can go to the bar mitzvah.

Over and out.

17 November 2005

The Spleen of a Poet

Last night was the launch party for the Heart Of A Poet TV series. I didn't go. It was only last week that I finally was able to settle my contract woes with the producers. After six or so weeks of acrimonious emails back and forth, I got what I asked for in the first place, and I wonder why we had to go through all that crap. It was so stressful. And it wasn't even about money. I didn't get any and I didn't ask for any. I had told them in September that I was happy to sign away rights to the work used in the TV broadcasts of the show, but that I would like to negotiate use in any other medium separately. Because the release they originally sent me said they could use my work forever, in any form, edited any way they wanted. Seems like a foolish set of rights to give away.

Meanwhile, I still haven't watched my episode. I feel so sour about the whole thing. I feel disrespected.

An apology from them would have been nice, and still would. Maybe I even would have gone to the launch. As it is, I didn't feel much like celebrating. After all that emotional energy the contract tussle sapped from me.

But on to other things....

Like, an hour and 6 minutes from now I'm to be at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, where Katherine Parrish and Youth Scream have organized an all day event called Going To Press, with a small press fair, workshops, and a keynote speech from me. Delivered on less than three hours' sleep!


Over and out.

15 November 2005

I have a confession.

"Lately I've let things slide."

— Nick Lowe

09 November 2005

One Rainy Afternoon in an Oslo Art Museum

The janitors' closet is open;
projections on the wall
opposite the door.
Cut-out skulls
and other Halloweenish
figures with light
throwing shadows
onto the walls.
Overturned wing chair;
woman's dress
with "head" attached;
projection onto head;

6 November 2005

04 November 2005

YYZ is no Bush White House

I feel way better this morning about the YYZine fiasco.

Received a very and comprehensive apology from Shannon via email, and from Gregory I got a phone call in which he assumed responsibility and pledged to do what he could to make amends: he recognizes an erratum in the next issue doesn't fix everything, but I think it's a great gesture.

I really appreciated that neither of them made excuses, and that they recognized how serious the errors were. Unlike the Bush White House, which I only mention because I've been obsessed with it for a couple years now, S & G took responsibility and admitted to their errors.

I'm actually suprised at the relief I feel. I feel sad about the presentation of Dead Cars In Managua, though I hope it will have a more proper life somewhere else again in the future, but the anger, humiliation, and hurt I felt has vanished.

In fact, I think I'll go to the opening tonight.

In other news, I pitched Camille Martin to the Lexiconjury gang and there seems to be interest. She's just moved here from New Orleans and I would love to hear her read: really interesting poet and very nice person. Pal of Joel Dailey, the New Orleans (well, I guess now formerly New Orleans) poet who publishes Fell Swoop. I thought a reading at the Lex would be a nice welcome for her.

I'd have loved to set up a Yammy/Kat Biscuits! reading for her, but those just take too much out of me. And if the attendance was sparse, it wouldn't be much of a welcome.

Over and out.

03 November 2005

Didn't work on my novel, but here's what I wrote today

Hi there, Shannon --

Thanks for your reply. It surprised me, though: I thought YYZ would be horrified when I pointed out that my name and the title of my work don't appear on my pages in the publication. I don't know what you mean when you say my name is "front and centre" in the layout; my name doesn't appear in my layout (a courtesy afforded to each of the other three artists involved in the issue).

Further, since my earlier emails, I have found five typographical errors that weren't in the files I sent you, and have discovered that the designer confused the order of the photo/text units.

Initially, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to realize a piece I've been mulling over for 15 years. I'm now disappointed at the gross incompetence of your designer, among other things.

If I seem to feel slighted, here are some reasons:

- I emailed Gregory last week and told him that the Small Press Book Fair was happening Saturday and, if the publication was ready, I wanted to come and get some copies to give out there. He didn't respond to me.

- I received an invitation to the Friday opening only after I emailed you today; had I not emailed you, I wonder if I'd have heard about the opening.

- There is no reference to my piece on the YYZ website; I realize it's not a work in the gallery, but there is still a sense of being marginalized.

- There are five typographical errors in the piece that were not in my originals:

1. Beneath photo 2: "Aquíí" s/b "Aquí"
2. Photo 3: "Leóón" s/b "León"
3. Photo 3: space deleted after second sentence
4. Photo 3: in the third sentence, the word "I" has been omitted in "but I don't know any jokes about that."
5. Photo 9: "máás" s/b "más"

I wonder a) why my text was retyped when I supplied an electronic file, and b) why nobody compared the final layout to the PDF I provided. This is inexcusable.

- As for the layout itself, there is no "title section," unless you are referring to the small-type copy that appears below the masthead and which has no visual connection with my pages; even if the intervening advertising pages were not there, anyone opening the publication to my work wouldn't know where to find the title or the author -- you have to hunt for it.

- Further, on the topic of the layout: I provided a dummy layout; while I did not expect this to be followed in terms of type design, the grouping of the photos was crucial: I am stunned that nobody consulted me. The worst transgression occurs on the page with four photos: it is illogical to expect a reader to read top to bottom instead of left to right in such a layout. This layout put the texts out of order.

- Past YYZines I looked at had a full title page for the Artist Pages (e.g. April 2005) -- I based my dummy on this format.

- I would have liked to have had the opportunity to approve the cropping done to my photographs

- The line "Photos & Text by Stuart Ross" was integral: otherwise a reader might, for example, assume that the photos and/or the text might be found material.

- And just in case I wasn't feeling sufficiently marginalized, my "title" on the front cover of the magazine is the only one not in bold type: in fact, it's difficult to read.

I tell you all this because I wanted to vent, and because it may be instructive for you when working with other artists in the future. Perhaps, because I am a writer, I have different expectations, when dealing with publishers, about things like attribution, accuracy, and professionalism.

Now, back to the two questions I asked you earlier today:

1. When should I expect payment?
2. May I come by next week to retrieve my original photos?

Thanks for listening, and thanks in advance for your response to my questions,



I'm grinding my teeth.

The battle with the Heart Of A Poet people is coming to a close, but there didn't ever have to be a battle in the first place. It was an energy-sucking experience that I didn't need. Business and contracts: they make me sick. This whole thing has me so soured that I haven't wanted to watch the DVD of the show that I finally wrenched out of them. I'm confident that it's good; I just don't feel like watching it.

Last week Maureen sent me a form-letter invitation to the launch party for the show. Don't think I'll attend.

I'm grinding my teeth.

Today I received my copy of YYZINE in the mail. I was so excited about this project:: YYZ Artists Outlet asked me to create a 4-page work for their tabloid zine, as they ask of an artist for each issue. I worked hard on Dead Cars In Managua, a project that's been on my mind for about 15 years. I was so looking forward to getting a big batch of copies and sending them to friends I met in Nicaragua.

Anyway, they left my name and the title of the piece off my pages.

Today the curator who hired me on invited me to their launch, which is tomorrow night. Don't think I'll attend.

Well, they're supposed to pay me a good chunk of money. So there's that.

I hope the cheque comes soon.


01 November 2005

we're being robbed!

This just in!

rob mclennan has 27 more books coming out this year!

Go, Badgers!

Over and out.

Morten, Book Fair, Acta, and Ricky Gervais

Been a busy week. Here's some of what's transpired.

Last Tuesday, Jay MillAr launched four new Bookthug titles and held a reading at the always-charming Yammy the Cat. Nice turnout, and hopefully some books sold. Rob Read and Gregory Betts read from their books, and Elizabeth Bachinsky was there via CD recording, which was a fantastic way of doing stuff from Vancouver. I liked her patter, in which she described the room she was in, the people with her in the room, the view out the window, and then wondered what Yammy was like.

The highlight for me was the brief reading by Danish poet Morten Søndergaard, whose book, Vinci, Later, I blurbed at Jay's request. It's an incredible work, and I haven't seen anything like it in North America. I got surprised with a request to read the English translations after Morten read each of the Danish originals. While the other people were reading, I'm afraid, I read (to myself) Morten's poems over and over. So intimidated by his work, I sure didn't want to fuck up when reading them aloud. He had a brilliant idea to close the reading: he and I would both read the same poem simultaneously in the original and translation. He did some discreet conducting with his hand as we read, and it came off real well. I'd like to try more of that.

And he sure was a nice guy. Smart, interested, engaging. Hope he comes back one day when he can actually spend some time in the city.

Thursday night, Sandra Alland and I were the feature readers at the Acta Victoriana reading at U of T's Victoria College. It was a weird room: sorta neat, but there was a stage and spotlights, and that always has a distancing effect between the audience and the readers. Also, the organizer, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, introduced me basically as a comic genius, saying that the audience would laugh their asses off, so they should make appointments with their proctologists. Meanwhile, I was in a low-key mood and looking to do a low-key reading. The reading -- a mixture of some sorta funny stuff and some dead serious stuff -- went OK, I guess. I got the feeling that the students there had never been to a reading before, so didn't know how to respond.

In fact, both Sandra and I acquitted ourselves well, got nice end-of-performance applause, but sold zero books. In fact, not a single person came up and talked to us or complimented us. I got a few nice comments when I handed out my freebie leaflet at the break, though.

I think in the future I'll ask hosts to just stick to factual introductions and not raise weird expectations.

The fair took place Saturday. I spent much of my week preparing a new poetry chapbook; I was surprised that I hadn't published one of my own in many years. Called this one Robots At Night, and I thought it was mainly goofy, but Kevin and Dana say it has a pretty serious tone. I'm pretty excited about the thing. It really is just about as thrilling to fold and staple my own chapbook and then flip through it as it is to have a book published by a trade publisher. Did 150 copies.

And then at about 3 a.m. Friday night, I decided I would produce a couple of Hunkamooga broadsides. Since I decided to pull the column from Word, not wanting an electronic column, I haven't had a venue for my Word columns, a couple of which I've written in the last few months. Anyways, did the piece I wrote about my little cousin Leanne -- a young writer killed by a drunk driver at age 11 -- and one called "I hate poetry," which is about how dumb it is when people say, "I love poetry."

So I did these very simple broadsides, printed one side, and managed about three hours' sleep before the fair. Good day, though. Sold 22 copies of the new chapbook, about 25 Hunkamoogas, and various other items. Saw lots of neat people. In fact, Camille Martin, the poet who moved to Toronto from New Orleans, showed up, and she turned out to be pretty swell. I did notice, though, that many people who I knew came by my table, chatted with me, but didn't look at what I was selling. A little frustrating.

Also weird was the absence of so many members of the small press community that I think should be there on a mandatory basis. What's with them not coming to the fair?

It's always great to see Nick Power there. We started the event up in 1987, so we feel sorta paternal about it. Nick suggested we pose as stuffed "founders" with little name plates next year. They could unveil us to start off the fair and we'd just stand there, frozen, all day. Like stuffed bears or something.

- yeah, I know I said I'd been cured of CNN, but I was being as honest as Scooter Libby. Spent much of Friday watching Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby and the reactions. Spent much of today watching the response to the Democrats' brilliant hijacking of the Senate over the WMD deceptions. Hellllllllllllp!
- my ongoing "debate" with the Heart of the Poet people: what a nightmare that's turned out to be. I haven't even wanted to watch the episode about me, which I finally have a copy of.
- shopping for car insurance.
- lotsa email correspondence, much of it regarding new speaking, reading, and workshop gigs.
- Dana and I watched a whole lot of episodes of The Office, the British, original version, and it's incredible. I think it's up there with Curb Your Enthusiasm. We started watching the "Subway" episode of Homicide Season 5, but I couldn't do it. The guy trapped there, unable to feel his legs, reminded me too viscerally of my brother Owen's death. Dana will have to watch that one herself. I saw it many years ago, anyway, when it didn't have the same significance for me.

Been reading some fiction: great short stories by Martin Amis, and, this morning, Fizzles, by Samuel Beckett, an old favourite I haven't picked up for a decade.

Gotta get ready to head out to the Art Bar reading tonight: Gil Adamson is among the readers. She reads rarely and really well.

Over and out.