31 May 2006

CELEBRATING bill bissett - Toronto on June 1

Canadian poet bill bissett has been synonymous with art and small press since he begin writing, performing, and publishing (through his groundbreaking blewointmentpress) in the 1960s.

Tomorrow bissett's art, triumphs, and humanism are being celebrated at Clinton's Tavern (693 Bloor West) in Toronto, starting at 8 pm.

Of course, it's the same night as the Griffin Awards. So it's this choice then: art vs. corporatism.

The party at Clinton's marks the launch of a new anthology, the beautifully titled "radiant danse uv being," which features poems by scores of Canadian poets in celebration of bill and the beautiful things that he has brought us, the things he's made possible in writing and publishing.

The anthology, published by Nightwood Editions (which, through a convoluted history, was once blewointment itself!), is edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough (known to bloggamooga readers as "Rox"). They'll be in town, and they'll be reading.

And bill will be reading.

And so will I, and John Donlan, and Adeena Karasick, and Allan Briesmaster, and Tom Walmsley, and jwcurry, and Carol Malyon, and Penn Kemp, and John Barlow, and heaps of other people who love bill, and who owe bill.

Admission is free. There will be door prizes. There will be a good vibe, a really good vibe.

And unlike the Griffins, you won't hate yourself afterwards.

I hope to see you there! June 1 in the back room at Clinton's! Come and give bill a big hug!

Over and out.

26 May 2006

Mice see potatoes!

This morning I finished my second of two visits this week to Anne McKenna's Grade 7s and 8s at City View Alternative School here in Toronto. (Margaret Christakos set this up for me — thanks, Margaret!) On Wednesday, I did a talk and reading for each of the two classes, and today I did sound poetry workshops. The Wednesday sessions were a challenge, as the kids didn't know me yet, but they asked smart questions, had some great comments. Today they really stepped up to the plate for the sound poetry. It was exhausting but exhilirating. What amazing students.

The differences between the Grade 7s and the Grade 8s was sort of astonishing, though. Wow, I didn't remember how much kids changed at that age. The two experiences were wildy diverse, but each had its own pleasures. We ended each session by creating a two-line collaborative poem to form a chant around.

The kids wrote the poems. They're gorgeous and surprising. And here they are:

Grade 7:

Flaming water dancing in glue
Mice see potatoes

Grade 8:

Lemon lime she wrote while dreaming
Made it big with thoughts

And then their chants were sublime, as was so much of their other improvised performance this morning. I always enjoy visiting schools, but sometimes I get to leave the gigs walking on clouds.

This afternoon I'm driving up to Barrie to work, for the entire weekend, with a group of eight businessguys who have an annual retreat in cottage country. I'll be leading them through poetry, autobio, and fiction over the course of the three days. I think I'll skip sound poetry, though. Unless they're into that sort of thing.

Have a good weekend.

Over and out.

25 May 2006

Happy bloggiversary to me - and a couple of great events!

I didn't notice, but Dana did.

Today is my first bloggiversary.

Coincidentally, I also just launched a new website today. But it's still sort of half-assed, so I'll write more about it when it's done.

Also, this week I got hunkamooga.com back online and mildly up-to-date — well, the home page, anyway.

Here's what I'll write more about shortly:

Sunday, May 28, 7:30 pm sharp!

Featuring readings by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Richard Truhlar! And an onstage chat conducted by my Fictitious cohort Kate Sutherland. And I'll be hosting the evening. This is going to be an amazing night.

It's upstairs at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, 483 Church St, Toronto. PWYC. And bring your own beverage of choice.

Thursday, June 1, 8 pm

A celebration of bill bissett, featuring readings by me, John Barlow, Carol Malyon, Adeena Karasick, Jeff Pew, Stephen Roxborough (aka Rox — really, right here in Toronto), Alan Briesmaster, Tom Walmsley, jwcurry (uh-oh), and lots more.

Oh yeah — bill will be reading too.

Th Radiant Danse Uv Being is a beautiful anthology in homage to bill, published by Nightwood Editions, which, appropriately enough, was once upon a time bill's own blewointmentpress. Sort of.

That's at Clinton's Tavern, 693 Bloor West, Toronto

See you at both those events!

Over and out.

22 May 2006



Throw a stone into the sky high enough
so it will not come back.

1964 spring


Listen to a heart beat.

1963 autumn

18 May 2006



for DS

This brilliant image
in the tiny square
of a video screen
hovering before
my beet-red face.
This calming warmth.
This tender question
raked through my wiry hair.
This precise outrage
of ingenious surprises.
You walk forward,
your sonic beauty
cutting through an
auction of flames.
The man onstage
puts his perfect viola
to his chin,
and I cram catastrophe
into the farthest corner
of the universe. Affection
is a street named after you.
I dream of being a breeze
through your window.

17-18 May 2006

17 May 2006

Going to See the Stones

Perhaps it was just a couple of days after Mother's Day, but the Jewish cemetery up at Keele & Wilson seemed to have more stones than ever crowning the headstones. Staring across the rows, most of the headstones were adorned with what seemed to be bouquets of often colourful pebbles, stones, and large rocks. My Uncle Sol's headstone had only a couple small rocks on it, and I felt immediately guilty for not bringing him one.

My brother Owen's headstone had about a dozen stones. That amazes me. Who are these people, these friends of my brothers, perhaps children he coached in his decade volunteering with the local little leagues. I have no contact with my brother's friends, but they come to the cemetery and they think about him. They remember him, and likely have more memories than I do. In the drizzling rain, I stood at the foot of Owen's grave and spoke to him aloud. It wasn't my usual perfunctory wishes and regrets, but a long talk about our life together, about his life, about the peace I hope he's having. I placed on of the stones from the beach at New Denver on his headstone.

At my parents joint headstone, I stood for about a half hour. There were always glad to get a longer visit, so I obliged them. Talking with them is both enormously sad but also, sometimes, incredibly cathartic. I caught them up on what's happening, about their niece's wedding the other week, about my hopes, my memories, I asked for their forgiveness, I asked for their guidance, and I hope that sometime they were now in each other's arms. I put two stones from the Slocan Lake beach on their headstones.

I believe neither in god nor an afterlife. So what's the meaning of talking to those who have died, of asking for their help, of hoping that they are comfortable now? I talked later in the day with Tom Walmsley, who is, surprisingly, a pretty religious guy. He said it made sense that I would talk to my dead parents, that I might ask them for guidance. I admitted that on some level I hoped that during my sleep they might come to me in a dream and have wise things to say.

Again, I noticed something in that cemetery I don't believe I'd ever noticed before. Whereas most people place fist-sized rocks on the headstones, a few people were hoisting cantaloupe-size or even water-melon-size rocks onto the bevelled tops of their loved-ones' headstones. Was this a status thing? Or the feeling that the intensity of one's love for their deceased is commensurate with the size of the stone offered?

In front of my brother's headstone, as I've likely mentioned before, is a blue baseball hat from the team he coached. One of his little-league players placed it there, on the grave's marker before there was even a headstone, and still it is there. It's beginning to look like mulch, though; the last six years has done this do it. I have one clean, new cap at home from Owen's league, and I'm waiting for the right moment to replace it. Maybe I'll even gather those friends together, those friends who bring rocks, and make some kind of ceremony out of it. That would be a nice thing to do.

Over and out.

12 May 2006

Reading hat trick

Did my third reading of the week last night at the Toronto WordStage series, at Cervejeria on College Street. It's a relatively new series, but it draws a big crowd, though last night's rain and perhaps some lit-crap overload kept the audience a little smaller than usual.

This series presents three "established" writers, preceded by a student or emerging writer. The night was kicked off with a reading of poetry and theatre monologues by Alison Chung. I was a little too anxious about figuring out what I was going to read (I was next in the lineup) to pay enough attention. A bad habit I have of not deciding what to read until I'm at the venue and see the audience and feel the space and the mood. But Alison took on some heavy issues in her reading, and delivered them with passion.

I was up next, and Luciano Iacobelli gave me one of the weirdest intros I've ever gotten, but it was pretty neat. He talked about my street-selling days, so as I walked to the stage, I jettisoned my plans and started off with an essay from Confessions about that decade I spent on Yonge Street selling my chapbooks. It was fun to read that aloud; brought me back to those much-missed days (I mean, I miss them, but I'm not going back out there!). I followed up with mainly new poems, some of which I'd never read before, a very short story, and finally my lovelorn letter to Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. I got a great response from a very attentive audience (no chair-scraping 8-year-olds this time), and ended up selling about 8 books, which is a pretty good take.

Next onstage was Afua Cooper, who read some very long poems steeped in black North American history about which I knew very little, and some of which I'd really like to get up to speed on. She's an amazing performer, and though her words are simple and direct, her ideas are complex. It was great to hear her read.

While she was reading, though, Chris Dewdney plunked himself down beside me. Commenting on the enthusiastic applause Afua was getting after each poem, he whispered, "How can I follow this?" I assured him that he'd be soothing, that we'd all need some soothing after Afua's energized and sometimes angry set. Chris read better than I'd ever seen him before: a lot of lyric poems, monkey poems, sci-fi poems. Obviously not the Chris Dewdney of The Paleozoic Geology of London Ontario, but thankfully not the Demon Pond Dewdney. There was something of hearing the master read, as when David Gilmour read at this same series a couple months back.

Nice to share a table with Dana (who helped fold my poetry leaflets while I was deciding what to read) and with Camille Martin and Lynn McClory. Camille had read at the Art Bar Tuesday night with George Bowering, and if I hadn't been in St. Catherines, I'd'a been at that.

The afterparty at Luc's was real nice. I didn't realize, somehow, that he was a painter, though I suspect lots of his paintings grace the covers of LyricalMyrical books. I sure liked a lot of what was on his walls. Not a bad book collection, either. Camille and I examined the poetry pretty carefully.

And then, a nice long walk home in the gentle rain and cool air.

Over and out.

11 May 2006

Two readings: two rowdy audiences


Monday night, Emily Schultz and I climbed into my little Honda Civic and drove to St. Catharines to read in the Grey Borders Reading Series, organized by Jordan Fry. I read in this series a couple years ago, and it was a chaotic affair, though I enjoyed it. Since, I've heard several bad reports of others reading to tiny audiences and feeling they'd wasted their time. It's quite a hike from Toronto, after all.

The readings take place in a wide-open pub, The Merchant Ale House, and it's one of those situations where there are lots of people in the venue who didn't come for the reading, and so they talk, loudly, throughout. The readers stand up on a little stage between two gargantuan beer vats, which is sorta cool. Emily and I were joined by Alexandra Leggat, in from nearby Niagara Falls, and a local poet named Terry, whose last name, I'm sorry, I forget.

Terry was mad and frenetic in his introductions: sort of like a focussed John Barlow, but with rock-star hair. His poems, though, were far more conventional, and quietly delivered. I enjoyed the reading, but the noise from the riff-raff, and from the street, was really distracting. I wandered up closer to the stage for Alexandra's reading: hadn't heard her read in ages, and I was out of town when she read at the Fictitious series. It was neat: she read a piece from each of her books (one poetry, and two fiction), plus a new story. It was the best reading I'd seen her give, though she apparently had a sore throat. She came down from the stage and told me it was a difficult crowd. Might have seemed that way from up there, but from the audience, if you could concentrate amid the din, yeah, it was a good reading. I even really liked the poem she chose, though I hadn't been a fan of her poetry in the past.

Emily was up next, to read from her new novel, Joyland, out from ECW in hardcover (!!!). She's become a pretty masterful reader, and the book sounds good. I have a copy, and I look forward to digging into it soon. Anyway, Emily too was up against the rowdy masses, and you had to be pretty close to hear that reading. So when it was my turn to read, I put my mouth close to the mic and I basically bellowed for 15 minutes. That seemed to generally shut them up, and perhaps starting off with something aggressive -- my advice to young writers entitled "Shut Up Already!" from Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer -- helped somewhat. I read my Heidi Fleiss letter, and then a heap of new poems, including a few I'd never read aloud before. Yeah, I went for laughs a lot, but I ended with a pretty sombre and sobre long prose poem called "Ermine and Pearls," so I could feel better about myself.

We each sold several books, which was pretty good. I reckon there were about 15 or so university students there for the readings. People were pretty nice. Jordan is a funny guy: he used to write some pretty stinky poems, but when he opened Tuesday evening with a couple of his own, I could see he was going in interesting directions. He had one of his Grey Borders editors handing out Hawaiian leis to everyone in the bar, and there were endless dumb jokes about "getting lei'd." Oy. I mean, geez. But the guy is doing this reading-organizing thing, and probably fairly thanklessly, and I was very happy to read in his series. The commute-chats with Emily were pretty neat, too!


I'd been a little anxious about Wednesday's reading for a while, because I was reading to the youngest audience I'd ever encountered: I was told they'd be 8 to 15 years old, but it turned out none of them were likely over 12. This was at Flemingdon Park Library, where Lillian Necakov, a dear friend for 25 years, an amazing surrealist poet, and the library branch head, organizes a weekly book club for the local kids. I prepared by working up a few "kids' poems," including a kiddified version of my old poem "Stubborn Furniture." Some of the kids were noisy, disruptive, rude, chair-scraping, while others were really interested and attentive and eager to participate. But it was really cool that they were there, up in that auditorium, for a literary event. I talked a little about my pre-teen beginnings as a writer, and getting published as a teenager, and I read a few of my poems.

What was neat was that they were eager to talk about each of the poems after I read them. And it was sort of fun to ask them in advance if they understood certain words. We would get into these great discussions of definitions of words like "stray" and "stubborn." And when I showed them my Robots At Night chapbook, I asked them what they thought robots did at night: "They destroy things!" "They talk like aliens!" "They recharge themselves!" It was neat. We then wrote a collaborative poem, one word at a time, and it turned out pretty well. And then those who wanted to came up and recited some of their stuff, and then there was a brief Q&A.

The rowdiness was a challenge all through, and while I found the hour exhausting and exhilarating, I realized Lillian had to deal with these energy-exploding kids for several hours every day. Wow. Overall, it was a great experience. And great to see Lillian again, whose books you should try to find. (There's a good selection of her work in my anthology Surreal Estate.)

Two readings.

Two rowdy audiences.

Tonight: likely a much less challenging audience for the Toronto Wordstage Series at Cervejeria.


I run a very modest listserv called Smallpressers, if anyone's interested. You can join up via Yahoogroups. It's rarely active, but it has a lot of potential, and it's a good place to post info on upcoming events or announce the publication of a chapbook or whatever. You're all cordially invited to join.

Over and out.

08 May 2006

I'm reading in St. Catharines & Toronto this week! (And a kids' reading too!)

Haven't done readings in the neighbourhood in a while, but this week I have three:

Tuesday, May 9, 7:30 pm

Featuring Alexandra Leggat, Emily Schultz & Stuart Ross
at The Merchant Ale House,
98 St. Paul St., St. Catharines

I'll be reading some poetry, a rant or two, and maybe a little bitta fiction. Beware: there's an open mic!

Wednesday, May 10, 4 pm

This one's for kids 8-15!

I've written some actual kids' poems for the occasion. And I think I'll read a few of my poems from The Thing in Exile, a book of poems by Steven Feldman, Mark Laba, and me that was published when we were 16 years old. Watch out, Dennis Lee!

Featuring Stuart Ross
at Flemington Park Library,
29 St. Dennis Dr., Toronto

Thursday, May 11, 8 pm

Featuring Afua Cooper, Christopher Dewdney, Alison Chung & Stuart Ross
at Cervejeria,
842 College St., Toronto

Who knows what I'll be reading? Do you know? I probably haven't written it yet.

I hope to see you at one of these events!

Over and out.

07 May 2006

The Day the Small Press Scene Died

Some horrible stuff seems to have gone down in the Toronto small press community while I was in New Denver. I've just been catching fragments of it. It was only over the past week, as I got wind of the Horrible Fracture, that I've been able to piece things together, at least a bit.

Anyways, it really saddens me. Because I really care a lot about many of the people involved, including the asshole, the misogynistically mocked, and the publisher.

Maybe because of my history with the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, I've always had such a positive community vision of the local small press scene. But that image is being eclipsed by something really ugly that's festering and bubbling over in the blog and listserv world. And live, as well.

I most likely can't make the fair this spring, for only my second time ever. And maybe it's a good time to be taking a break.

I hope everyone involved gets therapy. And realizes what a horrible waste of creative energy hatred is.

Over and out.

In Toronto, a wedding

On the plane back to Toronto last Saturday, the guy in the seat beside me, from Terrace, BC, popped his eyes at the GTA's midnight lights, spreading forever in every direction. "That's not all Toronto, is it? It can't be." I told him it was.

A nice reunion with Dana, and then on Sunday we got ready for my cousin's wedding. Well, my cousin's daughter's wedding. Melissa and Brian, at a synagogue up in North York. I was surprised by the organ accompaniment to the cantor's brilliant wailing; I don't think I'd ever seen that before: it's usually a capella, isn't it? But I do love Jewish wedding ceremonies. In the chapel, I began to be aware of the absence of the Ross family. My brother, the only other living Ross in the immediate family, made up some feeble excuse and didn't come. I don't know why exactly he didn't, but I found it very sad that he didn't feel part of the extended family.

At the dinner that followed the ceremony, Dana and I were seated at a table with half the millionaire contingent of the extended family (the other half was at the next table). They're a neat and eclectic bunch, with some of my favourite relatives among them. There are three generations of them now that Nirah has a baby. And there are four generations of the other branch of the family, including my sole aunt, Edith, who was amazingly present, given her health. Only my branch consists of only one generation. During the speeches, I thought how happy this event would have made my parents. Carla and Marshall, the bride's mother, are wonderful people and my parents loved them so much. After my mom died, they really looked after my dad, looked out for him. I know Dana was aware of exactly what I was feeling at that wedding.

But looking at the two other, bigger branches of my extended family, I had this sense that I had traded all that for being a writer. I know one thing doesn't truly follow the other, but it's often how I feel. I guess, though, that if either of my brothers had had families, things would be very different. But we were the three Ross boys with no families. For whatever reason.

Dana and I danced to a couple of songs, and Dana good-humouredly put up with my incredible self-consciousness and awkwardness on the dance floor. Man, I sure can't dance! And I hope those video cameras didn't catch me stumbling about to "Wonderful World" or "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" or whatever songs we were dancing to.

Later, after a brief visit to the exotic and gob-stopping excesses of the sweet table, Dana and I sat down and chatted for a while, over jelly beans and crepes, with an exhausted but beaming Carla and Marshall. And then we went home.

Over and out and mazel tov.

06 May 2006

Just say "Weezie's"!

My last few days in the Kootenays were the relaxing ones. Plus, lots of incredible borscht -- I'd picked up a gallon of it (literally) at Weezie's Borscht Hut as I passed through Castlegar on my way back to New Denver from Kimberley. Linda Crosfield introduced me to Weezie's during my autumn 2005 trip, and man, it was good to taste that Doukhobor specialty again.

Progress on my novel ground to a halt as I lay in a hammock in front of Slocan Lake. Suddenly, it looked both unfinishable and terrible to me. I was going to put it in the wood stove, but I guess I'll just see if it can grab me by the throat again sometime in the future. Once I thought that novel was so close to completion; now I just don't know about it.

Great paddle with Terry in her two-person kayak one sunny afternoon. We headed towards the middle of the lake (where the depth is 200 feet!), when Terry said, "I think Tess is following us." Tess the dog had been running along the shore, charting out progress, but I looked and she was no longer there. "Can't you hear her?" Terry asked. I listened. I listened hard. I heard the river flowing by the foot of the glacier; I heard a few birds; I heard the lake water splishing a little; I heard the wind.

I peered out into the lake behind us, and finally I focussed on what looked like a black rat water-skiing along the surface. It was Tess's snout. She was heading out to meet us. Would she get all excited and jump onto the kayak and tip us? Terry assured me that Tess knew better. And sure enough, she did. Tess reached the boat, and guided us towards the shore, figuring we'd gotten ourselves lost out there! She was panting and paddling, and I figured she'd collapsed exhausted when she reached the shore again, but she just hopped up on to the rocks, shook herself, and began running along the path again as we all headed home.

A final dinner at the Wild Rose Cafe, in nearby Rosebery, with Terry, her daughter Kate, and Kate's friend Eva. Perhaps the best Mexican food I've ever had: a spectacular burrito made with spiced tofu! Far as I can tell, the Wild Rose is the only business in Rosebery aside from the logging thingie at the lake.

Back in the cabin, I was sorta sad that it was too warm to light a fire on my final night. But the smell of the wood stove lingered from previous days. Comforting. Even now, back home, I miss that smell. It's New Denver, and it's Nicaragua.

Saturday morning, had a great final chat with Terry and then hit the road. I really, really, really hope I get back to the Kootenays. It's so great, too, that my poetry has connected me with people as fine as Terry. That my poetry has created friends for me. And that my poetry has brought me to the best borscht on earth -- I had another bowl of the stuff at the Pie in the Sky restaurant at Castlegar Airport. Almost as good as Weezie's. Almost.

Over and out.