31 October 2006

The Complete Works of Tennyson (have nothing to do with this post)

The Fictitious Reading last night pretty much filled the small gallery above This Ain't the Rosedale Library. The readings — by Susan Kernohan and George Ilsley — were both excellent and well-received. I'm always amazed at this series when just about everyone hangs in there for the whole evening, including for the "onstage chat" at the end. I conducted this chat and was pretty bumbling. I just couldn't form my observations into questions. But George and Susan had interesting stuff to say and were very good-humoured about my incompetence. Next month Kate will be doing the interview again. All will be well. The writers then will be John Degen and Jen LoveGrove, two poets who also write fiction.

Interesting audience thing: we have a few regulars, but mainly the specific writers draw their readers in. So it means we have a task each month getting the word out. And worrying about attendance is the one thing that is a drag for me: causes anxiety for the whole week leading up to the reading. Hopefully there will eventually be a core crowd we can depend on. Just like at most of the poetry readings in the city.


Strange things happen with blogs sometimes. The other day I put up a poem I wrote about my childhood friend Murray, who I haven't seen for a few decades. I got a note from Dana's friend Risa — seems that Murray is her brother-in-law. That is so weird. And neat, too.


Tomorrow morning I've gotta wade through rush hour to Whitby for a reading and workshop at Henry Street High School. Don't they know that 9:30 a.m. is like 6:30 a.m. poets' time? Should be fun, though — I met the teacher the other week at the WCDR Chapbook Fair and he seemed game for me to inflict all sorts of weird poetry on his students.


Last week I went to the Coach House fall fiction launch: Tanya Chapman, who wrote the novel King, did a great reading — apparently only her second ever. RM Vaughan read from a novel by Nathalie Stephens, who couldn't make it in from Chicago for the launch. And Andrée Michaud read Stephens' translation of her novel The River of Dead Trees. Sorta wish Andrée had read a bit from the original French, just so we could get a sense of the flow of the original; her English reading was a little faltering, but still effective. It's a haunting book.

The evening was nice: not as packed as the usual Coach House launch, but still a good turnout and a good feeling in the room. I shared a table with Sandra Alland, Lynn McClory, Rachel Zolf, and rotating others. Had really nice chats with Mark Truscott, who has a car in his living room, and Carl Wilson and Howard Akler. And some other people. It's so long ago now, and I'm so old and forgetful.

Over and out.

29 October 2006

Fictitious tonight, plus a busy agenda

Looking forward to tonight's Fictitious Reading. Though a little anxious about conducting the onstage chat. Eeks.

I met Vancouver writer George K. Ilsley briefly on Friday when I delivered some books to where he was staying in Parkdale. Seems like a really nice guy. His novel ManBug is great and thoughtful: the oddly told love story of Sebastian, a gay entomologist with Asperger's, and Tom, a charismatic dyslexic bisexual. Plus there's lots of bugs in it.

Also reading is Susan Kernohan, who is a Toronto writer and teen librarian who I published in a recent issue of This Magazine>. She's a really smart writer, very funny and natural, and her stories feature some great characters.

The reading takes place at 7:30 tonight (have you turned your clocks back?) at This Ain't the Rosedale Library (483 Church Street). PWYC. BYOB. Win door prizes. Details right over here.


Heaps of stuff coming up in the next month or so: four school readings and workshops, a reading for teens at Parliament Street Library on Thursday, a panel and reading at next weekend's Bookfest Windsor, a workshop on at This Ain't on November 11 called "There's More to Memoir than Fiction" (register now! 416-929-9912), a panel at the launch for the Coach House anthology State of the Arts on November 26 (and another Fictitious Reading — with John Degen and Jen LoveGrove — that same evening), the Toronto Small Press Book Fair at the Victory Cafe on Nov 11 & 12 (I'm doing a table on the second day), Going to Press at Marc Garneau Collegiate on Nov 16, and This Magazine's birthday bash at the Gladstone on November 8.

And the McFadden selection to be finalized. And my own poetry manuscript to be finalized. And a couple of rush editing jobs. And the Padgett book to get to the printer.

I think I'll go back to bed.

Over and out.

27 October 2006



Like when Murray Nightingale
brought a cow's heart to school
in a big pickle jar. His dad
owned a slaughterhouse so Murray
was always bringing parts of cows
to school. The heart was white
and the jar afloat with sediment.
In Murray's speech about the invasion
of Czechoslovakia, he said that as
the tanks rolled through the streets,
the Czechs lined the curbs
with "grims" on their faces. Or
was that Clifford Snider,
or Cy Stanway, or little Gary Weinberg?
A few years later, Mr. Joshua had us
spit into test tubes. I ask him
about the sediment on the bottom.
"That's mucus," said Mr. Joshua.
Today I find I have fewer friends
every ten minutes. They flee
my hideous crimes and what they leave behind
is that a better poet than me
would insert a really good sediment
metaphor right here. (Or, more poignantly,

27 October 2006

26 October 2006

George Ilsley and Susan Kernohan at the Fictitious Reading Series on Sunday!

Kate Sutherland and I are following up our great Fictitious Reading Series season opener with another very cool pairing of writers. These are both fantastic writers. I love their stuff.

GEORGE K. ILSLEY (Vancouver) and SUSAN KERNOHAN (Toronto)

Hosted by Kate Sutherland • Onstage chat conducted by Stuart Ross

Sunday, October 29, 7:30 PM
Upstairs at This Ain't the Rosedale Library
483 Church Street (just south of Wellesley)
Admission is PWYC
Light refreshments provided but if you want to drink, BYOB

Now featuring actual door prizes.

Please come and bring your friends! If you haven't been to a Fictitious yet, it's a really relaxed, living-room-atmosphere kinda event. With pretzels.

You'll find all the details right over here.

Heinz 57

OK, many things. Too many things. And heaps of work.


A couple Saturdays back, I did three short talks at the Writers' Circle of Durham Region's Chapbook Fair at Ajax Public Library. It was an amazing event. The kind of energy and enthusiasm that there used to be at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. Word is, when I addressed the WCDR at last February's breakfast meeting, I challenged them to all go home and make chapbooks. They listened to me.

The TSPBF could use some kind of shaking up. Actually, that's going to happen, as this fall's fair is divided into two days at the Victory Cafe, with half the presses displaying each day. November 11 and 12. Maybe the tininess of the venue will inspire a real grass-roots feeling again. It'll be interesting to see. The beer might help.


Later that Saturday night, Dana and I went to see Randy Newman solo at Convocation Hall. Dana snagged incredible seats just a few days before the show. Second row, a little to the right. Randy was magnificent, and funny as hell. And sometimes not funny as hell, as when he performed "In Germany Before the War," an incredibly haunting song inspired by Fritz Lang's M.

Apparently Bob Rae was in the audience. Carl Wilson was there. And so was Paul Quarrington. A few Little Criminals were there, from San Francisco and Pittsburg. And Seb Agnello from here in Toronto. And a young LC named Aggie, who I didn't get to meet.

Before the show I saw a familiar face in third row. I told Dana I hadn't seen this guy for 20 years. He and I looked at each other and grinned, then he wandered over. It was Kevin Pasquino, who used to be the Entertainment Editor at Excalibur during one of the many years I was a typesetter there. We had a great chat. What a neat guy. I like this thing of seeing people I haven't seen in millions of years. Or 20.

After the show, Dana and I got backstage to meet Randy. We'd met him a couple years ago in Rochester. This time I was more relaxed, and we had more time with him and a few other Little Criminals. When I introduced myself, he said, "I feel like I'm looking in a mirror, only 30 years younger." I told him I wished he'd done "ELO"; he hummed it a bit, then said he couldn't do it solo piano. I asked him if he'd ever got my poetry book (with "Poem for Randy Newman's Birthday") that I dropped off to him at the Four Seasons Hotel when he was in Toronto a couple years back. He said yeah, and that he could picture it on his shelf, but I think he was just trying to be nice.

But he is really nice. And so fucking smart. He played a couple new songs, including "In Defense of My Country," which feels a bit like a follow up to "My Country" from the Bad Love album. It's one of the most ambitious, political things I've heard by him. Brilliant. I also particularly enjoyed "My Life Is Good" and "I Miss You." Don't know why he plays "Short People" still. Carl says it's because there are people who would be very upset if he didn't play his one hit single.

Dana took some nice pics of me and Randy, but I can't find the thingie that connects my camera to my computer, so I can't post them. Yet.


The next Sunday was another Poetry Boot Camp at This Ain't the Rosedale Library. I was pretty tired, but it went pretty well. Seven Boot Campers, and some good writing came out of it. I have to be careful, though, that I don't keep evolving the workshop to follow my own interests. Gotta stay with some of the tried and true projects. Even if I've done them a million times, new and interesting stuff keeps arising from them.


Mary and I went to the Andy Warhol show at the AGO last week. It was curated by David Cronenberg. I was a little annoyed that DC referred to a trio of pieces he assigned to one wall ("Blowjob", "The Kiss," and an electric chair print) as "a triptych." As if AW had created it as such. Otherwise, it was a pretty inspiring show. My favourite thing was watching the John Ashbery screen test. In fact, I liked all the screen tests I saw. I wish they'd've had the Ron Padgett screen test there. I wonder what Ron did during his screen test.

RP's going to Poland in November. I told him two of my grandparents were from Poland (Lodz). He told me that everyone is telling him lately that they have grandparents from Poland.


I've been working like crazy, finally feeling like I'm catching up. Finished the edit for Rosalie Sharp's memoir of growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. Rosalie's really neat, and her book has a very distinct voice to it, lots of personality. I went for lunch to her sprawling home on a North York ravine. A lovely time, and she showed me some of her china collection. Reminded me of my mom, who was also a decorator and a collector of old stuff. Rosalie's husband Issy founded and runs the Four Seasons Hotels and thus the hotel that Randy Newman stayed in when he came to Toronto for his non-existent Bravo taping. ECW is doing the book, just as they once did a book about Randy Newman (by Kevin Courrier).

Had to write the catalogue copy for David McFadden's Selected this week. I put it off forever, but then enjoyed doing it. Especially enjoyed selecting a poem excerpt to accompany the blurbage. I think I mentioned in these pages that I'd forgotten to select from one of his book, Anonymity Suite. God, that book is good. I want to include just about every poem from it.

Other editing has transpired. And grant applications. Lots of those. For the new novel I've begun. It takes place in Guatemala. It's nice to revisit Guatemala in my head.


I do, really. For a long time it's felt like I'd never catch up enough with other stuff to get to my own writing in a substantial way. I think, though, that it will happen. I think it will.

I think so.

I believe it may.

Over and out.

14 October 2006

Little criminals

A week of trying to catch up with projects I've fallen behind in, and there are a lot of those.

My last day at the Ottawa International Writers' Festival was very nice and very poignant. Only caught one reading — Baba Brinkman doing his rap versions of The Canterbury Tales. I was pretty skeptical when Terry Taylor first told me about this MC Chaucer guy, but when she loaned me the CD, I was sold. So it was a nice surprise to see that he was at the Ottawa festival. His hourlong performance was funny and smart.

Met up with Kira and friends Claire and Shawn for dinner dominated by their little sons, then headed back to the hotel to do a bit of work and writing before what I thought was going to be a huge blowout in the hospitality suite. Turned out to be the quietest "last night" of the festival I've ever witnessed. Got into an intense debate with Neil about whether guilt is an emotion or a choice, and this kept a handful of us going for about four hours. I quasi-insulted rob mclennan (time was running out — I had to work quickly!) and Sean took me to task on it.

Headed to bed around 5. Had a slow, luxurious morning before hitting Elgin Street for Mags & Fags and hitting the road for Toronto. The literary-mag selection at Mags & Fags has done really downhill. A great disappointment. They used to have tons of American magazines, and som very good ones. Stumbled onto a recently opened used bookstore on Bank Street: by coincidence, the one David McFadden book they had was the one I'd misplaced and had overlooked while assembling David's Selected. Anonymity Suite, his last M&S book. So now I have it. And then further up Bank Street I picked up the new Arrogant Worms CD for the ride home.

Saturday I'm heading to Ajax for the Writers' Circle of Durham Region Chapbook Festival, which I triggered at my morning talk there last February. I'm to give three short talks on different aspects of the chapbook. It's about 12 hours away now, and I still don't know exactly what I'll be saying.

Saturday night, Dana and I go to Convocation Hall to see Randy Newman. Due to chaos on the home front, I didn't manage to get my name on the backstage list, as official Little Criminal, but we may try to squeeze our way back there. After I made an ass of myself meeting him in Rochester, redemption would be nice. Can't wait to hear his new songs.

Sunday I'm conducting a Poetry Boot Camp at This Ain't the Rosedale Library from 10 am to 5 pm. I love doing those. It's a marathon, but there's always so much great stuff that gets written. And there are still a few spaces left (but just a few) -- call 416-929-9912 to register!

Over and out.

07 October 2006

Ode to an eggplant

My second-last day in Ottawa. It's been a good stay here, exactly what I've needed.

Taking it a little easier on the social side of things this festival, mainly by being a little less present in the hospitality suite. Great visit there the other night with David O'Meara and Sara Dearing, along with Sean Wilson. Lots of other nice folks, too.

John W. MacDonald takes photos of everything that goes on at this festival. Over at his blog, he has a neat photo of me doing my "Ape Play" on Tuesday night. Explore a little further and you'll find naked pictures of jwcurry. I try to avoid those.

Thursday morning I headed over to Michael Dennis's for a visit and to finally give him his birthday present — a landscape-like photo of a hipbone by Sandra Alland and a signed copy of her first poetry book. He dragged his Radnoti collection, and books by other Eastern European poets, off the bookshelves in his study. I'm very jealous of his study. I would like to have a study someday. Then we talked about a book project we're working on, and he gave me a huge file of documentary material related to it.

Michael's new book is Arrows of Desire, which he's launching on October 19 at Venus Envy here in Ottawa. It's a book of erotic poetry, so I figured I was not going to be crazy about it. Michael's erotic poems have been the ones that have interested me least in the past, but there's something really compelling about a whole volume of them. Suddenly I could see the breadth of the subject matter, the nuances, the approaches to persona. There are a few moments where he slips somewhere close to cliché, but mainly he pulls it off. So to speak. Cover painting and some pretty hot interior lino cuts by Eliza Griffiths.

Thursday night, I sat out the Festival, though I was curious about Bill Gaston. Polar bears and Seymour Mayne didn't interested me, though the polar bears came a little closer.

Stayed in my glorious hotel room and worked on some work, and worked on my novel. Revelled in the absence of clutter.

Friday, a couple more manuscript-evaluation meetings, which went very well, some more work, and then dinner with John Lavery, at one of my favourite Ottawa restaurants, Ceylonta. Mmm, the eggplant. John says "eggplant" is one of the ugliest words in the English language, especially when compared to the French "aubergine." John does not like Ottawa restaurants, claims never to have had a good meal in one, but he enjoyed Ceylonta and even said he'd be back.

After dinner, we hurried on foot to the Library & Archives to catch a programme called Transgress: readings by Sky Gilbert, Marnie Woodrow, Matthew Firth, and Ivan E. Coyote. The place was packed and the readings were all great. Firth spewed more bile than ever before in a William Burroughsesque rumble, and Sky was at his best, masterful. Marnie read an excerpt from the same novel-in-prog she read from at the Fictitious series, and it was damn good stuff. Coyote's work was a little night, but beautifully obsessive and a real audience-pleaser.

This morning, Saturday, did some work and wrote a few more pages of my novel. Off to see some hip-hop rendition of The Canterbury Tales now.

Over and out.

05 October 2006

Ottawa Daze

Been in Ottawa since Tuesday for the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Nice drive up, listening to Bill Maher's When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden. Then a Juliana Hatfield CD and a Ben Walker CD. Never noticed the Georgie Fame sound in Ben's stuff before, at least in some of the piano-based songs.

As for the Festival, I was skeptical that anyone would show up for my solo event, "Hunkamooga's Return: Coffee-Stained Notes from the Underground." And things have been so hectic lately, I hadn't made proper time to prepare for the 40-minute reading (followed by onstage interview). Just before I left Toronto, though, I decided to kick off with "The Ape Play," so I was able to load the cardboard ape house and the whole ape cast into my trunk. Well, about 30 or 40 people turned out for the event, instead of the six I was expecting. Especially neat to see Michael Dennis there, and John Lavery, Lorraine Filyer, and Sarah Dearing. The apes went over well, then I read "I Duck for Poetry," my essay about selling my books in the streets from Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer, then a bunch of new poems, plus "Laundry" from Hey, Crumbling Balcony!. I had a huge heap of stuff to read, but I was surprised at how quickly 40 minutes was going by. I read a chapter from my unpublished novel The Snowball, which was really exciting to read aloud for the first time, and finished off with my current "Hunkamooga" column from sub-Terrain.

The Q&A came next, conducted by Stephen Brockwell, with some questions from the audience (including a couple of questions about himself by rob mclennan and some persistent questioning about my personal life from a crazy person). (mclennan and I are keeping things civil, though I'm beginning to crack. You know, he really does put a lot of energy into the poetry world, I gotta say.)

After that, signed some books, caught Daphne Marlatt reading, and spent too much time in the hospitality suite, before heading back to my own suite (larger than any apartment I've lived in!).

I missed a couple of Ottawa festivals, and it's great to be back at this one. Great, too, to see Sean and Kira and Neil and Thea, who I first met when they invited me to the first OIWF a decade ago.

Wednesday I made some time for a walk around Ottawa, a city I love, and then met with the first of my manuscript-evaluation takers, which went really really well. Headed off the Library & Archives to catch writer/artist Bernice Eisenstein do a reading (with projected visuals) from her book I Was A Child of Holocaust Survivors. Very moving, some lovely anecdotes, great drawings.

Next up I went into the big studio where poet/biographer Rosemary Sullivan read from her new book, Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille, about the risky efforts to save, from Vichy France, a couple hundred writers, philosophers, and artists, including André Breton, Benjamin Péret, Max Ernst, Walter Benjamin, and Marc Chagall. Sullivan kicked it off by screening a 15-minute film made by her husband, Juan Opitz, in France while she was researching the book. An amazing film, it gave context to the onstage interview, conducted by Charlotte Gray, that followed.

It was a really inspiring session. Made me want to do nothing but write. I mean, I was really fired up. So I went back to the hotel ... and hung out too long in the hospitality suite.

Over and out.