29 January 2007

Attempts & consolations

Dateline Thursday: Met with Kate to discuss revival of Fictitious Reading Series. We brought our wish lists. We are now seeking our prey. Nice to visit after so long. In the evening, met with Jenn LoveGrove for beers at Las Iguanas: again, nice visit after a long time: discussion of why the hell we can't finish our respective novels.

Dateline Friday: Attempted trip to Buffalo to see Kenward Elmslie and Ron Padgett read at the Albright Knox to celebrate the Joe Brainard exhibition at the university gallery. Left just before rush hour, but just as the snow hit Toronto. It really didn't seem like all that much snow. Took Lakeshore past the Ford plant, then hit the QEW where I managed 10 kilometres in an hour. By almost 7, I had spent three hours on the road and hadn't even reached the turnoff for Hamilton. Headed back to Toronto, despondent.

Dateline Saturday: Dana and I headed out to see Fred Spek's band Camp Combo at the Gladstone. Seems a pipe burst in the Melody Room and all was cancelled. We headed over to Mitzi's Sister for beer and falafels instead, which was an excellent consolation. Bumped into Stu Berman there and exchanged Stu-like pleasantries.

Further consolations: will attempt Buffalo trip soon to see Brainard show, visit Albright Knox, and go broke at Talking Leaves, and will attempt New York trip in April to see Elmslie read at the Bowery.

Over and out.

25 January 2007

Wait for me!

The shelves are finished. My poetry is now single-layer, with all books visible. Though I know there are still more book in various nooks and crannies and boxes in my apartment. There are now empty shelves elsewhere to be filled and to be figured out. And I realized that although I have a filing cabinet, I do not have a drawer for my current writing projects. Given that I'm a writer, that's pretty stupid. It sure does feel library-like in my living room now. I like it.

Wanted to go to the Hugh Thomas reading at Test last night, but my noggin was throbbin'. Did make it to Mark Truscott's reading the night before at Oakham House at Ryerson. A few people did short sets before Mark took the invisible podium. I didn't catch the first reader, but I caught the final (long) poem by Jordan Scott. It was excellent: played with language but had real human elements to it, too. Angela Rawlings read some new stuff: one was a piece that centred on pronouns, sort of R.D. Laingy. I was aching for some narrative on Tuesday — I bought a book of poetry by Marty Gervais at This Ain't the quench that, in fact — and the narrative seemed to lie in Angela's intonation.

That series is a funny thing, because the room is packed with students taking notes. I'm not sure if readers are prepped to be explanatory, but everyone seemed to do a lot of explaining. Especially the main event. Mark read some stuff from Said Like Reeds or Things, plus some older poems that were eventually distilled into the SLRoT content, and some newer poems. I'm intrigued by his work: its brevity, its precision, its fascination with bad grammar. He's also very funny. But the poems themselves seemed to sometimes get lost between the explanations. I would have preferred one of two things: a) if Mark read all his poems twice, à la Simon Pettet or Marshall Hyrciuk, though Mark's a modest fellow and that might have felt pretentious for him, or self-important; or b) if Mark showed his poems silently on a screen via overhead projector, and allowed us to see them on the field of a page, read them silently to ourselves, mull them over a bit — this would have provided a nice contrast to the verbal explanations. I think his poems really grow in silence.

Side note on the Marty Gervais book, Wait for Me. I've read about half of it now. I like the straightforwardness of it, I like much of the humour. Those poems could have been written in the 1970s as easily as now, but that didn't bother me. It felt really relaxing to read very literal narrative poems. His stuff brings to mind the poetry of Michael Dennis, though Michael gets a little edgier sometimes.

In other news, some things finished:

• the Ron Padgett book of collaborations that I'm publishing: ready to go to press
• my poetry manuscript for I Cut My Finger: fired it off to Brian at Anvil yesterday afternoon
• the literary section for the March/April issue of This Magazine: poems by Paul Vermeersch and Gary Barwin, and a short story by Maria Smythe, of Calgary

The McFadden Selected is coming down the home stretch. It has been a huge task, both for me and for David. Going to be a beautiful book. The young bucks would do well to read some Dave if they're not already doing that.

Over and out.

19 January 2007

I sell sea shelves

My brother Barry, who I hadn't seen in many months, has been at my place this week building a wall of shelves in my living room, from floor to ceiling. I'm very excited about the prospect of putting my poetry books in a single layer, so I can see what I have and alphabetize. Already I've shifted heaps of books and DVDs onto the shelves he's completed. It's allowed me to sift through my fiction: I've already found half a dozen duplicates. I can't believe I buy books over and over.

It was my excellent friend the poet Michael Dennis who has been urging me to install these shelves. In the beautiful little Ottawa home he shares with his wife, Kirsty, he has a tiny study lined with shelves on four walls. An amazing poetry collection fills all the shelves. I can't do four walls now, but maybe someday....

Dana says the extra storage space will be life-changing for me. It's really going to help declutter, and help clarify, and help organize. Making that a better room to write in. Plus, I'll be able to access any poetry book in seconds.

So far, the most fun part has been to organize some of my collections on the new shelves: Samuel Beckett, Mervyn Peake, B.S. Johnson, Patricia Highsmith, Davis Grubb. I feel like I'm going to read more and watch CNN less. That would make me a better writer and a happier biped.

Friday, Barry puts in the remaining shelves, the ones that will hold my poetry books. Will I keep all my New York Poets in their own section or file them alphabetically among the other poets?

O cruel dilemma.

Over and out.

15 January 2007

Guilty pleasures #1 & #2

I couldn't live without my phone
But you don't even have a home

Nobody sees him coming
Nobody sees him go

06 January 2007

Vivian Girls on the Run

While assembling a more final version of forthcoming poetry book, I decided to include several poems I'd written in workshops I've led over the past year or so: poems written while the group read long works by John Ashbery aloud.

So I got to thinking about Ashbery and then I noticed a DVD on my floor: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger, an amazing documentary by Jessica Yu that Dana and I watched over the holidays, in the glow of Dana's electric menorah.

Ashbery based his exhilirating book-length poem Girls on the Run on the works of Darger, and the FSG edition of the book features a typical Darger painting on the cover. Darger got his images from all sorts of sources, including colouring books, kids' primers, comic strips, newspaper clippings, etc. And he put penises on his little girls. His most famous little girls were the Vivian Girls, about whom he wrote a 15,000-page novel (honestly) over the course of about 60 years.

Somehow the correlation between Ashbery's methods and Darger's methods hadn't clicked for me. Perhaps because I'm so goddamn dense. But Ashbery, too, often constructs his poems grabbing words and lines from other poets and other sources. Now, Ashbery's no outsider like Darger, but there is something similar in the results of what they do: for example, the fact that their works often seem simultaneously very current and from another era.

And as I write this, I think of another doc we've seen recently: The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Jeff Feuerzeig's bittersweet celebration of the outsider singer/songwriter. Johnston's garage studio looks a bit like Darger's one-room apartment: absolutely cluttered with evidence of obsessive work. And Johnston's art often borrowed from other pop-culture sources.

Perhaps John Ashbery and Daniel Johnston should collaborate on something.

Required listening: Firehose's version of Johnston's "Walking the Cow," with vocals by Mike Watt.

I was introduced to Watt and Firehose by my dear friend Joe Grengs. Good lord, it's been so long since I've written to Joe. I once wrote a long poem for him: "Say Fway Luh Looz." I have copies of a chapbook version I did of it. If you want one, let me know.

Over and out.

05 January 2007


It's already clear that this is the year of.

04 January 2007

A coupla workshops I'm running shortly

I am offering two workshops early this year at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, 483 Church Street, in Toronto. There's More to Memoir than Truth is an expanded repeat of a very successful workshop I first offered in the fall. Get Your Hands on My Poem! is the first all-critiquing workshop I've led.

To register, call 416-929-9912. Prepayment is required.

There’s More to Memoir than Truth

Saturday, March 3, 10am-5pm (w/ 45-minute lunch break)
$75 includes materials & light snacks
Limited to 14 participants

This awesome workshop returns for a second round! Explore the forms and possibilities of memoir with acclaimed writer Stuart Ross. In this fast-moving (but relaxed!), hands-on workshop for writers both beginning and advanced, we’ll look at memoir through fiction, poetry, the postcard essay, and other forms. We’ll also tap into secrets, lies, and dreams, and compare your voice to that of a potato chip. Bring along your sense of adventure for this session.

Get Your Hands on My Poem! A Critiquing Workshop

Thursdays, February 15 & 22, March 1, 8, 15 & 22, 7-9pm
$145 ($20 discount until January 20)
Limited to 10 participants

Stuart Ross, who is wary of critiquing workshops, leads a critiquing workshop. These sessions offer poets experience in honing, shaping, and self-editing their work, as well as the valuable opportunity to witness how their work is read by others. Participants will also be exposed to a broad range of styles, forms, and approaches. Each session includes a quick writing project, plus readings from relevant international poets. This workshop is suitable for those who have already produced a heap of poems.

02 January 2007


Razovsky waded through the water, through reeds and bobbing plastic burger containers. Scum swam around his thighs, regrouping behind him, laughing. O scum! Televisions splashed in the rocks near the shore; a man waving a megaphone filled all the screens. Above him, a sun of yellow construction paper fluttered behind some clouds, coughed like a grandfather, fell asleep on the couch. An invisible marching band followed along at the banks, playing the anthem of each shtetl he passed. Razovsky had these eyebrows that crashed against his eyes. He cracked his knuckles and lapped at his lips. Razovsky pushed against the wind, as loose book pages flapped past his face: Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Hebrew, English, German. He'd been walking this river since before he was born and today he'd step out and see his own feet and feel the ground beneath them, sometimes solid, sometimes giving, and he'd walk up to a shack and pass through a door and sit down to eat dinner and he'd look at each face at the table, and each would have a nose in the middle, and he too would have a nose: everyone would have a nose and each nose two nostrils — so many nostrils! — and he would begin to tell everyone about his years in the river, and the shimmer of the moon would pour from his mouth.

Stuart Ross, 1 January 2007