30 July 2007

Them's wild strawberries

Goodbye, Ingmar.

Over and out.

28 July 2007

Greetings from Ashbery Park

Four of us convened at Clinton's Tavern (standing in for the Cedar Tavern) today to celebrate the 80th birthday of John Ashbery. We read some of his poems and some of his prose, and we wondered if he chortled while he wrote. I showed off a copy of Issue #1 of Locus Solus.

Those present: me, Carl Wilson (the convener), Paul Vermeersch, Erik Rutherford.

Happy birthday, John Ashbery.

Over and out.

26 July 2007

Apply directly to the forehead

Had a good time on the radio Tuesday. Fun to read a chunk of my novel-in-progress and play a Ben Walker musical setting of my poem "Hospitality." When Jen offered to give out a free copy I'd brought of Surreal Estate, a whole heap of people phoned in. That was refreshing.


It's been a very social week. A while since I've had one of those.


Today I went to Eliot's Bookshop on Yonge Street, my favourite used bookstore in the city. Picked up a few things, including One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, by Kenneth Rexroth, a book I've seen around for decades but never picked up. Walmsley's been writing heaps of haikus, scores of them, and reading tons of Chinese and Japanese poetry. So my interest is piqued. The Rexroth poems are calm and straightforward. I'm liking them.


Waterboard the Bush administration.


Off to Ottawa in a couple of weeks to appear a the Ottawa Folk Festival and spend a week squirrelled patchily away in a friend's apartment, finishing my novel. Also going to do a couple of mini Poetry Boot Camps while I'm there.


Just been invited to WordFest in Banff/Calgary this October. I suspect the Globe review had some part in that. I had a good time when I was there a few years back: looking forward to returning.


Here's a little bit from pages 16-17 of Kenneth Gangemi's incredible novel Olt: "Robert Olt entered the park and paused to look into a baby carriage. He saw a sleeping baby lying on top of a woman lying on top of an old woman lying on top of a half-decayed corpse on top of a brown skeleton on a great number of white skeletons, gradually crumbling into a column of white dust."


Apply directly to the forehead.

Over and out.

23 July 2007

On the radio, July 24 at 2 pm, ckln.fm

I'm appearing on "In Other Words" tomorrow, July 24, at 2 pm Toronto time. Locally, you can tune in at 88.1 FM. Non-locally, you can listen live at ckln.fm.

Jennifer LoveGrove will be interviewing me about my new book and my various activities and gripes. I'll be reading from recent poetry, fiction, and Hunkamooga columns. I'll also play a demo by Ben Walker from his CD of songs based on my poems. And I'll play some other music, too.

And we'll give away a book or two to folks who correctly answer skill-testing questions.

And that's that.

Over and out.

19 July 2007

Fugue you

Hatred is gettin' me down. I haven't the energy for it.

But here's this.

Over and out.

Happy yesterday to me.

Yesterday I turned 48. That sounds like an awfully big number. Dana took me Jean's Vegetarian Kitchen on the Danforth for an amazing Thai birthday meal. At the next table, though, some yoga woman was discussing gastrointestinal activity with her friend. Nice dinner talk.

Dana and I headed to the Annex afterwards and we wandered and she bought me a birthday book about the Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit." I had no idea that song had caused such commotion. Somewhere, on vinyl, I have a beautiful version by a Canadian (?) singer named Stan Campbell. Whatever happened to Stan Campbell? But best is a live version by Billie, her voice craggy with smoke and self-disregard, tired but quietly, resignedly passionate.

Earlier in the day, I went up to the cemetery to visit Mom, Dad, Owen, and my aunt Edith and uncle Sol. Hey, they're starting to outnumber us! How many people go to their parents' graves and ask for a bit of advice when, while their parents were alive, they never took any of that advice? Today I was reading a bit of C. S. Lewis's book A Grief Observed, which my friend Mary gave me. Lewis writes, "Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but you have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief." The book's got a few laughs, too.

* * *

A short video by Dana is included in Sales Performance, a great installation of video works at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, at 401 Richmond. Other fine pieces are by Andy Paterson, RM Vaughan, and Tanya Mars. I think there are 10 or 12 altogether. It's on till the end of the month, and it's way more interesting — and certainly more fun — than the thing that's on in the gallery's mainspace.

* * *

In a couple weeks, I'll head off to Ottawa for about 10 days. I've been invited to read and jam at the Ottawa Folk Festival, which will be amazing. But my pal Michael has arranged a place for me to stay for a week, so I'm going to finally finish my goddamn albatross of a stinkin' novel. Actually, I really like the novel, but it's been no end of trouble. When I declared it finished, it'll be arbitrary; I think that's what unsettles me.

I've been getting more response about George Murray's review of I Cut My Finger in the Globe than I have about the book itself. Or so it seems. George wrote therein that I am "Now considered to be Canada's foremost writer of the surreal" — and people believe it! It's amazing how that kind of sweeping remark, published in a newspaper, commands such respect. I mean, I'm not knocking the thing of being reviewed in a daily newspaper, but it's such an odd experience. And what I appreciated most was George's thoughtful commentary on my work itself.

Anyways, I've recently bought up from my publishers, dirt-cheap, large quantities of some of my earlier books. I've been mailing them off to people who show interest in my work. It's fun to spread them around and know that they're going to be in appreciative hands. Better than having them sit in a warehouse somewhere, or cower beneath my bed.

Over and out.

16 July 2007

America, the beautifquexisityxitytsiknvewxixlowd

The mainstream media in the U.S. has been so lapdoggy to the White House, and so Americans almost never see images of pain, death, and suffering in Iraq. So the photo accompanying this article on HuffingtonPost.com was sort of startling. It's not particularly graphic, but the look of pain in that man's face, and in the contortions of his body, is so striking. Imagine that — and worse — happening hundreds of times a day across Iraq. Imagine what would happen if Americans got to see such images — the jolly results of their awesome occupation — on front pages and on breakfast TV every day.

Still, when they talk about casualties down there — in discussions of whether the "coalition" troops should pull out — they talk almost exclusively about U.S. casualties. I can't recall the last time I saw an politician of either party seem particularly upset about Iraq deaths and casualties. Just about how "heroic" their troops are. Here's an AP wire story that didn't get picked up much by the mainstream media: about how beating Iraqis, even innocent ones, becomes routine for U.S. soldiers.

Just finished reading Interventions, by Noam Chomsky. It's a collection of brilliant, concise op-ed pieces that he's been writing since 9/11. While these pieces were frequently picked up by European news outlets, they almost never appeared in U.S. papers, and certainly not "papers of record." It's a whole other point of view that just doesn't get heard widely in the U.S. And there's nothing particularly radical about it: it's just common sense.

Over and out.

14 July 2007

Uncle Stu gets reviewed

Michael Dennis called this morning at an ungodly hour to tell me my new book had been reviewed in the Globe. When a book of poetry comes out, the most likely result is resounding silence, except maybe for when you do readings, or when a friend or other acquaintance comes up and says something to you about it. Other than that, you wait over the course of the next few years for your $500 or so in total royalties to trickle in, usually late, from a publisher who's probably flailing to stay afloat but who means well.

So I'm grateful for this attention. And moved that George quoted the lines that are for me perhaps the most personally important in the book. I'm not sure about this "Uncle Stu" business, though.

For this trio, vive la différence!


July 14, 2007

TIME'S COVENANT: Selected Poems By Eric Ormsby
Biblioasis, 288 pages, $28.95

I CUT MY FINGER By Stuart Ross
Anvil, 104 pages, $15

TORCH RIVER By Elizabeth Philips
Brick, 120 pages, $18

We live in a world of borders separating "us" from "them," and these borders grow wider and more razor-wired every day, forming narrow nations unto themselves, in which difference is treated with suspicion and paperwork. Yet, within the multinational union of poetry, there's no reason three very different books by three very different poets cannot find themselves shelved together, even on one very opinionated reader's shelf.


Torontonian Stuart Ross's I Cut My Finger is his first full-length poetry collection since his brilliant book of selected poems, Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Ross has risen to national prominence over the last decade after many years of street-level activism in the Ontario small-press scene, hawking his (and others') earliest works with a sandwich board hung around his neck. Now considered to be Canada's foremost writer of the surreal, Ross is enjoying some much-deserved recognition and has taken his place as one of the cool uncles of Canadian poetry.

I Cut My Finger continues his obsession with the juxtaposition of odd images and thoughts that work in a collage-like manner to fashion narrative and meaning from apparent chaos. Absurd, surprising, topical, surreal - his new work builds on the mythic significance and brilliance of several career-long metaphors and subjects.

Besides the bizarre poodles and occasional poems to mark the New Year, Ross brings us back time and again to his most compelling narratives, around the character Razovsky, a touching composite of the poet's deceased father and the poet himself (or at least his poetic avatar). Razovsky wanders in a Dali-esque multiverse, his bafflement and glimpses of shrewd wisdom peeking from between a circus of oddities.

In Razovsky in Space, we see how Ross cooks up a poignant moment from the most unlikely ingredients. The protagonist wanders dreamlike through a dusty shop, finds himself suddenly floating in space, and then reaches the back of the shop, only to be strapped into a chair and launched back into space. In the middle of all the laughing, Ross gets us with his melancholy skewer to the heart:

In a photo album somewhere
back on earth, Razovsky stands grinning
in a field just off a single-lane road,
his black hair flickering
in a barely perceptible breeze.
His long coat, too, is black, and his arm
wraps around a woman in fur
who laughs at the camera.

We know this moment is brought to us by the poet's memory, not his imagination, and it is this oscillation that tugs us through.

Depending on taste, one could find Ross slightly aphoristic and ephemeral, but that would be due to the myopia of reading a single book. The only real risk a reader runs with Ross is not being open enough to enjoy the wild ride.


So far, the book has also been reviewed by young poet Nick Thran at poetryreviews.ca and by art-guy Brian Joseph Davis in eye, a weekly I once worked for but left in disgust (most of the offending personnel have since moved on or been turfed, but it's still a corporate entity posing as an alternative).

Anyway, I don't really know what reviews mean, except that one person took you seriously enough to write about you, positively or negatively, and that's encouraging. And maybe they mean an extra nine sales (in this case, $13.50 in royalties). But there are an awful lot of books out there that deserve attention, deserve some response in print, but never get it.

In other news, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANA!

Over and out.

13 July 2007

Editing, editoing: me with Mansfield, and I don't mean Jayne

So I'm immersed in a huge edit for ECW Press. Soon I'll be done. I was telling my shrink about it, that it's a book about wrestling, and he got very excited. "I love wrestling!" said Dr. T. "Does he talk about Whipper Billy Watson?!"

The other editing on my plate this summer is for Mansfield Press. Last fall, publisher Denis de Klerck asked if I'd be interested in putting a book through his press for fall 2007. I would solicit a manuscript and edit it. In the spring, this grew to two books for fall 2007. This was like a dream for me. I drew up a list of possible authors to invite, and Denis and I discussed the options. He preferred that I choose Toronto writers with something of a publication track record.

So this fall, Mansfield will be publishing poetry books by Lillian Necakov and Steve Venright. It's been a blast working with them so far, and I'm hoping to see the finished manuscripts by the end of the month. What's particularly exciting is that both these books are, in ways, departures for the authors. Not entire detours in style or content, but more an expansion and exploration of various directions they've been feeling out. Some of the material stems from their respective sections in my anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadians Under the Influence (The Mercury Press, 2004 — you can get copies from me at a decent price!).

I couldn't squeeze an imprint name out of Denis; maybe if this works out and he keeps me on, that might happen. For now, I guess I'm a "guest poetry editor" for Mansfield.

A while back, I'd also suggested to Joe Rosenblatt that he send a MS to Mansfield, and he did so. Denis accepted it. It's not my acquisition, but I'll be working on that one as well. An amazing year, working on books by elder writers who I consider influences and mentors: David W. McFadden, Ron Padgett, Joe Rosenblatt.

The fourth book on the Mansfield list this fall is Christopher Doda's second collection. Denis will be editing that one himself, having worked with Doda on his first book.

Somewhere amidst all this, I will get my own writing done this summer. I've got to.

Over and out.

08 July 2007

Cindy Sheehan and Matthew Zapruder!

I really love Matthew Zapruder's poetry, and his poem Canada, but Cindy Sheehan says she'll run against Nancy Pelosi if the Dems don't move to impeach Bush within two weeks!

There are great things in this world; I just have to keep reminding myself.

Over and out.

07 July 2007

bill, d.a., chemical, alfred, kootenay moolah, this

Rox writes to tell me that bill bissett has been sampled by the Chemical Brothers. It's from his recording of "Ode to d.a. levy." It's over here. And there's a nice little article from The Guardian aquí mismo. This is pretty cool. Up there with Nelson Ball gettin' the nod from Sonic Youth. Actually, Nelson getting the nod from Sonic Youth is cooler.

* * *

And, unrelatedly, this a nice little poem by a favourite of mine (who Rox would love), New Jersey poet Arthur Starr Hamilton:


Why didn't you say an inkstand
Why didn't you say all of this was for the blue sky
Why didn't you say a sheet of writing paper was for a cloud
It's from a little book of his called The Big Parade (The Best Cellar Press, 1982). Hamilton died in 2005.

* * *

I'd like to note that the Oxygen Art Centre in Nelson, B.C., sent me $45, my share of the door from that reading I did in the spring. I griped here about not getting paid when they were asking $10 at the door. It was very decent of them to fix everythin' up. Now my memories of that event can be 100 percent positive.

* * *

The new issue of This Magazine is on the stands. I'm really pleased with the Fiction & Poetry section (well, I always am, since I edit it). The summer issue features a great short story by Sarah Steinberg, a Montreal writer living at the moment in Washington, D.C., and three awesome bear poems by bear enthusiast, Patchy operative, and dear friend Dani Couture.

Over and out.

06 July 2007

Edgar Allen Pot Pourri

I am bogged down in an editing job that never seems to end. This is not a book I would normally be reading, but I do enjoy immersing myself in a realm I normally wouldn't pay attention to. This one is just so damn goofy.

Gil Adamson's launch at Type a couple weeks back was great: normally Anansi puts on these overblown, star-studded affairs, but this one was homey and friendly and Gil-like. Her novel, The Outlander, is already getting an enormous amount of attention, which it deserves (though I haven't finished reading it yet!). Don't know why the reviewers all seem so obsessed with its genre aspects.

Last week was the send-off party for Sandra and Megan, who have absconded to Scotland. A very lovely night on the back patio of Cadillac Lounge. I'm glad that Sandra did so many readings before she left, because I know she reached a whole new audience with her new book, and introduced her already-audience to very new things she's doing.

I have to finish my own goddamn novel. I think August will open up a few possibilities for that. Thinking of spending a few extra days in Ottawa to write when I go there to read at the Ottawa Folk Festival mid-month.

Tom Walmsley showed me 100 haiku he's written lately. Many of them are amazing; cumulatively they are amazing. They sound like haiku while sounding like Walmsley. I'm hoping to get a couple of pages of them into This.

There's the sense that I should be doing nothing but writing. Why can't I make that happen for myself?

Most excited about Ben Walker's project around my old poems. He's put 11 of them into song settings now, often with some radical rearranging and occasional rewriting of the lines. I love it. I've listened to the demos over and over and over. It's like new life being injected into things I wrote, in some cases, two decades ago. It's like the poems have a new home. We're talking about making a CD for this fall. This excites me more than anything about my own writing at the moment.

Spent a week obsessing about going back to school for an MFA in creative writing. It's not something I've wanted to do, but there are certain realities I have to face. Gone are the days when a writer could get hired to teach at a college or university based on his/her publishing history. And I do want to teach more. People who take my workshops want me to teach more. So I will apply for an MFA programme for fall 2008.

I said to a friend, "But I'll be 51 when I graduate!" And he said, "You'll be 51 anyways, with or without the degree."

Over and out.