27 November 2007

A reading, a launch, a workshop, a headache

The Ottawa trip was quick but good. Pretty much a full house at the Dusty Owl Reading Series at Swizzles, or Twizzles, or whatever that bar was called. It's a neat place, sort of like a suburban rec room. I read a bunch of new poems, some stuff from I Cut My Finger, and a few brief chapters from my unpublished novel. I was a bit concerned there might be a sort of frat-house atmosphere to the event, but the feeling in the room was pretty good in its playfulness. My reading wasn't very playful. John Lavery said to me afterward, "You're not as entertaining as you used to be." But he also said he liked the novel excerpts a lot. A nice time, great to see a lot of friends, and to read to a heap of people I've never read to before. And the organizers, Steve and Cathy, were swell and gracious. As always, a good visit with Michael and Kirsty, and the added bonus of Sean, Kira, and Aidan.

Came home to further fall-out from my blog entry about the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. Lots more thinking to do on the topic. For now: it's clear to me that some people seem unable to distinguish between constructive criticism and personal attack. And those who hurl accusations of personal attack can themselves be the worst offenders.

But none of that got in the way of a fantastic Mansfield Press launch on Tuesday night at the Rivoli Pool Hall. The first two books I put through the press, Steve Venright's Floors of Enduring Beauty and Lillian Necakov's The Bone Broker, were unveiled, along with Christopher Doda's Aesthetics Lesson, seen through the press by Mansfield publisher/editor Denis De Klerck. The room was packed out, lots of books were sold, pool was played, and poems were read. I'm very excited about working with Denis on some of the 2008 titles.

Sunday's Poetry Boot Camp was a real success too. Last-minute registrations filled the spaces left by a couple of people who pulled out in protest of my aforementioned blog entry. I continue to be awed by the quality of work in the Boot Camps, and by the stamina and enthusiasm the participants show over the course of a seven-hour day of writing. (If you want to be on the email list for future Boot Camps and other workshops I offer, drop me a note at the email address over on the right.)

After the Boot Camp, I headed off to This Ain't the Rosedale Library, for the Fictitious Reading Series. Another good turnout, this time for Lynn Coady and Jeff Parker. Before the reading, I couldn't have thought of two more different writers. But, as so often happens at Fictitious, Lynn and Jeff wound up complementing each other: there was so much overlap. Two really, really engaging readings. And Kate did one of her best onstage interviews, especially considering that both writers threw curveballs and didn't read from the books that Kate had built her line of questioning around.

Over and out.

17 November 2007

Mansfield Launch and Poetry Boot Camp!

A couple of upcoming events in Toronto....

Late last year, Mansfield Press publisher Denis De Klerck offered to let me select and edit a couple of poetry books for his fall 2007 list. Needless to say I was very excited about the prospect, and I made a list of dream books I'd like to work on. Denis himself was concentrating on his new City Building Book imprint and on growing Mansfield's fiction list, as well as the second book of poetry by Toronto poet and critic Christopher Doda.

Well, the deed is done, and the launch is imminent, and Denis has asked me to do another two titles for fall 2008. I hope you can come to this Tuesday's release party, and listen to some poetry and play some pool and meet some neat people.


Mansfield Press celebrates the launch of fall poetry titles by Christopher Doda, Lillian Necakov and Steve Venright with a reading and billiards party!

Tuesday, November 20, from 6:30 till late.
The Rivoli Pool Hall, 334 Queen West

Readings at 7:30. Pool tables on the press till 10.
Door prizes, munchies, and cash bar.

Your host: Denis De Klerck, Mansfield publisher and editor
Your emcee: Stuart Ross, Mansfield associate editor

Your authors:

Christopher Doda - Aesthetics Lesson
Lillian Necakov - The Bone Broker
Steve Venright - Floors of Enduring Beauty

We'd love to see you there!

With his first full-length work since the acclaimed Spiral Agitator (2000), Steve Venright sails even further out onto uncharted literary waters. Floors of Enduring Beauty is laden with delirious extended prose poems, distorted philosophical musings, elaborate advice for instant gratification, a spoonerist narrative that rollicks on the high seas and other products of Venright’s ecstatic, hilarious and sometimes downright rude vision. It’s Baudelaire meets Lewis Carroll meets Monty Python—and it’s unlike anything else in Canadian literature.

In The Bone Broker, Lillian Necakov steps into the operating room of human history to take the pulse of a troubled world. This is visceral poetry that bears witness to a “landscape haunted by centuries of rage,” in which the drama of public life takes a personal toll on those who are “infected with the ceremony of war.” Necakov’s montage of startling imagery is a powerful antidote to indifference and an elegaic testament to the elements of the human condition that once made us whole.

Ranging in form from elegy to satire to metaphysics to blues, Christopher Doda’s latest book, Aesthetics Lesson, is an exciting meditation on art and power. His poems investigate the ‘unnamed cities of light’ created by the artist, reflecting and dissecting how the creative impulse can lead to both solace and destruction. Centred around the title piece, a crown of self-generating glosas that examine the role of the artist in our mechanized and digitized society, Aesthetics Lesson offers a potent landscape not easily forgotten. Love and anger, rage and compassion burst and oscillate as Doda looks to the past and future to document ‘half-lives trembling on the lip of time.’ Doda’s gift is to challenge notions of progress and change and to take an unflinching look at the curious and dangerous metamorphosis of the human spirit.


* * *


There are still a few spaces available in my November 25 Poetry Boot Camp. Email me at hunkamooga@sympatico.ca if you're interested in registering, and please pass this info on to anyone else you think might enjoy the session.

This workshop has just been recommended as a way of writing "new, interesting and original poems" by Toronto poet David Clink in his essay "The Mechanics of Creation," in Imagination in Action (The Mercury Press, 2007).

Sunday, November 25, 10 am to 5 pm (includes lunch break)
95 Wychcrest Avenue (Fred Dowling Co-op Boardroom, near Christie & Dupont)

Fee: $75 (advance registration required - please phone or email for payment options)
Includes materials and light refreshments.
Enrolment limited to 12 participants.

Poet, editor and writing instructor Stuart Ross offers an intensive one-day workshop for beginning poets, experienced poets, stalled poets, and haikuists who want to get beyond three lines. Poetry Boot Camp focuses on the pleasures of poetry and the riches that spontaneity brings, through lively directed exercises and relevant readings from the works of poets from Canada and abroad. Stuart also touches on revision, collaboration, and publication. Arrive with an open mind, and leave with a heap of new poems and writing strategies!

Stuart Ross is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including the acclaimed I Cut My Finger (Anvil, 2007) and Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (ECW, 2003). He is the editor of Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (Mercury, 2004). His other books include Confessions Of A Small Press Racketeer (Anvil, 2005) and Henry Kafka & Other Stories (Mercury, 1996). In spring 2007, DC Books will launch its new Punchy Poetry imprint with Stuart's collection Dead Cars In Managua.

Stuart has been active in the Canadian poetry scene for more than 30 years. He is the co-founder and three-time coordinator of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair and has appeared at festivals across the country, including Bookfest Windsor, the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Banff-Calgary WordFest, Vancouver Jewish Book Fair, Words in Whitby, Ashkenaz Festival of Yiddish Culture, and MayWorks.

Stuart is the Fiction & Poetry Editor for This Magazine, and associate editor for Mansfield Press. He has taught writing to adults and teens for over a decade, and was the 2005 writer in residence for the Writers' Circle of Durham Region. Visit his online home at www.hunkamooga.com.

Over and out.

16 November 2007

Reading in Ottawa at Swizzles on Sunday! And the Mercury launch and Influency

I'm very pleased to be reading in the esteemed Dusty Owl Reading Series in Ottawa

on November 18 at 5 p.m.

at Swizzles, 246B Queen Street (btwn Bank & Kent, down the stairs on the west side of the building; it all sounds very clandestine, doesn't it?)

Payment is by pass-the-hat, and please be as generous as you're able, because I need it.

I'll be reading from I Cut My Finger, a few pieces from the forthcoming Dead Cars in Managua, and perhaps a chapter from my unpublished novel, whose title you won't know unless you show up!

Afterwards, there will be an open mic, so be sure to bring your crash helmet, goggles, and a good supply of pemmican.


It's been an eventful week, this past one. The Tuesday Mercury Press launch was a lot of fun. I'm thrilled with The Closets of Time, the "anthology" that Richard Truhlar and Bev Daurio edited that includes my weird little story "The Closets of Time" (in this book, all the stories are called "The Closets of Time." I like the look of the book and the size of it. It's a neat-sized book. I do feel like an idiot, though, because at some point, Bev sent me my author bio and suggested it was out of date and would I like to send in a new one.... I think I was travelling then, and a little mentally dishevelled, and I let that slip. So, in the spirit of time travel, one can look at the author bios and see where I was at in 1996.

Other books launched that night included a pretty intriguing anthology of essays called Imagination In Action, edited by Carol Malyon. Little pieces on creativity by writer, sculptors, teachers, and others. My initial sampling showed that this is a real grab bag, whose contents range from the facile to the sublime. I was especially pleased to see a piece in there by Renee Rodin, a very honest and conflicted personal essay about her own love/hate relationship with writing. David Clink has a very neat nuts'n'bolts piece about, well, the nuts'n'bolts of his own creative process: including the exact distance between the rules on the lined paper he writes his first drafts on. It's a lot of fun. Also launched was rob mclennan's first novel, White. It's a nice-looking little book, and I think I might actually like it. I like that it's so short, for sure, because it reassures me about the brevity of my own just-finished novel.

The highlight of the evening, for me, though, was Brian Dedora's short reading from The Closets of Time. It was Brian's first reading in Toronto in 16 years. As he said, he's been very quiet — at least in the writing community — since he moved out to Vancouver, to frame in better weather and amid mountains and large bodies of water. Anyway, Brian always reminds me of a very vital time in Toronto's experimental-writing scene, the mid-80s, when Underwhich was in full swing and the Kontakte reading series was the Test of its day. (Hey, we must be so thankful for Test!). Really, that era was a continuum of 70s projects like David Young's The Story So Far anthology series from Coach House, the bravest fiction around. Anyway, Brian was a pleasure to hear reading: you immediately recognize the care and precision of his prose, the way he sounds like he's painstakingly opening up a package that might contain something painful, but might contain something wonderful. Also, he made a remark up there onstage that made me very weepy.

The next night I returned to Margaret Christakos's Influency class at University of Toronto. I was there early last month to do a talk on Karen Solie's poetry. That was a pretty tough task: I love Solie's stuff; I think she's brilliant; but I'm just no academic and I felt like a bit of a goof. But really, it went over well, and I got a good response, and Karen seemed happy with it (not that I was setting out to please her). My favourite part of the class was the second half, when Karen read. I'd never heard her read before: she was excellent.

On Wednesday night, I returned for Maggie Helwig's talk on my poetry. Through some mix-up, Maggie had received the wrong book to talk on: she had been sent a copy of Hey, Crumbling Balcony! while the class had read I Cut My Finger. Fortunately, she'd also prepared a bit on that latter book. Again, I found myself very weepy while Maggie talked on my stuff. She put a lot of emphasis on the Razovsky poems, and other poems about my family, seeing them as a turning point for me, and a central project in my poetry. I'd jokingly suggested a few weeks back that she talk about religion in my work, and she said that she'd been planning to. But I was so surprised at the context: again, her words on the Jewish content of my stuff was in relation to the Razovsky poems: the naming of things; the idea of books and words; the oblique Holocaust references.

It was a strange and excellent experience to hear someone taking my poetry seriously, giving it so much thought. More on Maggie's talk in a later post.

After a break I read, and felt I could read a lot of more difficult (especially to me) material, not a lot of laughs. Margaret really raises the bar in this class: discussion is pretty sophisticated. I knew I could read some dense shit and hold their interest. The questions that followed were really good, though a couple of them too academic for me to follow. Or maybe too smart. I continued to be moved that people would actually think about my poems in such depth. I told them so.

Margaret's planning a fourth Influency series for the spring. It's a brilliant idea, and Margaret makes the class incredibly affordable, and every student I've bumped into has raved about the experience. Look out for it.

Over and out.

12 November 2007

A couple more things published

A couple years ago, Toronto writer Richard Truhlar, an old friend, invited me to submit a chapter for a novel called Closets of Time, which was to be published by The Mercury Press. The idea, as he explained it, was that he'd invited all these varied and exciting writers to write a piece called "Closets of Time," and then he'd somehow arrange and collate them and declare it a novel.

The idea seems to have morphed into an anthology of short stories all called "Closets of Time." It includes work by a lot of people who were active in the Toronto small press scene in the 70s and 80s (and mostly continue to be): Gary Barwin, Bev Daurio, Michael Dean, Brian Dedora, Paul Dutton, Karl Jirgens, Lesley McAllister, John Riddell, Steve Ross Smith, Lola Lemire Tostevin, and Truhlar himself. It also features sci-fi/spec-fic superstars John Shirley and Lance Olsen, and a couple of writers I'm not familiar with: Melody Sumner Carnhan and Misha Nogha.

I'm very happy with my own piece in it, a bleak, post-apocalyptic tale of shopping carts run amok.

Closets of Time launches in Toronto tomorrow night at Supermarket, 268 Augusta, at 7:30 pm, along with the rest of Mercury's new output.

I've also got my usual Hunkamooga column in the just-released "student" issue of the Vancouver-based mag sub-Terrain. Actually, it's not my usual column. This one, titled "The Lost Subway Ride," is about my amazing and darling little cousin Leanne Palylyk, an eleven-year-old aspiring writer who was killed by a drunk driver in Alberta nearly twenty years ago.

Over and out.

11 November 2007

The Small Press Book Fair needs a public — and a board!

I hesitate to do this, but I'm concerned. The Toronto Small Press Book Fair is a big part of my life and I don't want to see it die.

Yeah, I had a very good time at yesterday's fair. But it would've been nice to see the big room crowded with members of the public. Because I've been around and doing this small press stuff for 30 years, and there are some people who follow my work, I did pretty well at my table. But I could have done far, far better, and met far more people. In fact, meeting new people and seeing old friends is one of the best parts of the fair.

Some context, and pardon me if you've heard this story before. I started the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in 1987, with Nicholas Power. We both had small literary presses — mine is Proper Tales; Nick's is Gesture — and we wanted to find ways of getting our publications out to a broader public. Not ways of selling thousands of copies, but of finding our modest readership, or making it possible for our readership to find us.

Over the three years that I was one of the fair coordinators, we saw attendance rise from 400 to 1,000 to about 1,200. It was a major event for the small press community in Toronto. The room was packed. There was excitement.

Yesterday, I'd say that maybe 120 members of the public came through. Maybe.

It wasn't a good sign when just about nobody I knew was aware of the fair during the week leading up to it. And not a good sign when I didn't see a single poster on the streets, or even around the venue.

The day before the fair I sent out a mass emailing to my list of 400 or so Toronto contacts. That might have got a few people to Trinity-St. Paul Centre.

And it was a terrible sign when the fair's coordinators, Halli and Myna, didn't show up at the venue until 10:51 and 10:53 respectively, when they hastened to set up the tables for their own presses. Volunteers were already at the venue an hour earlier, putting up tables and chairs, and most of the presses were already there and waiting for the public to arrive when the doors opened at 11 a.m.

I know that Halli and Myna believe in small press and are committed to poetry. And I'm sure they worked hard on aspects of this fair. But I think it has to be said: I saw just about zero evidence of their getting the public to the event.

- There were no free listings in Eye, NOW, or Word. The only reason there was a listing on the Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv was because I sent one in myself. There were no announcements sent to the Lex list or the Smallpressers list.

- There were no posters. No posters for this grass-roots event that has had a poster every time for the past 20 years. I asked one of the coordinators why and she told me, "They cost hundreds of dollars." I suggested that 500 copies of a letter-size poster could be printed around the corner at 3-Cent Copy for $15. You need only go into bars, restaurants, bookstores, etc., and if they have a bulletin board, ask to put up one of your posters; and then there are all the guerrilla postering sites, like lampposts and garbage bins and hoardings. I remembered back to the days when Nick and I spent several days in advance of the fair putting up posters. I told her I'd put up a hundred posters in the Annex for the next fair.

- There was no emailing from the coordinators to the presses urging us to invite every goddamn person we knew. No JPG invitation that we could forward to our mailing lists. The only communications I received were those inviting me to book a table, a confirmation of my booking, and a list of who had volunteered to help set up and take down the fair.

- Facebook, as I told the current coordinators before the spring fair, is an incredible tool for getting the word out. But the Book Fair's Facebook group has only about 65 members. That's ridiculous. It should have 500. No Event was even created for the fair so that invitations could be sent out on Facebook. And what is the graphic on the Facebook page? A photo of chapbooks? Of a busy fair? No - a photo of Myna and Halli. What would that mean to anyone? And the announcement section on Facebook merely had a note saying, basically, "THE TABLES ARE ALL FULL," and announcing the "special guest" reader, Pricila Uppal [sic]. I posted a note on the wall on Thursday asking where the buzz was, and where the invitations were. On Friday, Myna posted on the wall that there'd be an afterparty for the presses at Kilgour's.

I'm sure I've already made the coordinators feel terrible, but my intent is not public humiliation - it's a call for discussion and action. And this is the best way I could think of doing it.

The problem, as I see it: the coordinators seem to be focussing on the presses, not on the public. The focus should be on the public.

The presses will be there: you don't have to worry about that.

Everything should be about getting the public to the fair. Hitting every free listing venue, getting the word out to everyone at every reading for two months leading up to the fair (and this means posters and flyers handed out at all these events), repeated mass emailings, smart use of Facebook and MySpace opportunities, making the Toronto Small Press Book Fair website an exciting and useful place to visit, peppering listservs with info, putting up posters everywhere and repeatedly, striving to guilt the media into giving the fair at least some coverage. It's the 20th-anniversary year of this fair! Did press releases go out to the newpapers and weeklies about that? Were arts editors phoned?

We've got this potentially great institution in place. But it's not enough to book a room, rent tables, and invite some presses. Let's get the public there. Let's woo Coach House and ECW and Mercury back behind their tables. Those presses are bigger machines, and they could help get small-press fans out - as well as being an important presence in the bell curve of small press publishing.

OK. I've griped enough.

But I believe I've also been constructive.

And there's one more thing. I'm assuming the fair still receives public funding. Is there a board to oversee the fair's operations? Who's on the board? And if there's not an operative board, there should be one. And not a board that consists of the coordinators. A carefully chosen board that provides, say, four more brains that can help make the fair great.

Over and out.

08 November 2007

1. Simon Pettet; 2. Small Press Book Fair

Charlie Huisken of This Ain't the Rosedale Library brought New York-based poet Simon Pettet in for a talk, a workshop, and a reading this past week. I made it to the reading up in the bookstore's gallery space. The first time I saw Pettet read was at a particularly notorious installment of Mark Truscott's Test Reading Series, so I knew what I was in for.

In the living-room-like atmosphere of This Ain't's gallery, with a modest, all-male audience (save for Charlie's partner, Sarah), Simon read for nearly 90 absorbing minutes, from his books Selected Poems and More Winnowed Fragments, and from new, unpublished work. Simon, who has a British accent, reads almost every poem twice: the first time spluttering slowly through, seemingly surprising and impressing himself at every third or fourth word of his compressed bursts, and the second time quickly and quietly, as if making sure he really read what he thought he'd just read.

The effect of this echoed reading is nice: there's no desperation to catch everything on the first go, no pressure — because you're going to hear it again right away. Here's one of my favourites:

I'm this dumb schmuck
out buying a bag a
salted peanuts woe there
says my lady.
She's dressed all in
gold scarves and
spinnin' and dancin'
like she's some
kind a dervish and I
better watch my
step. but I'm too
wisely drunk to pay
it any mind and
lately I just get
all wound up.

A note on the audience: with perhaps one or two exceptions, these were not people I see at other readings in Toronto. Where were any of the Art Bar regulars, or the folks who were out to the Insomniac launch the night before? I sometimes get the feeling that, in Toronto, poets mainly go to their friends' readings. Some curiosity about interesting readers from afar would do everyone a lot of good, and would do people's poems a lot of good.

Speaking of a lot of good:

The Toronto Small Press Book Fair happens
this Saturday, November 10, from 11 to 5,
at Trinity St. Paul Centre, 427 Bloor West.

It's 20 years since Nicholas Power and I coordinated the first fair. I'm very happy just to sit behind my Proper Tales Press table and let other organize, though. This Saturday, I'll have a brilliant new haiku chapbook called Concrete Sky, by Tom Walmsley, and a new issue of Peter O'Toole: The Magazine of One-Line Poems. I'll bring a little stack of another recent Proper Tales, If I Were You, by New York poet Ron Padgett and his various collaborators, including Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg, and Larry Fagin. And I'll have many of my own books, including the almost-out-of-print I Cut My Finger, from Anvil Press.

Drop by my table and say hi. Please.

Over and out.

06 November 2007

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, and maybe some for Elyse Friedman

The forthcoming issue of Conan Tobias's keen literary magazine Taddle Creek features a short story of mine called "Buying Cigarettes for the Dog."

It's right here.

"Buying Cigarettes for the Dog" is also the proposed title for my next short-story collection. Anyone want a short story collection by me?

Speaking of story collections, I went to the launch at Type Books last Thursday evening for Elyse Friedman's new book, Long Story Short, from Anansi. It's a gorgeous book and it's so great to see those stories — and the novella she previewed last year at the Fictitious Reading Series — brought together in hardcover. I'm honoured to have been among Elyse's first readers of most of those pieces as she was cranking them out. Hopefully she disregarded all my terrible suggestions.

Elyse's brief reading (why this insistence on brief readings at book launches?!) was perfect (aside from its brevity): the chilling/hilarious opening paragraphs of "The Soother," perhaps the best story in the book.

Elyse has something in the new Taddle Creek, as well. The mag launches on November 28 at the Gladstone Ballroom.

Over and out.

04 November 2007

Throw Pakistan into the sky

From an AP story, 4 November 2007:

"What's the point of talking about this," said the day laborer, who was waiting to be hired for work. "For us, life stays the same, even when politicians throw Pakistan into the sky, spin it around and watch as it crashes back down to earth."

03 November 2007

I support the Kucinich/Padgett ticket

I share a 98% similarity in views with Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidate for U.S. president who has about 1% support in his country.