31 January 2008

I, sidewalk trickster

Unusual review of I Cut My Finger, in the current issue of Arc, by Harold Rhenisch, a poet who lives in the B.C. Interior (one of my favourite places on earth) and the editor of a recent Selected by the late poet Robin Skelton. I love when reviews reveal things that had never occurred to me.
by Harold Rhenisch
Stuart Ross. I Cut My Finger. Vancouver: Anvil, 2007.
Over and over again in I Cut My Finger Stuart Ross plays with the notions of poem and writer as authorities on the world. He does so by kneeling down on a busy sidewalk and tying a variety of those trick knots that look so difficult, so tangled and so intricate, but when pulled tight unravel completely, leaving the now-gathered crowd the shock and delight of the a single strand of clear, unknotted rope — and perhaps drawing some scattered applause. The inventiveness of these sidewalk tricks is captivating. There is, for instance, echo rhyme, which has an effect like a clown continually pulling a stool out from underneath his colleague. An example of this is “Mary is the Merry One,” in which the standard stand-up-comic set-up, “Do you go to many parties,” is knocked apart with “We joined a party of hunters,” and “The present is an age of jet travel” is polished off with “How many presents did you get?” In characteristic fashion, Ross uses this pattern of out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth echolocation to set up darker echoes, such as, “The science talk was about amphibians,” and its alliterative counterpoint, “Kate has a talent for drawing,” simultaneously displaying meaning in nonsense and the complete lack of nonsense in meaning — or perhaps just the plain opposite, as he deals from the bottom and the top of a deck at the same time. As another example of Ross’s linguistic bravado, there is the poem-as-parenthesis trick, such as “The Virus Cabin,” a novel in sixteen lines that opens with a holiday weekend à la J.G. Ballard (“We holiday at the virus cabin.”). It then continues for fourteen lines in what appears to be that holiday, but which is really the setup for a final revelation: that when it comes to the business of memory, subconscious (and in the case of a poem subtextual) connections between things form the true memory, as Ross conflates a span of years into one present moment set within its full context: “We climb upon one another and grunt.” Other tricks that Ross displays on the stage of this book include punctuation tricks, the call-it-as-it-is trick (“The rectangle of the bed was shoved into the corner of the rectangle of the room”), and many more, as Ross continually reveals and celebrates the haunting subliminal structures that create, support, and enable materialism and materiality. “The effect is so comical,” he writes in “The Mountain,” that “I am offered a contract as a cartoon character.” This is poetry’s answer to Aimee Bender. It is surrealism at its best: written not to dispel the present but to reveal it.

Over and out.

Seventy lines

"During his brief periods of freedom, he barely glanced at the newspaper and tried not to associate with ex-prisoners from the Brotherhood. In prison he read Western novels by Zane Grey and others. His favorite writer was Mark Twain. He once wrote that penitentiaries and jail cells had been his Mississippi. He died of pulmonary emphysema. His work, published piecemeal in magazines, consists of more than fifty short stories and a seventy-line poem dedicated to a weasel."

— Roberto Bolaño, Nazi Literature in the Americas, trans. by Chris Andrews (New Directions, 2008)


(Let the vigil of silence continue. People are trying to breathe around here. Thanks.)

30 January 2008

The saga of the tartan yamulke

(First, just want to reiterate my plea for voluntary silence among all parties on the topics around the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, to allow some breathing room, and then hopefully some healing and reconciliation.)

Last week, I received my edits for Dead Cars in Managua, the poetry book that's coming out under DC Books' Punchy Writing imprint this spring. I haven't been able to dive into the work yet, but I read through all of Jason's Camlot's notes and suggestions (in a particularly perverted bit of provocation, he even turned one of my poems into a rhyming sonnet: no way!). It's a really vigorous, challenging edit, and it shows a lot of enthusiasm and care for my writing. I've been lucky, with Michael Holmes at ECW and Brian Kaufman at Anvil, to have such empathetic editors of my poetry. But Jason's really stepping in there with his wading boots on. Given that I put this manuscript together so quickly, and it's such a different kind of book for me, this was the kind of edit I needed here.

Among the other more positive poetry moments of the last week, I got to meet a poet I've long admired: Jeanette Lynes (from Nova Scotia and living temporarily in Kingston), whose Aging Cheerleaders' Alphabet I love and whose poems I published a couple years back in This Magazine. She told me about her forthcoming book, the details of which are perhaps not public yet, but I sure look forward to reading it. I gave Jeanette a copy of Surreal Estate and of The Mud Game, my collaborative novel with Gary Barwin. Jeanette brought her friend Susie Petersiel Berg along; although Susie lives in Toronto, I've never met her (as is the case for me with a few million other Torontonians). I bought a copy of her new chapbook, Paper Cuts, from her, and then let Jeanette pay for my soup, so I almost broke even.

The night before, I crashed the after-party of the Writers' Union of Canada executive meeting, on the invitation of Vancouver poet Elizabeth Bachinsky. I was a TWUC member for 10 or 12 years, but haven't been for a while. Hanging out for a bit among that crowd made me determined to join again. Unfortunately, Liz had to take off pretty quickly, but I had some nice chats, most notably with a Quebec surrealistic fictioneer named Peter Dubé. I didn't know who he was before the party, but now I want to read his stuff. Turns out we share a publisher: DC Books.

And speaking of publishers, I had a great lunch (on him!) last week with Jack David of ECW. We talked mostly about a book project I've been thinking about, and while he loved the idea, he seemed to be doing everything he could to talk me out of it. Or at least to warn me that it would be way more work than I was thinking. I've been doing freelance editing for ECW for most of the years since our, um, disagreements (as outlined in my book Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer). Jack, Michael, and others there have been very generous. For Chanukah 2006, Jack mailed me a tartan yarmulke.

Over and out.

28 January 2008

(A request for voluntary silence)

I have refrained, for a while now, from talking about the Toronto Small Press Book Fair imbroglio. But here goes:

One very wise and respected member of the community has called for voluntary silence on the subject. I'm not naive about the machinations of the Internet, but I hope such a silence can now settle in, just to give everyone breathing space.

And then maybe some healing can happen. I believe there's still a way we can all come out of this healthy.


25 January 2008

A dozen or so questions and a sign-off for a Friday

What does even the threat of a libel suit do to a writer?

What does it do to other writers in the community?

What are the invisible effects of a libel threat in a community?

How many important, or even worthwhile, or even entertaining things go unwritten because of libel chill?

What are the implications of a libel threat to the literature of a community, or to the free exchange of commentary?

How many facts disappear because a libel suit is threatened?

What happens when the scope of subject matter for a writer becomes narrowed because of fear of bankruptcy, even in the face of a frivolous threat?

What does it mean when a writer must think three times about publishing even the most tepid commentary, such as this one? When a writer wonders if s/he should pay a lawyer to look at a seemingly innocent paragraph before it goes to print?

What are the implications for those threatening the libel suit? What if they themselves are writers?

What happens when other writers in the community believe it's got nothing to do with them, just because they aren't the recipients of the threat from the lawyer?

When a lawyer is brought into a dispute, what happens to the options for communication?

Into whose pocket goes the rare and precious royalty cheque, the reading fee, the PLR payment, the grant?

What are the different implications of a serious threat and a spurious threat?

Over and out.

23 January 2008

Boot Camping in recovery

The other day I travelled outside of Toronto to conduct a five-hour Poetry Boot Camp at a women's shelter with a small group of AA members in recovery. It was an incredible experience for me, and they seemed to get a lot out of it, too (I hope so, because I was the one being paid!).

I initially felt very self-conscious, as I was likely the only male in the building, and all eyes were on me as I trundled down the hallway with a banker's box full of poetry books. But this group was welcoming and open.

We wrote about 10 poems, Boot Camp-style, then spent the last hour doing a critiquing session on a poem by each of them. I was surprised at how many of the women wrote about addiction, often metaphorically. It hadn't occurred to me that that would be the case. There was AA vocab going around, and also regular old words that have a different meaning in that context. I learned an awful lot. These women wrote some powerful work, and every one of them — even those who'd never written a poem before — were courageous enough to share what they'd written.

Always a fantastic experience to a lead a workshop in a completely different kind of setting. I hope I'll be invited back.

Over and out.

21 January 2008

Julio Cortázar and the TSPBF

My dear friend Anne McLean, a much-celebrated and much-in-demand Spanish-to-English translator, is responsible for beautiful translations of books by Javier Cercas, Tomás Eloy Martinez, and Julio Cortázar, among others. She is passionate about her work, and in love with so many of the books she spends her long hours on. Occasionally she sends me different versions of a particularly tough passage she's wrestling with, and it's been through this process that I've come to see that a serious translator is as much a writer/artist as, well, a serious writer is.

Her most recent work, the first English translation of Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, by Cortázar and Carol Dunlop, a brave, poignant, and oddball travel memoir, was recently savaged in the New York Times by a writer who didn't even bother acknowledging that there was a translator, much less mentioning Anne's name.

A brilliant blogger, Brandon Holmquest, took on the review, and you can find his astute dissection right here. The piece is called "David Kirby phones it in."

Anne just sent me a link to this piece. And in exchange, I offer her this link, a piece by Amy Lavender Harris called "Literature or Litigation?: A Threatened Lawsuit Rattles Toronto’s Small Press Community."

Over and out.

18 January 2008

The shit has hit the fan

17 January 2008

However this stuff turns out...

I am profoundly grateful for the support. I mean this with all my heart.


15 January 2008

poem for a quiet tuesday afternoon


14 January 2008

The last poem of last year: a collaborative effort

In Vancouver, my pal Lance La Rocque invited me over for a small New Year's Eve gathering at his sister's place. Just me, Lance, Lance's sis, and Lance's sis's friend. Conversation eventually turned to poetry — Lance's poetry, actually — and Darci and Denien expressed some befuddlement about the stuff.

So I suggested we write a collaborative poem, so they could get a feel for what it is to write a poem, what degree of intention might enter into it, and so forth. After a little bit of hesitation, we got going, and it was a blast. Sort of like a crazy four-way chess match. I wouldn't have imagined spending a New Year's Eve that way, and I'm certain Darci and Denien — who were excellent sports — sure never did.

Here is the untitled poem that resulted. I like it a lot.

Misunderstanding darkness
in spiritual fires
light watermelons need
fresh clouds, sputtering alive
wriggling puffs of life
hook and later independent
corn thrashing gently against
warm skin, moulding me
like a five-pin leg-brace
crashing gently, wearing
condoms flowering past
gyrations of petals.

Pelicans need fun; children
filter around the water
fountain, analytically genitals
blooming. Foamy creamy

Denien Ford/Darci LaRocque/Lance La Rocque/Stuart Ross
December 31, 2007

11 January 2008

Vancouver time draws nearly to a close...

My time in Vancouver has just about come to an end. Last weekend's Poetry Boot Camps — my first in this city — were a lot of fun, and each was distinctly different: the participants of the first session were mainly published writers who knew each other; the participants of the second were mostly unpublished writers who didn't know each other. Both sets of dynamics worked well in their own ways. A lot of good writing came out of these sessions, and I wrote a fair amount myself. Plus I earned almost enough to pay for my plane fare.

Had a great visit week with Elizabeth Bachinsky and her partner, Blake, in their live/work studio, where Liz has installed a 1912 letter press and a wall's length of font cases. She gave me a tour through her collection of handmade and letter-press books, and I had a snoop through the regular shelves, too. Amazing stuff, and really nice to get to know Liz and Blake a little more.

Yesterday was a busy one: first I joined Ameen Merchant for brunch. I met Ameen, the author of The Silent Raga, a couple months back at Banff/Calgary WordFest. He's a first-time novelist whose book has met with a lot of success, and is about to be released in seven other countries, including India and Pakistan, all in English. Ameen's a swell cat.

Later in the afternoon, I met Brian Dedora again, on Main, and got a little preview of his work-in-progress (excellent and surprising), and then had a farewell beer with Brian Kaufman just a couple blocks down. Really nice to get stories of the early Pulp Press gang, and to learn more about the strange and nearly arbitrary beginnings of Anvil Press (nearly two decades old!).

A couple days before, Michael Boyce and I finally found a couple hours to meet up, at Joe's on Davie Street. Michael was one of the very early Proper Tales Press authors; he sold his prose-poetry chapbook Hit by a Rock out on Yonge Street for a while in the '80s. A few years ago, Beth Follett of Pedlar Press published his beautiful novel Monkey. Michael moved to Vancouver about a year ago, as did April Cuffy, who I had coffee with a little later, and who I met in Castlegar in 2005 (I think) when I did some readings and workshops at Selkirk College.

I like Vancouver a lot. And I wish I'd had more time to meet with people. Had a brief hello with Judith Copithorne on Brian Dedora's porch a couple of weeks ago, but we've never really sat down to talk much. I did finally get to meet Weldon Gardner Hunter, who I've had a little e-correspondence with for a few years.

A great surprise bonus was an afternoon tea with Alice Burdick and her partner, Zane, and their child, Hazel. Like Lance La Rocque, they were in the area on a trip from Nova Scotia. Short but very sweet visit. I can't wait for some publisher to snap up Alice's new poetry collection so's I can read it.

I find this city sprawling and bewildering, and I find the literary community the same. Because I was only here a month, and most of that month was over the holidays, I couldn't get a sense of what this city would be like for a writer who goes to stuff. Toronto is jam-packed with reading series; I don't think it's quite like that here, and I think, while there is some crossover, there are still distinct camps of writers: spoken word, KSW, other. Maybe someone can correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, it all seems pretty friendly, regardless.

I want to expand my connection with this city, which stretches back to my first visit here around 1982, when I stayed with Tom Walmsley and hung with the Pulp gang. I hope I'll have another book with Anvil sometime in the future.

Great bookstores here, too: my favourite used place is Brigid's on West Broadway; my favourite new store is Duthie's on West 4th — really great poetry section, with lots of stuff seeping up from the States that I don't find in Toronto. Never made it to Spartacus or People's Co-op.

Some of the publications I've picked up while here:

- the very first issue of The Capilano Review, featuring Bowering, Webb, Newlove, bissett, UU, Voznesensky, Birney, Newlove, and others
- Hello, La Jolla, by Edward Dorn
- Hopper, by Mark Strand
- Beatitudes, by Herménigile Chiasson
- The Marvelous Bones of Time, by Brenda Coultas
- Broken World, by Joseph Lease
- The Relative Minor, by Deanna Ferguson
- Ink Monkey, by Diana Hartog
- Rattlesnake Plantain, by Heidi Greco
- The Bindery, by Shane Rhodes

There's more, too. Too much to carry home.

Well, I expect to be back here this spring. I'll bury them somewhere and pick them up later.

Over and out.

10 January 2008

The Small Press Book Fair saga goes on, and on...

Curious little item about the Toronto Small Press Book Fair appeared on the Torontoist website recently. Here it is — and have a look at the comments following the "article."

In response, the Fair's current coordinators sent this note to the Lexiconjury list:

Dear Lexes,

Great News! The Toronto Small Press Fair has been nominated as one of the Heroes of Toronto for 2007 on the Torontoist Site. Check out the heroes and villains and vote at: http://torontoist.com/2007/12/hero_toronto_sm.php

This is a wonderful vote of confidence for the job we have done and for
the book fair itself. The winner is decided on by the readers of Torontoist, and the polls close January 10. So please vote yourselves, send all your friends to vote for the fair, let them know that others think we did an excellent job and that the fair will continue to grow and thrive with our new board and fabulous volunteers.

Thank you to all of you for your support and helping make this honour possible.
Halli and Myna, co-coordinators of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair

I'm not exactly sure why they see that ill-informed little squib as a vote of confidence on the job they did — it makes no mention of them or of the past two fairs specifically.

The truth is, the Fair is an institution — however faltering — as the result of work by more than a dozen different coordinators and many more volunteers over 20 years, and because of the participation of hundreds of presses. The arts councils sure helped, too.

Over and out.

04 January 2008

Lemon Hound meets Razovsky, plus Vancouver Poetry Boot Camps

Nope, this isn't another Razovsky poem.

Poet Sina Queyras, who I met in October at the Banff/Calgary Wordfest, recently interviewed me by email for her Lemon Hound blog. Sina is the author of three excellent poetry books, Teethmarks, Slip, and Lemon Hound, and the editor of a broad-ranging anthology, Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets.

Anyway, here's the interview.

I feel sorta sheepish that I didn't put up the link earlier, and it only occurred to me to do so when I found it thrown to on Angela Rawlings' increasingly Icelandic blog. Thanks, Angela!

Meanwhile, all is chugging along here in Vancouver. Had a great visit with Lance La Rocque, who is also visiting here, from Wolfville. And a nice Mexican dinner with Brian Kaufman and Karen Green, of Anvil Press/sub-Terrain.

Tomorrow and Sunday I'm doing mini-Boot Camps (still one space available in each! please send any interested Vancouverites my way!), which oughta be fun.

Over and out.

01 January 2008

New Year's Poem


Hi there, inventory of my life. I have driven
crunchy, loopy highways into the wilderness
to take you by flashlight, in a time before computers,
while my bored crew munches on paperbacks
back in the panting station wagon
parked 300 miles away in the Beth Emeth parking lot.
You taught me a nifty party trick,
where I divide my brain into five distinct segments:
Razovsky, Blatt, a camping trip in Grade 6,
the machinations of my organs, and Claes Oldenburg’s
Giant Hamburger. I sit in a circle
all by myself and try to convince myself
that I love myself, and a passing forklift agrees.
I rake fingers through my hair and pluck out a stray breeze.

Stuart Ross
Vancouver, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, Randy Newman-style

Here's a nice and weird recording of Beverley Martyn singing an obscure 60s ditty by Randy Newman.

Happy new year.

Over and out.