27 February 2008

I can walk!

25 February 2008

The meat of the matter

I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner

Full house at the Poetry Boot Camp on Saturday. It was a close call: one of the participants pulled out Friday evening, but an hour later, someone else wrote and asked if there was any room. Tried a lot of new things with this group, and it turned out really well. A lot of strong writing, and some interesting results with the various experiments. One of the Campers was returning for her fourth time. She said this was the best one yet, and that I'd obviously been honing the projects. Nice to hear.

The boardroom here at my housing co-op isn't particularly inspiring for the workshop, but it sure makes life easy for me, since it's just a couple dozen metres from my door. If I think of a book I want to read from, I can just run up to my apartment and find it. I do miss doing the event at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, though, because that upstairs room is magical, and because it's nice for the Campers to head down and browse the great selection at lunchtime or after the session.

I think it's soon time for another round of the New York Poets workshop.

In other news, I accepted an invitation to read at the Ottawa International Writers' Festival in April. Because I've got so much on my plate, I can't stay for more than a day or two, which is too bad. I think this is about my sixth appearance at the Festival. I'm reading on a bill with Rachel Zolf and Fred Wah, and I'm really excited about that. Rachel's new chapbook, which I swear I'm going to write about here soon, is incredible.

Here are a couple of lines from Rod Smith to sign off with:

I am a Times Reporter.
I kill people.

Nice stuff.

Over and out.

20 February 2008


Sent in the final final final of the Dead Cars in Managua manuscript today. Yikes.

My last chance to make any changes will be on the page proofs I expect to get within a couple of weeks.

And then it will go to press.

And then I will have a new book.

I will be showered with gold pieces.

I will be carried through the streets on the shoulders of the adoring masses.

I will appear on Oprah and The Friendly Giant. Also My Mother the Car.

This is what a writer can expect when a new book is published.

The first car I ever owned was the station wagon that had belonged to my mother.

Over and out.

19 February 2008

SPOT THE LOGIC ERRORS! with Simon and Marie

Lesson One

Simon and Marie meet on the street, by chance.

SIMON: Marie, I received the strangest note in the mail yesterday. Please be so kind as to listen to this curious sentence: "The letter should not be viewed as a threat because as long as you refrain from defamation, there is nothing to worry about."

MARIE: That sentence contains the logic of a pretzel, Simon! It is what our English teacher calls "muddled thinking."

SIMON: You have placed the problem on the point of a pin, Marie. Might you have any examples of muddled thinking from recent correspondence in your possession?

MARIE: Why, yes, Simon, I always carry such things with me! Here is just such a sentence from a note of which I was recently the recipient: "I said nothing that was personal, I merely asked if this sudden upsurge of interest in the fair publicity wasn't due more to a lack of something in your life at the moment..."

SIMON: Marie, I have this sudden upsurge of interest in a bag of pretzels! Is there an outlet nearby where such snack foods are sold?

MARIE: Simon, the Pretzel Cornucopia is just two blocks away, in the direction of my home. Shall we walk together?

SIMON: Walking together is always better than walking apart, Marie!

16 February 2008

Eat Shoots & Weep

The Public Lending Rights cheque came yesterday. Hallelujah.


I'm hesitating for a moment or two before sending in the Final Final Final of Dead Cars. I sent off the Final Final a few days ago, and I was going through the "Oh my god, this is crap" phase that I always go through when a book is in the works. But then, a few hours later, Jason emailed me to tell me he was really happy with the new version, and the five or six new poems I crammed into it. Now I just have to look at a few little copyedits and it's done. Any second now.


Spent some time the last couple days preparing what might be my last statement about the recent Small Press Book Fair brouhaha. Clear the air about various allegations and so forth. Something that can help me psychologically and emotionally loosen myself from the oppression of the threatened lawsuit.


Saw Rachel Zolf at Toronto Wordstage the other night (where Elyse Friedman gave a great Valentine's Day reading of her story "Truth") and got a copy of her beautiful new chapbook, Shoot & Weep. Not to be confused with Eat Shoots & Weep. It's from Nomados. I heard her read from this manuscript at Word on the Street in September. I'll be writing more about it in the next few days.


Met with Seb Agnello, who's going to be manufacturing the Orphan's Song CD. It's getting closer. Advance orders: single copies are $15 + $3 S&H, or two for $35 total (the two-fer price includes a free copy of Razovsky at Peace, Farmer Gloomy's New Hybrid, or The Mud Game).


A few spaces still available in next Saturday's Poetry Boot Camp. Here's the guff:

Saturday, February 23, 10 am to 5 pm (includes lunch break)
Christie & Dupont area

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

Poet, editor and writing instructor Stuart Ross offers an intensive but relaxed 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!

Over and out.

10 February 2008

My first-ever review; my most recent review

To my surprise — and delight — I Cut My Finger was reviewed in today's Toronto Star, 10 months after it was released. It's a nice beacon of positivism while I'm sitting here with the threat of a defamation suit hanging over my aging noggin. The writer of the review is Barbara Carey. I was pretty sure she reviewed something else of mine in recent years, but then I remembered that the first review I ever received was by someone named Carey, 32 years ago. Turns out to be Anne Carey. Can't help but wonder if they're related. Books by Kids, incidentally, soon became Annick Press.

Here are both those reviews…

Toronto Star, 6 March 1976

Fascinating reading in books by and for young Canadians

By Anne Carey
Star staff writer

I remember being 6 and 8 and 18, but I don't remember being a boy — all of which helps explain why The Thing in Exile, one of three new books by and for young Canadians, fascinates me.

The Thing in Exile, by Steven Feldman, Stuart Ross and Mark Laba. Books by Kids [1975], 53 pages, $3.25

The complexities of being 16, male, a poet and a resident of North York are the shared characteristics of Steve, Stu and Mark in their altogether collected collection of poems.

It's uncanny. Have they been peeping into our subconscious? Yes — and their own, too. Febrile thoughts while making out at a drive-in, to the counterpoint of a monster movie, come from Stu. Shipboard romance clouds but slightly the vision of Steve, a boy "from the kiddy bar" intent on getting a lady "drunk on gin." Last, and most Daliesque, are the reptilian, surrealist tears wept by Mark inside the terrarium-aquarium that is his head.

It's wicked stuff, attractively laid down. The poets, say the editors, are "of varying degrees of sanity (or insanity)" and available for readings by contacting the publisher, Books by Kids, a Toronto non-profit venture.

P.S. The picture of Steve, Stu and Mark on the inside cover makes them look like the teenagers next door. Consider yourself warned.


Toronto Star, 10 February 2008

A serious streak meets absurdity

Rita Wong's fierce indictment a contrast to Stuart Ross's surrealistic shenanigans


by Rita Wong
Nightwood Editions,
86 pages, $16.95

I Cut My Finger
by Stuart Ross
Anvil Press,
104 pages, $15

The American playwright Edward Albee once said a good play "is an act of aggression against the status quo."
As far as good poetry is concerned, there are probably a lot of like-minded poets, since they tend to be more Kensington Market than Bay St. in style. But there are various ways of delivering a counter-cultural message — as these two poetry collections show.


Wong writes of being "born with a serious streak the width of an altar." Stuart Ross, on the other hand, uses humour as a subversive weapon. Ross is a prolific writer and editor, a mainstay of Toronto's small press scene for more than 30 years, and much of his work is the poetic equivalent of a whoopee cushion.

His latest collection, I Cut My Finger, is a gleeful package of surrealistic absurdity and unruly narratives of non sequiturs that undermines the norms of conventional poetry explicitly and those of the social order implicitly. Ross delights in deflating expectations of an epiphany or lyrically driven payoff to a poem. He caps off a poem called "Sediment" with the stanza: "a better poet than me / would insert a really good sediment / metaphor right here. (Or, more poignantly, / here.)"

He also enjoys poking fun at the notion that a poem's subject should be important. In many of his poems, he celebrates (in mock-epic style) the trivial or reduces an experience that should be dramatic to banality. Another favourite tactic is to make inanimate objects animate. In one poem, a chicken breast in the frozen foods section of a grocery store calls out to him; in another poem, "The sign above the billiards hall begins / to sneeze from all the chalk."

Though they're comical, Ross's surrealistic shenanigans often draw attention to real issues, such as the lack of fulfillment in routine work and the hold that the mass media, especially films, have on the popular imagination. (As he puts it in one poem, "now wherever I go, movie music follows / me".)

Occasionally, Ross steps out of his jokey character. In "Others Like Me," he sums up human civilization with an understated, sober wistfulness: "We fought, f---ed, / built a society, / and set out / to construct / a sailboat from toothpicks, / books from the wings / of an aphid."

In a collection that makes a virtue of the outlandish, this quiet, touching poem is easy to overlook. But in a way, it's more of a surprise than the talking chicken breast – and in its quixotic images, just as far removed from the status quo.

Over and out.

08 February 2008

And now ... a word from Roy Zimmerman

Roy Zimmerman is the USA's funniest singing satirist.

Over and out.

Puppet boy — and Gary Clement

Fighting off this low-level cold, which, this morning, seems to be threatening a serious escalation. My eyes sting and my limbs feel like those of a broken puppet.

Spent most of yesterday copyediting, on page proofs, the March/April issue of This Magazine. It's only the second time I've done that, but since I read it anyway, I might as well help out in advance. And I never imagined my gig as Fiction & Poetry editor would last this long, but I really enjoy the challenge and I like working with that gang. The forthcoming issue is built around one of my favourite topics: Catastrophe.

I tucked a few new poems into Dead Cars in Managua. Gotta give that whole thing a last read-through and get it back to Jason. It feels like a risky book to me, but I also feel pretty good about it.

Meanwhile, Toronto artist Gary Clement — who created the brilliant cover for I Cut My Finger — has a show of his watercolours (I think) opening this weekend. Gary's a big-time artist and illustrator, as well as the acclaimed author of two great children's books, so I sure appreciated his descending to the gutter to do my cover. And since we're doppelgangers, I may turn up at his opening to create havoc. I love the image on the invitation:

07 February 2008

Shirley Ross

Today is my mom's birthday. She would have been 79. Wow.

Here she is with my dad, Sydney. Around 1950, I think.

She didn't always get what I was up to, or get my writing, or get the decisions I made. But she was always supportive.

She herself was a pioneer in our suburban Jewish enclave in the early 1960s. The first of her friends to start up her own business, a little gift shop in our basement that led to her career as a self-taught interior decorator. She had chutzpah. She was creative.

I love you, Mom. (She must read my blog, right?)

Shirley Ross, February 7, 1929 - April 21, 1995

06 February 2008

It's OK, I'm unarmed

A few hours of peace yesterday and today, and I did my first pass on the final edit for Dead Cars in Managua. Jason Camlot did a fantastic edit, one I could step into. I tugged on the sleeves, turned up the collar, sewed patches on the elbows, ripped out coffee-stained bits of fabric. Meanwhile, here is the cover:

The painting is by Howi Ross. Howi and I went to high school together — AISP, up in North York — along with Howi's sister, my friend Lisa. Me and Howi made a couple of terrible plasticine-animation Super 8 films. It occurs to me that he might be called Howard now. But I'm not sure. I was a little worried about how the cover would turn out, because DC Books follows a template, giving their books a basic uniformity, but I'm pretty damn happy with what they've done. And thrilled that they took my suggestion for the cover artist.

Also finished my design today for the CD An Orphan's Song: Ben Walker Sings Stuart Ross, which should be out later this month. Dana gave me a hand with the intricacies of Quark and Photoshop. I'm proud of the design: best thing I've done. Though it's not saying much: I'm not much of a designer. I just want something that'll live up to the brilliant work that Ben has done in his composing and adaptations. Hoping that Ben can get to Canada in a few weeks so we can have a little launch concert. Some of Ben's non-Stuart Ross songs are right over here.

The last month or so has been chaotic and in many ways excruciating. Buy me a beer and I'll tell you about it. But I've finally gotten around to ripping open mail, and I discovered a great little package from Michael Mann, from St. Paul, Minnesota. I met Michael nearly 20 years ago when I went to visit my Guatemala/Nicaragua buddy Joe in Minneapolis. I think it was jwcurry who put me in touch with Michael, and Michael invited me to read at the alternative school his kids attended back then. Among the students was debby florence, whose chapbook My Defense for Why I Talk So Much I published a few years later, and Michael Sawyer, a young anarchist poet. debby and Michael S. went on to publish the weekly poetry mag Bomb Threat Checklist, and out of that sprouted Michael S.'s own poetry mag, Unarmed Journal. Michael M. later joined him on that project, and now Michael S. has moved on and Michael M. forges on.

I'm sure I have some details wrong there, and I invite a straightening out of the sequence of events.

I wrote, in Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer, about the trip Michael S., debby, and a few other amazing friends took to Toronto to sell Bomb Threat at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in the early 90s. And then debby came back to Toronto a few years later, and I organized a living room reading for her and invited bill bissett — her favourite poet. It was a great event. We all sat in a big circle and went around reading, and debby did an extended set. I'm pretty sure Emily Pohl-Weary was here, and Maggie Helwig, perhaps Chris Kubsch. Tara Azzopardi. Somewhere there are photos.

Which leads me to this piece of mail from December that I finally tore open. Unarmed #57, a beautiful quarter-sheet-size mag packed with the poetry of adventure: this one with visual and linear pieces by jwcurry, Ficus Strangulensis, John M. Bennett, debby, Michael Basinski, Derek Beaulieu, John Barlow, the great Joel Dailey (through whom I met Camille Martin and whose Fell Swoop is another one of the great, long-lived American micropress mags), Charlie Nash, and lots more. And tucked into the mag is a chapbook of equal size and thickness, Totem(s), by Steve Dalachinsky.

If you're interested in the mag, write Michael M. at unarmedjournal@comcast.net. If you're interested in what debby is up to these days, and there's an awful lot of it, check out her incredible blog.

If you want to read a poem about these great Americans, check out "One of Those Lakes in Minnesota" in my collection Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (ECW Press, 2003).

With all the goddamn poison in the air lately, it's great to fall in love again with small press.

Over and out.

04 February 2008

Lately I've been feeling like a guest on Bill O'Reilly

03 February 2008


I've got a cold.

During my fleeting moments of lucidity, I'm working on Dead Cars.

I've chosen three epigraphs to open the book. They are by BZ, CA, and DM. First person to correctly identify those poets (all from different countries) gets a, um, a free copy of something. Of, let's see, geez.... Oh, OK, a free copy of either Razovsky at Peace, Farmer Gloomy's New Hybrid, or The Mud Game.

Make me some soup.

Over and out.

01 February 2008

Omissions, submissions, Mission of Burma

I know I'm supposed to be working on the edits for my poetry book, but I couldn't quite get there yet. So I spent some of yesterday and today assembling and formatting all the uncollected short fiction I've got around and making a manuscript and sending it off to a publisher who has shown interest. So now — including my novel, the title of which I'll never tell you, and Dead Cars in Managua — I have three book manuscripts out there in the world. So this is what it's like to be rob mclennan!

I've heard from Brian Kaufman at sub-Terrain that the new issue is out, with my latest Hunkamooga column, a sort of nostalgic meander into the reading (that I'll admit to) of my teenage years.

My Hunkamooga columns up till 2005, which mostly appeared in the print version of Word, are gathered in this little number, from Anvil Press, the book arm of Brian's monolithic publishing empire:

The lovely cover is by Clint Hutzulak.

As for Mission of Burma, I've barely heard them, but my wondrous buddy Joe likes 'em, so they must be good!

Over and out.

A one-day poetry-writing holiday!

I'm offering a Poetry Boot Camp in Toronto this month, and here are the details. If you know anyone who might be interested, please spread the word.

I've had people come to the Boot Camp having never written a poem, and others who had several books under their belts. And I've gotten good feedback all-round and have had many repeat participants.

Saturday, February 23, 10 am to 5 pm (includes lunch break)
Christie & Dupont

Fee: $75 (advance registration required - please email hunkamooga[at]sympatico[dot]ca for payment options)
Includes materials and light refreshments.
Enrolment limited to 12 participants.

Poet, editor and writing instructor Stuart Ross offers an intensive but relaxed 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), the Poetry & Fiction Editor for This Magazine, and Poetry Editor for Mansfield Press. Stuart's other books include Confessions Of A Small Press Racketeer (Anvil, 2005) and Henry Kafka & Other Stories (Mercury, 1996). In spring 2008, DC Books will launch its Punchy Poetry imprint with his new collection, Dead Cars In Managua.

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