17 July 2008

"Up Since 5:30, down since 1959"

OK, by popular demand (that's you, Anne), here's the entirety of my Hunkamooga column that caught the eye of the dude from the New York Times Book Review. It appeared in the spring 2008 issue of the Vancouver-based magazine sub-Terrain (which everyone should subscribe to).


by Stuart Ross

Up since 5:30, down since 1959

Are all writers as negative and self-loathing as me? Is there even a single writer with a sunny disposition who greets the morning, pressing her face into the flood of sunlight that gushes through her bedroom window, and chirps, “Oh, glorious life! I can’t wait to write!”

Me, I wake up slowly, groggily, reluctantly, eyes burning, always far too early, no matter what insomnia-driven time I get to sleep, and within seconds there’s the foggy realization of who I am and the sorry circumstances of my life, and I feel despondency set in. And while it’s true I don’t live in a lean-to made of rusting, battered automobile hoods in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Managua, I still somehow feel justified in whining. I lie on my back on my book- and paper-strewn bed and stare at the cobwebs on my ceiling and quietly murmur, “I can’t wait to see how I avoid writing today. I’m more than halfway through my life and I haven’t accomplished a goddamn thing.”

Now, it can be scientifically determined that I have had five full-length poetry collections published, a book each of short stories and personal essays, a couple of collaborative novellas, and a heap of chapbooks. My last poetry book, I Cut My Finger, received rave reviews across the board, including in The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star. Also, the excellent Montreal poet Jason Camlot, on taking the helm of a new imprint of DC Books called Punchy Poetry, contacted me and said he wanted the first title he put out to be by me. I’d just had a book out, its corpse not even cold yet, but I rustled together an insane new manuscript called Dead Cars in Managua, and Jason fell for it.

But this isn’t enough to make me love myself.

A cursory investigation would also show that over the past year and a bit, I have had the opportunity to edit books by four of my poetry heroes — guys who shook my world when I was real young, and whose works have been vital to me ever since. Through my own Proper Tales Press, I published If I Were You, a collection of poems Ron Padgett wrote collaboratively with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan, and James Schuyler. Also through Tales, I put out the chapbook Concrete Sky, 15 haiku all beginning with the same line, by Tom Walmsley, with an assist by Michael Healey’s liver. Through Insomniac Press, I edited and introduced a 300-plus-page collection called Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden, which may be the best book in the history of Canadian poetry. In fact, it is one of three books short-listed for the Canadian 2008 Griffin Poetry Award, and if it wins, Dave might pay for my next order of French fries at Legends. Most recently, as poetry editor for Mansfield Press, I edited a book called Dog, written by poets Joe Rosenblatt and Catherine Owen, based on photos by Karen Moe. Even though Joe flipped through about 50 of my poems, back when I was in high school, and muttered “Nothing worth salvaging here,” he is a hero of mine, and now I’ve edited one of his books.
But this isn’t enough, either.

Here are two other things that just aren’t enough. When the current coordinators of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair (an institution I co-founded a couple of decades ago) hired a lawyer to threaten me with a defamation suit because they didn’t like my harsh but constructive criticism of the [CENSORED] job they did coordinating the fair, I received scores of letters of support, and they, reportedly, received upward of a hundred letters of condemnation; I mean, what the hell are a couple of writers doing threatening another writer with a defamation suit? Good fucking gawd. Anyway, I’ve had so many people try to comfort me by saying stuff along the lines of, “Look, neither of them will ever write a poem as good as your worst poem.” And while that may be true, it isn’t really the point.

Oh yeah — the other thing. My friend Ben Walker, who is a brilliant British singer/songwriter and also the step-grandson of Bertrand Russell, recorded a whole CD worth of songs he built around my poems. He and I jointly released it as An Orphan’s Song: Ben Walker Sings Stuart Ross (send me a 20 and I’ll send you one). It was perhaps the greatest compliment my poetry has ever been paid.

But it’s still not enough to make me greet the morning with burbling enthusiasm.

If this sounds like the kind of inventory one compiles before one kills oneself, you’re in no such luck. You wish I’d abandon this last page of sub-Terrain so that Karen Connelly could take over and write about far more Important Things, but you’ll have to pry this page from my cold dead hands. Not that I’m going to kill myself, mind you. I don’t have the heart to sentence anyone to the task of dealing with the archaeological morass that is my apartment. Plus, I’ll do everything in my power — including not killing myself — to stop Karen Connelly from taking over this page.

When I moan about my sorry personal life, about the hurt I’ve caused, about the endless regrets I have, the lack of family, the chaos of my apartment (my entire apartment looks like the walk-in closet of some lunatic who has kept clippings of every newspaper article that contained the word “the” for 40 years) — when I moan about this stuff, my spectacular friends — and my friends are spectacular, I’m blessed that way — tell me I’m a good guy, and a good writer, and I inspire lots of other writers, and also I don’t live in a garbage dump in Central America.

But this isn’t enough. I’d give up the whole writing thing in exchange for a life of serenity and self-acceptance.

Stuart Ross is a Toronto writer whose GP will prescribe only half the usual dose of Wellbutrin. His (Stuart’s, not his GP’s) most recent book is Dead Cars in Managua (DC Books). You can write him at hunkamooga@sympatico.ca and visit his website, hunkamooga.com.

Over and out.


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