29 January 2009

First Boot Camp of the new year

Great reading last night at the Pivot series, run by Carey Toane. I read with two fiction writers, Kerry Clare and James Sandham. Despite a near-blizzard, the place was packed. Lots of good friends were there. I started off with my current Hunkamooga column from sub-Terrain, read about a dozen poems, mostly ones I haven't read before, and finished with recent my short story So Sue Me, You Talentless Fucker, which was a real pleasure to read. During my reading, my pal Gongadin and his dog Benny came in the door, which was right beside where I was standing. Benny had just missed a poem about a dog, so I read him the pertinent lines again.

The crowd was very generous, and the passed hat (a new tradition for Pivot, thanks to my blackmailing tactics) coughed up a nice little bonus. Managed to sell a small pile of books too. The series takes place at the Press Club, on Dundas. It's too small and too narrow, but the atmosphere is good and the bartender is a cool guy.

In other news, I've just scheduled by first Poetry Boot Camp of the year. The details:

Saturday, February 28, 10am-5 pm (w/ 45-minute lunch break)

Christie/Dupont area
$75 includes materials, light snacks
 & a book by Stuart Ross
To register, write Stuart at hunkamooga@sympatico.ca

A relaxed but 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 writing strategies and relevant readings from the works of poets from Canada and abroad. Arrive with an open mind, and leave with a heap of new poems!


I am the author of six full-length poetry collections, including the acclaimed I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press) and Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (ECW Press). DC Books recently published my newest collection, Dead Cars in Managua. I'm Poetry Editor for Mansfield Press and Fiction & Poetry Editor for This Magazine. I also writes a regular column — "Hunkamooga," which recently received props from a New York Times Book Review writer — for the literary magazine sub-Terrain. For nearly 25 years, I've led writing workshops and I've brought my popular Poetry Boot Camp to venues across Canada. In 2009, Freehand Books will release my second short-story collection, Buying Cigarettes For The Dog.

Please spread the word.

Over and out.

25 January 2009

Pivot and the dog

Feels like it's been a while since I've done a reading in Toronto, but I've been writing a lot. Carey Toane, who runs the Pivot Readings at the Press Club (formerly the I.V. Lounge Reading Series), has asked me to pinch-hit for some slumdog who backed out at the almost-last minute. So on Wednesday, I'm giving my first reading of 2009. I'll be reading mainly poetry, but I'm gonna cram in a little burst of fiction too. I'm really down on readings where the bar makes lots of money and the writers get squat, so I told Carey I was going to put out a tip jar for myself. At which point Carey made the event PWYC, for the first time. I think that's an awesome decision and I hope she continues it, even when gripers like me aren't reading. Here are the details:

Hosted by Carey Toane
Wednesday, January 28, 2008
8 p.m. at the Press Club,
850 Dundas Street West

Featuring: Kerry Clare, Stuart Ross and James Sandham

Kerry Clare is a writer and a reader. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The New Quarterly, Descant, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and she regularly writes for the Descant blog. In 2007, she graduated from the Creative Writing Masters Program at the University of Toronto. She writes about books and reading online at Pickle Me This.

Stuart Ross published his first literary pamphlet on the photocopier in his dad’s office one night in 1979. Through the 1980s, he stood on Toronto’s Yonge Street and sold over 7,000 poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the co-founder of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair and now a founding member of the Meet the Presses collective, Poetry Editor at Mansfield Press, and Fiction & Poetry Editor at This Magazine. He is the author of two collaborative novels, a collection of stories, a book of essays, and six full-length poetry books, and edited the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press). This spring, Freehand Books releases his first story collection in more than a decade, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog.

James Sandham was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, and grew up in Fonthill. He has a degree in Political Science from the University of Guelph. Since graduating in 2006 he has been living and writing in Toronto, with his beautiful wife, Desiree. His new book is called The Entropy of Aaron Rosclatt, from Clark-Nova Books.


In the meantime, I'm working on organizing a reading in March for my Chicago pal Richard Huttel. Also on the bill so far is David W. McFadden. More news on that one as the details become clear. And my Toronto launch for Buying Cigarettes for the Dog is crystallizing, as are launches and readings in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, the Kootenays, Calgary, Edmonton, and Windsor.

Over and out.

19 January 2009

2 poems in Pax Americana

My poem "Four Seasons" appears in the print edition of the Fall 08 Pax Americana.

And two other poems appear on the online edition.

Over and out.

14 January 2009

Back from the dead: Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer

Wow, those literary journals sometimes really move in slow motion. So it was pretty exciting to find this review of Confessions in the current issue of The Malahat Review. I'm not sure the book is even still in print!

STUART ROSS, Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (Vancouver: Anvil, 2005). Paperbound, 128 pp., $16.

Once, back in the early 1990s, I saw Stuart Ross standing firm on Yonge Street amid a swarm of pedestrians, holding out one of his chapbooks. I wish I could remember if he was wearing his customary placard that read, “Okay, So Don’t Buy My Books!” I just remember that I was on one of my infrequent trips to Toronto, trying to pack a lot in, hurrying along with a friend, herself a thwarted poet. She knew who Ross was and said something like, “He’s here all the time, that guy,” before we swept on without stopping.

Now, a shocking three years after it was published, I’m reading Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer and really regretting that I never had the gumption to halt our headlong rush that day and buy whatever chapbook Ross was hawking. No matter what topic the chapbook tackled, the writing would have crackled with Ross’s energy, wit, and passion about language. You can see that passion in this anthology just by reading the playful essay titles: “No Mere Mr. Nice Guy,” “The Great CBC Poetry Death Match,” “At the Controls with Johnny Turmoil,” and “Return to Platen Place.”

Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer is a wonderful book — funny, outrageous, and acute. I’ll even say it’s the best short-essay collection about the writing life that I’ve read in ages. Described by his publisher as “equal parts literary memoir, reckless tirade and unsolicited advice for the aspiring writer,” the collection showcases the best of Ross’s “Hunkamooga” column from Word: Toronto’s Literary Calendar Now you can find the column in the Vancouver literary magazine sub-Terrain. You can also find Ross elsewhere in a number of emanations, as is suitable for someone who has made his name as a publisher of such ephemeral works as leaflets, broadsides, and postcards. He’s just published a new book of poetry called Dead Cars in Managua, with DC Books’ Punchy Poetry imprint; last year he published I Cut My Finger, another book of poetry, with Anvil Press; his work pops up a lot in anthologies and magazines, and he’ll have a short-story collection out next year. In short, it would be difficult to contain Ross’s manic talent in any way whatsoever.

Active in the underground literary scene for more than twenty-five years, Ross has sold over 7,000 copies of his poetry and fiction chapbooks on the street. He was one of the cofounders of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. He also leads “poetry boot camp,” edits the work of others, and gives numerous readings. In short, he’s no wan academic poetaster; instead, Ross is an activist/populist who believes in making all writing accessible. He says that writers who publish their own writing demonstrate that they “believe in their own work” and h thinks “a book is a book” whether it is eight or eighty pages long. Ross’s imagination is a great foil to his opinionated views. For instance, in “The Only Bookstore That Matters,” he paints a convincing picture of a shop called Spineless Literature, which sells only chapbooks. It’s a quirky and wonderful place, and you’ll want to rush right to Toronto and find it on Harbord Street — except that it’s entirely a creation of Ross’s inventive mind.

Elsewhere in the collection, Ross manages to be self-reflective without sounding the least bit pompous. He knows very well that his tactics will never win him a fat contract with McClelland & Stewart, but he has no plans to reform himself. In “And Because It Is My Heart” (with its references to Stephen Crane, his “favourite poet when I was a teenager”) Ross catalogues his “bitterness about my poetry career.” The guy admits he’s envious, but he’s also whoopingly funny: “I got one stinkin’ Works in Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council in 1993, freeing me from indentured servitude at Harlequin Books, but nothing since. Meanwhile, all these peers and sub-peers and people like Dennis Bock with huge advances are snorting up the grant money with their jury-pleasing purple prose.” In “The Comfort of Misery,” he describes his talents in the hospitality suite at the Ottawa International Writers Festival where “for once I don’t argue with rob mclennan, though at one point I do kick him in the foot, my contribution to Canadian literary criticism.”

When Ross writes about his family — his surname is an anglicized version of Razovsky adopted by his grandparents in the 1950s — he is at his most compelling. In “Razovsky and Me,” Ross tells about his struggle to write short stories and novels about “Jewishness,” while his mother died and his father became ill:

The Razovsky poems started coming. My father — who never really got my poetry, but still loved to come to my readings — thought it was very funny that I wanted to use the name Razovsky on my third big book of poems. It always made him laugh. I explained to him how Razovsky was me and him and his father and all those really old bearded guys in the family photos on the wall, guys in Russia and Poland, some of whom wound up in concentration camps.

You can find the work that came out of that struggle in Razovsky at Peace (ECW, 2001).

Every aspiring writer should read Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer, just to find inspiration. And so should every established writer — just to keep humble.


In other news, I spent the past weekend typesetting Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, following the designer's (Fidel Peña of Underline Studios) template. It was great fun, a nifty challenge. I also completed one last new story for the collection, one that revives a couple of characters — Mr. Cage and Howie — from Henry Kafka & Other Stories.

Over and out.

06 January 2009

Dead Cars reviewed in Prairie Fire

Nice to see a review for Dead Cars in Managua, because it hasn't received a lot of reviews. This one's mixed, but that's how it goes. I'm happy the reviewer gave it some thought.

From Prairie Fire online:

Dead Cars in Managua
Stuart Ross
Montreal: DC Books, 2008, ISBN 9781897190333, 81pp., $16.95 paper.

The poems in Dead Cars in Managua read exceptionally fast, and are remarkably good for it. In "Itinery" Ross writes: "Nov 4--A man stands on a rock,/ talking on his cellphone. He falls off." (51) Is there a connection between talking on a cellphone and losing one's balance? Ross's poems continually make connections, until as a reader I'm connecting even when he isn't explicitly doing so. However, the book, divided into three sections (one part recollection, one part witness, and one part exercise), comes off sounding uneven because the sections are so disparate. In the "Author's Note" Ross states he "initially saw this book as a compilation of side projects, a bonus disc of B-sides," but I see only the third section dragging its hindquarters. Perhaps it is the throw-in B-side. The photos of the dead vehicles in the eponymous first section look as if they are bone racks picked clean by dogs. The section shuffles about post-revolution Managua, Nicaragua, as if waiting for something to happen.

A few blocks away, a man sits on a curb
and examines cigarette burns on his arms
and chest beneath a street light that hasn't
worked since the earthquake a decade

This mostly realistic poetry makes Ross come alive in a context that has deeply interested me since the Sandinistas overthrew the US-propped-up Somoza regime. The Revolución doesn't change the way Managua smells, nor does it vanquish poverty, nor make water spring from the taps, but damn it, Somoza is gone!

The midsection, easily the most satisfying, uses short poems on terminal ward care to connect the personal to the public. Health care is a service profession with the odds stacked against it: in terminal wards the ends are continual without end. The poem "Questionnaire" begins perfunctorily, straight backed and fully conscious, with the question, "Are you on medication?" slips into absurdity with hardly a blink of the eye, "Are monkeys your favourite?", but ends chillingly with recognition of death's transport, "Do you hear voices when you are alone?" (39) Everything most praiseworthy about Ross's writing--its acuity, doggedness, courage and humanity--shines here, and makes the concluding section sound blunt and disposable. An unfair comparison perhaps, because most of the poems come from his "Poetry Boot Camps," and many are based on a writing exercise in which someone reads a text out loud while the others write. An interesting exercise, but ultimately only an exercise. I don't trust these as poems, though a few are mildly engaging. This kind of poetry removes guesswork by making supposition the standard preference over the denotation of words. We don't guess at these poems; we reconstruct them, or simply wallow in them.

Andrew Vaisius is a writer and childcare worker living in Morden, Manitoba.

01 January 2009



You are walking along a street
a street from your childhood
your future or maybe
from a movie (dir. Jacques
Tourneur) or a street
in a small town with only
one street okay or a street
in a big metropolis where cars
are stacked vertically and
a ditty fills your head (banjo
and voice) and a camel
falls on your head and a new
slogan pops into your head
and a kiss is planted
on your head where it
grows into an unusual
sculpture and you tug a pair of
parentheses around your shoulders
like an overcoat and
there you are
walking along a street

Stuart Ross
1 January 2009