25 June 2009

The lunatics have taken over the asylum, plus reviews, readings translations

Here are two questions to kick things off:

1. What the fuck does spoken word have to do with poetry chapbooks?

2. What the fuck does Kildare Dobbs have to do with small press?

The answer, I think, has something to do with the gross stupidification of two once-excellent institutions (those'd be the bpNichol Memorial Chapbook Award and the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, by the way).

OK, on to more positive things.…

I spent a few days at the Banff Centre (unofficially) at the beginning of this week, finishing off my novel. On my last day, I bumped into Steven Ross Smith at the Kiln general store. I asked him what he was doing there, because, mook that I am, I didn't realize he was now the director of the writing program there. Had a nice chat and he invited me to a panel on translation that evening. The panel featured Kim Echlin, as well as the Spanish and Chinese translators of her new novel. It was really fascinating. I'm always intrigued by the incredible challenges translators face.

After the panel, I tagged along to the informal reception in Lloyd Hall. Had great conversations there with Steve, and with Calgary fiction writer and translator Susan Ouriou, American translator of German poetry Cathy Ciepela, fiction writer and playwright Jaspreet Singh, and journalist, translator (of Lithuanian poetry) and poet Medeine Tribinevicius. It was an amazing time, and an excellent antidote to not talking with other humans for two and a half days.

Tuesday morning I headed to Calgary to kick off some events to promote and launch Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. The same day, a review appeared in the Globe & Mail:

Canada, in short

Eve Tihanyi leads the way with her new collection of stories about the nature of truth, but three other writers are also helping to shape this country through their narratives

Reviewed by Tom Sandborn

Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2009

Truth and Other Fictions, by Eva Tihanyi
Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross
This One's Going to Last Forever, by Nairne Holtz
Selected Blackouts, by John Goldbach

Human identities are forged in the fires of narrative. Without our stories, we don't know who or where we are. The short story may be one of literature's most striking examples of the way narrative creates meaning and identity.

Thanks in part to judicious support from government bodies such as the Canada Council, and despite the complaints of right-wing ideologues who would prefer that all matters literary to be determined by the Draconian judgments of the cash register, Canada has a relatively healthy (if often imperilled) array of small literary magazines and serious small presses that provide a home for short fiction. The four collections under review here are all the products of that publicly supported literary world and, as different as they are one from another, taken together they make a compelling argument that the tax dollars that go into supporting Canadian writing are well spent.


Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross, Freehand, 198 pages, $19.95

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Toronto surrealist poet, novelist and magazine editor Stuart Ross, is also marked by high intellectual ambitions and an interest in paradox, all neatly signalled by the epigraph from Samuel Beckett that ends “happiness too, yes here was that too, unhappily.” Ross's stories are clearly influenced by Beckett and seem set on a featureless plain with nameless characters who would be at home in Waiting for Godot. These are intelligent, spare narratives that gesture toward large questions of moral anesthesia and social numbness, and there are glints of savage humour that propel the narrative forward.

Me and the Pope is the collection's most effective story, mordantly funny and smart. Some readers may find Ross's stories too bleak and monochrome to be entirely successful, but he is a writer who has clearly already found a readership in Canada, and his fans will welcome this addition to his work. As a young man, according to his publisher's promotional material, Ross stood on Yonge Street with a placard reading, “Writer Going to Hell: Buy My Books.” Good advice.


More about the Alberta launches later, but for now: a great launch party last night in Calgary at the Palomino, and tonight I'm off to Red Deer, and then Edmonton on Saturday.

Over and out.

21 June 2009

novel, launches, Concordia

In Banff for a few days in advance of my launches in Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton. The task: to finish my goddamn novel already. I'm going to do it in 48 hours.

Here's the guff on the Calgary launch:

Please tell your friends and chihuahuas.

Info about the other launches are in the sidebar there to my right. I've also begun putting up links for reviews of my various books.

And speaking of reviews, this just in from Concordia U's newspaper, The Link:

Doggie patch now available

Stuart Ross’ “insane book of stories” begs a re-read


Buying Cigarettes for the Dog Stuart Ross Freehand Books April 2009 198 pp $19.95

The latest instalment of stories from Canadian author-poet-editor-teacher and Yonge Street chapbook legend Stuart Ross has been well worth the wait.

Featuring 23 highly engaging and surprising works, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog is one of those books that has something for everyone. A fragment used to describe this work in a recent e-interview with Ross says it all: “[this is] an insane book of stories.”

Starting it off with “a sequence of limb-related fiascos,” Ross’ stories command interest from the get-go and feature a host of characters that are often confused and always unpredictable. Look forward to reading about tales that are tightly bound in intense unease (“Elliot goes to School” or “Howie Tosses and Turns”), an unrequited letter to the worlds most famous Madame (“Letter to Heidi Fleiss”) and some hilarious English-language lessons any bilingual will appreciate (“Language Lessons…with Simon and Marie!”).

Ross has said that he “spent far too much time reading international news and analysis. The planet is on my mind a lot. I do hope some laughs are infused in my work amid all the tragedy and doom and gloom.”

Apocalyptic nuances aside, Ross’ writing in Buying Cigarettes seems to abide by the values he instructs in his creative writing and poetry workshops. When asked about his pedagogical methods, Ross said he tries to teach “openness and adventurousness. And, of course, I try to get a few principles across, like: don’t fret over meaning, don’t lecture, don’t use clichés, [and] avoid ornamental language,” adding that he “would encourage everyone to try writing poems, and if they like doing it, to keep writing poems. And to assume nothing, and just see the practice as an adventure.”

Poetic escapades are no stranger to Ross, who personally pushed his stuff on the streets of Toronto in the early ‘80s and called the DIY experience “the most exciting time for me as a self-published writer.”

“Self-publishing has been really important to me,” he said. “I have done scores of chapbooks and maybe hundreds of leaflets. Publishing is part of my practice in this way. And I think it’s also given me good tools to push my stuff when other literary presses wouldn’t publish me. It’s certainly given me the beginnings of an audience, this thing of self-publishing.”

For Buying Cigarettes, Ross gathered, edited and wrote anew at the request of Freehand Books, an independent Canadian publisher based in Calgary. Though he didn’t have to street hustle this time around, Ross doesn’t think that having someone doing the publishing for him should change his product.

“Whether one is publishing with a biggie or a smallie,” he said, “the important thing is to be true to the work and be true to the adventure you want to have.”

For the future, Ross said he sees himself concentrating on and experimenting with fiction, as well as resisting any gradual move to the mainstream.

“I just feel right now that I want to really fuck things up on the page,” he said. “I think there’s room for the kind of spirit that B.S. Johnson brought to fiction.”

For more info about Stuart Ross and his works, check his website hunkamooga.com.

I really gotta update my website.

Over and out.

18 June 2009

Beach reading?

Bookninja head honcho George Murray chose Buying Cigarettes for the Dog in this National Post roundup of recommended summer reading.

Bring your plastic shovel and pail.

Over and out.

13 June 2009

I'm in some mags, which is a pretty rare occurrence

I almost never send out poems to magazines. Unless they ask me. And even then they have to bug me a few times because I'm so bad at it.

But at the moment, an event as rare as the eclipse of the sun: I have poems in two journals.

In Event, out of Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, I've got four poems: a New Year's Day poem, "Sonnet for Tuesday (January 1, 2008)"; a Kootenays poem, "Highway 6 Revisited"; a poem written while listening to John Ashbery's lines, "Safety Self-Portrait"; and a poem written after a song title by Lindsay Jane, "I Have Lived."

In Arc, out of Ottawa, I have three poems: "Heron," which makes me sad; "Sorry Sonnet," a poem about a fucking mealy-mouthed idiot; and "French Fries," a true story of my childhood, almost. "Heron" also appears on Arc's online site.

As usual, I also have my "Hunkamooga" column in the current issue of sub-Terrain. This installment is called "How Jew you do?" It's about Jewish stuff. It ends with the words "Merry Christmas."

Over and out.

06 June 2009

Meanwhile, at the library...

Martha Baillie's great new novel, The Incident Report, from Beth Follett's Pedlar Press, got reviewed in today's Globe & Mail. I read with Martha at the end of April at the Ottawa International Writers' Festival, where we shared the stage with some guy named Neil Bisoondath. I really enjoyed the festival appearance, in their new venue in the Market. And I totally enjoyed Martha's book. In fact, as soon as I finished reading it, I put it down and wrote a review. Not something I do very often. The review is slated to appear in sub-Terrain. The Incident Report took me way back to my 11 years of working for the North York Public Library: at the Yorkdale, Bathurst, and Fairview branches. Do any of those libraries still exist?

Meanwhile, a little research shows that there are 25 holds in for Buying Cigarettes for the Dog in the Toronto Public Library system (not to be confused with Baillie's entirely fictitious Public Libraries of Toronto system)! The book is still on order, about a dozen copies.

Over and out.

05 June 2009

Knott the right attitude, he struck

Spent the whole morning reading Bill Knott's prose blog about poetry. Especially fascinating: everything. But especially his various comments on Tate and Ashbery.

For those not familiar with Knott, Richard Hell's smart and compact essay provides a good introduction.

Over and out.

04 June 2009

Reviewed in Edmonton: weepy-making

I think this is the 8th or 9th review of Cigarettes. It's also one that made me a little weepy. It was the phrase "for the rest of his life." I feel like this reviewer could explain my own writing to me. If I wanted it explained. The review appears in the freebie Vue Weekly.


Susan Karp

In his beguiling new collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, Stuart Ross makes the familiar seem provocatively strange, exploring themes as diverse as 20th century celebrity obsession and the political turmoil of South America. It's a truly remarkable effort, Ross's deft use of narrative drawing the reader in emotionally and intellectually, creating pathos tinged with outrage and a desire to read more.

Most of these stories are rather short, some barely more than one page, while a few carry on much longer than the rest, exploring themes not necessarily more deeply, but more broadly. Often the stories are strange, a little bit of unreality that helps jolt the reader into a more critical and curious mindset, such as "Bouncing," where a man trips over his own feet and ends up bouncing on his head for the rest of his life. "Bouncing" provides a fascinating glimpse into what notoriety means, the role of the media in creating and destroying fame, and its ultimately transient nature.

There are also stories that show an obviously darker side, such as "Remember Teeth." Two sides of a domestic dispute are presented, and the chaotic nature of life, the random element of chance, the darkness that lies inside the seemingly innocuous, are explored to chilling effect. One is left with the suspicion that nothing in our "safe" life is real.

The absurdism employed in these stories generates an intense emotional response, an intimacy between the reader and the text. There's the sense one is spying on small corners of the universe heretofore unknown, though this privilege comes with responsibility. To return to the beginning, in the first story, "Three Arms Less," the horror of life during wartime is demonstrated when a small boy is orphaned by the same bomb that took his arms away. The idea that somehow there's a cosmic balance, that losing arms can be made up for, that there's justice, is revealed as an absurdity.

The final line in the last story, "The Engagement," is a direct line to the reader, a challenge, a dare to find meaning in any story, in any moment of life, to construct meaning, because we are meaningful creatures who desire order and purpose and so impose it on an uncaring, unknowing universe: "I speak only to fill the silence—my stories are of no consequence." After we have spent the last 192 pages with Ross, how dare he? It is as though he is invalidating all the effort we have put in to reading his works, perhaps making a mockery of our desire to pass the time in what we thought was a consequential manner. All tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Fans of Ross will find that most of the stories collected in this volume have been printed in a variety of previous publications, but for anyone familiar with Ross's work, this book is a must-have and teeming with gold nuggets; to the uninitiated, it is a welcome introduction to a challenging but unerringly entertaining writer.

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog
By Stuart Ross
Freehand Books
200 pp, $19.95

I've been asking myself why this book is getting so much attention (at least compared to my previous books). The title. The design. And maybe, I'm thinking, the fact that it's so goddamn weird.

Over and out.