31 July 2009

A leetle review, plus stuff

A brief review appeared in July 30, 2009 edition of the Halifax publication The Coast. Not sure if this is a web-only weekly, or if there's a print edition too. Anyway, interesting take, and nice to see "Guided Missiles" getting some attention. Are there really that many pop-cult references in my fiction? I hadn't realized.

Stuart Ross' synaptic fireworks
Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, Stuart Ross (Freehand Books)
by Sean Flinn

To be inside Stuart Ross's head: that would be some display of synaptic fireworks. Of course, all the oohing-and-aahing grows a little tired as, paradoxically, the unexpected and absurd becomes the expected and the accepted norm. What's he gonna try now, one asks a few times over the course of these 23 mostly truncated stories. But, like fellow pop-culture surrealist David McGimpsey, there are plenty of reasons (stories) for patience, sticking with the forcefully bizarre and experimental. Reason number one: "Guided Missiles." The longest and most structured narrative tells a great story and uses a magical arboreal metaphor, allowing the author to stay true to his absurdist roots.

In other news, fantastic Poetry Boot Camp last Sunday in Toronto. And I've got two more scheduled for August (15 & 16). The increase in interest in the workshop is really nice to see. I'll have to get a couple of new workshops happening. Perhaps something concerning short fiction.

Over and out.

21 July 2009


50 chairs around a table 50 collapsing cottages 50 pairs of corduroy pants 50 runaway weather balloons 50 reasons to stop 50 shadowy phantoms 50 fireflies dancing in Jersey 50 reasons to continue 50 rocks on my parents’ headstone 50 unhummable songs 50 gentle kisses 50 exclamation marks 50 light tracks in the snow 50 tattered siddurs 50 tries at reading How It Is 50 noodles on my plate 50 insoluble regrets 50 trips to Gravenhurst 50 falling coconuts 50 familiar grins 50 bobbing matzoh balls 50 black poodles named Rufus carrying me to the edge of a shimmering lake

17 July 2009, the day before I turned 50

14 July 2009

Sound poeming, Cigs, Mansfield and Mr. John Lavery

The Figure of Speech sessions went really well last week. Both nights were very distinct, with different things happening musically, dancefully and textually. The biggest thrill for me was doing some sound-poem work. Well, that and collaborating with amazing artists in other disciplines. Looking forward to catching a few of the future entries in the Figure of Speech series.

On the Cigarettes front, there are 32 holds now at Toronto Public Library for the book, and 13 copies on order. I'll almost be disappointed when the books finally get into the system and the number of holds drops.

And over at Mansfield, we're ramping up activity for this fall's releases. Spent the last couple days typesetting Robert Earl Stewart's fantastic debut collection, Something Burned Along the Southern Border. Next up is Jim Smith's Back Off, Assassin: New & Selected Poems, and meanwhile, Tom Walmsley is working away on his novel Dog Eat Rat. Other fall titles include re-releases of a couple of Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's vintage titles and a book on literary Toronto by Amy Lavender Harris.

And at Joyland, it's worth checking out John Lavery's exhilaratingly strange and smart new short story in the Montreal section of the site. Lavery is one of the finest short-story writers in Canada and should be receiving an avalanche of attention.

Over and out.

11 July 2009

Kicking the puppy

Well, Cigarettes got its first negative review, from a Montreal weekly. The reviewer suggests I may want him/her to burn in hell for this review, but actually I'm just grateful that he/she gave my book some thought. One thing that puzzles me, though, is the statement "the book claims to be satirical." I don't think the book claims anything; it's just the molecules that make up a book. The only hint of what the reviewer might be referring to is in the Lee Henderson blurb, where he refers to my "overstimulated satirical imagination."

from Hour, July 9, 2009

Have and have not

MJ Stone

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross (Freehand Books), 198 pp.

Toronto writer Stuart Ross barks up the wrong tree in short-story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog

Recently, I spotted a friend of mine reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. She raved about the modernist author's minimalist prose, asserting that his writing is as simple as it is beautiful.
Although Hemingway's stark fiction may have a breezy, carefree quality, his exacting compositions are a testament to craftsmanship of the highest form, endlessly worked and reworked to create the illusion of effortlessness. Anyone who doubts that assertion need only pick up a copy of Buying Cigarettes for the Dog by Stuart Ross to see what I mean.

Ross' stories of Hemingwayesque prose are so raw and robotic they pale in comparison when measured against the works of the American master. The writing, although stark, lacks the depth of power required to grab hold of a reader and ensure engagement. Take for example the opening paragraph of the short story, The President's Cold Legs, which not only felt facile, but failed to dig its hooks into me and captivate my attention:

"The President fell into the river and his legs got cold and he ended up in a wheelchair. I was pushing him along the sidewalk and someone with lots of shopping bags stopped us and said, 'Did you know that's the President you're pushing there in the wheelchair?' Well sure I knew - this was the president with the cold legs."

Hardly evocative, Ross's prose feels uneven and void of poetic nuance. Where Hemingway was an obsessive polisher, who worked and reworked his fiction until it sparkled with intensity,

Ross's short stories feel like the end result is one or two rewrites away from truly compelling fiction. Although the book claims to be satirical, Ross's deadpan delivery fell flat on my ears; it was neither biting nor witty and didn't provoke a single laugh.

Back in the 1980s, Ross, who is a tireless self-promoter, played the part of the eccentric writer, standing on Yonge St. in Toronto wearing a placard that advertised "Writer going to hell: buy my books." No doubt Ross may wish that this reviewer burns in hell, if he should happen upon my assessment of his prose. But all the self-promotion in the world can't turn mediocre writing into a dazzling work of fiction.

Over and out.

09 July 2009

#2 with an anchor, mysterious authors, and a Boot Camp

Sarah at Freehand Books dropped me a note the other day to tell me that Buying Cigarettes for the Dog was #2 on the Calgary Herald's fiction best-seller list this past Sunday. If anyone has a copy of that paper, I'd love it. Quick! Before they get a better proofreader!

Meanwhile, it's been a hyper-busy week. Last Saturday night, for the Scream Festival, I took part in a panel of editors doing a "blind edit" (we weren't told who the authors were) of a poem and a short story. This process didn't really reflect the usual editing process: you'd never get a single poem by an unknown author. You'd have context: the author's name and perhaps background and perhaps other works, and a whole heap of poems.

So we were squirming up there in front of the capacity crowd at the Mercer Union. And the authors, when they came up, were squirming too. The poet was Ken Babstock. I really didn't like his poem, and I said as much in a harsher-than-usual note back to the mystery author. I basically told him to go read a bunch of other poets and then do some more writing. I like a lot of Ken's published stuff, so there ya go. The fiction writer was Gil Adamson, but she offered up the first draft of a 15-year-old story. I thought it needed a lot of work, but a particularly beautiful passage in the middle and a sublime ending made me feel it was worth rewriting. The other editors were Alana Wilcox and Bev Daurio. Alcohol was necessary afterwards.

Sunday was a nifty reading at the Yorkville branch of Toronto Public Library, which was in fact closed that evening. The reading was built around Martha Baillie's great novel The Incident Report. I was in the fiction section, Marc Glassman in the non-fiction, Kate Eichorn and Jake Mooney read their poetry, and there was more. Good crowd, good fun, hot as hell.

This week has been nearly non-stop jamming and practicing in advance of Friday and Saturday's Figure of Speech event on Walnut Street. It's a very freaky thing to share the stage with a dancer and musicians, but we're all pretty excited about this collaborative experience. Hoping for a nice crowd.

And, finally, I've scheduled a summer Poetry Boot Camp in Toronto. Here's the guff:

Sunday, July 26, 10am-5 pm (w/ 45-minute lunch break)
Christie/Dupont area
$75 includes materials, light snacks & a book by Stuart Ross

Prepayment guarantees your spot. 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 exercises and relevant readings from the works of poets from Canada and abroad. We'll also touch on revision and collaboration. Arrive with an open mind, and leave with a heap of new poems!


"I really enjoyed myself and felt like I got a lot done. I thank you very much for the stimulation & the relaxed atmosphere."

"Yay! Excited to go back to trying to write poems. I have so many new things to try now. Thanks!"

"I liked being exposed to the familiar in a new, fresh, creative way."

"Just what I needed!"

"I most enjoyed the relaxed pace and the self-directed nature of the work."

"The Boot Camp pushed me beyond my comfort zone in precisely the way that I hoped it would."

"My favourite part was the variety of non-threatening strategies for writing."

"Really informative, really helpful workshop. Great energy!"

"Excellent pacing! The day passes quickly — it really is a boot camp!"

"You always get such interesting characters attending your workshops!"

"Excellent overall. I got a lot of out of it. Money very well spent! I'd recommend it to others."

"Very well-run, well-thought-out workshop! Thanks!"

Announced it on Monday, and already it's filling up quickly.

Over and out.

06 July 2009

Figure of Speech: Fluid Dynamics: me, a dancer, some gongs, a bassoon & a guitar

OK, I was really anxious about this event last year, but it came off really well, in spite of the heavy thunderstorm. This year it's happening again — at least a variation of it.

Tonight's the first "practice" — we're calling it that, but it's more of a conceptualizing of what will happen on the weekend. I'm going to shift from being the centrepiece of the event to becoming, more democratically, one of the creators. I think it's going to be make for a more dynamic, unpredictable, textured performance.


A multidisciplinary, improvisational indoor/outdoor performance blends text, dance, and music.

One evening in September 2008, poet Stuart Ross, dancer Norma Araiza, bassoonist Jeff Burke, guitarist Andrew Frost, and percussionist Steve Lederman presented a provocative, lively, and lush text/dance/music experience. This year, they will collaborate again, for two nights, pushing their works in new directions, with an emphasis on fluidity between their disciplines.


JEFF BURKE bassoon

Friday, July 10 @ 8 pm
Saturday, July 11 @ 8 pm

$15 at the door

More info at www.majlisarts.com

Over and out.

04 July 2009

My first book of short stories, from 1997. It could be yours!

To my astonishment, things have been really going well with Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Just a couple months after the first 1,500 copies were printed, Freehand Books ordered up a second printing. The book has received about a dozen reviews, all of which were mostly or entirely positive. And the Toronto Public Library system has 29 holds on the book! Yee-ha!

So it occurs to me that there might be some readers out there who would like a copy of my first collection of stories, Henry Kafka & Other Stories, published by The Mercury Press in 1997. Well, I've got a bunch of 'em.

The story "Howie Tosses and Turns" actually begins with a paragraph that ends one of the stories in Henry Kafka, and it features some of the same characters. I think there are other links between the books, the main one being that both books are pretty crazy.

If you'd like a copy of Henry Kafka, drop me a note. I'm making it available for CAD$15 (incl shipping) in Canada and US$15 (incl shipping) in the U.S. I'll sign 'em too.

Over and out.

03 July 2009

Screaming weekend

I'm involved in two Scream events in Toronto this weekend.

Stet: Redacting the Redacted
Bev Daurio (The Mercury Press), Stuart Ross (Mansfield Press & This Magazine) & Alana Wilcox (Coach House Books) talk about editing, and discuss a piece of poetry and a piece of fiction - by authors unknown - submitted to them in advance.
Saturday, July 4, 7 pm
Mercer Union, 1286 Bloor West
$5 suggested

Incidental Reading: Melvil Dewey Fights Back
Yorkville Library is overrun with writers and musicians Martha Baillie, Kate Eichhorn, Vera Frenkel, Marc Glassman, Theo Heras, Jake Mooney, Stuart Ross, Mitch Smolkin. Inspired by Martha's great novel The Incident Report.
Sunday, July 5, 7 pm
Yorkville Library, 22 Yorkville Ave

I suspect these will both be pretty strange experiences.

Right over here is a full schedule of events for this year's Scream festival.

Over and out.