22 February 2010

Tree Reading, then the Rogue Stimulus tour!

Tomorrow night, February 23, I read for the first time at Ottawa's legendary Tree Reading Series, along with Stephen Brockwell. I'm going to be reading from a new poetry chapbook, I've Come to Talk about Manners, which'll be ready for the reading from Cameron Anstee's nifty Apt. 9 Press, as well as new short stories. I'll have Dogs to flog. So to speak.

The details:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
8 - 10 pm
Ottawa Arts Court
2 Daly Avenue
Ottawa, ON

Tree hosts two writers at the Ottawa Arts Court. Local poet/writer and Archibald Lampman Award-winner Stephen Brockwell will perform some of his work, followed by Stuart Ross reading from his first collection of stories in over a decade, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. The evening will begin at 8pm, and preceding the reading from 6:45-7:45 Terry Ann Carter will host her first of a series of four workshops for emerging writers.

Note on Stephen Brockwell: Stephen Brockwell currently lives in Ottawa but has spent a large part of his life in Montreal and other equally exhilarating places. His Fruitfly Geographic won the 2005 Archibald Lampman Award for best book of poetry by an Ottawa resident. He runs his own IT consulting business from home, and he is the author of several books including The Wire in Fences, The Cometology (ECW Press, 2001), and The Real Made Up (ECW Press, 2007).

Shortly after this reading, Stephen Brockwell and I embark on our mini-tour in support of our nearly instant anthology, Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament, beginning Thursday in Montreal, heading to Parliament Hill and elsewhere in Ottawa on Saturday, then to Kingston, where we'll be joined by Arrogant Worm Trevor Strong, and winding up, the night before Parliament reconvenes, in Toronto. Along the way, contributors to the anthology will be reading their Proroguing poetry. The book, which contains 72 poems, is published by Mansfield Press, and the awesome cover is by Gary Clement.

This tour also serves as a multi-city launch for Jim Smith's Back Off, Assassin! New & Selected Poems and Robert Earl Stewart's Something Burned Along the Southern Border, which were my Mansfield poetry acquisitions for 2009. We'll also have some other Mansfield titles on hand, including Tom Walmsley's incisive and smart novel Dog Eat Rat.

Over and out.

11 February 2010


Here's the first in a series of excerpts from my short-story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009). I think "Bouncing" is, like, an allegory for something. Maybe you can figure it out.


Due to a powerful convolution of entanglement, one ankle blocking the path of another, a knee tilting inward while a foot swung around backward, I fell and I hit my head. I didn’t witness it from nearby but from within my very self, and so I am only speculating upon the precise sequence of limb-related fiascos, but the blows to my head I am certain of. My head hit the ground, and then hit it again, and then again, and so forth, until I was bouncing down the small hill like an upturned pogo stick, which is something I’d believed possible only in cartoon animation. I’m tempted to digress for a moment so we can compare our favourite Saturday-morning children’s programming, but my doctor — as well as my brothers and my mother — have expressed impatience with my digressions, and I don’t want to exasperate you, too, because right now you’re the only person who will actually talk to me.

Here’s the thing: with each blow, each contact of the top of my head to the hard-dirt ground — along a sloping path that served as a shortcut to my home, allowing me to avoid the paved sidewalks riddled with children and their lemonade stands — I uttered a sharp “Ah!” or “Unh!” depending on the exact angle of impact. Thus did the people who lived up along the brink of the ravine, their houses in danger of tumbling into the trees, hear me and come running through secondary and tertiary paths to witness my comical descent. Well, they found it comical until they found it alarming. They jogged along behind me, their numbers growing, discussing amongst themselves what they might do to slow me down and bring me to a stop, lest I bash my brains to smithereens in the ravine, making it impossible for them to, in the future, gaze wistfully down into the trees and mist without evoking the terrible image of my boinging demise.

As for me, I wondered if, after all, it wouldn’t have been preferable to sidestep the occasional lemonade stand and hurt the feelings of small children by declining to patronize them as they made their first desperate stabs at capitalism, a system I championed, but whose drawbacks I was all too aware of. Yes, perhaps I might even have stopped to enjoy a plastic tumbler of the pink and sugary lukewarm drink, parting with a nickel or dime or whatever these midget entrepreneurs extorted from passersby these days. It is unlikely, that way, that I would have experienced this terrible pounding atop my sorry noggin.

I could hear only snatches of the discussion taking place around me, but there was talk of lassooing me, rolling a log into my path, shooting me with a sedative-loaded dart, and tackling me outright; one woman, gasping for breath as she loped along, suggested passing me a pillow that I might hold above my head, or more rightly below it, given my inverted posture, to cushion the impact each time I bounced. They argued, they joked, they shouted to each other and to me, they formed committees and subcommittees, agreed on meeting dates, venues, and catered lunches. That they were taking my predicament seriously was reassuring.

By now I had reached the cradle of the ravine and had begun to bounce up the opposite incline. This surprised me, as I had expected to tumble into a heap at the bottom, not continue my staccato trajectory uphill. I had to accept that this would not end, that I would continue pogoing along, my audience dwindling and swelling again depending on the time of day, the weather, their work schedules, and what was on television. I would never show up at the plant again — they would hire someone else to press the button when necessary — and I might never again see my family.

A stocky man in a rumpled sweater followed along beside me now, close as he could safely come: he was hunched over, and his legs were kicking comically as if he were a Cossack dancer. I recognized him from the tiny square picture that appeared beside his name in the daily newspaper, and took comfort that it was no mere city reporter assigned to me, but a popular columnist.

“I am the Bouncing Man,” I told him. “I was a happy child and a content father and husband, but now I spring through the ravine and shortly up into the street and down the highway and through an endless string of villages, each blow to my lid a reminder that we are placed upon this earth by God and we are set upright and given a tiny shove that we might begin moving and determining our own direction and in this way defining who we are and what our values might be. Tell your readers I have a joined a club of exceptional men — men who stumble without cessation about their living rooms, who stomp day and night through the corridors of their offices, who teeter like metronomes in public squares. I am not alone.”

Eventually, and I have no idea how much time had passed, I became oblivious to the activity around me — those who mocked and those who tried to help; those who genuflected and those who tried to profit. The cameras, the cars, the trotting dogs. The handsome woman who said she was my wife; the children who called to me their impressive grades. Each village became an overturned blur, each downpour a welcome laundering. I could focus only on the blows to my skull and the subsequent rattling, the quiver of every molecule of bone that held my increasingly irrelevant brain in its protective embrace. I lost track of time, and of my name, and of the significance of this ball of dirt across which I bounced, bounced, bounced. I became merely impact and motion, impact and motion.

I remember a story my father once told me. A boy is playing in the sandbox in the schoolyard, and darkness falls. He hears the voice of his mother calling him in for supper. On his way home, he loses his way in the shadows and walks until his feet are sore. He curls up against the side of a stranger’s house and falls asleep. In the morning, the sun pries open his eyelids. He is back in the schoolyard. He realizes he is not the boy at all, but the sandbox, and so he is already home.

Copyright © 2009 by Stuart Ross

07 February 2010

The sad passing of Barbara Caruso

I was saddened last month to hear of the death of artist Barbara Caruso on December 30.

Barbara was amazing: a fascinating visual artist and the author of three important and very illuminating books from The Mercury Press — two volumes of journals and a collection of essays. I don't know if there is any more honest and telling published account of an artist's life than the two installments of A Painter's Journey.

Barbara, married to the poet Nelson Ball for 44 years, was a brilliant, lovely person.

The few times I visited with them in Paris, Ontario (I wish it had been a lot more than a few times), Barbara always had challenging and absorbing questions, about my writing, or my life, or politics. She talked with great deliberation and precision about her own work: the paintings and drawings that I got to see at a few gallery shows I made it to in Cambridge and at Toronto's Artwords Gallery, and that appeared on the covers of Nelson's legendary mimeographed weed/flower books in the 1960s and 1970s. I learned so much in those few talks: I'd never heard anyone speak so passionately and clearly about colour, about shape, about the field of the canvas.

We ate cookies, drank tea, talked. I'm going to cherish those visits, the quiet and warm hospitality Nelson and Barbara offered.

It always struck me that Barbara, in her visual art, and Nelson, in his writing, did such similar things: minimalist explorations of subtleties, and of the field of the canvas/page. All created with such care, and such commitment to their respective arts.

My most profound condolences go out to Nelson Ball on his loss.

Over and out.

06 February 2010

Sneak peek at Gary Clement's cover for Rogue Stimulus

Coming soon from Mansfield Press. Featuring 72 poems in protest of Stephen Harper, by writers from across Canada.

Over and out.

some publishing news

So much has been happening, it's sort of paralyzed me.

My novel got accepted for publication in spring 2011. More on that another time.

Been buried in work with Mansfield Press, which has been one of the most exciting aspects of my literary career. So proud of the books I acquired and edited for the last season: poetry by Jim Smith and Robert Earl Stewart, and a new novel by Tom Walmsley. I think those books are as good as anything any Canadian press has put out in recent times. And I'm real excited about Peter Norman's debut poetry collection, coming out as part of this spring's Mansfield list.

And Stephen Brockwell and I just finished an insane two-week blitz that led the Mansfield anthology Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament from conception to the printer. About 350 poems poured in; we selected 72. Some of the poets included in the book, which will be released when Parliament reconvenes in early March, are George Bowering, Alice Burdick, George Elliott Clarke, Michael Dennis, Amanda Earl, Jason Heroux, Lillian Necakov, Joe Rosenblatt, Steve Venright. An amazing collection.

OK. There's this young guy in Ottawa named Cameron Anstee, and last year he started up a chapbook press called (I love this) Apt. 9. He's published some gorgeous books, by some great writers, most recently my pal Michael Dennis. And later this month he's releasing a chapbook of my new poems. The announcement on his blog is here. Poke around and see what other stuff he's done. But it's struck me that I can't even remember the last time someone else published a chapbook of mine. Was it Home Shopping by jwcurry's Room 3o2 Books? That was a decade ago or something. I don't think anyone's asked me for stuff for a chapbook since then. Well, I'm excited about this one. The other day I sent Cameron about 40 pages of poems and he selected 20 pages. I've never done that before: just send a bunch of stuff and let the editor choose from among it all. His selections surprised me. I'll be reading at the Tree Reading Series on February 23, and I'll see the book for the first time then.

Over and out.