29 June 2010

July 25, Toronto: Poetry Boot Camp

I've scheduled a Poetry Boot Camp for mid-summer. Because I so often have return Boot Campers, I make it a point to devise several new writing strategies for each session.

Accept no substitutes.

Sunday, July 25, 10am-5 pm (w/ 45-minute lunch break)
Christie/Dupont area
$75 includes materials and light snacks

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 writing strategies and relevant readings from the works of poets from Canada and abroad. We'll also touch on revision and collaboration. You will write in ways you'd never imagined. 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!"

Over and out.

28 June 2010

Cigarettes reviewed in Event

Nice to see a stray review of Buying Cigarettes for the Dog pop up in the literary journal Event. Here it is:


Stuart Ross, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, Freehand Books, 2009
Amy Jones, What Boys Like and Other Stories, Biblioasis, 2009

Sometimes at an EVENT fiction board meeting, one of our team will put forward an inventive ultra-short manuscript as a ‘sorbet piece,’ a palate cleanser between other works lined up for publication in upcoming issues. The collected short-fiction works by Stuart Ross in Buying Cigarettes for the Dog are more like quick shots of tequila. Ross is a co-founder of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair; editor of the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence; and a writer of six collections of poetry, two collaborative novels, a previous collection of short fiction and a collection of essays, Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer.

There are 23 very short works in Buying Cigarettes for the Dog and each is a strange, self-contained world. Unifying the collection is a beguiling expansive feeling created through narrators who appear to relish the art of storytelling. Ross engineers a general loosening of temporal markers so that his characters seem suspended outside the world of the ticking clock. He also finds Beckett-inspired absurdity in the process of naming, cataloguing and defining terms.

The words of the narrator at the end of ‘Mr. Joe’ seem to speak for Ross’s approach: ‘I practise the politics of inclusion.’ There is a galloping anthropomorphism in the writing so that the entire landscape seems to participate and breathe in response to events. Birds, dogs, cows and chicken feet are actors on the stage, making appearances as totemic visitors from another dimension. Conventional power hierarchies are comically inverted in stories like ‘The President’s Cold Legs’ and ‘Me and the Pope,’ where everyday blokes have intimate access to institutional figureheads.

There are a few persistent motifs recurring over multiple stories. For instance, we hear repeatedly about Hank Williams’s music, Payaso cigarettes, death by drowning and spumoni ice cream, giving an eerie cohesiveness to the parade of dreams. Other references pull popular culture and classic literature into the framework of the stories in interesting ways: We learn how one character played the song Suicide is Painless in a school band, how another used a hardback copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice as a weapon. Throughout the volume, Ross embeds the reader in the story as captive listener: ‘ right now you’re the only person who will actually talk to me.’

The quirky four-page story that launches the collection is titled ‘Three Arms Less’; it links two casualties involving severed limbs. The tone here is everything: a cultivated linguistic naiveté enveloping a burnished seed of contained outrage. Ross writes, ‘When there was a war, a little brown boy had his arms exploded right off the sides of his body, where they were attached at the shoulders. He was ten years old. It hurt him a lot.’ In addition to the little boy Ali, we meet Aron, a mountain climber who lops off his own arm to save himself from death by exposure and starvation. We discover that the loss to the planet in terms of limb count is precisely measurable:

So then what you had was this world with three arms less. It really threw things off all over the place. Buses were late and a guy fell on his head and Miss November’s left breast was a little bigger than her right breast.…

Making sarcastic pronouncements with deadpan certainty, Ross constructs a biting fable about human interconnectedness and the process by which we forge celebrities. In Ali’s story, particularly, the idea of culpability and the human cost of war intrudes uncomfortably into the landscape of fable. The narrative focus flares briefly within the experience of each delimbed character before bowing out with a hyperbolic flourish: ‘After that, the number of arms in the world never changed.’ Ross conceals a political razor’s edge under his cape.

If ‘Three Arms Less’ is a faux-naïve documentary about collateral damage, ‘Bouncing’ takes us right into the very noggin of body trauma. The self-proclaimed Bouncing Man reveals how he tripped in a ‘precise sequence of limb-related fiascos’ and began bouncing on his head ‘like an upturned pogo stick.’ The narrator’s journey has an epic quality:

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.

While continuously bouncing, the narrator lists the reactions of those who gather to observe him: ‘those who mocked and those who tried to help; those who genuflected and those who tried to profit.’ The ongoing action of bouncing becomes a way of highlighting the range of human response to unexpected events.

‘Guided Missiles’ is the only extended story, though it proceeds through titled subsections that maintain the short-burst fictional approach. Archie, an aspiring DJ, encounters a prophet, engages in a violent act, experiences an apocalypse and ascends to ‘green man’ status, where there is finally peace:

Archie had been in the tree for fifty years, or seventy-five, or three hundred. His flesh was a deep brown, weathered bark. Small green sprouts emerged through fissures, decorating the lengths of his arms and legs.

The mythic image conveys the metamorphosis in vivid physiological terms and reinforces the concept of elastic time.

This is short fiction to savour. Maybe there’s a kind of sorbet infused with tequila we could name after Stuart Ross? Eat with a little salt and a wedge of lime.

[snip: review of Amy Jones]

— Christine Dewar

Over and out.

23 June 2010

A Toronto literary institution under threat

I started going to This Ain't the Rosedale Library when I was 19 or 20. It shared a Queen Street entrance with The Record Pedlar. That's where I first met Charlie Huisken. That store has been a huge part of my literary life and small-press identity for 30 years. I can't imagine a Toronto without it. Well, I can imagine a greatly impoverished Toronto.

Since Queen Street, This Ain't has lived on Church Street, and then, most recently, on Nassau Street in Kensington Market, where they have made themselves an essential community hub.

Last weekend, though, Charlie turned up at work to find the landlord had changed the locks. The store owes $40,000 in back rent. Here's a note from Charlie and his son (and now business partner) Jesse.

If only we'd all bought all those books we've been dreaming of at This Ain't the Rosedale Library. Keep watching that spot for updates.

Over and out.

10 June 2010



I have been retained by and who have instructed me to letter to you respect to the Toronto apparently making these statements maliciously to attack the reputation and character of, frankly, and with the intent to injure them in their office, professional, calling, or malicious and exceed the limits of comment and free speech, I have read legal proceedings against you many, for example, your recent e-mail on or around January 3, copied to numerous parties nature and tone your web write this by included the following statement, at this point, frankly, I don’t see how libel critics, deny reactions to your criticisms are untrue and defamatory, you are the community a voice, and refuse to recognize the collective can have the moral authority to run a fair dedicated to literature and independent voices, the “people” in these statements are defamatory, other statements my cease clients, and your advice with regard statements are patently false and in my opinion, many of your recent statements concerning my clients and in your e-mails, blog and Facebook postings with made the last months in blog postings, e-mails, 2008, etc., of the same you over postings and, as such, they are further actionable and may expose you to punitive bullying, therefore, fair Small Press Book Fair and wrongful conduct, they will also seek your malicious matter and defamatory statements constitute under which their funds people who censor, attack and were acquired and an intent to defame and interfere with squelch debate, my clients and their work, yours is more than damages criticism — it is against and this letter constitutes a demand for a tortuous interference with the business immediate retraction in writing of the false and libelous have made, I also request that further tortuous interference and making references in your website, blog, Facebook page, to my clients, etc., be removed immediately before this immediately escalates any squelch further, it is my defamatory suggestion that you seek your own squelch vendetta without further notice legal to these very serious issues, if you do not immediately publish the requested retraction as well as squelch and desist from conduct also constitute and contractual relations of and false, malicious and defamatory statements concerning and, they may institute statements that you daily harassment and if they are forced to file suit to stop your defamation and awards and damages, legal fees, special damages and litigation expenses, amen.

08 June 2010

Indie Literary Market stash

It was like coming home last Saturday, attending (and helping to organize) the Indie Literary Market at Clinton's Tavern in Toronto. Not only because I got to do some postering earlier in the week with Nicholas Power, with whom I founded the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, but because this was a room filled with great literary presses and magazines, and the people who came seemed largely to be after actual literature.

The Indie Literary Market was curated by Meet the Presses, a collective that's a dozen strong, and while we didn't manage to get all the presses we wanted there, we still gathered what amounted to a dream bookstore for small-press Canadian literature. We even got Anvil in all the way from Vancouver.

I did very well at my Proper Tales table, and just about all the money I took in I spent at other tables, though I could easily have spent three times that amount.

Here's my stash of chapbooks, books, broadsides, zines, leaflets and postcards:

Heaven For Bid, by Kemeny Babineau (LaurelReedBooks; "This is # of 62 billion copies.")
Poetri, by Kemeny Babineau (LaurelReedBooks)
The Punctuation of Thieves, by Gary Barwin (serif of nottingham)
this is visual poetry, by Gary Barwin (chapbookpublisher.com; got it at the serif of nottingham table)
The Others Raised in Me, by Gregory Betts (Pedlar Press)
Some Answers, by George Bowering (LaurelReedBooks; brilliant sequence!)
[untitled], by p.cob (Curvd H&z)
Write Ottawa, by p.cob (from Curvd H&z table)
Write Ottawa, by p.cob (from Curvd H&z table; different from the one previous)
Sweet, by Dani Couture (Pedlar Press; I'm so excited about this book!)
deed, by jwcurry (Curvd H&z)
Riryphur's rurrusur, by jwcurry & Rob Read (Curvd H&z)
Kiki, by Amanda Earl (LaurelReedBooks)
The Plight House, by Jason Hrivnak (Pedlar Press)
The Adventures of the Dragonfly!, by Nicholas Jirgens (N.J. Productions; from the Rampike table)
Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, by Jeff Latosik (Insomniac Press)
Other Poems, by Jay Millar (Nightwood Editions; got it at the BookThug table)
Ballads of the Restless Are, by bpNichol (Curvd H&z)
from a photo by D. M. Owen (Room 3o2 Books)
uncovering ground, by Nicholas Power (Gesture Press; I love these leaflets Nick has been doing!)
writing on water, by Nicholas Power (Gesture Press)
Chuck Palahniuk, Choke, by Michèle Provost (Curvd H&z)
Grave Mistake, by Stuart Ross (Toronto Poetry Vendors; got my own poem out of a vending machine!)
BOOK, by Ken Sparling (Pedlar Press)
heart badly buried by five shovels, by Hugh Thomas (Paper Kite Press; at the serif of Nottingham table)
Ladies' Favourite of Tennessee, by Carey Toane (Toronto Poetry Vendors)
The Coming Envelope 1 (BookThug)
Grey Borders, Spring 2009 (handed to me by Jordan Fry)
Handthology (Meet the Presses; this was the build-your-own-anthology project we conjured up for the Market)
Winter 2010 (Battered Press; with chapbooks by Marv Sandeye, Jonkil Calembour, Jeff Latosik, Nick Power)

This was the second Indie Literary Market. Will we do more? Maybe. Will we do other kinds of things? I sure hope so.

Over and out

03 June 2010


Last week I attend the 30-something-year reunion for my secondary, AISP (Alternative & Independent Study Program; it's now called Avondale Alternative School). It was a pretty incredible experience. Lots of joy, and some dollops of sadness, and much reflection on mortality.

I got selected, first, to write a kind of ode to the school, and then to actually MC the entire evening, which turned out to be a lot of fun. And a great honour. AISP has some pretty notable alumni, for such a tiny school.

I had about three months to write my poem, during which time I panicked and flailed. I began the actually writing at 3 a.m. the night before the reunion. I did a little bit of cannibalization (mostly of devices) from earlier poems. The piece got a great response. Lots of inside references, but here it is nonetheless:


Did I ever tell you about this school
a school made up entirely of initials:

Apples In Silver Purses
Astronauts Integrating Small Pandas
Ask In Sequence Please
Agatha Ivanov Speaks Portguese

It was a free school
and we were free
to create our own learning
to call our teachers by their first names
to hang a parachute from the ceiling of the Common Room
(until a fire marshal told us otherwise)

We were free to rebel
to make super 8 films
to scream sound poems in the hallways
to make Xerox art in Dorothy’s office
to make comic books instead of essays
comics books about global domination by Venus fly traps

We were free to invent our own courses
skip classes walk out of classes sit in on classes
that we weren’t even taking
free to take the side of Mao Tse-Tung

Did I ever tell you about the initials?

Actively Irrigate Subtle Plantations
Anything Irritates Shirley’s Piano
Abe’s Integers Smoke Pot
Angels Illuminate Soryl’s Pecadillos

We were free to get beat up less than
at Jeffreys, MacKenzie, Fleming
to read any goddamn book we wanted to
I mean truly weird shit
to take three courses a year, or fifteen
to stage mock hostage-takings
and write revolutionary communiqués
to hang a parachute from the Common Room ceiling
I’m serious
because it meant we were alternative
and we were independent
sometimes we studied
and we were never programmed

we ate French fries at Dairy Freeze
fried liver and onions in the cafeteria
Carl ate cookies in his office
and then he brushed his teeth
thus providing a lesson

Have I mentioned the initials?
Always Investigate Snoopy Parents
Armadillos Invest Snappy Premiums
Africa Israel Switzerland Poland
Asia Istanbul Spain Peru

On torn sofas
in the Common Room
we argued sports and politics
under an actual parachute
that hung from the ceiling
a ceiling
a parachute
a fire marshal

We were free from beating each other up
free from conveyor belts
sausage education
particle board learning
We were free from Catcher in the Rye
if we wanted to be
free to take a class with a teacher
who’d fold our poems into paper airplanes
and fly them across the room

plus we had a parachute
a Common Room
a ceiling
have I told you about the parachute?

27 May 2010
Copyright © Stuart Ross

Over and out.

Indie Literary Market this Saturday in Toronto

Our Meet the Presses gang has organized a second Indie Literary Market, happening this Saturday at Clinton's back room in Toronto. One nifty feature this time around will be a sort of "build-your-own-anthology," where you can collect anthology pages from the tables you visit and then have your personalized collection bound on your way out the door. I'll be there with my Proper Tales table, and two new publications:

HARDSCRABBLE 2: the new issue of my poetry magazine contains great poems by Kostas Anagnapoulos, George Bowering, Laura Farina, Jason Heroux, Leigh Nash and Ron Padgett. I know I'm biased, but this is my favourite litmag.

NEW PRODUCTS, by Loren Goodman. You may have read Loren's book Famous Americans, and/or you might have read his poems in the first issue of HARDSCRABBLE. Loren's an amazing American poet, and I'm honoured and giddy to be doing a substantial chapbook of his new poems. His stuff is stark-raving crazy and brilliant.

If you can't make it to the Indie Literary Market, you can order either of these for $5 + shipping ($1 Canada; $2 U.S.; $3 elsewhere). Write me at hardscrabble [at] bell [dot] net.

Here's the skinny on this Saturday's Market:

Over and out.