27 April 2011

Launch info, plus the fall Mansfield books revealed at last!

The Cobourg launch for Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew was a success. The Human Bean was filled past capacity, and in addition to the locals (many of whom I didn't know), people came from Toronto, Whitby, Belleville, and Kingston. ECW editor Michael Holmes hosted, and he made me nearly weepy with his extremely generous words. I mean, ECW and I have had a relationship not without its bumps, but this experience of being back has been great. SDJ is my fifth book with ECW.

Shannon Siblock sang five original songs at the launch: his first public performance in many years. He's got this sweet and plaintive voice, and, as Ben Walker pointed out, he ends his songs perfectly: when there's nothing more to say, he stops. I had asked him to play one of the songs mentioned in the novel, but he wouldn't tell me which he'd decided on. Turned out to be "Eternal Flame," which, previous to last Thursday, I would never have imagined being sung by a male voice. Shannon did a great job all-round.

Steph from Bella's Bookshelves wrote a very thoughtful review of both the book and the launch. I met Steph last December when she came to the Grad Club in Kingston for my Real Resident Reading Series (man, I miss those days…) — an installment featuring readings by John Lavery, Anne McLean, and me, and music by Ben Walker. By coincidence, Steph wound up proofreading SDJ for ECW Press (and she made some great catches!).

In other news, it was a bit of a crazy weekend as I scrambled to finalize the "stuart ross book" selections for Mansfield's fall 2011 season. Already in the works was a brilliant and utterly entertaining quasi-memoir by George Bowering, called How I Wrote Certain of My Books, a nice spin on Raymond Roussel's book of the same title. To that, we're adding the debut poetry collection by Carey Toane — a fascinating and eclectic book called The Crystal Palace. Carey has been in Brooklyn for most of the past year, but before that she was very active in Toronto, doing a great hosting job on the Pivot at the Press Club Reading Series, acting as an operative on the Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, and collaborating with Elisabeth de Mariaffi on the Toronto Poetry Vendors project. As well, I'm really pleased to be edited Lillian Necakov's fifth full-length poetry book (and her second with Mansfield), Hooligans. Lillian's been steeped in mathematics and science reading the past few years, and the way she blends these new influences into her often-surreal poetry is fascinating. Rounding off the Mansfield fall list is a book that publisher Denis De Klerck is putting through, Lover Through Departure: New and Selected Poems, by Rishma Dunlop. I haven't read that MS yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

A final note: there is still some space around the table for Saturday's Poetry Boot Camp in Toronto. If you're interested, or know someone who is, I can be reached at hunkamooga [at] sympatico [dot] ca.

Over and out.

20 April 2011

Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew — the Cobourg launch! the Toronto launch!

OK, I'm breaking the champagne bottle over the bow of my novel tomorrow. The first launch of Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew is happening in Cobourg, at 7 pm at the Human Bean on King Street West. ECW editor Michael Holmes is coming to town to host the event, and local singer-songwriter Shannon Siblock will be doing four or five songs. I'll read for about 15 or 20 minutes. I think it's going to be pretty full-up at the tiny Bean.

Then, on May 11, ECW is holding what it calls its Spring Literary Party. Seven books will be launched. Along with mine, there'll be titles by Frank Davey, Gil Adamson, Tony Burgess, Gillian Sze, Jonathan Bennett and Natalee Caple. Darn nice company.

Back when I did poetry books with ECW in the last decade, I used to grumble at the six-minute time limit at ECW launches. For this event, we each get three minutes (180 seconds!). So I'm hoping some series in Toronto will invite me so I can read more substantively. ECW likes their launches to have the emphasis on the "party" aspect. Fair enough!

Hoping also to launch the book in Windsor, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal, perhaps with the spring titles from Mansfield. And then I'll be heading out to launch in Vancouver — maybe in Clint Burnham's backyard — and in New Denver.

But I don't think it's a very good book. It's too literary.

Over and out.

17 April 2011

A Poetry Boot Camp on April 30 … and typesetting the Mansfield spring list

I haven't done a workshop in Toronto in ages. Feels like ages. Certainly not this year. Was it last summer I last led a workshop there? Last spring?

So I'm scheduling a Poetry Boot Camp for April 30. I pretty much always fill up my Poetry Boot Camps, but my presence in Toronto is a lot less these days. My Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv lands in Toronto every week, but I no longer do. So it'll be interesting to see what happens.

Here are the details:


Saturday, April 30, 10am-5 pm (w/ 45-minute lunch break)
Symington/Dupont area
$75 includes materials and light snacks

Prepayment guarantees your spot. To register, write Stuart at

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!"

MY BIO: 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). My second story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, earned positive reviews across the country, went into a second printing after only two months, and won the ReLit Prize for Short Fiction. I'm Poetry Editor for Mansfield Press and Fiction & Poetry Editor for This Magazine. I also write a regular column — "Hunkamooga" — for the literary magazine sub-Terrain. In fall 2010 I was Writer in Residence at Queen's University in Kingston. This spring, ECW Press released by novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. For nearly 25 years, I've led writing workshops and I've brought my popular Poetry Boot Camp to venues across Canada.

Know anyone who might be interested? Please help spread the word!

Meanwhile, in the next 48 hours, I hope to finish typesetting the second of the two Mansfield Press spring releases, both of which will appear under my "a stuart ross" imprint.

I've already completed the typesetting on Robert Earl Stewart's second collection of poetry, Campfire Radio Rhapsody. It's following quickly on the heels of his first collection, Something Burned Along the Southern Border, which came out in 2009, but Bob is a very fast writer and a very good one. The new book has a very different tone than the first: and it's better, which is saying a lot. This is a dark book — sometimes darkly funny, too. Bob has been working on a novel for many years now, and I'm really curious about that. How does a guy who writes poetry like he does write fiction?

The book I'm wrapping up on the typesetting on now is Marko Sijan's first novel (and his first book), Mongrel. I guess I've read this about five or six times now. It still shocks me. I'm very curious to see how this book is received. And whether he'll have his key to Windsor (where he grew up and where the novel is set) taken away from him. Marko has a personal essay in the just-new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries; therein he tells the sordid and sorta jolting story of Mongrel's genesis, in particular its near-publication about a decade ago by the then-soon-to-be-defunct Gutter Press. It's almost as shocking as his novel.

I'm really proud to have a hand in getting these books into the world. There will be a Toronto launch for these two titles, and launches in Montreal and Windsor as well. Maybe Kingston. Maybe Hamilton. Maybe even Cobourg.

Over and out.

05 April 2011

One star is golden! I'll win the Griffin!

Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew earned one out of five stars on someone's review blog. She says she was unable to write her own "synapsis" of the book, which she found to be a "mis-mash of scenes" ("Some of which don't even make any sense on their own, let alone taken as a whole with the others.")

This might be the best review I'll get — she gave five stars out of five to Stieg Larsson, Robert Sawyer and John Grisham, so obviously I'm doing everything right!

Incidentally, the nominees for the 2011 Griffin Prize were released today. I must reveal that I wrote all of the nominated books, under various pen names. I will accept the award not for myself, but for the employees of Burma-Shave.

Over and out.

02 April 2011

Jonathan Ball on SDJ

First daily-newspaper review of Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. And it's Jonathan Ball in the Winnipeg Free Press. Very interesting take on the novel's narrative perspective.

Compelling, but not as good as it should have been
Reviewed by: Jonathan Ball

Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew
By Stuart Ross
ECW, 168 pages, $20

THIS tiny literary novel, the first for Ontarian Stuart Ross, explores how the historical trauma of the Holocaust has destroyed the normal processes of cultural memory.
It is tame compared to Ross's previous book, the 2009 short story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. That's not to suggest that Ross, a well-known small-press editor and the author of several books (mostly poetry), hasn't produced a moving and funny novel.

It's just that he's not extending his talents to their limit.

The protagonist and narrator is a Toronto Jewish performance artist now entering his 40s. While reflecting on his life, Ben snags on a childhood memory, his terminally ill mother's assassination of a neo-Nazi leader.

As Ben circles this memory, attempting to square it with other memories of his mother and life, Ross presents his narrative in short, fragmentary chapters that often read like mini-stories, whose interconnections are more thematic than plot-based.

The assassination itself opens the novel. Unlike other poets-turned-novelists, Ross understands the power of both poetry and clear prose. The first sentence is a good example: "To its surprise, the bullet sailed out of the gun my mother clutched unsteadily in both hands, and a moment later the big man's yellow hard hat leapt from his thick head, into the air."

It's the bullet that's surprised, the hard hat that leaps — the objects themselves, the whole world of the memory, taking on life. The child's perspective is tilted in, rather than poured, with "the big man" — Ross resists the temptation to revel in the child's perspective through clunky, condescending stream-of-consciousness, the bane of lesser authors.

When Ross does inhabit the child's voice more fully, he manages it well. Pontificating upon a catfish, the child Ben notes its silent swishes through an ice-cream container: "That's what made it like a cat — the silence and the whiskers."

At stake in Ross's story is not solving the mystery of whether or why Ben's mother killed the neo-Nazi, but how the trauma of the Holocaust is played out in the lives of those with generational ties to the tragedy.

Often, Ben returns to a memory not his own, but his mother's — having snowballs hurled at her as a child because she was Jewish. "What were those snowballs thinking as they flew towards her little curly-haired Jewish head? Was this why their flakes had floated down from the sky like ashes?"

Ross's writing compels, but his story doesn't cohere or build, because the novel lacks shape. Its formal approach — a story told in disjointed fragments of memory and dream — is unmotivated.

Ben has a brother, Jake, who is unable to hold onto or summon his memories due to a medical condition. Instead, they surface with seeming randomness.

Why isn't Jake the main character, the one circling these memories and suffering their impositions, from his inability to truly recall, manage or lose them?

This shift would give Ross's structure more meaning and allow him to pace the novel to the rhythms of Jake's condition.

Jonathan Ball teaches English at the University of Winnipeg. He is the author of two poetry collections, the second, Clockfire, recently shortlisted for Manitoba's Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for poetry.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2011 J9

Over and out.

01 April 2011

gnat poe moe

A person said it's National Poetry Month.

I said, "Go read Bill Berkson. Go read Bill Kushner. Go read bill bissett. Go read 'Buffalo Bill' by E.E. Cummings."

Plus write some stupid poem and title it "Stupid Poem."

Over and out.