22 June 2011

Tour notes...

The SDJ/Mansfield tour has had some great moments, but it hasn't been without its twists. Yesterday, Marko Sijan had to suddenly leave the tour to be with his family in Windsor. This was after a magnificent reading the night before in Toronto, at the Magpie. Marko entirely took on the persona of his character Gunther, beautifully displaying the contradictions of a seemingly intelligent and eloquent racist/misogynist. Particularly chilling were Marko's grins and chuckles at some of the most harrowing moments.

It's been just fantastic to hear him read from his novel, Mongrel. I had hoped for another three excerpts this week during the tour. For now, our thoughts are with him.

Robert Earl Stewart also gave a masterful reading from Campfire Radio Rhapsody. He's quickly hitting his reading stride with this book.

The Toronto stop was the one place that I wasn't launching on this tour: it was strictly a Mansfield Press event. So that meant I got to just sit behind the book table and enjoy, between brief bursts of being host. The Toronto reading also featured guest appearances by Peter Norman and Amy Lavender Harris. Great to hear both of them read again.

Last night brought Bob and I to Kingston, and it was great to go back to the city where I was writer-in-residence last fall. We had a fantastic crowd upstairs at the Grad Club. In a last-minute recruitment, Lachie MacDonald opened the evening with four or five original songs. This guy is such a great storyteller, such a great singer.

Here he is with his band Horses:

After Lachie performed, Jaime Forsythe read from her recent poetry. A quiet and powerful reading. Such strange and beautiful poetry. I can't wait to begin working on her debut with Mansfield Press in 2012!

Again, a great reading by Robert Earl Stewart, who totally commanded the room. And then I read three chapters from SDJ, at least one of which I'd never read aloud before. It was a bit of a sombre reading on my part, but I got an enthusiastic response.

So many great friends in the crowd. And a nice gathering at the Mansion afterwards. I hate to have to leave Kingston right away.

But Bob and I are hitting the road for Montreal in a couple of hours. We'll read tonight at Drawn & Quarterly, joined by poet Priscila Uppal, whose Winter Sport: Poems came out with Mansfield last year. I'm a little anxious about tonight, because Montreal is Marko's town, and Marko won't be there. We'll hope for the best.

And we're thinking of Marko.

Over and out.

SDJ reviewed in Globe & Mail!

Very excited to see Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew reviewed in the Globe & Mail! After the early review in the Winnipeg Free Press, I was starting to think the book was going to be otherwise ignored by the dailies.

This is a really nice review, too. One of those reviews that points out a thing or two I missed about my own novel.

Trapped in a Venn diagram


From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jun. 20, 2011 6:00PM EDT

Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, by Stuart Ross, ECW Press, 178 pages, $19.95

Part Guy Maddin, part Marc Chagall, part Kurt Vonnegut, all Stuart Ross, Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew follows the musings of antihero Ben. A performance artist raised in the 1960s along Toronto's dreary Bathurst Street, Ben muses, in a series of short, scene-like chapters, on the love, hate, kitsch, humour, violence and loss that is his biography.

While unreliable witness Ben is depressive and broods on the thin veil that separates life and death, the somberness is undercut by puns and Ross's trademark surrealism. The past is also as fluid and every bit as immediate as the present, making the work both nostalgic and anti-nostalgic.

Known mainly as a poet and as a small-press publisher, Ross previously collaborated on two novels, and has written short fiction. Both as novel and in its subject matter, this one might seem a departure for Ross, but his 2001 poetry collection Razovsky at Peace also featured a mourning Ben, Hebrew for “son,” with grieving son being both Bens' primary roles.

Surrealist though Ross is, what seems a nonsensical title for the book is surprisingly apt. Ben is stuck in the middle of a Venn diagram: The three rings are ambivalent nature, played by dragonflies that both eat mosquitoes and claw into the young Ben's flesh; equally ambivalent humanity, as in Ben's Jewish family, who are all gone, in different ways; and violence and hatred.

Nature can be just as destructive as people: A friend's mother is limbless; Ben's parents both die of cancer; and his brother, Jake, suffers a case of amnesia straight out of Oliver Sacks. The title alludes to violence in the form of snowballs that anti-Semites threw at Ben's mother when she was 4, a violence in which both humanity and nature partake, though a cartoonish one. Yet the book is framed by Ben's mother – maybe – shooting an Ernst Zundel-like character. Hatred and violence … snowball.

The novel challenges our perceptions from the start, and also asks tough questions. It's one of Ross's endearing qualities that his humour carries moral authority, as in when Ben recalls playing with toy soldiers, then reflects, after watching battle coverage on CNN, “Real soldiers don't have plastic bases on their feet, which is why they fall down a lot.”

So while loss is filtered through Ben and his family, it's part of a larger vision. And because in Ross's (and Ben's) universe, reality and fiction are blurred, loss is not irrevocable. The death of Kim Novak's character in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is every bit as real to Ben as that of his parents. Novak the actress is alive, but is it Novak or her dead character, Madeleine Elster, who meets Ben in a doughnut shop?

While the ending runs long — Ross goes on for several pages on how difference-making is the enemy of art — Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew succeeds not only because of Ross's distinctive style, but also because he can think and feel with the best of them, and shows maturity of vision without sacrificing the childish sense of play and absurdity his readers expect from him.

As a teenager, A.J. Levin, the Winnipeg-based author of Monks' Fruit, thought Bathurst Street was already several decades in the past.

Over and out.

20 June 2011

Tonight: Toronto! Tuesday: Kingston! Wednesday: Montreal! Thursday: Ottawa!

Nice crowd last night in Windsor at Milk for the opening night of the mini-tour featuring the two new Mansfield Press books and my own Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. I've heard Robert Earl Stewart read several times before, and he's really good, but I had never yet heard him read from the new book, Campfire Radio Rhapsody. It's a dark collection of poems, but from the stage Bob eked out some great humour among the chilling moments. And, though I have read Marko Sijan's novel, Mongrel, about half a dozen times (in the course of the editing and proofreading processes), I'd never heard him read a single word of it aloud. He, too, was fantastic.

I read three short chapters from Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, one of which I haven't read from yet. It's going to be fun this week reading from different parts of the book I haven't yet uttered aloud.

Opening the evening was Bob's bandmate in Waker Glass, a singer/guitarist named John Pilat, and he was excellent. Mostly originals, plus a very nice cover of "Suzanne." (The Leonard Cohen song, not the Randy Newman song. Though I would love to hear him sing Cohen's "Suzanne.")

Tonight at the Magpie in Toronto, I'll just be doing hosting duties, as it's strictly a Mansfield event. It's late in the launch season, but we're hoping for a good crowd. Marko has a lot of friends in Toronto who have been dying to read this legendary novel (read about its publishing trajectory in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries), and Bob has already built a good Toronto fan base based on his first collection, 2009's Something Burned Along the Southern Border.

Tuesday morning we'll head to Kingston, where we're reading upstairs at the Grad Club in the evening. I'm really looking forward to seeing a lot of the people I met during my stint as writer in residence at Queen's University last fall; that gig was among the great highlights of my writing life. Marko, Bob, and I will be joined there by Jaime Forsythe, who's an amazing poet and whose first collection will come out with my Mansfield imprint in 2012. Here are three poems by Jaime.

The tour continues later in the week with stops in Montreal and Ottawa.

Over and out.

18 June 2011

Sunday: Windsor! Monday: Toronto!

Great day in Toronto yesterday. Luncheon for the Trillium Awards, where Mansfield poet Peter Norman was shortlisted for the poetry prize for his At the Gates of the Theme Park. Well, he didn't win, but the prize went to another great poet with a great first book, Jeff Latosik author of Tiny, Frantic, Stronger. Dani Couture was also on the short list with her fantastic second collection, Sweet. Meanwhile, over in the main prize, buddy Paul Vermeersch was shortlisted for his mighty fine fourth poetry collection, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, but the prize went to another friend, the sublime Rabindranath Maharaj, for his novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy. Robin read from that book in my Real Resident Reading Series at Queen's this past fall and it was a brilliant reading. I'm real happy for him.

Last night was the launch of the latest issue of Taddle Creek, which is packed with great writers, and I was happy to join the festivities at Jet Fuel, where I got to see lots of great friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in ages.

Tomorrow morning, hitting the road (well, the railroad tracks, actually) for Windsor, for the first stop in the five-city tour I'm doing with Mansfield authors Robert Earl Stewart and Marko Sijan.

And then on Monday, we're piling into Bob's four wheels and heading to Toronto for the Mansfield launch, which'll also feature readings by Amy Lavender Harris and Peter Norman. This'll be the only tour stop where I'm not launching Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, because I already launched it in Toronto last month. I'll be hosting, though. Road trip!

Over and out.

17 June 2011

Another batch of chapbooks from Apt. 9 Press!

I meant to write about this a couple months back, when the package arrived.

Young poet and publisher Cameron Anstee is doing some brilliant and energetic things up in Ottawa. He's sent me a fabulous and eclectic bunch of beautiful designed chapbooks he's released through his Apt. 9 Press.

eating thistles, by Peter Gibbon
The Delicious Fields, by Jeremy Hanson-Finger
Sweet & Sour Nothings, by William Hawkins
Accidentals, by Claudia Coutu Radmore
Site Conditions, by Monty Reid

Cameron also tucked in a copy of a chapbook-length poem by himself, She May Be Weary, from St. Andrew Books. Not sure if this is one of his own imprints, or whose. It's a nice piece, though, and Cameron's writing seems to be getting more focussed and less in the realm of abstraction.

He will be selling his stuff at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair and at the Meet the Presses Screaming Chapbook Market on July 9, at Clinton's Tavern in Toronto.

Most exciting to me is that on the evening prior to the Ottawa fair, Cameron is launching a new chapbook — Exit Interviews, by the great Jim Smith. Details on this launch/reading on Cameron's site. This will be Jim's first publication since 2009's Back Off, Assassin! New and Selected Poems, which I acquired and ushered through Mansfield Press. If you haven't read that book, and you care about Canadian poetry, for fuck's sake, get a copy. It's brilliant. You will never read anything like it again here in Canada.

Hats off to Cameron Anstee. He's doing great things for us.

Over and out.

16 June 2011

A really lovely review of SDJ. Who are these people?

This actually made me weepy. Thank you, whoever you are.

Over and out.

15 June 2011

Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew mini-tour — and other stuff

On Sunday, I head to Windsor to kick off a five-city launch tour with the spring 2011 Mansfield authors, Marko Sijan and Robert Earl Stewart. I'm very excited to hear both of them read from their new books, the novel Mongrel and the poetry collection Campfire Radio Rhapsody respectively. These are the four and fifth books to bear the logo of the "a stuart ross book" imprint.

We're travelling from Windsor to Toronto, Kingston, Montreal and Ottawa, and I'll be launching my novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew in all but Toronto (where I already launched in May). We have some great guests joining us along the way, including Jaime Forsythe, whose first book of poetry (still untitled) will be released by Mansfield through my imprint in 2012.

In the meantime, this week the winners of the Trillium Book Awards will be announced. Up for the poetry prize is Peter Norman, whose first collection, At the Gates of the Theme Park, I acquired for Mansfield last year. He's a fantastic reader, a really adventurous poet, and I'm mighty happy for him.

In other, more New Yorky news, on Monday I took part in a snazzy shindig at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The event was called Spontaneity: A New York State of Mind, and it was curated by my old friend Jim Shedden in conjunction with the exhibition of Abstract Expressionist paintings on loan from the MOMA. The event featured jazz music, dance, and poetry. Lynn Crosbie and I provided the poetry (actually, Lynn provided a bit of comedy, too, via Lenny Bruce). I read works by Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, and Eileen Myles, and I snuck in a quick Joe Brainard poem at the last moment. I got tons of great remarks by audience members afterwards, including a few who wanted details about the poets I read from.

On the topic of Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, its reception has been interesting. Everyone says that short-story books don't sell, and it's novels that everyone wants. But my 2009 story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, got tons of reviews in its first few months of publication. SDJ has managed a single review in a daily — the Winnipeg Free Press — and a couple of reviews in U.S. trade mags and on blogs. Could be that it's just off to a slow start, review-wise. And I'm not complaining: I've been incredibly fortunate when it comes to reviews. I know some brilliant writers whose books have gotten either no or very little notice.

I agree with the excellent folks who put together this manifesto in celebration of the short story. But I'm still hoping for more reviews of SDJ!

Over and out.

07 June 2011

New workshop in Toronto!

A few weeks ago I tried out a new workshop in Cobourg. It was just an afternoon session, called Walking The Poem. It went really well, but I felt that the concept need a full day. So I've scheduled a full-day version of Walking The Poem for mid-July in Toronto. Here are the details:


Write in ways
you’ve never
written before!

Poet and writing teacher Stuart Ross offers a relaxed, supportive workshop for poets at all levels. Walking the Poem focuses on creating new work and exploring the possibilities of those texts, as each poem multiplies and mutates.

Sunday, July 10, 10 am - 5 pm
Dupont/Symington area, Toronto

Fee: $80 includes materials and light snacks
Space is limited. To register, write

The starting points for some of the work in this workshop will be strategies I've used in my Poetry Boot Camps. But we'll take those and really run with them here. I think this is going to be a sort of fun and exhausting experience!

Over and out.