29 October 2012

Frankenstorm vs Opal Louis Nations

There's a storm a-comin'. Should arrive here in Cobourg in the next few hours. Will it flood my basement? I've been heaping all the cardboard boxes onto tables and plastic milk crates down there.

But if the storm passes in time, and doesn't leave too much destruction behind, then I'm heading to Toronto tomorrow for the first-anniversary launch of Teksteditions, the sort of heir apparent to The Mercury Press, run by Richard Truhlar and Mercury's Beverley Daurio. Teksteditions has done some very neat things already: uncompromising works by Brian Dedora, Guy Ewing, and — the guy I've come to talk about — Opal Louis Nations.

I've come to talk about him, and I'm going to Toronto to read work by him. Since Opal lives in Oakland, California, Teksteditions needed a stand-in reader, and I'm pretty thrilled that they asked me.

I'm thrilled because Opal Louis Nations is perhaps my ultimate small-press hero. I discovered his work around 1979, when he was living in Toronto and publishing a lot in Victor Coleman's Only Paper Today. I was doing stuff for York University's Excalibur student newspaper, and I did a double of review of a chapbook of Opal's and one by Crad Kilodney. Shortly thereafter, a heavy British accent on the phone identified himself as Opal Nations. He was delighted with the review — his wife, Ellen, who attended York at the time, had seen it — and he wanted me to come for dinner.

And so began my immersion into one of the most exciting and crazy and brilliant small-pressers ever. I began collecting scores of different publications by Opal — issues of his mimeographed Strange Faeces magazine, stand-alone works from the Strange Faeces press, and Opal's books and chapbooks from a huge checklist of tiny and small presses. I eventually added hugely to my collection when used book dealer Larry Wallrich invited me to do some archival work for him in exchange for a spectacular deal on mimeo publications from the '60s and '70s. And a couple of dinners with him and the other Queen West used bookstore guys from the golden era.

Eventually I even published a couple of chapbooks by Opal through my Proper Tales Press — the first was The Hats & Stockings of Great Heroes Who Sang for Six Months, in 1984. And much later, in 1995, I did smaller-format facsimile second edition of 'Meet me at under the elm tree tonight at eight o'clock; tell Tom and Mary to come to'. Looking back after all this time, I can barely believe I had the privilege of publishing these works. They are magnificent.

Anyway, if the weather allows, tomorrow night (October 30, 7:30 pm, the Supermarket, in Kensington Market), I'll be reading from his newest collection from Teksteditions, A Cornucopia. The same press, incidentally, released last year a novel — perhaps one of the weirdest and funniest ever published — called Mr. Body. I remember seeing that manuscript back in the '80s and wishing I could publish it — but it was too big; I couldn't afford it. What I did do was write a poem called "Señor Cuerpo."

Here I am, around 1993, performing the poem with a band called the Angry Shoppers, featuring my buddy Steve "Gongadin" Lederman on drums:

Over and out.

26 October 2012

Some explorations of You Exist. Details Follow.

Some of the most interesting commentary on contemporary poetry can be found on blogs and online journals. As opposed to the review sections of daily or weekly print publications, where the word count is restrained and low payment often makes for hackery. I'm very happy with a couple of recent pieces on my poetry book You Exist. Details Follow. Here are some thoughts on the book by Brian Palmu, who focuses on surrealism in my work. And there is a lively piece by Alessandro Porco over on Northern Poetry Review. As I've said before, there isn't any money in this racket, and fame is sparse, so it's nice when someone puts some thought into what you've written. Over and out.

18 October 2012

The J.I. Segal Award winner is ...

... me!

Just got news yesterday from ECW Press that I am the co-winner — with Montreal writer Beverly Akerman — of the 2012 J. I. Segal Award for English Fiction & Poetry on a Jewish Theme. The award is given every two years by the Jewish Public Library in Montreal. The book that brought me this honour is my novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew.

And J. I. Segal (1896-1954), incidentally, was a Yiddish-Canadian poet, and the awards in his name have been given out since 1968.

OK, the reason I am so thrilled about this is that I have always longed to be recognized as a Jewish writer, by some official Jewish entity. The only such entity that has done so in the past is the Vancouver Jewish Book Festival, which has brought me out west three times for reading and workshops. Those have been amazing events, every time.

I'm not a big award-winner: my writing is so goddamn weird. I was shortlisted in 2000 for the Trillium Book Award for my poetry collection Farmer Gloomy's New Hybrid — along with Alistair McLeod, David Layton, Elyse Friedman, and David Gilmour.

In 2010, I was a finalist for the fishy Alberta Readers' Choice Award for my story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. I say fishy, because they started out by publicizing the number of votes each book received, and I was in front, and then they stopped publicly counting the votes; when the winner was announced, no vote count was publicized, and when I wrote them to ask about public accountability, they didn't even bother responding to me. Is it bad form for me to grouse about this? Probably. But I wanted that $10,000.

Anyway, later that year, I won the ReLit Prize for Short Fiction for Cigarettes, and I became one of the secret society of owners of the beautiful ReLit decoder ring at the ceremony in Ottawa. I had previously been shortlisted twice for the ReLit, for my poetry books I Cut My Finger and Dead Cars in Managua. The ReLit is a very cool award that goes only to books published by indie publishers.

My column "Hunkamooga," which appears in the Vancouver magazine sub-Terrain, has also been shortlisted twice — for a National Magazine Award and a BC Magazine Award.

Anyway, now I get to go to Montreal on November 14 and get my prize, which is half of $500, but more importantly is recognition that I'm a Jewish writer, sometimes writing on Jewish themes, even though I'm Ross instead of Razovsky and Stuart instead of Zalman (my Hebrew name).

Over and out.

17 October 2012

McFadden & Bowering @ Concordia

Last Friday's Concordia event with Dave McFadden and George Bowering was a pretty darn magical night. It was amazing that it marked only the second time these two literary giants — and close friends — had read together.

The readings were marked by their contrasts: George was boisterous, performative, talkative, funny. David was contemplative, understated, funny, and poignant. Both readings were magnificent. And sitting off to the side of the podium was Jason Camlot, inserting audio clips from Concordia readings of McFadden in 1971 and Bowering in 1974. So great to hear the voices of then and now all in one reading.

There were so many good moments, by both writers, that night, but the one that stands out most for me — and certainly resonated with the audience — was Dave's reading of his long poem "The Death of Greg Curnoe." It was a real journey, that poem. People were still talking about it the next day.

Here's the introduction I read for Dave — including one paragraph I edited out on Friday.

It’s a pleasure to be here and to take part in this historic evening featuring two of my heroes. Thanks so much to Jason Camlot, Deanna Fong and the SpokenWeb team that made all this happen.
David W. McFadden, now in his sixth decade of writing, is that impossible mixture: he’s not only a people’s poet — writing accessible, enjoyable works — but he’s also a deeply serious writer. Somehow he manages this without pretension or obscurity, and his readers never need a degree in literary theory to derive huge amounts of pleasure from his writing. In fact, David is one of those rare poets whose work appeals not only to poetry lovers, but to those who think they don’t like poetry.
David was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on October 11, 1940 — he turned 72 yesterday, in fact. As a youth, he painted, played jazz music, and wrote poetry, and soon poetry won out over the other disciplines. As a teenager, still in high school, David corresponded with the legendary Beat writer Jack Kerouac. In the 1960s, he worked the night shift as a proofreader for the Hamilton Spectator, where he later covered the crime beat. About the same time, he began a great mimeographed literary magazine, Mountain, in which he published work by some of the most important poets working in Canada.
His poetry soon began appearing in both pamphlet and book form, as well as in literary journals across the country, including the influential journal Tish. By the mid-seventies, David had become a full-time writer, and though his eventual output would include novels, travel books, and short-story collections, it is to poetry that he has devoted his life.
David has been shortlisted four times for major poetry awards: The Art of Darkness, Gypsy Guitar, and Be Calm, Honey were all shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award; and Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Although the juries keep goofing up, he is perennially a people’s favourite.
I first came across David’s poetry in a North York library when I was about sixteen and playing hooky from high school one afternoon. I had already been writing poems for several years, but when I opened the pages of Intense Pleasure, and later A Knight in Dried Plums, I saw something I had never seen before: I saw that poetry could be conversational, and funny, and about ordinary things and ordinary people, and at the same time be magical and profound and transformative. Reading David McFadden changed my own poetry forever.
Now in my fifties, I teach poetry workshops to high school students across the country. I often read them works by contemporary poets I feel will excite and inspire them, and among these are David McFadden’s poems. Poems like “Secrets of the Universe” and “Thirty-Seven Lines about Horses” never fail to amuse, enthrall, and enchant the student audiences, and they plunge into their own writing with perhaps the same kind of liberation I felt as a teenager when I first read David’s work.
What makes David McFadden’s poetry so universal and so beloved, I think, is his fascination with — and curiosity about — everyone around him, with people: the writers, artists, and musicians, but also the guy working at the convenience store in downtown Toronto, the woman on the bus in the east end of Hamilton, the stranger he encounters on a street corner in Cuba, or Newfoundland, or Scotland — or wherever he happens to be. David’s poetry is deeply social, and this socialness seems to arise from a deeply humanistic impulse.
In his work, David often acknowledges sadness — the tragedies of mortality, missed opportunity, war — but then he revels in a delight and wonder in even the most ordinary things, and in the privilege of being alive and getting to look at clouds, read books, drink tea, watch movies, listen to Ella Fitzgerald, walk through a new neighbourhood, and talk to strangers in bars and cafés and movie lineups. Even as a mopey teenage poet, I saw this love-energy in those fantastic McFadden books I stumbled upon in the public library.
David has given dozens of workshops and hundreds of readings; he has been a writer in residence in libraries and universities; he has consistently encouraged his fellow writers, both established and emerging; he has read his fellow writers voraciously; and, perhaps most importantly, he has offered his own life as a model of an artist wholly devoted to his art. I believe he sees his artistic calling as a duty.
David McFadden’s magic may derive from his humbleness before language, before poetry. Every line he writes is a celebration of the very fact that poetry exists, that we all exist, that we have language, that we can share our experiences. In “I Don’t Know,” he writes:
                           Before a long poem 
a poet can only stand in stupid ignorance,
knowing only kindness must be shown to words,
his mindlessness steeped in a simple divinity.
Poetry is a man sitting alone in a room
with a ticking clock, the poet the mere tip
of an ancient pyramid.
He is indeed kind to words; he seems almost grateful to them. And especially in his many long poems, David approaches the page with a clear mind, a mindlessness, and lets his breathing and the words carry him, likely to a place that surprises him as much as it surprises us.
The judges of the 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize wrote, among other things: “[McFadden] is the most readable poet on the planet. Like his hero William Blake, he lives at ease among the most supernatural of events, and gazes in wonderment at everyday things. If there is any such thing as an essential poet, here he is.”
When I first read Dave McFadden’s poetry as a teenager, I never imagined that a few decades later I’d be his friend, and I’d have worked with him as editor on four of his books. And these experiences, most recently with his 2012 collection What’s the Score?, were more like getting writing lessons from a master than doing editing. Over and over, in what I thought was already a perfect poem, I watched David chop off a stanza here, replace a word there, add a new ending, rewrite what seemed to be a perfect line — and the poems only got better.
David told me in an interview for my magazine Syd & Shirley in 2005, “From Grade 11 till now I’ve been writing poems every day, or thinking about it a lot on the occasional day I’d miss. To me an artist had to work every day, it had to be his entire life, or he was a fake. Feel that way even more today.”
It’s a great honour to introduce to you — David W. McFadden.

Over and out.

11 October 2012

Montreal & Dave & George & Greg & Jason &tc

When I was a teenager, I wandered into North York Central Library, which was just a few blocks from the alternative school I was attending, and I found on the Canadian poetry shelf a book called Intense Pleasure. It was by a guy named David McFadden. I'd already been writing poetry for six or seven years, and I loved E.E. Cummings and Stephen Crane, and I had apprenticed John Robert Colombo for a while, but McFadden was a revelation: you could write in plain language, and be funny, and be deeply weird, and still tackle serious stuff.

McFadden quickly became my favourite Canadian poet, and it wasn't long before I'd discovered Ron Padgett's Toujours L'Amour and saw that there were American poets doing something very similar. These guys were the most welcome discoveries. They were decades before their time.

I would never have imagined that, 35 years later, I'd be on a train to Montreal to introduce McFadden at Concordia University, where he's reading tomorrow night with George Bowering, as part of an historic event organized by Jason Camlot. The event is called George Bowering & David McFadden: Performing the Spoken Word Archive, and you can read all about it here. It's gonna be a heckuva time. And I'm honoured to be part of it.

Last year, when I nominated Dave for the Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts (he was shortlisted, as he's also been for the Griffin and the GG), I wrote to the committee: "David W. McFadden, now in his sixth decade of writing, is that impossible mixture: he’s not only a people’s poet — writing accessible, enjoyable works — but he’s also a deeply serious writer: in fact, a literary giant. Somehow he manages this without pretension or obscurity, and his readers never need a degree in semiotics or literary theory to derive huge amounts of pleasure from his writing. In fact, David is one of those rare poets whose work appeals not only to poetry lovers, but to those who think they don’t like poetry."

So I'm glad to see Dave getting the kind of recognition Jason has put together. Even better, it's happening alongside his friend of many decades, George Bowering, about whom I could also rave for many pages (and whose startling little book At War with the U.S. I found at the same library the same year).

I'm also excited about this trip because on Saturday night I'm reading at Argo Bookstore with Greg Santos, who, like me, has a poetry book out from Jason Camlot's Punchy Poetry imprint with DC Books. Greg's book, The Emperor's Sofa, is my kind of book. In fact, I wanted to publish it through my own imprint at Mansfield, but I wasn't quick enough on the draw. You can't hesitate with that kind of thing. Anyway, Greg and I are furiously working away on a collaborative poem by email, and I hope we can read it on Saturday.

Over and out.

10 October 2012

The Week Shall Inherit the Verse / This Magazine

After eight pretty darn good years, I have left my position at This Magazine, where I was the Fiction & Poetry Editor. I really enjoyed most aspects of that gig. I got to offer up new work by many of my literary heroes, and be the first to publish an awful lot of other writers and poets, many of whom have gone on to excellent things.

I hemmed and hawed about leaving for almost two years, and finally I bit the bullet. It just seemed it was time for some new blood at the mag, and I felt old compared to the youthful and energetic This gang, and really I'd accomplished all I had wanted to there. From the first time I'd thought about leaving, I knew exactly who I wanted for my successor. I checked it out with This's publisher and editor, and they liked the idea. So Dani Couture, a hugely admired writer and an awfully swell person, is the new Fiction & Poetry Editor.

I also knew that there would be a big void in my life after moving on from This, a magazine I believe in deeply. So I conjured up a new project that would allow me to continue curating literature, but in a very different way.

So enter The Week Shall Inherit The Verse, a weekly curated poetry blog that I launched on July 22. I wanted that first "issue" of the blog to be very meaningful, so I selected a poem by Montreal writer Jason Camlot. A poem called "Jewtard." About four or five years ago, when Jason launched his Punchy Poetry imprint through DC Books, he told me he wanted the first book to be by me. It was hugely flattering, as I have tons of respect for Jason, plus he's a good friend, but I didn't have a manuscript handy. The book that resulted, Dead Cars in Managua, started off as a collection of three side projects, but then I realized it more like three chapbooks bound into one cover, and then I realized, hell, it's just a book.

Anyway, it seemed only right that I'd kick off my new blog project with Jason. I've also since published poems by Sandra Alland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Niels Hav (Copenhagen, Denmark), Laura Farina (Vancouver), Leigh Nash (Toronto), Paul Dutton (Toronto), Richard Huttel (Chicago), Alice Burdick (Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia), Gary Barwin (Hamilton, Ontario), Nicholas Papaxanthos (Montreal), Eileen Myles (NYC), and, this morning, I posted a new poem by Jaime Forsythe (Halifax).

I'm going to pay each of these writers 10 bucks (as soon as some overdue freelance-editing cheques come my way). That's a matter of principle. Ten dollars doesn't sound like much, but if a poet got 10 dollars for every poem that appeared in a book, before it appeared in the book, she would probably make two or three times what she's going to make in royalties.

The Week Shall Inherit The Verse is curated entirely by my soliciting poems. I don't accept unsolicited poems, and to my amazement no one has sent me any. I'm enjoying this adventure immensely. I have a bunch of poems crashing against the paddock doors, waiting to hit the blog, and I'm constantly asking for more. As for readership, things began gradually, but after the first few weeks, each new poem was getting a couple hundred hits within a few days, and now it's up to about 300 hits.

I'm thinking people like this tiny "magazine" — it's not like some huge literary journal overflowing with stuff you only want to read about 10 percent of: you are committed to reading only one poem each time you dip into The Week Shall Inherit The Verse.

Anyways, I wish all my comrades at This Magazine all the best in this turbulent publishing and political era. They're doing great things. As for me, I'm enjoying this relaxing new gig of finding one poem a week.

Over and out.

09 October 2012

2 Toronto workshops in November!

I'm offering two writing workshops in November in Toronto. One is a new workshop inspired by the works of the great Joe Brainard; I did one-hour version of this in Ottawa last summer, and it was so successful that I have morphed it into a full-day extravaganza. The second workshop is a new version of my ever-popular Poetry Boot Camp.

Have a look:


Saturday, November 10, 10 am – 5 pm (45-minute lunch break)
Christie/Dupont area
$90 includes materials and snacks
Spaces limited: register now by writing razovsky [at] gmail [dot] com

An all-day workshop, suitable for both the accomplished writer and the complete beginner, sparked by the literary works of the late and magnificent Joe Brainard, on the occasion of the release of his Collected Writings and the re-release of the legendary Bean Spasms collaboration between Joe, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan. The workshop will be divided between exploring Joe’s works in writing, drawing, and collage, and writing new works inspired by Joe, both individually and collaboratively. While Brainard was known primarily as a visual artist, his writing is filled with invention and magic, and he was a friend and collaborator for two generations of New York poets.


Sunday, November 25, 10 am – 5 pm (45-minute lunch break)
Christie/Dupont area
$90 includes materials and snacks
Spaces limited: register now by writing razovsky [at] gmail [dot] com

This relaxed but intensive workshop for beginning poets, experienced poets, stalled poets, and haikuists who want to get beyond three lines is a Toronto institution! Poetry Boot Camp focuses on the pleasures of poetry and the riches that spontaneity brings, through lively directed writing strategies. You will write in ways you’d never imagined. Even if you’ve taken the Boot Camp before, you’ll be introduced to new adventures in poetry. Arrive with an open mind, and leave with a heap of new poems!

Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, and writing coach who has been leading workshops for two decades. His most recent books include the acclaimed poetry collection You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press 2012) and novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew (ECW Press, 2011). He has been shortlisted once for the Trillium Book Award and three times for the ReLit Prize; his story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009) won him the coveted ReLit ring in 2010. Stuart was Fiction & Poetry Editor at This Magazine for eight years, and is editor at Mansfield Press, where he has his own imprint. He runs the weekly poetry blog The Week Shall Inherit The Verse. Stuart lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

Over and out.

08 October 2012

Vancouver Weekly reviews You Exist. Details Follow.

I was feeling a little bummed lately that the new poetry book was attracting less critical interest than previous books. But things are starting to pop up. Here's a review from someone I don't know writing for the Vancouver Weekly.

Existence: It's a Fact of Life by Armen Kazemi Vancouver Weekly, October 8, 2012 “It’s about time”. But also about that other thing.
The title of Stuart Ross’s latest poetry collection, You Exist. Details Follow. couldn’t be more self-explanatory. In each poem, Ross distills the reality of existence by cataloguing the minutiae that make it up.  He suggests that the concern with which we become occupied, accounting for the fact that we do exist, causes us to overlook the details that imbue this existence with meaning.
You exist. What follow this recognition are the details that make the statement real for each individual.
Ross’s poems are filled with such double-entendres that undo the everyday significance of stock phrases like “details follow”. There’s a poem entitled “Poem” that reads like the menu of a second-rate oriental-Italian-Indian diner. As we go through the list of generic food descriptions, we suddenly read “Help, I’m being – / 5. Lentil and potato soup.” This encounter with the unexpected is indicative of Ross’s process throughout the book; he wants to jolt us with the immediacy of a revelation at our most quotidian and complacent moments. A poem like “Poem” does this exceptionally well because it performs its meaning through the process of reading. A poem that for this reason can never be read the same way a second time.
“Late” may be Ross’s variation on Harold Bloom’s theory of literary belatedness. According to Bloom, a living poet always feels himself to have arrived late in the literary tradition. For this reason, a poet is faced with the prospect of have nothing new to say because everything has already been expressed better and more completely by those who went before. In a typically wry turn, Ross conceives this sense of belatedness as the poet staying up past bedtime, after the other poets have all gone to bed. “Jim Smith’s head is on the pillow”, Ross writes, “[W]hile he sleeps / he is no better a writer than me…/ David Gilmour, he too is asleep…// and he is no better a writer / than me, not right now anyway”.
The title of the poem refers both to its temporal setting as well as to the condition of the poet as a latecomer in the tradition. Although “late”, however, the poet is validated by the idea that, though he may not be better than any of the other poets he mentions, he still has cause to write if for no other reason than that he is the only one left.
…this poem
doesn’t even have to be good
to be better than what my favourite
writers are writing right now, which is
nothing, though it’s possible that Nelson,
who is a minimalist, would contest that,

suggesting that nothing is better than this.
In Ross’s language, this “nothing” could mean both the abstract idea of Nothingness – in which case it is an improvement on anything Ross materially could have written – as well as that this poem is better than anything else that could be (or is) being written right now. Neither is mutually exclusive in Ross’s framework.
With the focus on mundane detail and idiosyncratic imagery that Ross attempts to convey comes a good deal of experimentation and surrealistic liberty.  Where this technique works, the effect is disturbing and revelatory. But in many instances Ross slips into something like a lack of method that passes for surrealism. For example, in “Clouds of the Rich”, I don’t know what to do with his “Disappointment is a spider / with empty pockets / humming under the tactile moss.” The imagery seems on the verge of making a fresh connection in the imagination but thuds disappointingly short of saying anything new.
Of course, such indiscretions are apologized for under the guise of the avant-garde. And I suppose that argument will always be circular. With that said, I love his “Cento for Alfred Purdy” and the way it eschews linear logic in favour of imagination and “the brain’s small country”. “Prayer of Defamation” is a Cummings-esque free-association prose poem that, like “Poem” mentioned above, upends the language of the day-to-day with a barely comprehensible legalese, ending in a solemn, totally decontextualized “amen”.
Ross loves dogs, trees, and poems told from the perspective of children. Leaving behind any universalist pretensions, he encounters from the perspective of the small and overlooked those things that make existence worthwhile as a daily process. The techniques he uses can falter, but his practice of linguistic experimentation is a better devise for dealing with the truly novel in a family road trip, a dog’s bark, or naptime during kindergarten than the means by which we navigate the thousand other moments when we’re not reading Ross, when we live in a world where the details of existence are taken for granted and “nothing [is] weird”.

Over and out.

05 October 2012

You Exist. Details Follow. — a book trailer

 Over and out.