31 December 2013

Remembering John Lavery on his birthday

I'm thinking about writer and friend John Lavery, who would have been celebrating his birthday today. John died on May 8, 2011. I was extremely fond of him, and in awe of his brilliance as a writer and composer/songwriter.

It surprises me how much I still yearn to talk with him again. To hear that soothing, quiet voice. To hear his blunt, provocative, and sometimes outrageous ideas about writing.

On September 17, 2011, his beautiful, awesome family — wife Claire, daughters Madeleine and Catherine, and son Charles-Éric — held a magnificent tribute to John in Gatineau, Quebec, where they lived. I hosted the event with Madeleine, and the program featured readings and music and memories from Peter Norman, Max Middle, the Fandango Guitar Quartet, Phillip Victor Bova, Glenn Nuotio, Jeni Labelle, Alison Leja, and others. Catherine read a passage from one of John's favourite writers, the novelist and short fictioneer Christian Bobin, and Charles-Éric, an accomplished musician himself, played his musical interpretation of John's poem "La Porte d'Entrée."

It was an afternoon filled with beautiful art — including Catherine's perfect portrait of her father playing guitar —

great readings, stunning music, and a lot of tears, especially during a brilliantly bagpiped "Scotland the Brave," video of John reading from Sandra Beck (shot by Aldo Erdic during a reading John and I gave at Levack Block in Toronto in February 2011), and the finale, an audio recording of John singing his farewell song, "Disappearing."

The printed programme for the event kicked off with this quotation by John:

"I am a natural performer, and have been since even before my parents made me show off my chops for their martini-drinking friends. Performing is a way of deflecting attention away from yourself. The performer offers up a version of himself which he hopes will be sufficiently interesting to people that when he stops performing, they will not interest themselves in what he considers to be the real version and leave him alone. The performer requires anonymity, but the anonymity would be unbearable without the performing."

Here's John playing one of his own compositions at the Manx Pub in Ottawa:

John was the author of three impeccable, moving, breathtaking books of fiction: the story collections Very Good Butter and You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off (which he considered a novel) and the novel Sandra Beck. I believe he was one of the greatest and most inventive prose stylists this country as ever seen. At the tribute in September 2011, John's family launched Dignity, the CD of his songs John was determined to complete before he died. He did complete it, and it's a thing of wonder. John wrote songs like nothing I've ever heard before. Each is as literary and rich as a good short story. Madeleine said at the tribute: "Today is the official launch of the CD Dignity which John started taping with Bova Sound exactly one year ago, on September 17, 2010. To quote him: 'It was something I had only wanted to do since I had been 12 years old.' He unfortunately did not get the chance to see it through, as he had hoped, but we are very proud to be able to do it for him."

Those of us who knew John were blessed. Those who didn't know John can still read his enduring literary works, and listen to his songs.

Happy birthday, John.

Over and out.

23 December 2013

13 poetry favourites from 2013

Here, in alphabetical order, are 13 of the most exciting poetry reads I experienced during 2013. Although they may belong here, I have excluded books from Mansfield Press, where I have an imprint (issuing this year fantastic poetry by George Bowering, Stephen Brockwell, Jason Camlot and Peter Norman — as well as a collection by me and 29 Canadian collaborators). I have also excluded chapbooks, and I sure read a lot of great chapbooks this year.

If all I had read this past year were these 13 poetry books, it would have been a rich and satisfying 364 days. There are four exciting Selecteds or Collecteds here (Bolaño, Hamilton, Padgett, and Reverdy), as well as one indispensable multi-reissue (Nichol); four remarkable books that mark significant new territory for the poets (Bachinsky, Dailey, Graham, and Thammavongsa); three stunning additions to already-prolific careers (MillAr, Ruefle, and Wier); and one compelling debut (Faulkner).

Each one of these books is a book I will read again. In some cases, again and again. At least a couple of them will be lifelong companions.

Goes without saying, perhaps, that it was tough to keep this list to 13 titles. Next year, though, I guess I get to list 14.

Here are 2013's 13:

Elizabeth Bachinsky (Nightwood)

Roberto Bolaño; trans. Laura Healy (New Directions)

Joel Dailey (Lavender Ink/Fell Swoop)

Andrew Faulkner (Coach House)

Catherine Graham (Wolsak & Wynn)

Alfred Starr Hamilton (The Song Cave)

Jay MillAr (Nightwood)

bpNichol (Coach House)

Ron Padgett (Coffee House)

ed. by Mary Ann Caws; trans. John Ashbery, Dan Bellm, Mary Ann Caws, Lydia Davis, Marilyn Hacker, Richard Howard, Geoffrey O'Brien, Frank O'Hara, Don Padgett, Mark Polizzotti, Kenneth Rexroth, Richard Sieburth, Patricia Terry, Rosanna Warren (NYRB)

Mary Ruefle (Wave)

Souvankham Thammavongsa (Pedlar)

Dara Wier (Wave)

Over and out.

05 December 2013

Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa launch tour!

My new book is out. It looks beautiful. It is the most insane book of poetry ever published in Canada, except perhaps for The Better Poems of Peter Paul Van Camp. I wrote it with 29 collaborators. It was published by Mansfield Press, under my own imprint, "a stuart ross book."

It's called Our Days in Vaudeville. I thought up that title, and then I inserted into a collaborative poem I was working on with Mark Laba to make it look like the title had grown organically from the book. Don't tell anyone.

On Sunday, I'm leaving for a brief tour of three cities, along with four other Mansfield Press authors: Stephen Brockwell, Jason Camlot, Glen Downie and Sara Heinonen. Stephen's and Jason's books were also published under my imprint at Mansfield. In each of the cities, I will have a few of my collaborators read our collaborative poems. it's going to be fun.

Here's all the info.

First, the new books:

Complete Surprising Fragments of Improbable Books, by Stephen Brockwell
What The World Said, by Jason Camlot
Monkey Soap, by Glen Downie
Our Days in Vaudeville, by Stuart Ross & 29 collaborators
Dear Leaves, I Miss You All, by Sara Heinonen
Hosted by Mansfield publisher/editor Denis De Klerck and editor Stuart Ross


at the legendary Monarch Tavern,
12 Clinton St, Toronto, ON M6J 2N8,
just a few short steps away from the legendary Mansfield Press.
7:30 PM
My guest collaborators: Dani Couture, Jim Smith, Paul Vermeersch
at the brand new Cardinal Teahouse,
5326 St. Laurent, Montreal, QC H2T 1A5‎
The Cardinal Teahouse is the second floor of the very popular Sparrow bar.
7:30 PM
My guest collaborators: Sarah Burgoyne, Nicholas Papaxanthos


at the wonderful Raw Sugar Cafe
692 Somerset W., Ottawa, Ontario K1R 6P4
7:30 PM
My guest collaborators: Cameron Anstee, Michael Dennis, Sandra Ridley
If you're anywhere near one of these cities, I hope to see you at the launch!
Over and out.