02 July 2020

Razovskyville #3: More chapbooks and ephemera

I've really fallen behind here. My brother died a month ago, and there has been a lot of ugly fallout in the wake of that so it's been kind of hard to work and to mourn. But I'm making some progress, at least on the former. Soon, I hope, I'll be able to meditate in peace about my (mostly) sweet brother.

I've continued to do my weekly Razovskyville livestreams on Facebook (Thursday at 7:15 p.m. EDT at facebook.com/razovsky), and those have been rare hours of serenity and pleasure.

In the third instalment, I focused on the chapbooks and other ephemera I published in my twenties and up into my early thirties.


Over and out.

12 June 2020

Razovskyville #2 — The chapbook years

I've been posting my Facebook lifestreams — which I've dubbed Razovskyville — up on YouTube. Here's the second one — in it I explored my poetry and fiction from my early chapbooks and ephemera, mostly stuff I wrote from about age 17 to my early 20s. One of the most enjoyable, and sometimes uncomfortable things about this series is reading stuff I haven't read in years, or even decades.

Here I reading from my very first chapbooks, including He Counted His Fingers, He Counted His Toes, a little unstapled 12-pager, as well as Bad Glamour, When Electrical Sockets Walked Like Men, and Skip and Biff Cling to the Radio, all early Proper Tales Press publications.

I had about 50 viewers on Razovskyville #1, and since then I've been getting roughly 17 to 21 people each week. Not quite sure if I should continue as I've been doing. Or find a new platform. Or fold the thing altogether. I do enjoy it. But I had hoped it would be a way of expanding my audience, and it's not really going in that direction. Though the people who do tune in are mostly wonderful, supportive friends, so it's hard to argue with that.

Just so you know, my virtual tip jar is always open to those who are able and would like to contribute: PayPal.me/razovsky.


I've actually done five episodes of Razovskyville now and I'll keep posting them up there till I'm caught up.

Over and out.

10 June 2020

POMPANO BEACH

An anthology of essays about grief has been released this week by a Canadian publisher. My essay below was scheduled to appear in it, but the editor insisted on changing "kilometres" to "miles" because the story takes place in the United States. I refused. After all, I am Canadian. The book is Canadian. It's being published with funds from Canadian arts agencies. And if I am a Canadian looking off a balcony in the US, I am still seeing distances in kilometres. The editor said it was a deal-breaker. I pulled the essay. Some people thought my principled stand was silly. I disagree.

In the week after my brother Barry died, this essay probably needs an update. But it still seems pretty topical for me.


POMPANO BEACH: WHERE NO ONE HAS EVER DIED

There’s an extreme cold warning today in Cobourg. Even with her little red rubber boots and her lush blue jacket, which she loathes wearing, my little dog, Lily, can barely walk along the sidewalk outside. She trots a few metres, then contortedly lifts a paw, gazing back up at me helplessly. I scoop her into my arms and carry her back home, give her a treat.
Meanwhile, I hear it snowed in Tallahassee this past week. The residents cheered. But in Pompano, it’s been pretty warm. Pompano is a place on this earth I never would have visited had my parents not bought a condo there and become snowbirds. I never would have believed my parents would become snowbirds. The first few years after they got their place, I had no interest in visiting. Why would I want to go to this outlet-mall wasteland in the United States of America?
What I first ever learned about Florida was that my grandfather, Samuel Blatt, used to go there in the winters, in the late 1960s. I was a little kid. I would send him postcards. “Dear Grandpa, how are you, I am fine, how is the weather there, the weather here is cold, love, Stuart.” And he would send me postcards. I don’t remember what they said, but they always bore paintings (or were they photos?) of these very colourful hotels in Miami. I would later learn that they were Art Deco hotels. I would see those colours again when I later travelled to Central America. Miami was a funny word when I was a child. My grandfather would say “Miami” and I would say “Yourami.” I’m not sure how common that joke was. I’m not sure that I meant it as a joke: it’s possible I thought the place was called “Ami” and it was my grandfather’s.
I feel like I am procrastinating on writing about grief in this essay. Just like I procrastinated handing it in to Catherine, until long after the deadline.
I went to Central America in late 1989. The initial impetus was to pursue a woman I had fallen in love with. (It didn’t work out, but we are good friends now.) I had never done anything like that before: I mean, backpacking somewhere. After I realized the romantic task was futile, I wound up travelling for six months, through Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. It was one of the most important periods of my life. In the last week or so of the trip, I fell in love with a woman from the Netherlands. Turns out she was flying back just a week before I was scheduled to fly back, and she had a daylong layover in Florida. 
My plan had been to stop in Florida myself, on my way home, for a few weeks, and finally visit my parents’ place in Pompano. They had been extremely worried about me wandering around Central America for half a year. With a pencil, I altered my flight ticket, and put some initials beside the adjustment, so that I could take the same flight as my new friend. Somehow, in those days long before 9/11, I got through the check-in at the airport, and she and I got seats together.
We spent a day on the beach with my parents (she pointed out that on the beach in her country, her mother would likely be topless). Then we dropped her off at the airport, and I drove to Pompano with Sydney and Shirley Ross for the first time.
My parents’ condo was a miniature version of their condo in the north end of Toronto. My mother was an interior decorator, and she favoured whimsy, pastels, and a mixture of contemporary and antique. They were on the top floor (my memory may be off) of a four- or five-storey structure, one of dozens (my memory may be off) in the ungated compound they lived in. You could step out onto the balcony and look for kilometres: condos, palm trees, swimming pools, highways. This giant community was called Belle Aire (my memory may be off).
It was during that first stay in Pompano that I wrote my long poem “Little Black Train.” Unlike most poems I wrote, I didn’t complete it in a single setting. I wrote the first couple of pages one day, then a few days later another page, and the day after the final page. I have read that poem aloud to audiences more than any other poem of mine. When I read it, I am in Pompano, out on the balcony, or squirrelled away in my room, while my parents play bridge with friends in the kitchen, or go out for dinner. I also wrote a few homolinguistic translations in Pompano, one of Mark Strand’s “Reasons for Moving”; another of Tom Clark’s “Sonnet.” A short story of mine, “The Sun Tan,” takes place by the swimming pool outside my parents’ condo: it features various characters I saw there during my visits, which became pretty much annual after that first time in Florida.
It was on the balcony where I wrote “Little Black Train” that my mother wrote her farewell note in 1995, the note my father discovered in her nightstand drawer in Toronto the morning we were to bury her. She had had cancer earlier in the decade. It had gone into remission. It had come back. The rest of us were in denial, but she knew she didn’t have much time. In the note, she said she was out on the balcony writing while my dad was making her a grilled-cheese sandwich. She thanked my dad for looking after her. She lamented not having had grandchildren (but if she ever did, tell them they would have had a loving grandmother). She said my dad made her feel “treasured.” We put that on her headstone: “Forever treasured.”
I continued to visit my dad in Pompano during his months-long stay there each year. With my mom gone, my dad and I talked together a lot more. In fact, he rarely stopped talking with me. I had been a lot closer with my mom all my life. Now I got to know my dad. I liked to borrow the car and go to a used bookstore a half-hour away, or to the upscale bookstore in Boca Raton. My dad and I went to a butterfly sanctuary, or maybe it was a gardens. We saw a small anteater scurry through the brush. “It would be great to put that on a leash,” he said. (I later told him that I’d found — in a Salvadoran cookbook — a recipe for an anteater dish. You caught an anteater by thrusting your finger up its butt so it couldn’t scurry away. It’s possible I dreamed this. The same cookbook had a recipe for chicken cooked in Coca-Cola.)
Syd and Shirley had three sons. I was the youngest. Next up the ladder was Owen, and then the oldest was Barry. It wasn’t long after my dad sold the Florida condo, in 2000, that Owen died. He had been living with my dad in Toronto, and he collapsed, called for my dad, who called for an ambulance, and Owen never made it alive to the hospital. My dad never forgave himself. He had promised my mom he’d look after us. My dad died of cancer about six months later, in early 2001. The day before he died, I had rubbed his shoulders and stroked his thighs in the hospital. He was feeling sore all over. His circulation was terrible.
The last film he saw was something awful thing with Jean-Claude van Damme. I hate that he wasted a couple of the last hours of his life on that. The last book my mom finished was The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields. I like to keep that in mind and ignore that she was partway through some salacious book about O. J. Simpson, whose trial she was obsessed with in her last year.
Anyway, just Barry and I were left. I couldn’t write much about my mother for many years. I wrote about my father almost right away. I was really fucking sick of hospitals. I wrote a poetry sequence called “Hospitality Suite,” about hospitals, about all my family disappearing into hospitals and never emerging again. About pacing hospital corridors. “they believe they believe they want to believe they press their hands into each other’s hands and squeeze shut their eyes then open them and press their wet eyeballs into each other’s eyeballs and they breathe quickly breathe as one they can hope why not hope they have to believe.”
My father had ridden in the ambulance with my brother. When, five months later, Barry and I convinced him that he needed to be in the hospital, he said okay, but he didn’t want a siren and he didn’t want flashing lights. The ambulance was several hours late, and I sat with him, holding his hand, as we crossed Toronto through rush hour. He named the streets we passed. He had always been proud of his knowledge of Toronto’s streets. Don Mills, Leslie, Bayview — “That’s where Harvey lived.” — Yonge, Bathurst, Dufferin — “My office was right up there.” He was sore and thirsty, but he acted as tour guide for his last living journey.
But when I think of my parents, I think of Pompano Beach, Florida. The heat. The trees. The Black people waiting at bus stops that seemed to be kilometres apart. The smell of gasoline mixing with the smell of the ocean. The library in the condo, which I once spent an entire week organizing: dividing into sections, alphabetizing, disposing of the books whose pages were falling out. Lots of Robert Ludlum. Harold Robbins. Barbara Cartland. And look — a Kurt Vonnegut!
Today, at thirty below Celsius, I imagine spending another slow day in Florida. Talking with Syd and Shirley. Sitting by the pool, watching the old people slather suntan grease on their loose, leathery skin. Going out for dinner (“I’m sure they have something vegetarian,” my dad would say, “I bet they have a salad!”). I know I will never be in Florida again. From my poem “Pompano”: “and I cannot find the letter / my mother wrote in Pompano / but I remember the word treasured / it’s how she felt, she said.”
I won’t die in Pompano Beach. I might not even die in Toronto. While my mother was dying, I read to her: Wordsworth, Keats, Hebrew prayers. She was in a coma. She’d been in a coma for a week. They had taken her off life support. My father went more quickly. I’m sure he just didn’t want to trouble Barry and me. He never wanted to trouble anyone. Owen’s death was invisible to me: I have only imagined, many times, him lying in my father’s arms as they waited for the ambulance.
I was trying to remember whether it was an anteater or an aardvark. It was neither. It was an armadillo. A little armoured one. You catch an armadillo by sticking a finger up its butt to stop it from running away. This is what I remember, but it’s possible I invented it entirely. I finally wrote about my mother about a decade after she died. She had wanted to kill Ernst Zundel, the Toronto neo-Nazi. She had planned to assassinate him during her first round of cancer. She made inquiries about guns. My mother the interior decorator played with being an assassin. She had grown up listening to the stories of the Holocaust, the deaths of her aunts and uncles. Her own mother, who died of cancer at age fifty, when I was just half a year old, had been sad since the Holocaust.
I wrote a novel in which my mother killed a neo-Nazi about half a dozen times. I’m working on a novel in which my father, between chemo treatments, comes to search for me in Guatemala, because he hasn’t heard from me in a month. I wrote a poem about my brother Owen’s burial. He died around midnight. He was buried at one o’clock the next afternoon. He used to coach baseball, and all these kids, gathered together on such short notice, showed up in the cemetery, dressed in their baseball uniforms. I never was very good at talking with Owen, but these kids: they idolized him. I have written so many poems now about my dead family. And a couple of novels, and another in progress. It doesn’t change anything. But I keep doing it. It’s what I’m good at. I’m trying to convince somebody of something. Is that what grieving is — trying to convince somebody of something?
As we all know, those of us who grieve — and that is most of us, I imagine — we never stop grieving. If we are Jewish, we walk through the snow-covered cemetery and place rocks on the headstones. We stand in the cold wind, and we think of Pompano Beach. Mom is writing a letter. Dad is making a grilled-cheese sandwich.

YOU THREE, WITH STONES UPON YOUR HEADS

I’ve gathered you here, you three,
sitting before me just barely, with
stones upon your heads, and your friends
walk by, your nieces, put more
stones upon your heads. Do you remember
me? Dad, has the earth done things to 
your brain so now you don’t remember?
Mom? The earth has had you for so much
longer. And, Owen, I’m twelve years 
older than you ever were. I want you
to know I’ll never forget you, but I
can’t go on writing poems about you.
I’ve discovered they don’t bring
you back. They don’t make me 
understand you better. They don’t
even win me prizes. 

I live in a small town now. If you
came back, you’d never find me.
I sit on this bluff, overlooking the lake
and count the birds against the sky.
The waves are gray and foamy creatures
that pounce for the rocks but just can’t hold on.
I sit here. I write. I think about you
lying there. You picture me on a subway
or stuck in gridlock. But I’m here
in nature, with my little dog Lily,
and soon she and I
will gather some stones
to place upon your heads.


Over and out.

06 June 2020

MATH & SCIENCE

MATH & SCIENCE

for Barry

I was thirty-five when Mom died
at sixty-six. Forty-one when Owen
died at forty-six. A tiny lull, then
(still) forty-one when Dad died
at seventy-six. Now I am sixty,
Barry, & you are gone
at sixty-nine. For nineteen years
it was just you & me. We talked
on the phone, let’s say, once a week.
Nine hundred & eighty-eight times.
Except that year when we didn’t talk.
Nine hundred & thirty-six times.
If we saw each other once a month,
except for that year after
we fought, that’s two hundred
& sixteen times we saw each other
when it was just us. The final wisp
of smoke from your last cigarette
may still be discernable among the clouds:
the precise composition of smoke 
really depends on the nature of the fuel,
the temperature of the flame,
& wherever the hell the wind is going
& whether it’s in a hurry. Math
& science are notable ways
to not think about things
that are not math & science.

Stuart Ross
6 June 2020

04 June 2020

Eulogy for my brother Barry

BARRY NEAL ROSS
September 18, 1950–June 2, 2020

EULOGY, 4 JUNE 2020

In my dream,
I see my brothers turn a corner
across the road.
I wake up sobbing
and tell you about it.
Then I wake up shaken
and tell you my dream
about waking up sobbing
after dreaming 
that Barry and Owen
had turned a corner.

A few years ago, Barry wrote a short novel that he kept writing and rewriting until it kind of drove him nuts. It was about a guy whose life goal was to do or create something that would make him known to everyone. At one point, he tried to come up with a new phrase that everyone would be saying, something so clever and common that it would become part of the language and everyone would think of him when they said it.

Truth is, Barry made himself memorable to everyone around him without inventing anything or coming up with a classic phrase. He was friendly, funny, quirky. Like our dad, Sydney, he easily and immediately engaged with just about anyone around him, in a shop or a restaurant or on the block of his street near Kensington Market. Sometimes it made me cringe, just as our dad’s quick familiarity with strangers could make me cringe, but he always made people smile. And Barry was also the kind of guy who had lifelong friends, like Ronnie, who is here today, a best friend of nearly six decades.

Some people in my circles met Barry only once, when Laurie and I got married in 2015. They all remember his charm and wit as he MC’d along with Laurie’s older brother Kevin. I think of that as Barry’s big, glorious moment on Broadway; he worked for months on his remarks, driving me crazy as he bounced lines off me over the phone, sometimes several times a day. But on the day of the wedding, I — and everyone in the room — was enthralled.

In the last decade of his life, Barry met Grace. I had never seen him so happy. They laughed together so much, and worked on endless home-reno projects together. Barry took up the guitar again for his first time in decades, and often serenaded Grace in the evenings, singing Beatles songs and inserting her name into the lyrics. They sang together and they brought each other so much happiness. Grace told me yesterday, “Every day he made me laugh.”

My brothers Owen and Barry both made children an integral part of their lives, especially through coaching kids’ baseball leagues. (I saw on Facebook last night that a whole bunch of those kids Barry had coached years ago were on Zoom, reminiscing about their fun times with Barry.) 

And Barry became a father to Grace’s daughter, Shan, helping her through some very tough times in ways that I had never seen in him. Barely a phone call between Barry and I went by without him mentioning or bragging about both Shan.

In the last decade, Barry recreated himself as an ESL teacher and an English pronunciation coach, primarily online. He became obsessed with language and grammar, and would often phone me up to reveal some new revelation he’d had about English verbal inflections or some complex point of grammar. This was something that brought us even closer together.

When I was little kid in the neighbourhood of Bathurst Manor, I had this older brother with long hair and a beard. He played guitar, and his record collection introduced me to Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Neil Young, among others. An entire wall in his second-floor bedroom was covered with empty boxes of Rothman’s Cigarettes. You could see them as you walked by on the street. Barry was famous for that wall of cigarette boxes. I remember our mom once found his grass stash in one of those boxes, and she confronted him with the little baggie when he got home. He suggested she try it. She could only laugh.

Barry and Owen shared a love for sports, and they and our father watched hockey and baseball and football. I had a bit of trouble connecting with them. But when Barry left home for university in Waterloo, he discovered literature, and I remember him excitedly telling me about the poetry of the English poet John Donne; somehow, reading to me Donne’s poems, he made me all excited about a long-dead 16th-century poet. I’m only now recognizing how pivotal that moment likely was for me.

Barry and I didn’t always get along perfectly. A few years ago we had a disagreement about politics that became so heated we didn’t speak for a year. And then, I think, we both realized that our blood connection — our position as the only two remaining members of that household on Pannahill Road, after we lost our parents and our brother Owen in the space of six years — was stronger than anything else, and we reconnected, closer than ever. Barry was there to help and protect and support: everything a big brother should be.

I think when you write a goodbye to someone, you get down to the essence of things between you, and you want so badly to have just one more conversation to tell them all that you have thought. You hope that you expressed to them at least some fraction of how you felt during their lifetime.

Sleep well, dear brother Barry.


STUART ROSS

30 May 2020

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs reviewed in subTerrain!

Really thrilled to see a review of Motel of the Opposable Thumbs in subTerrain! My copy of subby was sitting in quarantine on the stairs leading down to my basement, where all my mail goes these days, when a friend on Facebook tipped me off that there was a review in there. Covid droplets be damned, I ripped open the plastic containing the mag! (Truth be told, it'd been sitting there for four or five days.)

The review has a bit of a surreal start, and then it proceeds to say some extremely nice things, and makes points I hadn't heard before, especially about my relationship with the poets I pay homage to.

Here it is:
Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, Anvil Press, 2019 
Reviewed by Hilary Green 
Stuart Ross is a poet of fine proportion. That isn't a comment about any aspect of his physical being. It's all about his poetry. According to a listing of "Some other books by Stuart Ross," this newest one brings that list to thirty. 
Ross is one of those poets who not only reads voraciously, but who also seems to take inspiration everywhere. Really, who else writes a poem like "The Food Court"? With lines so true as: "It was like you had the whole world at your fingertips, my dad used to say. You could travel from continent to continent without ever getting on a plane." Later in the book, the title poems also recalls his father, Sydney Ross, this time in an imagined trip to the "Motel of the Opposable Thumbs"—where else. 
His is an imagination running free, not unlike that of one of the seven poets he mentions and says "Good night" to, Joe Rosenblatt, whom I can only imagine as the inspiration for "Thrifty and Scaly" in which an elaborate scheme "To get into the aquarium for free" involves a "giant trout outfit."
He plays homage to so many friends and poets, isn't jealous of them and doesn't hoard their brilliances for himself. In a poem in which he sees Ron Padgett, he describes him "Like a giraffe with two t's running off the end of his name like the two f's which he said are like two giraffes running through the word giraffe."
He can imitate the minimalist poetry of his departed friend Nelson Ball, or be as expansive as Whitman on acid. His "Toronto Poem" with its "hunchbacked streets" is downright Sandburgian. And in between those poles, he's a man who loved his dog, Lily. He's simply Stuart Ross—a poet and a blessing who is truly one of a kind in the world of CanLit, as demonstrated in the last stanza of his amazing poem, "At Laundromats Here There Are No Dryers":
But the clouds here, I haven't / yet mentioned the clouds here: / they sing these very personal songs / about wronging and being / wronged. They smoke a lot / of cigarettes. You can hear it. / And I sing along though I have / no voice. I sing with my eyes.
Over and out.






20 May 2020

Razovskyville #1

So last week I decided to join those who are livestreaming readings, rants, and concerts during this era of COVID 19. I decided I would offer up a live video on Facebook. Like a lot of other people, I am reaching far back into my life during this pandemic. I'm listening to the music that blew me away when I was in my late teens (Blondie, Talking Heads, the Slits, early Brian Eno, the Jam…), and I'm going back to some of the writers who excited me in that era.

So I figured it would be kind of fun to read my first published poems, the dozen that appeared in The Thing in Exile, published in 1975 by Books by Kids, when I was 16. I wrote most of those poems the previous year, and they appeared alongside about a dozen poems each by my childhood friends Steve Feldman and Mark Laba. I hadn't read most of those poems in…over 40 years. Goddamn, I'm a geezer!

I was pretty anxious about this livestream, partly because I am so technologically challenged, but it ended up going really well. Here's the video, minus the comments that were flowing by on the side of the screen. Apparently I had 46 or so viewers at one point, which is more than I would typically expect at a reading.

I decided afterwards that, for a while at least, I'll be doing a livestream on my Facebook every Thursday at 7:15 p.m. EDT. And I retroactively called the "show" Razovskyville. Here is the episode from May 14.




Over and out.