25 June 2009

The lunatics have taken over the asylum, plus reviews, readings translations

Here are two questions to kick things off:

1. What the fuck does spoken word have to do with poetry chapbooks?

2. What the fuck does Kildare Dobbs have to do with small press?

The answer, I think, has something to do with the gross stupidification of two once-excellent institutions (those'd be the bpNichol Memorial Chapbook Award and the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, by the way).

OK, on to more positive things.…

I spent a few days at the Banff Centre (unofficially) at the beginning of this week, finishing off my novel. On my last day, I bumped into Steven Ross Smith at the Kiln general store. I asked him what he was doing there, because, mook that I am, I didn't realize he was now the director of the writing program there. Had a nice chat and he invited me to a panel on translation that evening. The panel featured Kim Echlin, as well as the Spanish and Chinese translators of her new novel. It was really fascinating. I'm always intrigued by the incredible challenges translators face.

After the panel, I tagged along to the informal reception in Lloyd Hall. Had great conversations there with Steve, and with Calgary fiction writer and translator Susan Ouriou, American translator of German poetry Cathy Ciepela, fiction writer and playwright Jaspreet Singh, and journalist, translator (of Lithuanian poetry) and poet Medeine Tribinevicius. It was an amazing time, and an excellent antidote to not talking with other humans for two and a half days.

Tuesday morning I headed to Calgary to kick off some events to promote and launch Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. The same day, a review appeared in the Globe & Mail:

Canada, in short

Eve Tihanyi leads the way with her new collection of stories about the nature of truth, but three other writers are also helping to shape this country through their narratives

Reviewed by Tom Sandborn

Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2009

Truth and Other Fictions, by Eva Tihanyi
Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross
This One's Going to Last Forever, by Nairne Holtz
Selected Blackouts, by John Goldbach

Human identities are forged in the fires of narrative. Without our stories, we don't know who or where we are. The short story may be one of literature's most striking examples of the way narrative creates meaning and identity.

Thanks in part to judicious support from government bodies such as the Canada Council, and despite the complaints of right-wing ideologues who would prefer that all matters literary to be determined by the Draconian judgments of the cash register, Canada has a relatively healthy (if often imperilled) array of small literary magazines and serious small presses that provide a home for short fiction. The four collections under review here are all the products of that publicly supported literary world and, as different as they are one from another, taken together they make a compelling argument that the tax dollars that go into supporting Canadian writing are well spent.


Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross, Freehand, 198 pages, $19.95

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Toronto surrealist poet, novelist and magazine editor Stuart Ross, is also marked by high intellectual ambitions and an interest in paradox, all neatly signalled by the epigraph from Samuel Beckett that ends “happiness too, yes here was that too, unhappily.” Ross's stories are clearly influenced by Beckett and seem set on a featureless plain with nameless characters who would be at home in Waiting for Godot. These are intelligent, spare narratives that gesture toward large questions of moral anesthesia and social numbness, and there are glints of savage humour that propel the narrative forward.

Me and the Pope is the collection's most effective story, mordantly funny and smart. Some readers may find Ross's stories too bleak and monochrome to be entirely successful, but he is a writer who has clearly already found a readership in Canada, and his fans will welcome this addition to his work. As a young man, according to his publisher's promotional material, Ross stood on Yonge Street with a placard reading, “Writer Going to Hell: Buy My Books.” Good advice.


More about the Alberta launches later, but for now: a great launch party last night in Calgary at the Palomino, and tonight I'm off to Red Deer, and then Edmonton on Saturday.

Over and out.


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