Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

50 ways to leave your poetry

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50 ways to leave your poetry

Since the 1980s I’ve been making little leaflets of my poems, and occasionally of my shortest stories. I photocopy them in editions of 100, usually, for distribution at my readings and launches, and sometimes to leave in my wake as I travel — to Nova Scotia, New York City, Central America, the Kootenays…

This is a form of publication I encourage all writers to experience. Leaflets are the tiniest books. But once you have all those copies (and have folded them very sloppily, as I always do), how do you get them out there and into the hands of potential readers?

Here are fifty nifty ideas for guerrilla poetry distribution:

1. Sneak them into books in bookstores. Best-sellers, other poetry books, biographies of Donald Trump are all excellent vehicles for your leaflets.

2. Put one on a subway seat, and sit across from it. Someone will pick it up and you can watch them read it. Hilarity ensues.

3. Leave them in phone booths. If you can find a phone booth.

4. Stand on a street corner and hand them out. Works really well if you make it look like a religious leaflet. You can say something like “Poetry saves.” It’s a lie, but who cares?

5. Go to Yorkdale Shopping Centre’s parking lot and leave them under windshield wipers.

6. Leave them tucked into tree branches and other natural phenomena in your next nature-trail adventure.

7. Leave them on the table for restaurant servers with your tip.

8. Tuck them into the books on the “reserve” shelf in your local library.

9. Drape them over the wall railings in elevators. Before you step off, you can push all the floor buttons, so the next person who boards will have a lot of time to read.

10. Put a pile of leaflets in a little basket marked “Please don’t take one” and leave it on a park bench.

11. Find fifty people at random in the phone book and mail them a leaflet. I bet you get zero response!

12. Tack them up on your local grocery-store bulletin board, beside the yoga and lost-dog posters.

13. Write a poem about how stupid those “Little Free Libraries” are, make a few hundred copies of the leaflet, and fill someone’s Little Free Library with them.

14. Hand them out at strangers’ funerals; look suitably solemn.

15. Drop them off at the tables during intermission when you do a public reading. Mutter “Propaganda…propaganda…propaganda” as you go.

16. Slip one to Jack Layton when you find yourself at the table beside his at an Indian restaurant in Ottawa. (Time machine not included.)

17. Hire a helicopter and drop them by the thousands over Rosedale.

18. Get into a movie early and leave one on every seat. Poems about Kim Novak or Alan Arkin will work particularly well.

19. Throw a few in newspaper boxes anytime you buy a newspaper or grab a free transit paper.

20. In public washrooms, tape them up above urinals and on the insides of stall doors.

21. In hotels, put a little stack in the “tourist-literature rack” between the African Lion Safari pamphlet and the Ye Olde Antique Shoppe flyer.

22. When travelling in the U.S., in states where the death penalty is still in fashion, leave them on electric chairs and lethal injection gurneys. Something cheerful would be thoughtful.

23. In Manhattan, when Richard Hell walks into the Polish deli in Alphabet City where you’re having matzoh ball soup with Ron Padgett, hand him a copy.

24. In Bulk Barn locations, tuck your poetry leaflet into that little holder for info on how long to cook the black beans.

25. At Indian buffets, slide them in between the pieces of naan.

26. Carrier pigeons.

27. Visit your local police station, and ask if they would be willing to have their officers go door to door handing out your literary leaflets.

28. St. Bernards.

29. There’s no way anyone will read this far. (Please support me on Patreon.)

30. Ants.

31. Become a Walmart greeter and surreptitiously, underhandedly, cunningly, artfully, deviously hand out a leaflet to anyone who comes in. (This MS Word thesaurus thing actually works! You should try it!)

32. Drive to Cobourg, head down to the beach, and bury them under very shallow layers of sand, with just one little corner poking out. Then we can meet for a tea and talk about Penelope Spheeris movies.

33. When I started this list, I had no idea how goddamn long it would take me to come up with fifty entries. But a loser never quits.

34. Introduce them to the drinking water supply.

35. Don’t you hate when you get invited to do a reading, and it’s at a series that draws twenty-five or thirty people, each of whom have at least two beers (and if Paul Vermeersch is there, it’s premium beers like Zwiec), so the venue makes all this money, but the series organizer says, “Sorry we don’t have money to pay our readers, but it’ll be great exposure,” and you feel like shoving a poetry leaflet down the organizer’s throat?

36. Leave them behind in hotel rooms.

37. Slip them into the safety instructions on airplanes.

38. Hand them out to kids at Halloween. Imagine the delighted looks on their little President Trump-mask-covered faces!

39. For maximum impact, as you leave the photocopy shop, accidentally forget the box of leaflets on the roof of your car, so that when you drive away, you watch through the rear-view mirror as they carpet the busy main street of Quebec City.

40. Have Girl Guides and Boy Scouts hand them out in front of liquor stores.

41. I would like to thank my wife, Laurie, who just woke up, for the preceding five entries. (She was actually the one who left the leaflets on the roof of the car.)

39. Slip one into the envelope whenever you send out condolence cards.

43. Claude François.

44. When you do class visits, give them out to each of the students and encourage them to make their own. There is always at least one amazing kid in the class who will do it and go on to become a famous Canadian writer.

45. Slip out the back, Jack.

46. I recently found out I have a pelvic kidney, which would be a great name for a band or a literary magazine. My doctor sounded very casual when he told me. Imagine having such a thing all your life and then finding out when you’re fifty-seven. I feel very self-conscious now.

47. Did you ever notice when you watched The Flintstones, how when they ran through their house, they’d keep passing through the same rooms over and over?

48. I’ve always wanted to use this sentence in something I wrote.

49. Insert the leaflets in snakeskins, and hang them from people’s clotheslines.

50. Send me a copy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, and writing teacher living in Cobourg, Ontario. The acclaimed author of 20 books of poetry, fiction, and essays, Stuart got his start selling his chapbooks on Toronto’s Yonge Street during the 1980s. His recent books include Our Days in Vaudeville (Mansfield Press, 2014), A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books, 2015), (Anvil Press), and A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016). He is the co-translator or Marie-Ève Comtois’s My Planet of Kites (Mansfield Press, 2015). You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012) won the sole award given to an anglophone writer by the Montreal-based l’Académie de la vie litteraire au tournant du 21e siècle; Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009) won the 2010 ReLit Prize for Short Fiction; and the novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew was co-winner of the 2012 Mona Elaine Adilman Award for Fiction on a Jewish Theme. Stuart has taught writing workshops across the country, and was the 2010 Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. Since 2007, he has had his own imprint at Toronto’s Mansfield Press. Stuart is currently working on several poetry and fiction projects, as well as a memoir.


You can write to Stuart throughout the month of August at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Stuart Ross’s Author Page