Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

THE GREATEST UNKNOWN ANTHOLOGY WITH A CHICKEN-FEET COVER

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THE GREATEST UNKNOWN ANTHOLOGY WITH A CHICKEN-FEET COVER

I once edited an anthology that I thought would make a huge mark on Canadian poetry. Really. I thought that. I still think it’s one of the more exciting poetry anthologies to have ever appeared in this country. I tell that to the two boxes of it I have in my study closet.

Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence was published by The Mercury Press way back in 2004. Mercury publisher/editor Bev Daurio amazingly got behind this project. Bill Kennedy designed the cover. And Pamela Stewart offered up a photo of chicken feet on a clothesline.

It’s interesting to see how the Canadian poetry landscape has changed, and that very change reinforces how important — and ahead of their time (while simultaneously being behind their time, which perhaps was 1924) — the thirteen writers in this anthology were. I wrote in the introduction: “The poets in this book may never be part of any recognized canon in a country where including the word ‘surreal’ on the jacket copy of a poetry book is punishable by death.… But they are among the most active poets in Canada — publishing in the micropresses and the trade houses, making experimental and punk music, operating their own imprints, magazines, record labels, and websites, creating visual art, and, in a couple of cases, even launching their own art movements.”

Surrealist influence imbues so much more Canadian poetry today than it did back then, just over a decade ago, when my anthology was released and nearly roundly ignored (except for you, Alex Porco!) – even in an issue of Open Letter devoted to surrealist poetry in Canada. The word “surrealism” still rarely appears on book jackets, even while the imagery of dream, hallucination, disjunction, and altered states appear more and more often.

The poets whose work comprise Surreal Estate are Gil Adamson, Tara Azzopardi, Gary Barwin, Daniel f. Bradley, Alice Burdick, Kevin Connolly, W. A. Davison, Beatriz Hausner, Mark Laba, Lance La Rocque, Lillian Necakov, Steve Venright, and, well, me. In addition to about a dozen pages of poetry, each poet was represented by a bio, a photo, and a “statement” in the back of the book. It was a pretty personal book, too: every writer in it was (at the time, if not now) a good friend of mine.

And just look at the titles of some of these poems! “They Call This Shit Leisure” (Adamson), “I Circuit Hot Foot” (Burdick), “Accidental Orgasm in a Cardboard Box” (Davison), “Lawrence Weisberg Swallowing His Tongue” (Hausner), “Stubby’s Luau” (Laba), and “Experiments on Oral Suction and Gill Breathing in Five Species of Australian Tadpole” (me).

Man, I had such hopes for that incredible collection of adventurous poems. I remember, before it was even published, pitching Surreal Estate II to Bev, who counselled that we should wait and see what happened with this book first. In a more just world, I’d be putting the finishing touches on Surreal Estate IX now.

A lot of worthy poetry books — and other kinds of books, too — appear and disappear just as quickly in this country. That’s just the way it goes. We still keep writing, and we hope for an audience for our books: it can be satisfying even when our books reach the exact thirty-seven people who need — and will cherish — them.

Meanwhile: Steve Venright's gigantic and splendid volume of new and selected poems, The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent, edited and introduced by Alessandro Porco, is coming out this fall from DC Books in Montreal. And Tara Azzopardi's fabulous first poetry collection, Last Stop, Lonesome Town, came out last fall through my imprint at Mansfield Press. Lillian Necakov recently tweeted one thousand (!!!) extraordinary bird-related poems, each 140 characters or fewer. Alice Burdick's beautiful fourth collection, Book of Short Sentences, was launched this past spring, again through my Mansfield imprint. And I'll be publishing a long poem by Mark Laba this fall, in chapbook form through my Proper Tales Press: Tolstoy's Leech Farm.

I bet some of the other Surreal Estate contributors have nifty things on the go, too.

A fish. A lightbulb. A Surrealist.

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