Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

HUTTEL IN TORONTO: MY FAVOURITE AMERICAN INVASION

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 HUTTEL IN TORONTO: MY FAVOURITE AMERICAN INVASION

Sometimes I get confused and think Richard Huttel is a Canadian poet. He might also make the same mistake sometimes. One of the most enduring and treasured friendships of my life began when this guy from Chicago, in Toronto on his honeymoon, stopped to check out the poetry chapbooks I was selling downtown on Yonge Street. He was, presumably, attracted by my sign, which read “Shabby Canadian Poet: Buy My Books.” We talked, we corresponded, we phoned each other, and a few years later I invited Richard to come read in my living room, and sold enough advance tickets for “Huttel in Toronto” to pay for his flight. Victor Coleman interviewed Richard on CKLN’s In Other Words on that trip, and the reading itself was magical.

Richard has returned to Toronto many times since then, giving readings at That Stoopid Bookstore, The Jack Russell Pub, and the Magpie Tavern (a reading I organized called “Four Poets, Eight Eyes”), and Sage West (as part of Edward Nixon’s Livewords series). Richard and I drove to Ottawa once, too, where we read with Michael Dennis in the living room of Amanda and Charles Earl.

Richard’s poems have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Syd & Shirley, New American Writing, OINK!, What, and Who Torched Rancho Diablo?, among others. His chapbooks include The Evolution of Rutherfords to Lumpie (e.p. press), Fan Mail from Some Flounder (Proper Tales Press), The Be Seeing You Variations (Surrealist Poets’ Gardening Assoc.), Bucktown Serenade (e.p. press), and Rainy Day Cliffhanger (Proper Tales Press).

These days, Richard lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Last year, I released his first full-length poetry collection, the extraordinarily energetic That Said, through Proper Tales Press (if you want to buy one, or review it, let me know!). David McFadden and Merlin Homer have said of his poetry, “Huttel reminds us of our transience, but holds us gently as he does so.”

ME: You and I first met in the early 1980s when I was selling my chapbooks on the streets of Toronto. Something about Toronto’s literary world grabbed you. What was it? Was it different than what you were part of in Chicago?

RICHARD: Toronto’s literary world I encountered in 1981 was strong, witty, and peopled by goodhearted folks who were justly fiercely proud of their community. It was my great good fortune to be so much as aware of it! It felt a great deal more foreign, European, to me — a plus — an alternative to Reagan's America. What grabbed, and keeps appreciating and appreciating, are those goodhearted folks.

Conversely, I’ve had an intense love-hate relationship with Chicago, literary and otherwise. Thinking about it now, I was blessed with rip-roaring, madcap, mind-blasting readings, slam-dancing launch parties, an anthology of positively terrific poems to carry me forward through the whipping post of 1984 and beyond!

ME: I know you’re a big fan of David McFadden’s poetry. In 2010, you made the journey all the way to Toronto to be at his seventieth birthday party. What is it about his writing that gets you?

RICHARD: I felt an immediate affinity, even reverence, for his work. His sense of humour, references to Eastern philosophy, keen intellect, set in everyday contexts, are irresistible to me! Just reread The Poet’s Progress a few weeks ago. It, like the whole body of his work, is only appreciating over time.

I went on a years-long quest for a copy of The Great Canadian Sonnet in the late eighties, early nineties, which took me to Toronto used bookstores that sadly no longer exist. Along the way I must have acquired every other McFadden to that date before Jim Smith’s generosity brought a GCS my way.

This reminds me of a dream I had wherein a downtown department store featured a giant display of his oeuvre! Pyramids of Gypsy Guitars, The Art of Darknesses, all of them, were prominently displayed! I even summoned my parents in the dream to check it out!

There’s more to be said, but suffice it to say that it was truly an honour to have been asked to contribute to the commemorative festschrift, Trip Around McFadden, which was prepared to mark his seventieth birthday. One party I couldn’t miss!

ME: You have done poems in correspondence with several poets. I know that you and Lillian Necakov have traded off poems, on and off, for decades. You’ve also written poems in correspondence with Jay MillAr, Chris Kubsch, Jacqui Disler, Christine Aument, and several other Canadians and Americans. Right now, you and I are exactly halfway through the final collaborative sonnet in a twenty-eight-sonnet sequence – called Sonnets – that will be published this fall with Gary Barwin’s serif of nottingham editions. It’s an amazing experience and an artistic highlight of a friendship that is in its fourth decade. What draws you to these kinds of literary partnerships or literary exchanges?

RICHARD: The unifying principles: (i) it’s gatza be fun, and (ii) there’s a certain, je ne sais quois, hyper-personism (god bless you, Frank O’Hara!) that inherently comes with lobbing poems or lines back and forth like volleys. And as, to cite O’Hara from his essay “Personism: A Manifesto,” it “puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person…at last between two persons instead of two pages.”

For the poems in correspondence: William Stafford and Marvin Bell ignited my imagination for this in a 1981-82 issue of American Poetry Review with excerpts from their collaboration, Segues. Chicagoans Barry Silesky and Mary Trimble continued fuelling my jones for correspondence shortly thereafter with a reading at Skokie Public Library, demonstrating the improvisational feel of work so generated. I’ve had many false starts where a proposed exchange maybe generated maybe half a dozen poems, but there were some real honeys, and the rights remain with the author of the work, poems, with the provision that some acknowledgement be given for the collaborator who’d prompted its generation.

There was a magic moment, hopefully among others, at Clint Burnam’s That Stoopid Bookstore reading series, in Kensington Market, with Lillian Necakov, in the eighties, where I could see and feel people sitting on the edge of their seats and anticipating, guessing, where the next poem would go! Wish we were still going! I am also deeply indebted to Chris Aument for drawing so much work out of me, particularly through the aughts!

For the un-Exquisite Corpse, like Sonnets, where the participants get to see what’s preceded their next line, as opposed to an EC where they don’t, that goes back to the early eighties as well. Cocktails for Scientists, a Chicago poetry writers’ workshop, featuring Marcia Gustafson, David Novak, Tom Voegtle, Jr., and Mary Lynn Riedesel, would generate ’em live under the pen name Brian Doyle!

Right now, Sonnets has three lines to go, and I have no idea how it’s going to end – great fun!

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