Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Stuart Ross's blog

and i mean it from the bottom of my heart, of my heart, of my heart

Most writers don’t make much money, and those in the small press realm can barely afford a wet shoebox to live in. When I visit high schools and the students ask me how much money I make from my poetry books, for example, I tell them that, if all the copies sell — a rare scenario in itself — I might make enough to pay half a month’s rent.

Anyway, it’s clear we don’t do what we do for money. If money was all we were after, we’d all be dentists, lawyers, accountants and inter-stellar weasel trainers.

In which I gallop across the horizon on a llama with Kim Novak

I have come to talk with you about Kim Novak. I was a big fan of the iconic Hollywood actress even before I saw what would become my favourite film of all time, Vertigo. I consider that film the high point of Novak's career, as well as Alfred Hitchock's. And James Stewart's. I saw Vertigo for my first time in a class on Hitchcock and Brian De Palma I took at York University around 1980 with the brilliant film critic and teacher Robin Wood. Robin, who died in 2009, was an enormous influence on my life, and especially on my life as a writer. To the best of knowledge, I had never before met a radical gay Marxist Freudian. Certainly not one who had studied under F. R. Leavis.

THE BALLAD OF CAROLYN SMART

I first met Carolyn Smart in 2003, when Gil Adamson and I gave readings for an audience of two in a café/bookstore just outside of Kingston, Ontario. Gil was launching her fantastic second poetry book, Ashland, and I was launching my (hardcover!) Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (both from ECW Press). One of our two audience members was Carolyn.

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.

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.

13 UNASSAILABLE REASONS TO RESIST CLOSURE IN YOUR POETRY AND FICTION

A very smart reviewer of my new book of poems, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, recently expressed perplexedness at my resistance to closure. I shall, herein, endeavour to defend my stance, in the fine tradition of Sir Philip Sidney. Sir Philip knew his shmoos.

(I admit that I am hesitant to share these startling writing tips, because I don't really want the competition. I've already bought my ticket to Stockholm.)

1. Nothing much ever ends tidily in life. Threads dangle, quivering in the breeze.

2. Cleverness may not kill you, but it can kill your writing. Even boringness rules over cleverness when it comes to endings.

THE SORDID LITERARY LIFE OF MARK LABA, MY OLDEST FRIEND

Mark Laba is my oldest friend and my first collaborator. He lives in Vancouver, where he once worked as a restaurant reviewer for a daily newspaper. His books and chapbooks include Dummy Spit (The Mercury Press), Movies in the Insect Temple (Proper Tales Press), The Pig Sleeps>, a collaborative novel he and I wrote (Contra Mundo Books), and, he says, “a lot of yellowing leaflets and chapbooks.” His poetry has appeared in my anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press), and he and I collaborated on a few poems for my book Our Days In Vaudeville (Mansfield Press). He also won the bpNichol Chapbook Award for The Mack Bolan Poems (Gesture Press) way back, he says, in 1918.

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.

YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY & YOU TAKES YOUR CHANCES

A ticker-tape parade broke out in my home the other day, when my basement excavations revealed a box of old paperbacks that contained my treasured copy of Robert Sheckley’s 1975 science-fiction novel Options. I placed the novel upon my shoulder (the middle one) and paraded it through the living room, while my dog, Lily, showered me with gold pieces. In the distance, Cathy Berberian was singing “Eleanor Rigby” and my Kootenays friend Ashley was dressed as a glamorous dancing frog, weaving through giant toy castles.

WHY I LED A BOYCOTT AGAINST STUART ROSS

I spent the first forty-five minutes of my own Toronto book launch this past spring standing outside the venue holding up a sign calling for a boycott of myself. This led to an enthusiastic round of jeers when I was finally called up to the stage to read from my book that evening. Shouts of “Sell-out!” and “Booo!” and “Hiss!” rang through the Monarch Tavern. It was exhilarating.

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