Thursday, January 4, 2018

Pockets - Stuart Ross (ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Pockets.  Stuart Ross.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Pockets by Stuart Ross, ECW Press

Anyone who has read Today's book of poetry knows about Stuart Ross.  

But just so we are clear from the beginning Today's book of poetry loves Stuart Ross as though he were my brother.  Stuart edited my last book, Bad Engine, and I sincerely hope he edits my next book, Low Centre of Gravity.  I love Mr. Ross enough that K and I have named our guest room The Stuart Ross Room.  Just last year Stuart Ross's A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent won the 4th annual prestigious Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize sponsored by Today's book of poetry.

You can see that here:   

Today's book of poetry will go you one further, Mr. Ross will be spending a couple of nights here, at the Today's book of poetry headquarters, next week.  All of this lead just to be clear of the road we're plowing, Today's book of poetry remains convinced that Stuart Ross, inspite of being my buddy, is one of Canada's very best writers.

Pockets, the most recent Stuart Ross publication is ostensibly a novel.  But it is a novel constructed of short prose poems.  That's where we come in.  And as much as Pockets holds it narrative these short prose poems have no trouble standing on their own.  Ross mines some familiar territory in Pockets visiting family terrain and his brother in the clouds.

Mayakovsky had his "Cloud in Trousers" and Mayakovsky might not be a bad, but brief, comparison to our surrealist inspired Ross.  The language Ross employs in Pockets results in his most accessible work to date.  Ross is only a few generations away from being a beautifully sad Russian himself.  And make no mistake, even when Ross is punching out prose he remains a poet at heart.  And I always remembered Mayakovsky's 'Trousers' as red.


                   As I sat cross-legged on the floor on my parents'
                   bedroom at lunchtime watching The Flintstones on
                   television, I felt a tickle on the knuckles of my right
                   hand. It was a daddy-long-legs. Or maybe it was the
                   1955 movie Daddy Long Legs, starring Fred Astaire
                   as Jervis Pendleton III and Leslie Caron as Julie
                   Andre. Whichever it was, it scurried across the back
                   of my hand and vanished.


This book recycles the dreams and the horrors of childhood through the challenging lens of a beautifully fractured memory.  Wherever there is a broken seam Ross applies his masterful Kintsugi thinking.


                  I pedalled my new red bicycle to the end of the
                  block. I looked back at our house. My brother stood
                  at the foot of the driveway watching me. He wore
                  a white T-shirt and blue jeans. I was not allowed to
                  ride any farther than the stop sign. I looked at the
                  grey-and-yellow triplexes a block away. Marky lived
                  in one. I rode past the stop sign and up, up, toward
                  the triplexes. I wobbled from side to side on my red
                  bicycle. My brother snitched. The slam of my father's
                  footsteps as he strode after me along Pannahill Road
                  was like a series of meteors hitting the earth. I stood
                  with Marky looking at my new bicycle, and soon my
                  father's shadow fell over us. His large thumb came
                  down and squashed me into the concrete. Marky
                  examined the smudge on the driveway in front of the
                  triplex he lived in.


These untitled micro-chapters fit together like Lego blocks built by William S. Bourroughs and his wild Brion Gysin friend.  Stuart Ross simply never fails to delight, surprise and inform as he entertains.  There are more nods of agreement inside your own head when reading the mysterio Stuart Ross than you generally have any right to expect.  Especially considering that Ross is most likely going to take you out of your range of reason and then back in before you can blink.

Today's book of poetry doesn't really know any other poets like Stuart Ross.  But if you were to take Kurt Vonnegut's imagination, a Garrison Keillor sense of the storyteller and candy twisted it all together with a generous dose of wit and wisdom from Randy Newman and his melodious lamentations, you would be nearing the mark.


                   The girl next door had never heard of the Beatles. I
                   laughed. She laughed, too. Her name was Karen. She
                   showed me her Cowsills comic book, and her mother
                   gave us peanut-butter sandwiches and milk in glasses
                   that had once held yahrzeit candles. I looked out their
                   kitchen window and saw my own house. My grand-
                   father was standing on the roof beside his treadle-
                   operated sewing machine. He was born in Poland,
                   and he clenched a piece of thread between his teeth.


                   Spools of black, brown, and grey thread emerged
                   from the clouds, unravelling as they sailed down
                   toward earth. Earth, meanwhile, braced itself.


Today's book of poetry is not alone in our admiration of Mr. Stuart Ross.  As a regular guest of Today's book of poetry all of our staff are quite familiar with Stuart and his work.  They also see his name in book after book after book of Canadian poetry -- as editor, mentor or simply being thanked for his friendship. Ross ushers more books of poetry into print, for a wide variety of presses, than Gutenberg ever dreamed.

Even though Pockets is a novel you can carry in your pocket, Today's book of poetry treated it like a series of cleverly connected and paced prose poems.  Our morning read was a non-stop start-to-finish roller coaster as the staff connected the dots and the chapters.  It was an excellent reading.

But in truth there is nothing like the real thing.  Stuart Ross remains one of the best live poetry acts in the country.  Today's book of poetry has been to more poetry readings than you think possible and still thinks Ross is the best.  Of course Ross has great ammunition.  He has a canon of fine books but the reality is that he is getting better with age.  Ross has been adding an emotional elements to his work that has made it more directly accessible to every reader.  


                  My mother told me the large tree in our backyard
                  was called a "weeping willow." It drooped toward
                  the lawn like it was sad. It was sad because the presi-
                  dent got shot in the head.


                  I stood at my bedroom window, looking out into the
                  stars and at the moon, so small, drifting aross the
                  black sky. The house was silent. My room was dark.
                  My pyjamas were covered in squirrels. The thing I
                  thought was the moon was not the moon, after all. It
                  was a snow fort. I huddled inside it, chewing ice.


Pockets will garner more attention than Today's book of poetry can give it.  But we will be able to say to many of you that you saw it here first.  Stuart Ross writes with such authority that his whimsy always leads the reader in the right direction.  His startling revelations and discoveries become a baseline for an entirely new sensation of reason.

Today's book of poetry loves this work.

Image result for stuart ross poet photo

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is a Canadian fiction writer, poet, editor, and creative-writing instructor.
Ross was born in Toronto's north end in 1959 and grew up in the Borough of North York. He began writing at a very young age and was first published at age 16 by Books by Kids (now Annick Press). This book, The Thing in Exile, also contained work by teen writers Steven Feldman and Mark Laba. Ross attended Alternative Independent Study Program for high school. He went on to self-publish dozens of books and chapbooks through his Proper Tales Press imprint. As his books began to emerge from larger literary publishing houses, he has continued his Proper Tales Press project.
Ross has been active in the Toronto literary scene since the mid-1970s. He is co-founder, with Nicholas Power, of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, which has been operating since 1987 under various directorships. This fair, the first of its kind in Canada, inspired similar events in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Hamilton. Ross is a founding member of the Meet the Presses collective, which formed in 2006 to promote small-press publishing in the Toronto area.
He was the 2002 "Writer in Residence" for the Writers' Circle of Durham Region, the 2003 "Poet in Residence" for the Ottawa International Writers Festival, and the 2005 Electronic Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library's RAMP website for teens. He was Queen's University's writer in residence in 2010.[1] Stuart was the Fiction and Poetry Editor for This Magazine from 2004 until 2012 and from 2007 to 2016, he was Editor for Mansfield Press, where he had his own imprint: "a stuart ross book."[2] In 2017, Ross launched a new imprint for surrealist poetry – A Feed Dog Book – through Anvil Press.

His own magazines have included Mondo Hunkamooga: A Journal of Small Press Reviews (later subtitled A Journal of Small Press Stuff), Peter O'Toole (a magazine of one-line poems), Dwarf Puppets on Parade (a magazine of writing with restrictions), Who Torched Rancho Diablo? (poetry and fiction), Syd & Shirley, a magazine of Canadian and American poetry, and HARDSCRABBLE, a poetry magazine.

Although primarily known as a poet, Ross has also published fiction and personal essays. His column "Hunkamooga" appeared in Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar from 2001 to 2005, and moved to the Vancouver-based literary magazine sub-Terrain in 2006, where it ran until 2012.
As an editor, Ross was responsible for the 2004 anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence. In 2003, he issued the chapbook anthology My Lump in the Bed: Love Poems for George W. Bush. In 2007, Ross was the editor for the Insomniac Press book Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden, and in 2010 for the Insomniac Press book Why Are You So Long and Sweet? Collected Long Poems of David McFadden. With Stephen Brockwell, he is the editor of the Mansfield Press poetry anthology Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament.

His 2009 short-story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, was shortlisted for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award and the Alberta Book Awards, and won the 2010 ReLit Award for Short Fiction. In 2012, he co-won the Elaine Mona Adilman Award for English Fiction & Poetry on a Jewish Theme, awarded by the J.I. Segal Committee of the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, for his novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. In spring 2013, Ross's poetry collection You Exist. Details Follow. won the Exist Through The Gift Shop Award, the only prize given to an anglophone writer that year by the Montreal-based group l'Académie de la vie littéraire au tournant du 21e siècle. In fall 2017, Stuart's poetry collection A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent received the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the poetry category.

“Each brief page of this brief, surrealistic novel brims with the unexpected, the astonishing, the odd . . . Pockets is a beautiful little book.” 
     – The Murdock

Stuart Ross
Reads 3 Razovsky poems
Video: farmergloomy



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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