27 January 2018

Razovsky on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I grew up hearing a lot about the Holocaust, mostly from my parents. My mother spent a childhood hearing about little else. She describes the solemn atmosphere in her household in Toronto, everyone gathered around the radio listening for news. Most of her aunts and uncles had stayed behind in Poland, while her parents, Samuel and Nina Blatt, had come to Canada around 1919.

I haven't written a lot directly about the Holocaust. I don't think it's my place. But the Holocaust exists in my writing, in passing, in periphery, in spirit.

Here is a poem of mine from my 2007 collection, I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press), that is imbued with the consciousness of the Holocaust.


The tumbling shelves
of button-filled jars, the dandelions
dotting the glistening lawn.
In the cupboard beneath the sink,
dented tins of shoe polish: black, brown,
red-brown. The rags that spilled
from the bottom drawer, from every
bottom drawer. And in the garage,
the nest of rusted pliers,
snapping, creaking.
Razovsky counted everything.

His fingers never stopped moving,
like his lips, and his eyeballs. He
inventoried, enumerated, catalogued,
whispered the names of all things,
and the things
that had no names. He counted dead uncles
he’d never met, each strand in their
long white beards, the threads
that hung from the cuffs of their
trousers. Razovsky counted
the sons they’d never had,
and the sons of the sons,
and he gave them all names.

“You’re a Razovsky,
and you a Razovsky, and your
name’s Razovsky, and I’ll call you
Razovsky.” And he counted each one
on a separate finger, because that
is what he did, he counted,
and when he ran out of fingers,
he used his toes, and then
the stones in his pockets, the teeth
in his mouth, the eyes on the fly
on the window ledge,
the scampering legs of a silverfish.

And when he was done,
he sat down with them, and
he counted the chairs around
the table, and counted the prayers
that had never been uttered,
and the prayers choked by smoke,
and Razovsky knew then who he was,
and he pinned a tag
to his shirt: “Razovsky.”

In fact, I think that all of my Razovsky poems (Razovsky was my paternal grandparents' name before they swapped it for Ross in the 1950s) are in some way about the Holocaust. My Razovsky poems appear in my books Razovsky at Peace (ECW, 2001), I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press, 2007), and You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012). I have struggled to write more, but it hasn't happened. I hope it will again.

Over and out.

31 December 2017

17 poetry books from 2017, plus some stuff I had a hand in

I didn't read a ton of new poetry during 2017. I was pretty buried in editing jobs most of the year, and visiting schools, and leading workshops, and obsessing over American politics, and wrestling with my brain.

But I've chosen 17 books to highlight here on Bloggamooga. They are not the "best" of 2017. They are simply 17 books that really impressed me. You've probably heard of some of them; others might be new to you.

I have deliberately omitted any books I saw through presses myself. And 2017 was a busy year in that way for me, too. I'm really proud of the four books I helped usher into the world and I'll ramble on about those a bit before I get to my list of 17.

Early in the year, Wilfred Laurier University issued Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, edited and introduced by me, with a fascinating afterword by Nelson. Paul Dutton had suggested this project to me, and I'm grateful to him for it. I got to read every published poem by Nelson, work spanning six decades, and Nelson gave me permission to include more than one poem per page, when they fit, so I really got to cram a lot of Nelson's poems in there! It's beautiful to work on such a project with a good friend who is also a favourite poet.

Next up was Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems, by Michael Dennis, from Anvil Press. Again, I edited and introduced this hefty volume. Michael and I have been friends since he found me selling my books on the streets of Toronto in the early 1980s. Like Nelson, Michael is a poet whose work is instantly accessible, straightforward, and about the everyday things of our lives. Again, I got to read through every published poem by Michael, and also select from about 60 or 70 new and unpublished poems he provided me with. This project was pure pleasure for me.

Then, this past fall, I worked with Nelson on another book, for which I returned briefly to my imprint ("a stuart ross book") at Mansfield Press. Walking is a stunning new full-length collection, and Nelson's most "social" book yet. It reads almost as a meditative novel of mourning and love and mindfulness. Many of the poems feature Nelson's dear friend Catherine Stevenson, and I wondered if it might be a neat idea to let her have her say in the book too. So this collection features a brief afterword by Catherine, and another by the Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg, who also admires Nelson's work.

Finally, a book a long time in the making. The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected & New Writings, by Steve Venright, compiled and with an afterword by Alessandro Porco. This massive compendium is the first instalment of my new imprint with Anvil Press, "A Feed Dog Book." It's also one of the weirdest, funniest, and most intelligent books of poems and prose poems and poetic fictions you'll ever meet. Like Nelson and Michael, Steve is a friend of mine stretching back several decades. He is, for me, the heart of Canadian Surrealism. Porco is a huge Venright fan, and his back-of-book essay is a beautiful exploration of what Steve has accomplished.

Now for the 17 recommended reads from my own modest and inadequate survey of 2017's poetry publications in English. Of course, this list could've been — and maybe should be — much longer, but such is the nature of these sorts of lists. I still have a pretty big heap of 2017 poetry books I haven't read yet!

In alphabetical order by author:

Kaveh Akbar. Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Alice James Books.
Chris Banks. The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory. ECW Press.
Gary Barwin. No TV for Woodpeckers. Wolsak and Wynn.
Kevin Connolly. Xiphoid Process. Anansi.
Clark Coolidge. Selected Poems 1962–1985. Larry Fagin and Clark Coolidge, eds. Station Hill.
Lynn Crosbie. Corpses of the Future. Anansi.
Jack Davis. Faunics. Pedlar Press.
Helen Dimos. No Realtor Was Compensated for This Sale. The Elephants.
Angela Hibbs. Control Suppress Delete. Palimpsest.
Sonnet L’Abbé. Anima Canadensis. Junction Books.
Layli Long Soldier. Whereas. Graywolf.
Canisia Lubrin. Voodoo Hypothesis. Wolsak and Wynn.
Sina Queyras. My Ariel. Coach House.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Prosopoeia. Anstruther.
Matthew Roher. The Others. Wave Books.
Suzannah Showler. Thing Is. McClelland & Stewart.
Gillian Sze. Panicle. ECW Press.

The way I see it, this would make a pretty exciting reading list for a course in contemporary North American poetry.

Check back here on January 2 for my 2018 New Year's poem.

Over and out.

24 December 2017

Fall 2017 Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market — stuff I acquired

OK, I am going to attempt to get this blog going again.

I'll start with the amazing score I went home with after the November 18 Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market, at Trinity-St. Paul Centre in Toronto. It was a fantastic event. I was one of the organizers (as a member of the Meet the Presses collective). Each year, two members of the collective curate the market: this year it was Catriona Wright and me. It was also a banner year because, for the first time, the bpNichol Chapbook Award — administered by Meet the Presses and this year judged by excellent poets/excellent people Helen Guri and Hoa Nguyen — featured a shortlist comprised entirely of chapbooks by women poets. (Sonnet L'Abbé won for Anima Canadensis, published by Carleton Wilson's Junction Books.)

Here's what I went home with that day:

Anima Canadensis, by Sonnet L'Abbé (Junction Books)
An Aorta with Branches: A Travelogue, by Deborah Wood (Sunnyoutside)
Augur, by Canisia Lubrin (Gap Riot Press)
Brick 80
Brick 95
Crack, by Brian Dedora (privately published)
Credo, by Allison Chisholm (private published)
The End, by Anna, by Adam Zachary (Metatron)
Heaven's Thieves, by Sue Sinclair (Brick Books)
It's Still Winter, by rob mcLennan (above/ground press)
The Low End Theory, by Alex Porco (serif of Nottingham)
The Man Who Remembered the Moon, by David Hull (Dumagrad Books)
My Ariel, by Sina Queyras (Coach House Books)
Our Cyborg History, by Lindsay B-e (Bird, Buried Press)
Pony Castle, by Sofia Banzhaf (Metatron)
Prosopopeia, by Shafiz Hafiz Ramji (Anstruther Press)
Small Press Ephemera, by John Laughlin (Sherwood Press)
Suzanne, by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, trans. Rhonda Mullins (Coach House Books)
The Worst Season, by Ally Fleming (Anstruther Press)

Coming up soon: what I scored at the Ottawa Small Press Fair a week later.

Over and out.

06 June 2017

Poems of My Past, Episode 1 — Razovsky

I write a lot, and I'm kinda old, so I have all these poems from way back. Some of them I remember very well. Some of them surprise me when I rediscover them.

For Episode 1 of Poems of My Past, I go back to about 2001, when I began writing my "Razovsky poems." I think there are about a dozen altogether by now, though I haven't written one in a couple of years. In this reading, I offer up the first three I ever wrote: "Razovsky at Peace," "Razovsky at Night," and "Razovsky on Foot."

Some of the poems in A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent could almost have been Razovsky poems. But I chose to make them more directly autobiographical. I do hope to write more in this series, but lately it's felt like I'd be forcing them.

Wouldn't want that.

Hope you enjoy this reading.

Over and out.

16 March 2017

My first poem in Trumpish

My most popular poems, whatever that means, have probably been my "Razovsky" poems — the ones about my father and grandfather and all those old bearded Russian guys in the crumbling photographs I have in a box in a cupboard here.

But I want a greater readership. And so I have translated my Razovsky poems into Trumpish. It was cool how they all rolled into just one concise poem.

Believe me, 
 nobody's father
has died more than mine.

Over and out.

17 January 2017

1,000 Bird Poems By Necakov: A PEN Fundraiser Marathon

Here's a thing I took on organizing that I didn't have time to take on organizing! But, hey, it's happening tomorrow, and while it feels like a bit of tightrope-walking, I think it's going to go great.

A fantastic lineup of readers — poets and others in the arts world — reading the 1,000 poems Lillian Necakov posted on Twitter during 2015-16. It's a remarkable work. And money raised is going to a remarkable cause.

Over and out.

03 January 2017

Finding support for writing

Last spring, I decided to create a Patreon campaign to find out if there were a few people on earth who admired my writing, and/or my literary activism over the past 35 or so years, and would be willing to support me in my endeavours on a monthly basis.

My hope was to have a modest bit of extra regular income to make things easier and give me more time to write. In exchange, I'd offer some perks: poetry leaflets and chapbooks, online readings and workshops. Plus a monthly writing challenge and exclusive peeks at various works in progress.

Since I left Toronto in 2010 and moved to Smalltown, Ontario, it's been tougher to get work (I'm not in Canada's publishing/writing centre and shmoozing all the time) and to get read (ditto).

I really wrestled with the idea of asking people to support me beyond buying my books. After all, most everyone I know is a writer, and many of them are struggling as well. But I considered my own contributions to the literary community: decades of organizing readings and other events, ten years (probably 600 or 700 volunteer hours) of the free Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, publishing mags and chapbooks at great cumulative expense, supporting others' events, mentoring, advising, literary matchmaking, some pro bono editing, and more.

So I figured I'd go for it. It's been an honour to discover nearly two dozen people have been willing to help me out with anywhere from a buck a month to $50 a month. It's taken some pressure off, and is likely one of the reasons I've had a pretty productive 2016.

I still welcome new supporters, and I'm open to hearing about the kinds of perks that might make such patronage feel worthwhile.

You can find my Patreon campaign right here.

Over and out.