01 February 2016

Selected Poems of Nelson Ball — it's happening!

I'm working on an awful lot of wonderful projects.

Here, I'll tell you about one.

A couple of years ago, Paul Dutton invited me to lunch in the Annex. He actually had a written list of things he wanted to discuss with me. At the time, Gary Barwin was working on a Selected volume of Paul's work for Wilfred Laurier University Press's Laurier Poetry Series. (It — Sonosyntactics — was launched last week in Toronto — get yourself a copy!) Paul thought it might interest me to approach the press with a proposal: and then one of us — I think it was Paul, came up with the idea of a Selected Nelson Ball. In fact, Paul might have had that idea from the get-go.

Anyway, it was a very exciting idea. I would have to read everything Nelson had written since the 1960s. I couldn't think of a more pleasant reading adventure.

So I wrote the press, and they immediately said yes. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride, though, mostly because I take on far too much. The actual work hasn't been bumpy, but finding time to do it has been a challenge. I began reading through Nelson's books right away, back in 2014. I put a Post-it on every page I thought was worthy of inclusion in a Selected. Problem was, I was putting Post-its on almost every page. Maybe someday there will be a Complete Poems of Nelson Ball (and I sure hope there will be!), but WLU does slim volumes of Selecteds, usually (or maybe always) under 100 pages.

I got caught up in my own books, and in Mansfield Press books, and other editing and teaching projects. And then, a few months ago, Paul bumped into the editor from WLU. The editor mentioned that he had never received the Ball manuscript and assumed I had given up on the idea. Paul said he was pretty sure I wouldn't give up on that, so the editor wrote me a note and asked.

Excited by his enthusiasm, and the realization that I hadn't blown it, I got to work again. And I got more stingy with my Post-it notes.

And this past week, Nelson approved a final selection. And he came up with the perfect title.

Points of Attention.

It works so well in so many ways.

Nelson has already written his afterword, based on a letter about his poetry he'd written to a Japanese student many years ago. This, for me, is one of the most exciting things about the book: Nelson has never before written for publication about his own writing. And here he talks about his process, his aesthetics, his influences. It's an amazing document.

And I'm working away on the introduction. Last night I phoned my old friend Lance La Rocque, a poet and academic in Wolfville, N.S., who is at least as enthusiastic about Nelson's work as I am. He was a great sounding board for my ideas about the introduction, and made a lot of excellent suggestions that I'll explore and perhaps adapt.

This WLU book is slated for publication this fall. I've already worked with Nelson on three previous publications: two books through Mansfield Press, In This Thin Rain and Some Mornings, and a Proper Tales Press chapbook called The Continuous Present. And we're also doing another Mansfield Press collection this spring — Chewing Water. It's a deep pleasure to work with Nelson, and especially to watch the great attention he pays to the most minute details of each of his poems. Which isn't surprising, given the nature of so many of his poems — works that pay attention to / celebrate / document minute details.

I've described Nelson at times as Canada's secret poetry weapon. I shouldn't really call him a weapon, though. But almost inevitably, when I bring his poetry into a workshop, or suggest it to someone I'm coaching, he makes new fans. There is an immediacy, a directness, a purity to Nelson's poems that make them nearly universal.

Points of Attention will cover six decades of work by one of this country's indisputable greats. If you think you know Nelson's work, I think you'll still be surprised by this collection.

Over and out.

05 January 2016

"Wigwam" on Synapse

I have another new poem up on an online venue. "Wigwam" will be making its next appearance in my best-selling blockbuster spring collection, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn, under Paul Vermeersch's Buckrider Books imprint), but its debut is right here on Synapse, an onliner out of, I think, Ottawa. I'm wondering now whether my Grade 2 teacher's name was Leibovici or Leibovic. I better find out before the book gets published! Anyway, it features the excellent education I received in First Nations issues in the 1960s in North York.

This online publication is all part of my desperate campaign to give a pile of new poems an extra life before the book comes out. I'll have a few more publications to announce soon.

Over and out.

01 January 2016

Alterations (2016 New Year's Poem)


The weight of John Ashbery’s
Collected French Translations:
(414 pages) and Roberto
Bolaño’s The Unknown University
(835 pages) on my mattress this
New Year’s morning is like
the weight of my mother and
father sitting on the foot of
the bed, watching me as I sleep.
Twenty-one years gone and fifteen,
respectively, they’re from another
world. “What’s a guy like you
doing here? / Are you plotting
a crime?” my father asks,
and he puts me in a headlock.
“O closed heart O heavy heart O
deep heart / You will never get
used to sorrow,” my mother says,
and she strokes my left cheek.
Thing is, I’ve stopped writing
poems about them. Also,
my strides are longer, and
I can be out the door and
at the lake in three steps. I
kneel down and scoop
some water into my palm.
Soon the water turns to ice.
The weight of me makes me
sink into the snow that covers
the beach. By the time spring
comes and the snow has melted,
I will have a little tailor shop
down there. I will have become
my grandfathers. My parents
are just a gleam in my eye.
I switch a little light on
above my sewing machine
and do some alterations.

1 January 2016

Over and out.

31 December 2015

3 poems to usher out the Old Year

I'm very pleased to have three poems up on The Lake today. Nice to squeeze in a final 2015 publication on the last day of the year.

Here be those poems.

The poem "Doxology" contains the lines that title my spring 2016 book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, from Wolsak and Wynn, the book that is going to allow me to hire a chauffeur and also buy a small holiday house in Nicaragua. I'm really proud of this poem: it's the one that set the tone — and gave me motivation — for the new book, which I think will be a very different book for me.

I'm also pleased to have "Adul and the Magic Book" up. I've gotten a great response to that poem at recent readings. And it's another poem I'm particularly proud of. Even as it makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps because it makes me very uncomfortable.

The third poem, "Three in a Room," is from a few years ago. It is a very personal poem, and one of my decreasingly rare strictly autobiographical poems (though A Sparrow has a few more of those). In my mother's last week or so of life, in 1995, as she lay in a hospital bed, she at one point opened her eyes to see me and my two brothers in room with her. The three of us Ross boys together all at one time was not a common sight. I'm glad she got to see that. I think it gave her a lot of comfort.

Over and out.

29 December 2015

25 of my poetry favourites from 2015

Okay, the heading for this blog entry isn't exactly true. I didn't read nearly enough new poetry books this year. So really, these are simply 25 of my favourite 2015 poetry books, chosen from those that I read. And the heading's still not accurate. For example, I'm not including the books I ushered through Mansfield Press under my "a stuart ross book" imprint: Last Stop, Lonesome Town, by Tara Azzopardi; My Planet of Kites, by Marie-Ève Comtois (translated my Michelle Winters and me); Abnormal Brain Sonnets, by David W. McFadden; The Purpose Pitch, by Kathryn Mockler; Love Me Tender, by Nick Papaxanthos; punchlines, by Aaron Tucker. And then there's my own, almost totally ignored, collection, A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books), which I think is pretty damn good. And there are also all the books and chapbooks I couldn't locate over the past few days. And beyond that, some of the 25 books below were published as fiction or non-fiction, but I think they're poetry. Oh, and I included a book from my own Proper Tales Press, which I know is cheating, but this is my blog.

Breezeway, John Ashbery (Ecco)
Thirty Poems, Nelson Ball (Rubblestone)
Thrillows & Despairos, Chris Chambers (Wolsak and Wynn)
Poems to Work On: The Collected Poems of Jim Dine (Cuneiform)
Sonosyntactics: Selected and New Poetry of Paul Dutton (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Rilke Shake, Angélica Freitas, trans. Hilary Kaplan (Phoneme Media)
Moods, Yoel Hoffmann, trans. Peter Cole (New Directions)
That Said, Richard Huttel (Proper Tales)
the blue, blue there, Marilyn Irwin (Apt. 9)
Our Inland Sea, James Lindsay (Wolsak and Wynn)
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, by Sarah Manguso (Graywolf)
The Well-Dressed Wound, Derek McCormack (Semiotext(e))
Get Me Out of Here, Sachiko Murakami (Talonbooks)
Diversion, George Murray (ECW)
The Lake Contains an Emergency Room, Lillian Necakov (Apt. 9)
Tells of the Crackling, Hoa Nguyen (Ugly Ducking)
Alone and Not Alone, Ron Padgett (Coffee House)
The Exiles' Gallery, Elise Partridge (Anansi)
Dear Leader, Damian Rogers (Coach House)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, by Rachel Rose (BookThug)
Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)
Careen, Carolyn Smart (Brick)
That Train Again, Mark Statman (Lavender Ink)
Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, James Tate (Ecco)
A Brief History of Portable Literature, Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. Anne McLean & Thomas Bunstead (New Directions)

Over and out.

04 December 2015

Ladles & geraniums, the cover of my spring 2016 book…

I have been immensely fortunate in that almost every one of my book covers has been graced by art and/or design by someone of my choice, and always a friend. I met Victoria painter Roy Green only once in person a few years back, but I have admired his work ever since and we've corresponded on social media. I'm thrilled that one of his paintings will be on the cover of my forthcoming poetry book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, to be published this spring by Wolsak and Wynn, under Paul Vermeersch's excellent Buckrider Books imprint. The cover design is by Natalie Olsen of Kisscut Design. I like the simple, almost Letraset-like type treatment. The image below is a low-res version: the final thing will be much sharper. But I'm eager to get this out there. I love it.

I like the suggested religiosity of the image. The title of the book comes from my poem "Doxology." So it all makes sense, right? This will be my religious book. My mainstream book. My Rod McKuen book. Maybe even my last book of poetry.

Over and out.

02 December 2015

Pushcart follies

Well, after nearly 40 years of crawling through the small-press trenches, I have now been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, thanks to Kathryn Mockler and The Rusty Toque!

The Rusty Toque is an excellent online literary mag, featuring fiction, poetry, interview, reviews, and more. Here are the pieces they nominated. I'm in very good company.

It's funny. I had never even thought that I might be nominated for a Pushcart — the most coveted prize in the small-press universe — but now that I have been, I'm all indignant that it had never happened before!

Unfortunately, my story, "The United States Has Gone Crazy," is completely whacko and I have no chance at the prize.

Over and out.