July 31, 2016 - Poet and short story writer Stuart Ross has been a mainstay of the vibrant CanLit Indie press scene for years, carving out a niche for his witty, playful, and beautifully bizarre books while gaining fans amongst writers and readers alike. We are thrilled to welcome him as our August 2016 writer-in-residence!
Stuart's newest offering is A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Buckrider Books). The book represents an increasingly intimate approach from Ross as he delves into the complex relationships we have with the ones we love (including the longest relationship of our lives — the one we're in with ourselves). Ross' fans will be happy to see his trademark humour, innovation, and daring is well on display in this new collection.
Today Stuart joins us on Open Book to take on our Entitled Interview, which focuses on the function, power, and process of titling books, poems, stories, and more.
Stuart tells us about how A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent got its name and why it is has a different aesthetic from many of his past titles, as well as his all-time favourite titles.
Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.
My new book, published under Paul Vermeersch’s A Buckrider Book imprint at Wolsak and Wynn, is called A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent. It comes from a line in one of the opening poems, “Doxology.” I felt that that poem was a real breakthrough for me in my poetry, and so I wanted to draw the title from somewhere in its lines. I also wanted this book to be unlike any other poetry book I’ve published, and so instead of the usual weird/bizarre/whacko title, I wanted something very “poetic,” spiritual, almost religious.
What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?
The title’s chief function is to act as the standard bearer for the book, to attempt to beam its tone and essence into the eyeballs of readers. I don’t believe the title has to sell the book, or be catchy or snappy in a marketing way: the title has to get out there and slither around and find the book’s readers in whatever nooks and crannies they might be taking shelter in.
What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)
I’m pretty proud of a lot of my book titles. Last night at a book launch, a guy I hadn’t seen in a few decades, since my street-selling days, said he still had his copy of my chapbook Mister Style, That’s Me. I told him I wished I’d saved that title for a full-length book. It’s a good one. For individual poems, though, I’m very pleased with “After the Event, but Before the Thing that Happened” and “Me and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi Go to Mars.” Now that that latter one is behind me, it’s all downhill from here.
What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else’s work?
I’ve always been a fan of the title New Hope for the Dead, by the American mystery writer Charles Willeford. The mystery genre spawns a lot of great titles — macabre and funny blended into one. A favourite literary title belongs to Samuel Charters’s small novel Elvis Presley Calls His Mother After the Ed Sullivan Show. And a favourite poetry title belongs to Joe Rosenblatt’s 1966 collection, The L.S.D. Leacock.
Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?
There were never any other possibilities, though this book ended up splintering off from my previous book of poetry, A Hamburger in a Gallery. I decided to save all my pretty normal, accessible poems for Sparrow and put the weird shit in Hamburger. That title is a reference to Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Burger (1962) in the Art Gallery of Ontario, a piece of art that blew me away when I was about seven years old and my mom took me to the gallery and I couldn’t believe a giant hamburger could be “art.” That totally influenced me as a writer.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two solo collections of poetry, one titled Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, plus three collaborative poetry projects. I’m working on three novels, one of which is The Ape Play: A Novel. My next short-story collection will be I Am Claude François and You Are a Bathtub. I’ve got a few more projects on the go, but I can’t recall them at the moment. I work on a million things at once. I just got an acceptance from a publisher for a tiny novel I wrote over the course of five days; it has what I consider a very normal title: Pockets.
Stuart Ross is the author of fifteen books of fiction, poetry and essays. His many dozens of chapbooks include Nice Haircut, Fiddlehead (Puddles of Sky Press); A Pretty Good Year (Nose in Book Publishing) and In In My Dream (BookThug). Stuart is a member of the improvisational noise trio Donkey Lopez, whose CDs include Juan Lonely Night and Working Class Burro. He is a founding member of the Meet the Presses collective and has his own imprint, a stuart ross book, at Mansfield Press. Stuart lives in Cobourg, Ontario, and blogs at http://www.bloggamooga.blogspot.ca.
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.
Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.
For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.