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.
The idea had come to me that afternoon. Laurie, my wife, was driving in from Cobourg to meet me (I was already in Toronto for my shrink appointment), and I asked her to bring cardboard and some felt-tipped markers. I had decided how I could come to terms with devising a poetry collection specifically designed to win me the Nobel Prize in Literature, allowing me to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Count Maurice Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck (1911) and Frans Eemil Sillanpää (1939).
For years, I had been publishing these weird, eclectic books of poetry, and I soon realized the poems most people seemed to like were the more normal autobiographical ones. But I kept writing weird shit. Then it suddenly struck me that I had a lot fewer years ahead of me than I had behind me, and all my poet friends from the old days were living on yachts, teaching creative writing at Yale, touring Eastern Europe by unicycle, and hiring assistants to open up their daily sacks of fan mail, while I was following my incredibly cute and adorable dog Lily around Cobourg just so I could be in the vicinity of compliments.
It was time to get serious. No more books with stupid titles like Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid and I Cut My Finger and A Hamburger in a Gallery. It was time for a book with a religious-sounding, Nobel-baiting title. It was time for A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent.
But a magnificent title alone wasn’t going to do it, no way. This book had to be personal and narrative and occasionally even make sense, something I’m innately averse to. It was time to sell out. Every night, I lit candles in my study in front of framed photos of Rod McKuen, Terry Rowe, Hugh Prather, Suzanne Somers, and Richard Thomas. I hurled my Lisa Jarnot and Nicanor Parra and Larry Fagin books out the window, lest they influence me. I wrote on dried ferret skin with one of those feather things dipped in ink that had been bottled in 1902 (the year Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen won the Nobel).
When I finally emerged from my study, I immediately set up a meeting with Paul Vermeersch, who runs the Buckrider Books imprint at Wolsak and Wynn. Paul knew I was onto something big with this commercial abomination. I settled for a $250,000 advance, knowing I would make twice that amount through Public Lending Rights payments.
It’s not that I have no principles. I do have principles. I fought myself every inch of the way. I developed new approaches to self-loathing. I had made a career of not caring what the public thinks of my writing, and now I was grovelling for acceptance and offers of movie rights. Laurie just shook her head sadly. Where was the penniless avant-garde surrealist she had once been drawn to?
And so, I called for a boycott of Stuart Ross. I was booed onto the stage. The flashbulbs were blinding. I knew at that moment, as I cowered and trembled before the microphone, watching the assembled crowd shake their fists at me in slow-motion, that my next poetry book would be called Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.
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: Toronto.
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.
Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, and writing teacher living in Cobourg, Ontario. The acclaimed author of 20 books of poetry, fiction, and essays, Stuart got his start selling his chapbooks on Toronto’s Yonge Street during the 1980s. His recent books include Our Days in Vaudeville (Mansfield Press, 2014), A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books, 2015), (Anvil Press), and A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016). He is the co-translator or Marie-Ève Comtois’s My Planet of Kites (Mansfield Press, 2015). You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012) won the sole award given to an anglophone writer by the Montreal-based l’Académie de la vie litteraire au tournant du 21e siècle; Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009) won the 2010 ReLit Prize for Short Fiction; and the novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew was co-winner of the 2012 Mona Elaine Adilman Award for Fiction on a Jewish Theme. Stuart has taught writing workshops across the country, and was the 2010 Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. Since 2007, he has had his own imprint at Toronto’s Mansfield Press. Stuart is currently working on several poetry and fiction projects, as well as a memoir.
You can write to Stuart throughout the month of August at firstname.lastname@example.org