Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bill Knott and Ron Padgett, Proper Tales Press

With a publishing and writing history that goes back to the founding of his Mondo Hunkamooga in 1982, co-founding The Toronto Small Press Book Fair with Nicholas Power in 1987 (out of their monthly "meet the presses") and various other activities as a writer, performer, editor, publisher and activist, Toronto's own Stuart Ross has been one of the strongest continual forces in chapbook and small magazine publishing in Canada for decades. More recently, he has been the author of a number of trade collections of poetry with ECW Press (including a hardcover selected poems), the editor of Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian poets under the influence with The Mercury Press, editor and publisher of the occasional literary journal Syd & Shirley [see my review of the first one here] and the author of a collection of non-fiction pieces from his various WORD: The Literary Calendar and sub-Terrain columns (the second of which he still does) out with Anvil Press (the same press who put out his most recent poetry collection a week or two ago); it's long been said that if Stuart Ross lived in any other country, he would be famous by now… Even with all of this, his Proper Tales Press (the book writing in our time: Canada's radical poetries in English (1957-2003) has him incorrectly as editor/founder of Streetcar Editions, instead of Daniel Jones) has been one of his ongoing standards, producing chapbooks and ephemera going back more than two decades, producing small books by himself and those of his friends and contemporaries, including Lillian Necakov, Kevin Connolly, Gary Barwin and others, as well as two of his American heroes, Bill Knott and Ron Padgett.

Recently in the mail came copies of two Proper Tales Press publications, Bill Knott's A LESSON FROM THE ORPHANAGE and Other Poems (2003) and Ron Padgett's If I Were You (2007). One can argue that any writer/publisher's own work can be traced somewhat through the work that they decide to produce, and the selections of Knott and Padgett speak volumes for Ross' own explorations in poetry and prose through the surreal, tragic and comic. The first, a chapbook by American poet Bill Knott, is the darker of the two; as Ross (or Knott himself) wrote of the author on the back of the chapbook:
Bill Knott's first book, The Naomi Poems, was published in 1968. Subsequent collections include Auto-necrophilia, Love Poems to Myself, Aurealism: a study, Rome in Rome, Selected and Collected Poems, Becos, Outremer, The Quicken Tree, and Laugh at the End of the World: Collected Comic Poems. Knott lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is his first Canadian book.

If you beat up someone smaller than you
they won't (and histories prove this) tell:

look at those people on the opposite side
of the planet: they want to beat us up but

they're smaller so that's okay. Not okay is
that most of us will die in the war between

them and us, because small equals (and mice
prove this) sneaky: their spies could spirit all

our nuke aids away and we'd never know:
nick our rocket-satellite knockout Star Peace

Comcodes right out of our shrinking pockets,
even our doomsday (the FBI can prove this)

doodads, the ones we mean to use on them,
the rats: and so when they kill us will we

have killed enough of them to win, whose
fist figures bigger in the end? And what's it prove?

In the Orphanage, hell, even if they do tell
on you there's no one for them to tell it to.

A lovely perfect-bound edition in a run of 376 copies, If I Were You by Ron Padgett (said to be Stuart Ross' favourite poet and perhaps biggest influence) collects four decades of collaborations he produced with friends such as the poets Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan [see my note on his collected books here], Tom Clark, Larry Fagin, Dick Gallup, Allen Ginsberg, Lita Hornick, Alice Notley [see my note on her selected poems here], Douglas Oliver, James Schuyler, Tom Veitch and Yu Jian (although I have to admit I wondered why he and Stuart Ross didn’t do a collaboration at the last minute, for the sheer sake of it?). An important member of the "second generation" of the New York School (along with Berrigan and Notley), Padgett is a prolific poet, editor and translator, as well as the author of memoirs of his father, Joe Brainard and Ted Berrigan. As Padgett writes in his author's note:
If I Were You consists of collaborative pieces written between 1964 and 2004 with a variety of writer-friends. The hottest period of collaboration for me was between 1961 and the early 1970s, inspired partly by the collaborations issue of Locus Solus edited by Kenneth Koch in 1962 and partly by the spirit of the times.

My earliest collaborations were done just after I had graduated from high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the spring of 1960; Joe Brainard and I did a poem-picture print and Ted Berrigan and I wrote a poem together. The latter was a hoax designed to raise the dander of the editor of a particular little magazine; we signed it "Noble Brainard," a hybrid of the names of two friends, Don Noble and Joe Brainard. A few years later, in New York, we adopted our new moniker, Harlan Dangerfield. When Ted and I published our collaborative book Bean Spasms (1967), we abandoned pseudonyms but left the authorship of individual pieces in the book mostly unidentified. Some were by him, some by me, a few by him and me and other people, many by the two of us: poems, mistranslations, short prose pieces, a play, letters, and parts of a novel entitled Furtive Days. Collaborating with Ted was like having a comic wrestling match with Rabelais.
Books of collaborations are always fun [see my review of two recent collaborations here], and always highlight not only the differences between two writers, but that magnificent third author that sits at that point where the two authors meet; supposedly Ottawa poet jwcurry has been working a book of collaborations with various others for about twenty years, perpetually forthcoming with The Mercury Press, but I'm unsure where it's currently situated; apparently Toronto poet Stephen Cain has been more recently working the same…


I the good elephant saw you
resting in the air over the jungle
The spring squats down on the lawn
Ties her shoes
The same shoes the clouds
were wearing last year
Your dream walks into my sleep
as soon as I wake up and
the person who wakes up
no longer is you
The place of waking up is not your place
though the cloud is still your cloud
and your head is still in it
because of your other head
Spring is your other head
Cloud is your other head
China is your other head
You have plenty more heads
asleep in the dark and deep place
Waiting for the early brain beginning
I the good elephant saw you


Copies of Knott's collection are available for $8 postpaid, and for Padgett's, $15 (in currency, Ross writes, of country where order originates); inquiries can be made at or check directly through his website. Otherwise, Stuart Ross is a fixture (still) at the Toronto Small Press Fair, and might even be at this spring's Ottawa fair (I haven’t yet heard…); he almost always has something new.

No comments: