“I am drawn to the weird, to the dreamlike, to the absurd”: Stuart Ross on Anvil’s new surrealist poetry imprint

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Anvil Press recently announced a new imprint, headed by venerable poet and publisher Stuart Ross.

Launching in Fall 2017, A Feed Dog Book will have an emphasis on poetry that embraces surrealism and post-surrealism, and Ross plans to work almost exclusively with Canadian poets. Ross has already published several of his own books with Anvil Press, so working with the team is not new territory.

We caught up with Ross to talk about the imprint and explain to us just what is surrealist poetry.

RLBC: Okay, for those readers not ‘in the know’, what is surrealist poetry?

SR: Simplistically put, surrealist poetry is poetry that emerges from dream imagery or thought associations rather than reason or realism. It sometimes involves some form of “automatic writing,” in which the poet draws up words, lines, images, associations from the subconscious.

Music videos, and film directors who have come out of that industry, have brought often-surrealistic imagery to a mass audience over the past few decades. In literature, though, surrealism still hovers mostly in the fringes, though its influence imbues the work of many of our really interesting poets.

RLBC: Why does it appeal to you? What got you into surrealism and post-surrealism poetry?

SR: I don’t think I can articulate my own attraction to surrealist imagery, except that I am drawn to the weird, to the dreamlike, to the absurd. I don’t think we should be constrained by the laws of the real world in our writing. That said, our real world is becoming increasingly surreal.

Steve Venright's Least You Can Do Is Be MagnificentRLBC: You’d previously had your own eponymous imprint with Mansfield Press. Why move to Anvil Press and why now?

SR: I had a great decade with the Toronto-based Mansfield, seeing about 45 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction by 35 different writers through the press. A couple of them won major awards, and several others were shortlisted — but with all the books, I felt I was contributing something very different, and very needed, to Canadian literature.

But after 10 years, it seemed time to move on and have a different experience, explore new possibilities: I already had a relationship with the gang at Anvil; as a writer, I’ve enjoyed publishing four books with the press; and I like the idea of working with a Vancouver publisher that has a strong national reach. It’s going to be a good way to grow audiences for the writing that excites me and that I think fills gaps in the spectrum of Canadian poetry.

In Anvil’s press release, Ross explains the continuity between the two imprints: “In my first season at Mansfield, I selected a title by poet Steve Venright, who is Canada’s most pure — and funniest — surrealist. I decided to kick off Feed Dog with Steve’s biggest book yet: The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected & New Writings. It was assembled by poet and academic Alessandro Porco, whose in-depth afterword celebrates Steve’s hallucinatory achievements. This book sets the tone for what I want to do through Anvil.”

RLBC: What would you suggest for someone who wants to get a taste of surrealism and post-surrealism poetry? What should be a “must” on that reading list?

SR: Michael Benedikt’s 1974 anthology The Poetry of Surrealism is a classic of international breadth. For a look at Canadian post-surrealist writing, check out my own 2004 anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence. I’d also recommend, though it’s not strictly poetry, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, edited by Penelope Rosemont, from 1998.

Feed Dog is expected to release two books per year with Anvil Press. A Feed Dog Book logo was designed by Vancouver artist Catrina Longmuir.

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