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Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer

by Stuart Ross

For a quick and dirty breath of fresh air, it’s difficult to beat renegade urban poet Stuart Ross’s latest effort. Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer is a collection of Ross’s impolite, funny, and occasionally acerbic columns that ran in the free monthly tabloid Word under the moniker Hunkamooga, a reference to the author’s defunct small press zine Mondo Hunkamooga.

For 30 years Ross has been banging out poetry and indulging his love for the small press, certainly two of the more efficient routes to penury. Thing is, the road to penury is often more scenic than the road to middle-class respectability. This collection represents some of the scenes and landmarks on that road.

There’s a Holden Caulfield-esque quality to Ross’s voice that is disarming and hilarious. “Here’s a little inventory of bitterness about my literary career. You might enjoy it over tea and crumpets,” he writes. Fifth on his list is this gem: “Way crappier writers than me get more attention, because they’re so goddamn self-absorbed and have no problem with their overinflated egos.”

Somebody had to say in print what we’ve all thought or said to friends while gobbling the shrimp ring and hummus at various readings, so kudos to Ross. From big-budget movies to reality television to pre-fab pop music, our culture often celebrates idiots while relegating truly engaging artists to the margins or the poorhouse. Ross is one of those mostly disenfranchised voices, shouting eloquently from the literary attic.

He gleefully eviscerates the rituals of open mic nights and the scenesters who attend readings and spend more money on beer than books, but he’s not coy. He also gives us sharp glimpses into his life – the loss, anger, confusion, and helplessness that is so often poetry’s raw material.

Ross is a chapbook champion because the tiny tracts are “a slap in the face to Mike Harris and Jean Chrétien and McDonald’s and Knopf and MuchMusic and Greg Gatenby and cellphones and Republicans and Indigo and all the other stops along the Axis of Evil.” No reformed baby boomer or slumming trust-funder, Ross has the battle scars and knows poetry isn’t about flowers and meadows, it’s about blood and guts.