31 January 2008

I, sidewalk trickster

Unusual review of I Cut My Finger, in the current issue of Arc, by Harold Rhenisch, a poet who lives in the B.C. Interior (one of my favourite places on earth) and the editor of a recent Selected by the late poet Robin Skelton. I love when reviews reveal things that had never occurred to me.
by Harold Rhenisch
Stuart Ross. I Cut My Finger. Vancouver: Anvil, 2007.
Over and over again in I Cut My Finger Stuart Ross plays with the notions of poem and writer as authorities on the world. He does so by kneeling down on a busy sidewalk and tying a variety of those trick knots that look so difficult, so tangled and so intricate, but when pulled tight unravel completely, leaving the now-gathered crowd the shock and delight of the a single strand of clear, unknotted rope — and perhaps drawing some scattered applause. The inventiveness of these sidewalk tricks is captivating. There is, for instance, echo rhyme, which has an effect like a clown continually pulling a stool out from underneath his colleague. An example of this is “Mary is the Merry One,” in which the standard stand-up-comic set-up, “Do you go to many parties,” is knocked apart with “We joined a party of hunters,” and “The present is an age of jet travel” is polished off with “How many presents did you get?” In characteristic fashion, Ross uses this pattern of out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth echolocation to set up darker echoes, such as, “The science talk was about amphibians,” and its alliterative counterpoint, “Kate has a talent for drawing,” simultaneously displaying meaning in nonsense and the complete lack of nonsense in meaning — or perhaps just the plain opposite, as he deals from the bottom and the top of a deck at the same time. As another example of Ross’s linguistic bravado, there is the poem-as-parenthesis trick, such as “The Virus Cabin,” a novel in sixteen lines that opens with a holiday weekend à la J.G. Ballard (“We holiday at the virus cabin.”). It then continues for fourteen lines in what appears to be that holiday, but which is really the setup for a final revelation: that when it comes to the business of memory, subconscious (and in the case of a poem subtextual) connections between things form the true memory, as Ross conflates a span of years into one present moment set within its full context: “We climb upon one another and grunt.” Other tricks that Ross displays on the stage of this book include punctuation tricks, the call-it-as-it-is trick (“The rectangle of the bed was shoved into the corner of the rectangle of the room”), and many more, as Ross continually reveals and celebrates the haunting subliminal structures that create, support, and enable materialism and materiality. “The effect is so comical,” he writes in “The Mountain,” that “I am offered a contract as a cartoon character.” This is poetry’s answer to Aimee Bender. It is surrealism at its best: written not to dispel the present but to reveal it.

Over and out.


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