06 January 2009

Dead Cars reviewed in Prairie Fire

Nice to see a review for Dead Cars in Managua, because it hasn't received a lot of reviews. This one's mixed, but that's how it goes. I'm happy the reviewer gave it some thought.

From Prairie Fire online:

Dead Cars in Managua
Stuart Ross
Montreal: DC Books, 2008, ISBN 9781897190333, 81pp., $16.95 paper.

The poems in Dead Cars in Managua read exceptionally fast, and are remarkably good for it. In "Itinery" Ross writes: "Nov 4--A man stands on a rock,/ talking on his cellphone. He falls off." (51) Is there a connection between talking on a cellphone and losing one's balance? Ross's poems continually make connections, until as a reader I'm connecting even when he isn't explicitly doing so. However, the book, divided into three sections (one part recollection, one part witness, and one part exercise), comes off sounding uneven because the sections are so disparate. In the "Author's Note" Ross states he "initially saw this book as a compilation of side projects, a bonus disc of B-sides," but I see only the third section dragging its hindquarters. Perhaps it is the throw-in B-side. The photos of the dead vehicles in the eponymous first section look as if they are bone racks picked clean by dogs. The section shuffles about post-revolution Managua, Nicaragua, as if waiting for something to happen.

A few blocks away, a man sits on a curb
and examines cigarette burns on his arms
and chest beneath a street light that hasn't
worked since the earthquake a decade

This mostly realistic poetry makes Ross come alive in a context that has deeply interested me since the Sandinistas overthrew the US-propped-up Somoza regime. The RevoluciĆ³n doesn't change the way Managua smells, nor does it vanquish poverty, nor make water spring from the taps, but damn it, Somoza is gone!

The midsection, easily the most satisfying, uses short poems on terminal ward care to connect the personal to the public. Health care is a service profession with the odds stacked against it: in terminal wards the ends are continual without end. The poem "Questionnaire" begins perfunctorily, straight backed and fully conscious, with the question, "Are you on medication?" slips into absurdity with hardly a blink of the eye, "Are monkeys your favourite?", but ends chillingly with recognition of death's transport, "Do you hear voices when you are alone?" (39) Everything most praiseworthy about Ross's writing--its acuity, doggedness, courage and humanity--shines here, and makes the concluding section sound blunt and disposable. An unfair comparison perhaps, because most of the poems come from his "Poetry Boot Camps," and many are based on a writing exercise in which someone reads a text out loud while the others write. An interesting exercise, but ultimately only an exercise. I don't trust these as poems, though a few are mildly engaging. This kind of poetry removes guesswork by making supposition the standard preference over the denotation of words. We don't guess at these poems; we reconstruct them, or simply wallow in them.

Andrew Vaisius is a writer and childcare worker living in Morden, Manitoba.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home