30 April 2019

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs — the first review

My newest collection of poetry, Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, out from Vancouver-based Anvil Press in a couple of weeks, received its first review — and hopefully not its last, though I'm not holding my breath — in Quill & Quire. It's a group review that also looks at Hymnswitch, by Ali Blythe, and Cluster, by Souvankham Thammavongsa. The review is written by Jesse Eckerlin.

Here is the intro and the section on my book:

According to Freud, a dream is the fulfillment of a wish. A deceptively simple formula that implies a double-pronged question: what manner of wish and how fulfilled? Freud’s answer is somewhat as follows: a repressed, unconscious wish fulfilled in disguise. For Freud, then, the dream is a representation, by other means, of a desire inadmissible to the dreamer.

What can Freud’s hypothesis tell us about poetry? It is true that the three collections  under review trace unique aesthetic trajectories along the axes of dream and desire. But more fundamentally, they understand poetry to be the discursive mode that confronts language with the unsayable at the heart of its unconscious. If poetry is to language what the dream is to the dreamer, its paradoxical wish is to give voice to the ineffable. One way poetry stages this confrontation is by disrupting expectations of linguistic sense and narrative continuity. Favouring a gleefully lowbrow neo-surrealism more likely to traffic in radioactive bingo parlours and talking cheeseburgers than erotic seances or lobster telephones, Stuart Ross is an adept of both. An admirably light touch; a democratic sense that all risks are created equal; an irrepressible need to play the clown, even when it results in self-sabotage: Ross’s stylistic hallmarks are on full display in Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.

In Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, prose poems rub shoulders with centos, and impossible lists cavort with commemorations. In Ross’s poems, subject-object relations threaten to become topsy-turvy at the slightest provocation: “A cigarette cupped my hands, / pulled the phone from / my pocket.” Figures of speech grow flesh: “someone’s unleashed cocker spaniel / pounced on my grammatical error.” Inanimate objects prove self-sufficient actors and spectators: “ovation: / the egg stood up / for itself.” And physics and ratio play a psychedelic game of Ping-Pong: “I / shot a star across / the room and it landed / in chicken soup dribbling / off the roof / of a nine-storey apartment.” By voicing linguistic accidents and non-human entities, Ross seeks a poetic illogic free to dream beyond the restrictive bounds of moral edification and calibrated intention.

Over and out.


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