31 March 2013

The stray breezes of You Exist. Details Follow.

Very happy about this review from the Ottawa-based poetry journal Arc. I'm especially happy about the first sentence. But what I like overall here is that the reviewer deals with the material on the page: he doesn't seem to be inflicting agendas on my writing. And, as in all the reviews that make me happiest, he points out things I had never noticed.

As always, I feel very fortunate that my books get reviewed pretty widely.

Plucking a Stray Breeze: Stuart Ross’s You Exist. Details Follow.

Stu­art Ross. You Exist. Details Fol­low. Van­cou­ver: Anvil Press, 2012.

Reviewed by Andrew Johnson

Stu­art Ross’s You Exist. Details Fol­low. is a won­der­fully sprawl­ing col­lec­tion far more inter­ested in explor­ing poetic process than in using poetry to make grand statements. The title quashes any desire for con­clu­sions right away: “you exist”, full stop, clears the way for the inter­est­ing parts—the details that fol­low. Ross exca­vates those details play­fully, using var­i­ous struc­tural strate­gies, one of which is the cento, or “patchwork” poem, in which a new poem is con­structed from an exist­ing poem or poems. “Cento for Alfred Purdy” gives us “love and hate/ doing pushups under an ancient Pon­tiac…” and “I knew a guy once would buy a sin­gle drop/ of the rain and mists of Baf­fin,” lines where Ross chan­nels Purdy, reflects on Purdy, and works at push­ing past him through the respect­ful assim­i­la­tion of the other’s work. The poem also ends with a lovely, lov­ing evo­ca­tion of Purdy: “stand­ing on a patch of snow/ in the sil­very guts of a labour­ing ter­ri­bly use­ful lifetime.”

In notes included in the col­lec­tion, Ross writes that a num­ber of these poems were writ­ten “dur­ing” another poem—“’Keeping Time’ was writ­ten dur­ing John Ashbery’s ‘Grand Galop’”—which sug­gests that he uses his read­ing of a poem to pro­vide the spring­board for cre­at­ing a new poem. In this case, Ross trans­forms Ashbery’s descriptions—“the smil­ing expanse of the sky / That plays no favourites…” and, “The dog barks, the car­a­van passes on” (Ash­bery, Poetry, 1974)—into con­densed, assertive metaphors—“The sky is hon­est, / smil­ing down at the bark­ing / car­a­van.” Ross’s approach acknowl­edges the role of read­ing, sug­ges­tion, and influ­ence on creation, while the selec­tion of Ash­bery and David McFad­den (another poet whose work is inter­po­lated in a sim­i­lar fash­ion) sit­u­ates him amongst other avant-garde poets with a deep under­stand­ing of surrealism.

While Ross’s bent for sur­re­al­ism is evi­dent through­out You Exist, it is par­tic­u­larly effective in the haunt­ing prose poem “Lin­eage,” which begins, “I step into a crowded swim­ming and look for my grand­par­ents. They are dead on another con­ti­nent.” The asso­ci­a­tions and juxta­posi­tions Ross works with in “Lin­eage” cre­ate a pro­found sense of absence and loss, leav­ing behind “the sort of silence that broad­casts from another era or from across an ocean.” The poem ends with an apoc­a­lyp­tic vision of “dis­tant explo­sions of orange,” con­vey­ing a sense of dread founded in humanity’s propen­sity for com­mit­ting the same hor­rors over and over.

This volume’s reflec­tion on process shows up in five new offer­ings of his annual New Year’s Day poems, most notably “Inven­tory Son­net.” From 2008, it is an exam­ple of Ross’s respect­ful use of the son­net to work through an idea before pro­vid­ing a cou­plet that is typ­i­cally a bit wacky but that is sus­tained by its apt­ness. Here, after rad­i­cally dis­as­sem­bling him­self within his “inven­tory” (includ­ing see­ing part of him­self as “Claes Oldenberg’s / Giant Hamburger”), the poet writes, “I sit in a circle/ all by myself try­ing to con­vince myself/ that I love myself. A pass­ing fork­lift agrees. / I rake fin­gers through my hair and pluck out a stray breeze.” Who, reflect­ing on a new year, isn’t at once weighted down by dis­ap­point­ment and buoyed by hope­ful­ness? We all believe in the pos­si­bil­ity that a “stray breeze” will come along, offer­ing some­thing fresh and new. Thank­fully, stray breezes abound in Ross’s You Exist. Details Follow.

Andrew John­son is a Hamilton-based writer and editor.

Over and out.


At April 12, 2013 4:38 pm , Anonymous Douglas Ord said...

Dear Stuart

Congratulations on all the excitement.

I seem to have misplaced your e-mail address, and there also seems to be no address here.

This is to let you know about publication of a new novel, my first since Oscar and Jeannie in 1999.

I've done it as an e-book because even at $4.99 I make more per copy in royalty than with a publisher at $25 in hard copy.

Also, I take responsibility for things myself.

The novel is called Fergus Arthur Paul. I would send you the mail-out, but there's no address.

You can find it at amazon.com by searching my name or the title. There's description and you can read a certain number of pages free.

I send you this because you've liked my fiction in the past.

Thanks for your attention.

Best regards,

Douglas Ord


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