Today's book of poetry: 18 Goddamn Centos. Stuart Ross. Proper Tales Press. Cobourg, Ontario. 2013.
I should start with a disclaimer but if you have been paying attention to this blog you will already know I am a huge fan of the endless fascinating poetry of Stuart Ross. 18 Goddamn Centos is but the latest of a myriad of chapbooks Ross has published over the years.
Ross is as well connected as any poet in the country, he knows poets and he knows poetry. But when I say connected I mean to the inner thoughts of us all. In 18 Goddamn Centos he makes elastic use out of the voices of others yet speaks clearly in that Stuart Rossian timbre we've come to recognize and embrace.
Cento is a form that borrows individual lines from other other poets to create a new poem - think of it as an elaborate rag quilt.
Cento For Alfred Purdy
He begins to speak
like a small storm cloud
and hills under our feet tremble,
and a small rain like tears
from the hot fields
under a million merciless suns
reach across the distance of night
Years later at Ameliasburg
I remembered that blind dog
under a faithless moon —
it was a heart-warming moment for Literature
— a thud and a cry
love and hate
doing pushups under an ancient Pontiac
Five minutes ago I was young, five minutes ago
we were very happy
but my hate was holy as kosher foreskins then
and the quick are dead and the dead grow hands
fingers like fireflies on the typewriter
suspended between stars
in an imaginary town
I knew a guy once would buy a single drop
of the rain and mists of Baffin
as if a child had clasped his hands
into the tips of falling leaves
I've seen these trees spilling down mountains
inside the brain's small country:
light comes and goes from a ghostly sun
on both sides of the swan
but first they cut off his fingers
beside my crumbling little house
standing in a patch of snow
in the silvery guts of a labouring terribly useful lifetime
This is an astonishing feat of engineering. This particular strong, evocative poem is made up entirely of lines from Al Purdy poems. Clearly Stuart Ross is reading everything. "Cento For Alfred Purdy" is a beautiful elegy and a snappy poem. Ross's choice of material, the stuff he recycles from the poems of others — is so ventriloquist right on the mark that it sounds like it is coming from his mouth.
Ross has numerous books and chapbooks to his credit, most recently Our Days In Vaudeville (Mansfield Press), which is another collaborative venture. Ross has been nominated for numerous literary prizes and awards but remains one of Canada's biggest literary secrets.
Embassy Sonnet: A Cento
Ask me something; come on; questions!
If I were Nancy Drew, I could tap my way
among the gods
gobbled by snores to the stately
snails supposedly accompanied by focaccia
I used to play
cowboys in sweat pants and Nikes
What did I learn about my kinfolk?
the world is the decay of the world
the air is some torn-up paper, floating.
And so I plan to go to the Canadian Embassy
As a small south american squirrel
The guy who cut off my head
he used to have five sisters
This Proper Tales Press chapbook has all of the light-hearted humour, a hint of dark menace lurking underneath, the keen observational jigsaw solving and other fine skills that Ross always brings to the dance. 18 Goddamn Centos is a typical Stuart Ross book.
Stuart Ross Poetry Rocks
Don't Step on Ants - Stuart Ross
Proper Tales Press