Kingdom. Elizabeth Ross. Palimpsest Press. Windsor, Ontario. 2015.
The best thing about my position as Over Lord here at Today's book of poetry is that I get to read a lot of poetry. It's a strange world indeed, for me to read all these poems is a privilege. For my splendid in every way next door neighbour it would be a torture worse than being staked to the ground over a nest of fire-ants.
So with all this poetry to read I was still startled when reading Elizabeth Ross's Kingdom and encountering a poem I already knew. This is Ross's first book.
It took me a minute until I placed it. When it came to me it was an aha moment. Of course Sue Goyette and Molly Peacock had included a Ross poem in their excellent anthology The Best Canadian Poetry 2013 In English.
You can see Today's book of poetry's look at the Goyette/Peacock anthology here:
I'm taking an accidentally long route to the heart of the matter, it's not on purpose, but Elizabeth Ross's Kingdom has me swaying on the branches of a memory tree. Somewhat wobbled like when you hear that one Van Morrison song that makes you weak in the knees.
Raise me to cook a healthy diet.
To write thank you letters. To set
and unset the table. Carry things.
Fetch things. Make my bed.
Raise me to behave myself.
No boyfriends with long hair
and ripped jeans who say "chill."
Rap is a definite no:
no bling, no belly buttons.
Raise me to teach myself
a lesson -- perhaps the new French
phrase I learned in school -- tais-toi.
Teach me to keep secrets. To stay
out of other's private business:
rooms, closets, drawers.
To understand not everyone
will like me. That pain
is unavoidable. Teach me
how to tell a lie.
These poems are instantly recognizable as true. Poetry true. Real life true. Ross has a way of knowing more and saying it in less that is heartbreakingly sweet. Not sugar sweet -- but Patsy Cline sweet. Honesty always goes a long way and Ross has that covered. These poems absolutely beat the crap out of coy.
At this morning's read there were some interesting responses. Milo liked these poems enough that he read a second one out loud. Our new intern Kathryn read three. Now the two of them are sitting in the corner handing it back and forth.
June 10, 1995
Linoleum, his mom's kitchen,
she was grocery shopping.
He didn't know what to do
so I lay down and showed him.
Afterward, his knees turned pink.
When his mom came home,
she made us macaroni.
Elizabeth Ross's poems burn right through any hip dark cynicism to get at the real DNA of her own heart. No melancholy here, but vivid reporting from the perilous journey. Ross has been held to the flame and these well-tempered poems are first rate steel.
Kingdom is one of those books that Today's book of poetry connected with immediately, on a visceral level. One minute I'm an old man in my book-lined room and the next minute I am a teenage woman with serious decisions to make. Imagine my surprise. Ross transports.
in my mouth, a constellation
of twigs, berries, planets
revolving on their helix,
a thrilling science
lesson. But this is
far from kids' stuff,
no bicycle powering a light bulb.
twisting in me.
My father's mother: lipstick, stockings, ice
cracking in our lonely room. Glass
muddled with fingerprints
and mouth marks,
everyone I love
asleep in their beds. Self-
reproach is slippery; a woman
I've never known is easiest to grasp.
I sip some more.
I separate a little.
I hold onto what I can.
Kingdom feels a bit like the house where I used to live it is so familiar. How could that be? Good poems don't care who you are they are only concerned with who you are willing to be. Elizabeth Ross has written a book that I like so much I'm just not certain how to tell you.
Ross will have more for us, of that I'm certain. And Today's book of poetry can't wait.
ABOUT THE AUTHORLiz is the author of Kingdom (Palimpsest 2015). Her work has been published in a number of literary magazines and selected for inclusion in Best Canadian Poetry 2013, as well as longlisted for the CBC poetry prize. She’s from Vancouver Island and Vancouver, where she was poetry editor of PRISM international; she now lives in Toronto, where she’s currently at work on a series of personal essays and a book of poetry.
BLURBS“In the lush, vivid poems of Elizabeth Ross’s Kingdom, an agile, engaged and astute mind offers the names for much of the kingdom of the heart. Ross carries us through the dangers and ecstasies of girlhood, with its boundaries and breaches, and into the openings and enclosures of the adult world with its “sound of something bigger.” Kingdom is the startlingly accomplished, brilliant debut collection of an important new voice in Canadian poetry.”
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