After the poetry collections silt (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2005) and blert (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008), as well as the collaborative Decomp (with Stephen Collis; Coach House Books, 2013) [see my review of such here], comes Vancouver poet Jordan Scott’s Night & Ox (Coach House Books, 2016), a book composed as a lengthy, single, extended poem. As he writes in his afterword, “&”:
Night & Ox were written during the winter of 2013 and the summer of 2016. During this time, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft caught up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and dropped the Philae lander onto its surface. The lander bounced across the comet’s terrain and settled somewhere on its duck-shaped head, where it finally received enough sunlight to emerge from hibernation and contact the Rosetta spacecraft. I first saw the images taken by Rosetta’s navigation camera when the comet reached perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. The first images I saw were of a comet deep in shadow surrounded by crisscrossing sunlit jets of gas and dust; a comet’s silhouetted underbelly surrounded by faint traces of debris; grainy images of a two-lobed comet uneven in gravity and surrounded by a matrix of stars, particles and a halo of camera noise.
Within the intervals of these transmissions between Rosetta and Philae, I was learning to be a father. The same sunlight that woke Philae covered the backyard and kitchen and my two sons at play in our home on Trinity Street, Vancouver, where I wrote most of Night & Ox. These images taken by Rosetta became the mood lighting of a poem that constantly defied containment. When I started the poem, I was just beginning to learn about my boys. I was, as Tom Raworth writes, ‘alive and in love’ and both completely adrift in this intimacy and completely contained by the rituals of parenting: the bedtime, the snacktime, the naptime, the shit. I wrote Night & Ox within these rituals, typing the first lines of the poem with one hand, holding my son Sacha as he slept. With his form attached to mine, the lines took on a shallow and hurried breathing, one of restlessness and the infinitesimal movements of a body bound tightly to a larger form.
I’m curious about how such a work was composed around and through new considerations of fatherhood, of children; on the surface, this is immediately comparable to some of Ottawa poet Jason Christie’s recent poetry, as well as some other recent works: Ottawa poet Monty Reid’s Meditatio Placentae (London ON: Brick Books, 2016) [see my review of such here], Minneapolis poet Chris Martin’s The Falling Down Dance (Coffee House Press, 2015) [see my review of such here], Dallas, Texas poet Farid Matuk’s My Daughter La Chola (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2013) and Dan Thomas-Glass’ Daughters of Your Century (Furniture Press Books, 2014). For some, the shift to new-fatherhood (and new-parenthood, generally) is impossible to not write about [see my own four-part essay on fatherhood here], from the distractions and attentions to the expanded and connecting perspectives upon family, mortality and being (“entrail’s equinox / purring kid sounds / translunar and / clay parsec”), and simply wondering how the whole thing can hold itself together without collapsing. From a poet highly aware of breath and stammer, Scott’s short, predominantly single-word lines highlight a movement of, as he says, “a shallow and hurried breathing […],” and even include the occasional created compound word, a la Paul Celan, pushing to increase his precision with words that hadn’t yet been built. As he writes: “stutterkiss / in / blithe / scorpion / some / endless / typhoon / spill / I / here / endless / obedience / forms / sight / wounding / longer / I / wait / for / little / things / to / cross / a / threshold […].” Scott’s poem-structure is even slightly reminiscent (albeit a pared down version) of the rush of American poet Ron Silliman’s Revelator (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here]. With the single, extended poem running left-margined along each page, there is a breathless rush that can’t help itself, one that also focuses highly on each line, pausing and accumulating and quickly moving in a staccato-accumulation that feels, if not endless, certainly ongoing.