Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part one : Stuart Ross + Pearl Pirie,

In case you didn’t catch, we had another small press book fair not long back (the event is now twenty-nine years old!), at the Tom Brown Arena in Hintonberg! The new location went better than expected, so I’m thinking of not returning to Jack Purcell as originally planned, but perhaps remaining here. It’s a larger space, and better parking, for one thing. There were other perks as well. What do you think?

Buenos Aires, Argentina/Cobourg: I recently picked up a copy of Stuart RossSos una sola persona (Buenos Aires: Socios Fundadores, 2020), a bilingual ‘selected poems’ chapbook of his, with pieces translated into Spanish (and presumably selected as well) by Sarah Moses and Tomás Downey. The selection of poems offer considerations of place, of settlement; poems on fathers and sons; and elements of voice, akin to, say, the work of Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell (although Ross works his narratives quite differently, offering anxiety, uncertainty and a surreal unsteadiness, instead of simply occupying a variation on scene and narrative character study). Honestly, it would be interesting if someone Spanish speaking from Argentina, otherwise completely unaware of Stuart Ross and his work prior to this small collection, to work through a review of these poems; I suspect they might catch something that I, a reader and reviewer of Ross’ work since the 1990s, might simply not catch. Maybe? Perhaps the elements of surrealism would find more familiar readers on that end, unconfused with approaching poems such as “RAZOVSKY AT PEACE” (the title poem of his 2001 collection with ECW that I reviewed for The Antigonish Review; the review is long disappeared from the internet) that includes: “Razovsky becomes / part of the ground. The chip bag  become a butterfly, as ordained / by nature; it struggles from its / cocoon, bats its wings, / tugs frantically, / but still it is lodged / between the rocks. Razovsky / is not surprised.”

It is a curious selection, and apart from Brooklyn poet and editor Jordan Davis’ ongoing work through Subpress Collective/CCCP Chapbooks, I don’t see anyone else putting together chapbook-sized selected poem collections. Given he had a selected poems some twenty years back, Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (ECW Press, 2003), a book that still appears available on the ECW Press website, one might think that perhaps a new selection should be put together of Ross’ work. How many trade collections and chapbooks has he produced since then?

Ottawa ON: The latest from Pearl Pirie is the chapbook We Scrawl our Likenesses (phafours, 2023), a small title of poems built out of elements of the work of Perth, Ontario poet Phil Hall. As she writes in her acknowledgments: “In these poems I wrote not a word, only cobbled. Some capitalization changed. Each line is quilted, that is, the form is a cento of his poems and interviews.” This isn’t the first time Pirie has worked such a form, assembling a variation on the same through some of my own work through her rob, plunder, gift (Ottawa ON: battleaxe press, 2018). Pirie’s poems over the years has evolved into a poetics of declarations, observations and examination, first-person meanderings that accumulate into curious collage-movements, most of which ebb and flow across thought and language, and there is much in her work to compare to that of Phil Hall’s own work. And yet, using Hall’s language, these poems are unmistakably, delightfully, hers.

a title is not a pitch, it is a commitment

there are too many Wordsworths
shoving the fields

& them running   slapping their heads
to make progress happen by making poems be tools

wearing a giant dollar-bill costume
their minds like stumps    in raw clearings

& fenced with their own charred stumps

This is what you have made carefully—tear it down

but what would that prove
& I can only pretend to help

anti-perfection. I seek words to embellish my flaws.
the needed music un-preplanned forms

a chickadee embeds itself in the fog

but I insisted


1 comment:

Geoffrey Dow said...

I was pleasantly surprised by how things went at the Tom Brown Arena, and would vote to try it there again in the spring.