Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I Have Come To Talk About Manners by Stuart Ross

I Have Come To Talk About Manners by Stuart Ross
published in an edition of 50 copies, February 2010
Apt 9 Press, 8.5×7, 19pp, $10.00 (CAN)

In his first book of poems since 2008’s Dead Cars in Managua (DC Books), I Have Come To Talk About Manners collects eighteen new Stuart Ross poems in this attractive chapbook from Cameron Anstee's Ottawa based micro press, Apt. 9 Press.

From the first instance I encountered the poetry and prose of Stuart Ross -- in the Proper Tales Press titles When Electrical Sockets Walked Like Men (1981) and Father, the Cowboys Are Ready to Come Down from the Attic (1982) -- it was his sardonic, yet playful use of the surreal in the face of modern culture's hyperreality that struck me most. His use of ordinary, mundane, quotidian elements of everyday existence become extraordinary in Stuart's deft surrealist hand.

I Have Come To Talk About Manners is no different. Ordinary, everyday elements are constantly on the verge of becoming something else as Stuart's poems transfigure whatever hyperreality they happen to come into contact.

In "Fathers Shave", something as ordinary and seemingly innocuous an object as a Father's razor blade becomes a surrealist allegory for rigid codes of masculinity as viewed through the eyes of a child: "The blade rips the bristles / from his cheeks, his chin, / beneath his thunderous / nose", "rips the carpet / and the curtains, rips / Sylvester the Cat / right off the TV screen", "rips the welcome / mat off our porch, the / grass off our lawn" and Father's "boss caresses / his smooth face. The clients ohh and ahh."

In "Sorry Sonnet", the poet has a vision "of this thing I was going to create, / but it went too far", "words / started writing themselves", "political views / became more extreme than I had envisioned. / I stepped on more ants than I had meant to, / my feet went too far."

Still, nowhere else in I Have Come To Talk About Manners are Stuart's surrealist and fabulist transformations more poignant and antithetical with hyperreality than in his poem "(2009)":

a ditty fills your head (voice
and banjo) and a camel
falls on your head and a new
slogan pops into your head
and a kiss is planted
on your head where it
grows into an unusual
sculpture and you tug a pair of
parentheses around your shoulders
like an overcoat and
there you are
walking along a street

Through Stuart's playful, sardonic and surrealist simulation and imitation of transient reality in his poems, he constantly forces us, the reader, to confirm what we think or feel is real or authentic. The in-joke, I sense, is that Ross has all along known what I have long suspected - in a culture dominated by the hyperreal, nothing real remains, just it's simulated copy.

How do I suspect this? From Ross himself, of course. In "Stand Back" he announces:

I have come to talk about manners:
we live by lost rules.


Available from:

Apt. 9 Press
Ottawa, Ontario

apt9press.ca | apt9press@gmail.com

Apt. 9 Press is an Ottawa based micropress founded by Cameron Anstee who publishes handmade chapbooks of poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction in limited editions by new and established writers.

Stuart Ross is a Toronto writer, editor, publisher, and creative-writing instructor. Co-founder of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair and founding member of the Meet the Presses collective. Proprietor of Proper Tales Press. Fiction & Poetry Editor for This Magazine. Runs the "a stuart ross book" imprint for Mansfield Press.

Stuart Ross can be emailed at hunkamooga AT sympatico DOT ca.

© 2010. All reviews are solely the opinion of the reviewers at Fresh Raw Cuts.