You Exist. Details Follow.
By Stuart Ross
Anvil Press (2012)
Reviewed by Lise Gaston
In Stuart Ross’s seventh book of poetry, You Exist. Details Follow., details are the signifiers of existence—an existence made strange. Ross’s absurdism doesn’t rely on unconnected sentences, abstract thought, or an unusual, elevated vocabulary: rather, his poetry delights in the silliness of concrete mundanity. These poems inhabit the clean lawns and cul-de-sacs of suburbia, but squints at them askew, listens to the birds chirping in a minor key: “A dog barked at me. / Who is that dog? / What is telling me something / from inside a badly sewn dog suit?” The poems nestle in the wider concerns that envelop suburbia: economics, politics (“It is two thousand ten. / I look around for something / to prorogue”), and the looming worry that existence itself could be wiped clean in a second, some imaginable disaster purring in the corners. Sometimes humour bounces off the profound; sometimes it slides into the intimate, such as in “6:31 a.m.:” “Rain pelts the tent. / Spider silhouettes overhead. / My feet are tangled / in sleeping bag. / I can’t recall / your smell.”
Ross wields the line to effect the precise tone that he wants: in the book’s first, eponymous poem, short enjambed lines of simple diction are interrupted and slowed with Latinate language and caesuras: “You are your / far-off limbs, wandering / amid the sequined detritus, / the indignant, toxic beach. / It is true: I have changed.” The collection thus begins by launching us into a happily disjointed mind, into images connected as though by sparking, duct-taped wires, buzzing weird electrical fires of thought. Ross creates his greatest absurdities through unexpected pairings of nouns and adjectives, sometimes to react against more traditional poetic themes—such as a Canadian pastoral: “I am / a pointy landscape, / a waterfall of quivering farms.” Despite a predominantly first person speaker and a fairly consistent voice, we cannot latch on to a permanent speaker: only appropriate for this unbalanced world. Forms vary from prose poem to loose sonnet, with all sorts of free verse in between. Ross is at ease with line breaks: he usually breaks them at logical pauses, but sometimes leaves us tilting into the short enjambed lines that rush us down a slender poem.
Alongside the incongruous images, there are threads of thematic continuity that ground the reading in collective experience and emotion. A major thread is child-parent relationships, which carries easily into the surreal. Through the child’s eyes, the parent can be larger-than-life: in “Fathers Shave,” the razor blade “rips the welcome / mat off our porch, the / grass off our lawn.” Alternately, a lost parent is either touchingly grieved for or slowly forgotten as life’s details pile up with their distractions and demands, outrageous but also mundane: “His mother’s fall got farther away. Hardwood floors / replaced the carpet. At his cousin’s bar mitzvah, / his father danced with a woman he’d never seen.”