Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Critique of Pure Reason - Ross Leckie (Frog Hollow Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Critique of Pure Reason.  Ross Leckie.  Frog Hollow Press.  Victoria, British Columbia.  2013.  (Edition limited to 125 numbered copies)

This is a huge bastardization of the truth but I heard that Alistair MacLeod described his writing practice by saying, loosely, that he worked on a sentence until it was as good as he could get it.  Then he'd write the next sentence, and so on.

Ross Leckie is cut from that same fine cloth.  

These narrative poems sing with precision, roll through the noggin' like old fables, old truths.

The Critique of Pure Reason

Is it that it is pure, that it is driven, that it is snow?
Snow in the reed where I stand
as subject, as simple subject, as identical subject
in every state of my thought.
Winter cups its hands into time and freezes
it into a skim of ice. Time is partly opaque,
its pack of crystals occluding knowledge of the weeds.
They are at the bottom of the pond, beyond desire.
This is neither elegy nor ode. It is ice marked by the skate-edge of time.
I stand by my thoughts, here, at the edge of reason.
There is open water out toward the middle of the slough,
where the water birds congregate.
There I was a child in a photograph. I was the ancient of days.
I was the man who didn't have a ticket,
who waited outside, waiting to glimpse the performers
glissando from stage door to the waiting limousine.
It happened in the theatre of the trees,
hovering in shadow, the telos of snow.
I had to wait to hear the whole song,
because reason is shaped that way,
it has that kind of beauty, categorical. Look at the graph
the ridge of mountains makes and there you will see it.
It is more true than accurate and more accurate than true.
The pond is in the shape of an 'O' and if you make an 'O'
in the moment before your solo, you're surprised
that you know its entirety as it knows the entirety of itself,
the song you can't get out of your head.
But there is no song in the world of reason, just the call
of a bird, just the breeze in the treetops.
In the quiet I can almost hear the reciprocity.
I expected it all to be reasonable, but I stood there
in the snow; we were reasonable beings,
the pond and the imagination caught in the ice,
the cattails and the wind of my breath,
the necessity of ice and the contingency of reason,
the tempered ice and the antinomy.
The pages are opening into the fields and trees are pure reason.
There is the intelligence of spruce needles, the way
they interlock and the way they enclose space
and make it intimate, the way they brush the snow,
and in the snow, at this moment, time is all I have
to contemplate sunlight's interrogation of shadow
and the encroaching night's critique of sunlight
and that is how I know two plus two.


In the biographical notes to Ross Leckie's The Critique of Pure Reason it states:
     "Ross Leckie enjoys throwing Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason across the room 
       with delight and frustration."

We can be happy about Leckie's predisposition, Kant has provided the diving board — Ross Leckie uses it to spring into beautiful action.

Heading For...

I wrote against my better judgement. Laid out
in the open drawers of my dresser, the analytic of the socks and the crease
in the folded underwear, my fingers tapping the wood
as if to seek the resonance of judgment, its reconfiguration into a double bass,
the low moan as from a basement, where reason in the beams
bears the weight of the entire house and only knows
one question: Can it hold up? Of course it can,
for the wind sifts through the house in a near-music,
the almost music in the world-sequence and the world-whole.
This is how I wanted it to be, here in the streets of the city,
the empty street, at a time when I myself felt empty.
"What time is it?" I ask the stranger appearing at my elbow,
who has unfolded himself from the drawer of the darkness.
He walks with me for a while, our feet echoing on the sidewalk.
It feels as if his feet are my feet, his words are my words.
I am as uneasy as the leaves on the trees.
"Well, this is where I live," he says, and turns toward the porch light,
the wrought-iron number both an invitation and a denial of entry.
The trees are trees in the suburbs, at home in their enclosures,
backyards and front yards, leaning along the avenue
in the order of their planting, on the verge between street and sidewalk.
Today they knew sunlight and now they know half-light,
quarter-light of the street lamps. It is the kindness of night to wait for me,
to have wound its watch back an hour, to allow me this pause,
to think of me now, and think of me then: a child who could not match socks,
who pressed the scraps of leaves into books and stared at Jack Frost
painting colours in the only colour print the books contained.
It is the trees that bring me to the aggregate of actual things,
the scent of the gardens, the softness of the lawns, the bricks
and the wood, and yes, the people who inhabit them.
A few windows flicker with television light.
I must be getting home. "House and home," we say,
knowing they are the same and knowing they are different.


The poems in The Critique of Pure Reason deepen with each reading, widen to encompass more reason.  But they are also simply fun to read.  Leckie's voice is so certain, clear and although splendidly eloquent it is also a restrained voice.  No histrionics here.

History As I Remember It

Or in the case of counterbalance, of pleasure and pain, noumenon
and phenomenon, to this we can spread two hands, fingers splayed,
one hand drawn up, the other down, comme ci, comme ca,
to measure the weight of nothing as something in our hands.
Justice, for example. Each broken fingers has been reset,
like twigs that have forgotten the leaves they let fall.
I ran my fingers along the scar across your cheek,
a stony path through the blockade of unfamiliar mountains.
You held up your fingers like candles and I blew each one out
and you grinned. You called me a philosopher of smoke.
You said beauty knows nothing of justice and I believed it.
I spilled wine. "I'm clumsy," I said, for I was jealous
of the way your fingers balanced your glass to say "salut."
"To the here and now," I answered, lowering my finger
into the pool of wine, its glow of blood in the candlelight.
"Don't worry," you said, "that stain will come out."
We did not make love that night. We puddled into the wax
of our sleeping bodies. We thought we could use our bodies
for pleasure, but that was pain too, and so we talked
like mourning doves, our feathered words, quills without ink.
Politics, trade unions, the common front, throwing beer bottles
at police, Communism, was it viable anymore, and were the socialists
corrupted by endless compromise. Time had slowed
or, for that one night we didn't care about mortality, the old tug
of a river that flows like conversation. Death and art
and the death of art and mutability and the mise en abyme.
You didn't talk about your family and I didn't ask.
I was corrupted by the gravel of your accent, that sound
of two stones rubbing together. That's how I thought of you,
as someone who had seen a border guard point his rifle,
then fail to shoot. You were the person who had come
from that strange land carrying your body like a beat-up suitcase.
"The twentieth century has been too loud," you said, "In the end,
aren't we all lowered into an open pit? True, I thought,
but in my family we are lowered one at a time.


These tightly controlled lines build on one another like the logs in a corduroy road.  All equally essential to the destination.  Ross Leckie writes very considered, very fine poetry.

Another very attractive Frog Hollow Press book, this one with artwork by George Raab.

Ross Leckie

Ross Leckie is the author of three books of poetry, A Slow Light (Signal Editions), The Authority of Roses (Brick Books), and Gravity's Plumb Line (Gaspereau Press).  He is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick, editor of The Fiddlehead, and a member of the editorial board of Icehouse Poetry, an imprint of Goose Lane Editions.  
In 2008 he was a Canada-U.S. Fulbright Fellow at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

Ross Leckie reads from The Authority of Roses (Brick Books)
Video courtesy of Brick Books


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