Winner of the 2008 Four Way Books Intro Prize
selected by Brigit Pegeen Kelly
The name given to the New World by Norse settlers, Jamie Ross’ debut collection, Vinland, is poetry of exploration. But beyond that, Vinland is a celebration of relationships, both our relationships to each other and our relationships to the earth. Specifically, Ross explores the human connection to earth, recognizing that this relationship is both fleeting and eternal in its nature. “How / the fish swim as he sets them free, fossils / in this ocean that he cleaves and charts,” Ross writes of his father climbing a mountain, “ancients in this story he encompasses / and enters.” These poems connect to the reader the way a “steel chisel” connects to a mountain—the face is permanently changed.
Vinland reminds the reader that poetry is everywhere, constant in its presence, powerful in its permeation. In day-to-day existence, as poems bubble just beneath, Ross lovingly coaxes them to the surface. Take for example, a simple restaurant scene: “He lofts a pitcher / over his head, reaches out for her deep-curved cup.” These are salt-of-the-earth poems brought to the page through short, matter of fact phrases that explore quotidian sorrow and joy, located around emotionally-significant objects from chainsaws (“I bought it from Ingrid, / in the trailer up the road. / Her husband left it / when he left her”) to hand-knit sweaters (“Flecks of brilliant soft / in our long dark again”) to cows in a field (“It’s late spring. / And the legs of the bull / are tucked, useless for now, beneath him.”) Ross invites his readers to look again at the world around him, to see not just a chainsaw or a sweater or a cow, but the beauty and poetry that, to paraphrase Miroslav Holub, is found in all things. It takes a book as special as Jamie Ross’s Vinland to show us how.
“Vinland assembles itself around the reader from different directions and dimensions the way the world assembles itself around an individual, through time and the trickeries of time, through weather and through thought, through experiences of many kinds, those of one person and those common to all, large experiences, and those that seem small but hold, lambs crying, or the play of light and shadow on a wall, […] cattails exploding, or the slow fall of snow, through the ebb and flow of memory, and the convolutions of history, through fast and feast, gearshift and tuning fork, flood and drought, through numbers and through dreams, dreams of the day and dreams of the night, through the night and through the day, through the griefs that harrow us, and the visions that silence us, and the bonds of desire that bind us, first and last, lover to lover, man to the land, father to son, son to his beloved father.” — Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Judge, Four Way Books Intro Prize