Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jamie Ross: The Soul of a Poet

Most of us have an idea what poetry means to us, what appeals to us, speaks to our viewpoint of the world -  traditional or free from any restrictions, straightforward or masked in layers of language. I like all forms of poetry, but especially the ones that ask me to look at the world with fresh eyes. I've loved poetry since I was a very young child. The magical use of a word, a beautiful turn of phrase, a seemingly small idea - the one that lights that spark inside my heart -  and I find myself awakening into a new way of seeing. I prefer poetry in small portions, reading only one or two a day so as not to get overwhelmed by the richness of beautiful ideas, but just enough to feed my soul, to help me move through the day, hopefully, in a state of grace. True poets, the ones who speak in "new tongues," see the raw beauty of this world and their words spill out, to show us, to help us see it, too. I cannot imagine life without poetry. For me, it is the heartbeat of the world. It speaks to our Oneness.

It had been awhile since a poet had really spoken to me, my truest self. Then, I found one, one who has, without a doubt, the soul of a poet. I was staying at a friend's house on a mesa west of Taos in late November and on their end table was a book of poetry by Jamie Ross. I had heard Anne speak of Jamie, of his poetry, knew he was a neighbor, but had never read his work before. I had met him once, briefly, when I was up from Santa Fe, visiting Anne. We were outside the store in Carson, standing in the driveway, talking beside his red Toyota truck. So, it's the day before Thanksgiving. I'm in Anne and Paxton's living room, holding a copy of his new book of poetry, Vinland. It's an advance copy, a gift to them from Jamie. I can't wait to look inside, see what he has to say, hear how he says it. 

To give you a bit of his background, I'd like to share the biographical note inside Vinland:  "Jamie Ross was born in Connecticut, grew up in Colorado. At the age of ten, he won a red Schwinn bicycle in a comic strip contest sponsored by the Denver Post. He's been writing, drawing and traveling ever since. A member of the first National Geographic Yukon Expedition, he's lived in Iran, Italy, spends much time in Mexico, currently lives on a mesa west of Taos - where he chops wood, hauls water, and rebuilds his Toyota truck. His poetry was selected for the 2005 Muriel Craft Bailey Award, also included in the national anthology Best New Poets 2007."

Of course, these are the things that speak of his life, his outward self. It's his inner life that hails me, that helps me to see what he sees. And, I believe I'm better for it.

Vinland. I open it at random. And this is what I read:


So, I'm looking at this thing - let's
call it a bear. Let's call it the soul. Let's
call it, we were calling in our red

caps with the fleurs-de-lis, up
against the line, our khaki shirts, green-
forest shorts, our blue, blue scarves,

we were up against a line that wouldn't
back down, between two trees in front
of the tent with somebody's hands, most

of the hands gripped to the poles
as if to hold it up, the soul I mean, the
shaking in the body just across

the twine stretched there
in the twigs on the dirt and the bodies
of the insects, a smell of grease and

shovels shoveling down a fog with its
sheet of superstition, clothes hanging up
and I'm wanting them back

because I'm right here
where it's rising like a bear, huge gaping
mouth, sharp gruesome teeth,

but I don't have a hat, some pants
more like pajamas, my scarf disappeared
before the orientation - and there's

no room left to grip, it's
a four-man tent, for their hands only - It's
a fact my shoes are loose and I've got

a bloodshot eye; the other one's floating
off to the left, up into the orbit
so I'm staring at this bear

and I'm looking direct, nothing in my fingers
dripping to the fog and it's got
some things to say - something like

a scream, more like a groan - just beyond
the line where it's more than wretched,
lifting its paws in the searchlight

of a throat with its red grieving horror and
the green snake teeth and the blue
thought of fear that everyone has left

with the pocket guide to slipknots, they've
taken the flashlights, jackknives, the matches
and the dice. It knows I'm alone. It knows

like a planet: Oh, I'm ugly. It knows
like Saturn. So I step across. It
knows I'm screwed. But it's got my eye

and I need to see.

~ Jamie Ross, Vinland

And, for reasons I can't possibly explain, I fell in love with poetry all over again.

Note: If interested, it can be pre-ordered through Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Eurospan, or let me know. He said he'll be happy to send out signed copies (only $20 with postage) when it comes out early this spring. "No one writes poetry expecting to make money, but it's a sheer pleasure when someone else gets to read it."  Jamie


  1. Wonderful post, Teresa. You're a true writer and lover of words. My daughter is heavily into poetry which has always pleased me. I love the arts and although I don't share that same passion for poetry, I admire those who do. I wish I got it. I think I'm too much in a hurry to read to get to the good part when I should be savoring it slowly. It's been said that poetry is a dying art form. Maybe your acquaintance can bring it back to life. :)

  2. Very spiritual post, Teresa. Jamie Ross immediately reminded me of Wilfred Owen...both have that hunting, almost lilting, manner...both grab fear, swing it around -- to where the reader almost feels the slap -- and pull back to where they go alone. Beautiful post!

  3. Are you kidding me? I totally get why this made you fall in love all over again. Oh thank you for writing this wonderful, haunting, lyrical post.

  4. I'm so glad his poetry speaks to others, as well. And, thank you for your lovely comments.

  5. Wow~ awesome blog mom, you are an awesome writer/artist! I feel the same about art being the heartbeat of the world. A reflection to help us/the viewers understand our/themselves more. This poem is also amazing~

  6. That was beautiful--not what he said, but what you said.

    I'd go look him up in my school library for your sake, but for obvious reasons I doubt they'd have anything by him.

    You sound like a lovely person, someone I wish I could meet in real life, although given my particular circumstances that will almost certainly never happen, or at least not until I'm very old.

    You remind me of my English teacher, Mrs. Randall. She's very kind and insightful, too, and she always encourages her students in their writing.

  7. Voice: Given the mysterious nature of the Universe, and the malleable nature of time and space, perhaps we've already met :)

    Coleman, yes, all art is a reflection...absolutely. I'm glad you like Jamie's poem, too.