This is a book review written a few years ago.  I was lucky enough to see Campbell read from this book at Moe’s in Berkeley. Only a handful of people were there for the reading, it was before the book was a finalist for the Pulitzer but still that’s the Bay Area, so many great poets coming through all the time means there are opportunities to see great poets in intimate settings.


Campbell McGrath has produced an ambitious project with his book XX: Poems For The Twentieth Century, a book that provides a literary experience well worth the effort of reading its full 222 pages.  McGrath’s collection is a sequence of poems for every year from 1900 to 2000 plus a epilogue for 2016, 102 poems in all. The poems themselves delve into the artistic, literary, musical, philosophical and technological aspects of the century. This is a book where we are asked to perceive the twentieth century as a river that McGrath has taken a dipper of material out for each year.  There is a chance feel to the flow of the historical subjects he is choosing, yet the overall experience is one of control and care. 


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Stuart Ross has been writing poetry for a long time. According to his bio, he “published his first literary pamphlet on the photocopier in his dad’s office one night in 1979. Through the 1980s, he stood on Toronto’s Yonge Street wearing signs like ‘Writer Going To Hell,’ selling over 7,000 chapbooks.” He is now the author of 20 books of poetry, fiction and essays. In preparation for writing this review I wrote him and asked if he had anything he wanted to say about his latest book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent.  The only point he might make, he said, would be that he tried to write a book that is more accessible and personal than much of his previous work.

I’ve been thinking about that. The work is definitely personal, and we’ll talk about that a bit later.  But “accessible” is highly subjective.  I really love this work, soaked in quirkiness as it is. Does its quirkiness make it accessible or not? For some readers the idea of “accessible” means the work has less value, while for others “accessible” means the work has more interest.  I’ve had this discussion with people about Emily Dickinson’s work, how her imaginative take on the world is difficult for some to enter, while for many others it is energizing. In these poems Stuart Ross engages a Dickinsonian idiosyncrasy, projecting the real world through the lens of his imagination. Like Dickinson, Ross trains this lens on the big questions of death and immortality. So, accessible perhaps, original and strange definitely.  I went back to Stuart on this and he agrees that while probably his most cohesive work, A Sparrow Cam Down Resplendent is “still pretty wonky”.

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