Moving to Climate Change Hours by Ross Belot (Wolsak & Wynn/James Street North Books, 2020)

Before I review this worthwhile collection, I must again express my near-revulsion these days with 1. excessive blurbs (to wit, Anne Simpson on the back jacket gushing in clicheed fashion that this is a “remarkable book, revealing a poet at the height of their craft.” First off, how many danged blurbs sound like this and secondly, this is Belot’s second book – if he’s at the height of his craft, the only way to go is down. So. No. Let blurbs be brief overviews of “what you will find inside” and not spewings of empty verbiage) and 2. endless acknowledgments thanking everything including the kitchen sink for their assistance in the book’s publication (was it committee-written?) and notes telling us redundant stuff, say that poems are forms they aren’t really (does a “true” haibun ever end with a tanka instead of a haiku?) or that these pieces were finalists for a boring corporate award. Even if I adore the book, such blah blah blah makes me recoil a little from it. How unfortunate that these types of emptiness are so prevalent and accepted.

That said, now to launch a greyed paean to the book itself, a tangible, genuine ode to the end of oil-based industry (a locus where the author once worked, thereby lending his poems extra gravitas). With a similar impetus as that behind Tom Wayman’s work poems (or, more currently Rob Colman or David Martin), ie. an exposing of the contradictions in traditionally male modes of employment, vilifying them a bit in relation to their combinative damages but also deeming such roles at least the remnants of heroic gender markers, Belot composes direct invectives like First Day, a piece on the Gulf oil refinery (“the skin of one/absorbed acid and it ate his bones….do the right thing, be a good boy/come home safe/ten thousand more times) or the modified pantoum on the Exxon explosion (“shut in the oil/And they could wrap that place in a shroud/Our warming planet would thank us all”). He also writes laments for friends who have committed suicide, and lyrics haunted by the lucid beauties of nature (from my favourite poem in the book – not surprisingly – Cat Catcher – on how felines are essentially “staring unblinking/licking a paw with [a] tiny/pink diamond tongue” to the “sanderling/[that] avoids the clamouring surf” in On a Beach, another interpretive haibun that confronts clichee, the infinite, love and all the hyperconsciousness we writers are supposed to have of the “rules.”) In these pieces, I hear the seeming simplicity of Gary Snyder’s entrees into how the crow, the ocean, the mountains can render us texts, in essence, of both knowing and unknowing.

I very much like how Belot constantly shakes up his lingual structures, sometimes tossing in a mucked-with form, then lineating skinny, stretching his prosy arms, scoring slashes, shaping triplets, slotting in a few dark photos. In this manner, the eye never grows lazy and the mind can stay alert to what Belot is eager to convey: the answer to “Should anyone ask for more?” as his friend Michael emphasizes in “After the Movie,” to which the answer, of course, is: “Yes…/they can and fucking well should.”

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