A Gross & Fine Geography

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New & Selected Poems

Canadian writer Stephen Bett is internationally known as one of the leading poets of his generation. The Gross & Fine Geography: New & Selected Poems draws from thirteen major collections and adds a generous sampling of new work, spanning over four decades. His early work has been critically praised for its sassy, edgy wit as he caustically, often hilariously, satirizes everything from trendy millennialism to soft-core porn to everyday postmodern frivolities, while his more recent work―far more questing, even spiritual, in subject and tone―has been equally acclaimed for honing still further his exquisitely subtle, minimalist language, in books that explore the intensely personal, from desire through to despair and loss, and on to the challenge of personal growth.

Neither mainstream bland nor 'language-centered' fashionista, Bett's fiercely independent voice uniquely carries forward the counter-tradition of the previous generation's independista poets, like Creeley, Dorn, Hollo, and Clark. But above all, Stephen Bett is one of those truly rare poets who catches at the throat with Zukofsky's virtually impossible dictum, "Lower limit speech / Upper limit music"―reaching for a language that sings on the page. And for that, his work has been called an incredible accomplishment.

  • Order from Salmon Poetry.
    ISBN: 978-1-910669-25-9
    180 pages
  • Cover Art: Marion Llewellyn. Title: The Drone, from solo gallery exhibit Snow Asylum, Vancouver, 2011. Contact: duckm@shaw.ca

Reviews

"At 180 pages and in the fluorescent coat of many colours - in this corner, author of 20 books and counting - Stephen Bett, linguistic gymnast and parable prognosticator.

This is heavyweight stuff. Bett comes out of his corner swinging. These poems are the onslaught of a simply unrelenting force.

You can't pin Bett down because he comes at you from all angles. These poems start on a terrain that might have employed the beautiful ramblings of an Allen Ginsberg but before you blink the carved in stone and coming straight ahead voice of Today's book of poetry hero Saint Raymond of Carver.

Preparation for a Gift

How true it is that we need to be
close to the brink of language when
we speak now. I recall saying to you
at the time I read them
how acute John Ashbery's remarks on
Pollack were. That the 'excitement'

lies with the 'very real possibility'
of the work coming to nothing (the 'random
splashes of a careless housepainter').
I watched on film how he would

tack his unstretched canvas on the ground
and walk around it choosing from various
cans of paint; not systemically, it seemed,
and certainly not according to the fixed laws
of ritual -- or even chance (that being an art
both the body and will surely deny). But simply
because a particular color was at hand

to what he was doing; whereupon the
success or failure must lie right
at the heart of his having chosen
to do it that way at all. It cannot be
done over. And seeing that, he must have had
a tremendous faith in his materials to go a-
long with his own equally determined and supple
contortions. I mean the ability of the paint to
fall where it will find least resistance, and of
the canvas to absorb it there. (I wanted to call
such faith "ambition," and -- if it could be
divested of the vulgarity of systems --
relate it to a program for language.
          Then I'd offer it to you
in place of tedious conversation;
difficult to rely on, perhaps,
but significant in its intractable resolve.

Of course Today's book of poetry is working with a limited palette of descriptors. Of course Bett is nothing like Ginsberg or Carver except when he is. "Preparation for a Gift" pretty much says it all about Stephen Bett's intentions. This poem starts off The Gross & Fine Geography: New & Selected Poems, a statement of purpose writ large. Then Bett puts his foot down and steamrolls us through thirty-one years with his gargantuan and generous voice.

Bett is never confined to one particular style or form. His engine runs on whatever fuel is handy.

The Gross & Fine Geography

The gross & fine geography
of our hearts

Big sweep
tight corners

I reach
for you

For you

Geographies
that desire

Bett knows how to be a sweetheart and a lovely jazz rat, his tribute to Bobo Stenson touched our hearts here at Today's book of poetry. We'd like Bett to know that today was a Dexter Gordon day in the Today's book of poetry offices. Any collection of poetry that contains poems about/to Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell is going to win hearts and save lives at Today's book of poetry.

The Gross & Fine Geography is a book worthy of all your attention. Bett has published a zillion books in that under the radar style so many Canadian poets have been forced to embrace but this book should address that. Bett burns with the best.

Back Principles (58):
more than life itself

Your breath like some
kind of long
remembered
wind on his
face

Shake him closer
than ever

The christ love
& buddha love
are one

Get him there

You say to him
I love you more
than life itself

It is miracle
enough

The Divine lives
here, call it
what you will

Though we are in-
credibly small
the path just
got shorter
by two
breaths

...

Grace, music and beauty along with a few moments of quiet desperation, The Gross & Fine Geographychanges gears more than a few times and it is an exciting ride all the way through this rambling taster from Bett's previous 19 books. Today's book of poetry is convinced it is a menu you will enjoy.

Michael Dennis blog (Ottawa)