I know it’s odd to notice now
The way you make me feel
Always there, you were my mark
The one I could count on, the one I thought
might count on me.
I could see us together but that’s just how I feel when I’m with you
I liked you too much to “be with” you
Every Christmas song I hear, I think of you
And now, hearing of another girl, I have to hide
There’s just a funny thing inside
I guess you’re not really mine, you’re my friend
And I am yours…
Whimsical and surreal, I Cut My Finger plucks images from different ends of the brain to recreate our concepts of everyday objects in an absurd and original, yet accessible, fashion. From the quirky front cover, where scratchy penmanship and minimalist sketches depict the feature poems, to opening works “The Door” and “I Cut My Finger,” the reader is introduced to a world where up is not necessarily up, and where word play and philosophical observation of material things reveal poetry in unexpected places.
The title poem for this collection sets the lyrical tone to one of constantly restructuring or re-imagining ‘the world as we know it':
… I thought that for me
mountains are big solid things poking into the air,
like at god,
but for people for whom solid
is the absence of solid,
then they’ve got upside-down mountains
pointing towards earth. (I Cut My Finger)
For Stuart Ross, this process entails the deliberate examination of language, which he accomplishes in a true tongue-in-cheek manner. For example, in “I Cut My Finger” he flirts with the literal meaning of the word ‘recount': “Oh the adventures I had climbing, / let me recount them (in case I counted / wrong the first time).” Similarly, he draws attention to the peculiarities of the English language:
I let Misery have one
right in the stomach. (Not
the actual organ itself,
but the place on his body
where the stomach is under.) (How I Became Exquisite)
Not only is the composition and function of words confronted frequently, but also that of material, everyday objects, as in “I Cut My Finger” (“I tried calling Dana but there wasn’t any phone / and I cut my finger / dialing a rock”) and “50 O’Clock” (“Everything was made of something else”). Furthermore, Ross makes no assumptions about the reader’s familiarity with the mundane–he defines everyday forms as though explaining them to an extraterrestrial creature:
He racked his brains to recall
what “don’t” meant and meanwhile
he bumped his head on a building.
A building’s a square thing with a hole inside
where people live or maybe work. (A Guy, Some Flippers, A Building)
In doing so, he effectively demonstrates that words are just symbols of our experience as human beings, symbols that we take for granted in their consistency and meaning until otherwise challenged. Therefore, while the point of view employed by Ross may be uniquely obscure, his mode consistently investigates images from new perspectives to create a patterned art.
In a further exercise of word play, Ross seems at times to write–or organize–according to a stream of consciousness. At the end of “How I Became Exquisite” he writes about “approaching stray orphans,” and the next poem is titled “An Orphan.” This in turn ends with “beside an empty ocean,” and the next poem is titled “The Ocean.” Further along, “The Bed” ends with the attempted burial of a mother; the next poem, “Song,” describes the event of visiting his family members’ graves. This creates a flow within the collection itself, tying together poems and prose which otherwise explore a wide range of topics and experiences.
Another brief exercise of stream of consciousness can be found in “Mary is the Merry One,” where scattered images seem at first randomly organized, except that some association is found to exist among the words (though rarely behind the concepts they conjure or represent). Take the first stanza, for example:
Do you go to many parties?
We joined a party of hunters.
It pays to be particular in choosing a friend.
Sally is my particular friend.
The first line, a straightforward conversation-starter, is followed by a phrase that is unrelated other than employing [a novel exploration of] the word ‘party’. The third line, words of advice, follow semantically from the first (you go to a party with friends, generally). The fourth line restructures the grammatical role of the word ‘particular’ from the third line, accompanied by a repetition of ‘friend’. The remainder of the poem follows in somewhat the same pattern, though at times the method and message are harder to decipher.
Ross expresses throughout his collection some political and media influence, specifically within his piece “What’s Important Now,” thus dating himself to his particular culture and responding appropriately. Ross’s social and sometimes political observations are mirrored by sharp self-explorations and questioning. In “The Bed” we encounter one philosophical exploration of consciousness and self-existence when Ross states that “A lighting fixture on the ceiling contained several dead flies, but only when it was on.” “Others Like Me” describes the actions we sometimes take or the rationalizations we provide to confirm that we are, in fact, alive, while “I Step Off The Plane” apologizes for the uncertainty and implications of consciousness:
A kitten is curled up, its eyes closed: I cannot tell whether it is sleeping or dead. Oh no, sorry – I cannot tell whether I am sleeping or dead.
Not only does Ross succeed in expressing his thoughts and observations in a concrete fashion, but he also forces the reader to cogitate often odd images and sentiments to find a meaning that speaks to their experiences and understanding. “The Surface” is riddled with oddities of speech, from the self-awareness of the poem itself (“The words agonized over their own inertia”; similarly, in “Sediment,” “…a poet better than me / would insert a really good sediment / metaphor right here. (Or, more poignantly, / here.)”) to phrases that seem to express a sort of nostalgia for past ambitions and ideals. There is also a dreamlike quality and depth to these phrases, which emphasizes the irony of the title. For instance, “she slept urgently amid the words” may evoke a feeling of unease, because our experience of ‘sleep’ and ‘urgency’ are intuitively in conflict. Similarly, later, “I recognized / my eyelids. I could pick them out / in a lineup” seems an impossible phrase because the very act of exposing our eyelids is to give up sight, and so the reader shakes their head and tries again.
The dissonance with which the reader responds to the mixed images generation from Stuart’s mind will give cause to a double-take effect, so to speak, whereby the reader is forced to take better care in pondering their interpretation. This is because, while the descriptive qualities of Ross’s poems paint quite a picture for the reader, the scene is not familiar. In this sense, I would argue that Ross is imparting his imaginative abilities and successfully broadening the horizons of creative thought among his readers.
- In multiple personality disorders, eye structures and blood chemistry can change with different personas
- You can identify certain diseases by a person’s smell, for instance: diabetic ketosis – sweetish nail polish breath, typhoid fever – freshly baked bread odor, scrofula – stale-beer stench, rubella – newly plucked chicken feathers, lung abscess – foul smell, liver failure – ammonia-like windex odor, pseudomonas infection – grape juice, isovaleric acidemia – sweaty feet smell (yum yum)
- Poetry is processed in the right temporal lobe
- A distressed person who experiences a stroke in the corpus collosum might experience her left hand trying to strangle her – this is because the suicidal tendencies of the right hemisphere are no longer inhibited by the rational left hemisphere
- A stroke in the left brain might result in a patient who is anxious, depressed, and worried about prospect for recovery; a stroke in the right brain, however, might result in a patient who is blissfully indifferent
- There are two different smile circuits: (1) spontaneous smile – basal ganglia (no thought), (2) conscious smile (brain giving direction) – auditory to motor cortex. Therefore, a stroke in the right motor cortex means the instruction to smile results in right-side only, while a spontaneous smile is normal. A stroke in the basal ganglia results in a patient being incapable of a normal spontaneous smile, but an actual attempt at smiling works out alright
- A paralyzed person may still lift their arms when yawning, because a different brain pathway is used than a conscious attempt to lift the arms (unconscious lifting linked to respiratory centers in the brain stem)
- The Penfield homunculus is the name for the “little man in the brain,” whereby the body is mapped on the cerebral cortex. Brain circuitry can be remapped because the brain is flexible to change even in adulthood, which is why phantom limbs appear. These phantoms limbs can often experience sensation when the area mapped closest on the brain is stimulated on the body (see map below):
- There are two visual pathways: (1) old – goes to superior colliculus in brain stem, then to parietal lobes, used for orienting behaviour and nicknamed ‘the zombie in the brain’, (2) new – travels to lateral geniculate nucleus (a relay station for primary visual cortex), used for identifying objects. Damage to the new pathway is what we know as blindness in the conventional sense. Damage to the old pathway is known as “blindsight,” whereby patients can be somewhat oriented toward an object or target without consciously knowing how or what it is.
- Charles Bonnet syndrome affects people whose vision has become compromised by glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy. Many people develop hallucinations though they are either completely or partially blind (as if to replace reality) – it goes unreported for fear of being labeled senile or insane
- Everyone has a natural blind spot, called ‘scotoma’, but the region is automatically filled in by other visual areas of other brain
I just came across a page in a notebook from about 2001 that I remember so clearly. I was waiting at the airport with my headphones on, and decided to give a little project a try. I focused on the lyrics, and for every phrase I heard about relationships, I jotted it down and moved on to the next song.
Once the page had been filled, I read over it, and scrawled across the top, “Part 1: The Romance, Part 2: The Reality.” The following is what came of the exercise.
You were like nothing I’d ever known
Loving you came easily to me
You needed love to light the shadows in your eyes
You became the light on the dark side of me
Two worlds collided, I didn’t want to miss a thing
I was living for the only thing I knew
There was nothing in the world that could change my mind
Who needed them when you meant everything
I’ve never felt so good since then
I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day
Get over the faithful yesterday
Face to face with something I couldn’t have admitted
Look carefully, the result of the pain you committed
I could see the glow slowly fading from your eyes
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
Everything’s made to be broken.
Everybody’s got a story that can break your heart.
I’m happy cause I smile but how much can I fake?
Still waking up late at night crying tears
Is it safe to look within?
Is it gone? Tell me what went wrong
I’d rather be alone than unhappy
And I don’t want the world to see me, cause I don’t think that they’d understand
It’s the human connection that kept us apart
Without you in my life I’m completely incomplete
This is what you do
You make me come, you make me complete,
You make me completely miserable.
I bet most of you recognize at least a few songs out of there! I challenge you to pick a topic, try the same thing, and share the results below.
With books. Ha ha, bet you got all excited.
I cannot pass a book store without an extreme longing to go in; my friends know better than to let me, unless they are prepared to wait a good half hour while I browse. I don’t ever know what I’m looking for, but I can be certain I will find happiness.
So statistics like the one I just read on brip blap blow my mind.
- 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
- 42% of college graduates never read another book.
- 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
I…don’t understand. I once dated a guy who had never read a book. Obviously, I didn’t get to know him too well first, because if there’s one thing I’m picky about, it’s that a healthy love of learning exists in my counterpart. When we broke up, I gave him a copy of one of my favourite books, and guess what? He discovered that he loved to read.
There is so much out there, to appeal to any taste. Check out what’s on your friends’ bookshelves. Remember also that the more you read, the better you write – picking up that book could be a smart investment in your future.
As a bonus (woohoo!), the following is a poem I wrote in middle school, inspired by a poster in the library which gently suggested that patrons “please don’t eat the books”:
Please Don’t Eat The Books
These books are meant for sharing
Please show them love and caring
They’ll make you smart
Please show them heart
Please don’t eat the books
You can fold the pages
Or even read in stages
Do as you will
But hear me still
Just don’t eat the books
The paper makes you sick
It tastes like candle wick
I’m ashamed to say
I know this way
Because I ate a book =(
The average person watches over 1000 hours of television each year.
By the end of elementary school, the average child views some 8000 TV murders and 100,000 other violent acts.
Watch them laugh and share the love
A playful grin, a friendly shove
At recess hear our children scream
They’re slipping off the balance beam
We’re lax on what we let them view, it’s
Monkey see and monkey do
Prime-time crime at six each day
It’s getting old, we’re so blasé
Desensitize their innocent eyes
To lead them to their own demise
Aggression, transgression, numb in succession,
They fantasize of grown-up games;
Reactive depression without the expression
Our words and weapons are to blame for
A steady decline in civic participation,
The rise of a nation,
A societal aberration.
All television feeds education.
Italicized quotes pulled from:
Myers, David and Spencer, Steven. Social Psychology. 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd: Toronto, 2004. Page 352, 356.
Does anyone else out there experience love as simply the flip-side of hate, like the two are easily confused in an emotional moment? I have a lot of trouble forming intimate connections (even with family members), so when I let someone in, the simplest betrayal is quick to ignite my hatred – this is my love demon. Typically, my style is to be defensive, but something about a betrayal of my heart puts me on the offense, and I get MEAN. I watch myself as it happens and wish I didn’t know I would regret it later, but that would involve holding onto the anger for longer, which isn’t healthy either. Is this something I can get over? I understand the song “Tainted Love” more and more, haha. Oh yeah – I also laugh and smile at inappropriate times (i.e. discussing my depression in person). Another of my choice defense mechanisms.
The worst part of my love/hate relationship is that it is, quite complexly, with myself. I am emotionally stunted. I am the one torturing myself with my thoughts, my jealousy, my fear of rejection, of not being ‘good enough’ – but when I embrace my tendency toward commitment-phobia (only two men have been the exception to this rule), all I do is put up more walls and turn inward to someone who, frankly, is not very supportive.
I tried to protect someone I really care about from my anger, and gave lots of subtle warnings and guidance for dealing with my moods…my way of compensating for having those sensitivities and not knowing how to overcome them. I really didn’t want to hate him. I am watching myself become more emotionally high-maintenance, and he just didn’t have the extra effort to expend, I guess.
Result: I had a really angry day, and cried a lot, and bridges were burned (though may be reparable).
Happy thoughts, anyone?
I wrote this poem in 2003, I believe. One of my favourites. One of the truest.
I study my face in the mirror,
Strip off all my clothes.
Vulnerable to my own
Critical Eye, I
Scrutinize what should be well-known.
Dissatisfied with what I am,
I pick myself apart again.
The incurable question:
How can I change this?
How could I love this?
How could another love this?
I attempt to see me as
A side-glance view
I despair at my profile, hair wild, insecurities filed and
Kept carefully recorded in my folder of self-doubts—
Tears break through.
Face myself in the mirror, hard stare
And a smile.
I fool myself; I ignore the sighs
Avoid the eyes
The secret lies a mile deep.
I see a light on up one floor
A world I’ve never seen before
I’ve lost my thought, I’ll disappear
Because I’m better there than here