Five CanPo Titles: Ross Leckie’s Gravity’s Plumb Line

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Gravity’s Plumb Line by Ross Leckie
Year: 2005
Publisher: Gaspereau Press
Province: Nova Scotia

                                    The forsythia
       by the corner of the veranda doesn’t
go down. It rockets up in a golden sting
       of flowers careening into holiday
fireworks. The forget-me-nots and heal-all
       don’t go down that dirt road.
I would prefer not to go down that dirt road

-from “That Dirt Road”

Gravity's Plumb Line (Gaspereau Press, 2005)

When I completed my undergrad I ended up out of work for a brief period (surely no surprise to anyone whose major was English). After a purgatory in which my mother assured me there were better things I should be doing, I landed a job working for a Coles bookstore in a local mall. With some extra time on my hands when not working, and a desire to feed my curiosity and growing appreciation of poetry, I enrolled in a writing workshop course with Mary Dalton at Memorial University. At some point during the winter (I can not recall the specifics), I ended up at an event where the guest reader was Ross Leckie, who was at this time promoting his brand new release.

Before that winter I was not at all familiar with Leckie’s work, but having heard the man read I was taken with the book, in particular the crisp imagery and logistic thought patterns strung throughout. The connections made between the natural world and that of man are tightly woven. In “Apples” there is something ethereal about life that sprouts around the speaker, but there is also something intensely human in the need to set boundaries for shape and being that aid in our understanding:

The ones still hanging from the trees

are in a freeze of falling. A firmament
is deduced by one plucked and polished
on your sleeve. In its glint the curvature

of umbered sky and clouds that stretch
into glowing nebulae. You sense its
gravity by weighing it in your hand.

This attention to detail, the specifics of image, even the dissection of image into smaller segments for our digestion is found throughout Gravity’s Plumb Line and is truly a treat for the reader. In taking this stance in his writing, Leckie produces rhythms that run throughout much of the book and function as a unifying structure beyond individual rhythms found within the poems themselves. I very much appreciated this approach to poetic expression and, like any good student of poetry, began to apply it to my own work in the weeks that followed in an attempt to see how it might work best for me.

What I remember of Leckie’s time at the event was his reading of the work: for a soft-spoken man he certainly can deliver. I remember being caught by his reading of “The Ice Bird”: the pauses made, the intonation of his voice, how urgent the poem seemed not just because of the writing, but how he chose to present it. I remember later that evening, sitting around a table at Giovanni’s having pizza and a pint, discussing his thoughts on the performance of the poem as a way of complementing the written work, in a way amplifying its impact while forging a new creature through verbal interpretation. A wonderful opportunity for any young poet.

I wanted to include this book in my list of favourite poetry titles of the decade because it represents for me a time in my own development as a writer when engaged discourse about writing with other writers was new to me. It was new, but something necessary and exciting: to hear what drew other writers to specific poems and authors, to hear their thoughts on the internal workings of texts, the publishing industry, the compiling of poems into a manuscript. The engagement I felt with Leckie’s poems was comparable to what I felt towards poetry as a whole with its rhythms, sound patterns and the presentation of these to the listener through the vocal medium. Readings are an integral part of fully experiencing poetry, both from one’s own perspective and that of the reader.

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