The poems in Figuring probe the gulf between self and other as they explore themes of motherhood, landscape, domesticity, and childhood, and the violence—both intimate and global—that shadow all of these. A mother overhears her children playing “Containment Drill” (the classroom procedure to prepare for a school shooting), a young girl believes she will grow wings when she enters puberty, young boys shoot each other on a neighborhood street in what appears at first to be a game of tag, a woman fears for her sanity while she does laundry, children mimic hurricane disaster relief operations on the playground, and bulletproof school supplies are advertised on the news. Interwoven series of self-portraits and reportage chronicle the moment of contact or collision between the individual and surrounding world, grappling with issues of implication and complicity.
“Anna Ross’s poems blaze with the terror of the next moment. Even in the heart of happiness, the unspeakable lurks. A child dies; a bullet flies from another child’s gun. Her self-portraits are our mirror shattered by beauty and the other.”
“Anna Ross’s powerful new chapbook Figuring asks us to figure up environmental and human losses and to figure out our culpability in the ways things and people are lost. In spare, sharp images, Ross builds poems tensed between the daily and the disastrous: children shoot each other in what appears at first to be a game; bulletproof school supplies are advertised on the news. In these poems, in which the perspective is so often looking down from or looking up at the sky, we feel both the smallness and the bigness of our world and its dangers. Ross is a poet for whom counting each loss—figuring it both personally and politically—is an act of witness. Hers is a compassionate, warning voice we need to hear.”
“In most self-portraits, the maker renders in order to stay and preserve the self against transience. In Figuring, however, Anna Ross’s self-portraits urge change and undoing, which beget the continual act of remaking identity: as mother, as body, as part of nature. ‘You think of bodies made and unmade / within you—the ones who found breath, / the ones who didn’t know the place they’d left,’ she writes. In fact, these poems seem to argue that domestic work is the act of creation and re-creation, and that the mother, like the fox leaving behind the ‘den where . . . blue-eyed kits / burrow themselves in sleep,’ is continually ‘unmasked / by sun’ to a sense or image of self, and then another and another.”
Read a sample poem:
Self-Portrait at Treeline
My body moves ahead of me
into underbrush. Hum of engine or sky behind,
and something that is not love
closes the roads and locks its doors. I am shadow,
fern, ripple, as I move upward through
oxygen rush—the breaking news of myself—
to where these trunks of wind-cured pines
cast blue shade against white ice. Beyond prey
and preyed upon, what is this light like,
if it is light at all and not exit?
I think I would crouch here,
in the space between shelter and peak,
but the pelt of me feels voices in the foothills,
and a metal song of bullet threads the air.