My first book of poetry. On the back it says:
The poems in Christopher Patton’s debut collection, Ox, are about seeing clearly, and also about relinquishing the need to see with specific intent. Through this tension they find their idiosyncratic magic. Like the twelfth-century Buddhist parable of the ox-herder, Ox begins with a search, and its open-ended journey – one full of sprawling, strange, syntactically complex, cantilevering byways – establishes the form of its religious and philosophical reach. Moving across lucently rendered North American landscapes, Patton catches a glimpse of his own spiritual setting, and in the process suggests a new direction, perhaps an entirely new scale, for Canadian nature poetry. Brimming with beautifully-controlled descriptions and startlingly precise word-play, Ox is an image of vulnerability before the world’s plenitude. It is an astonishing achievement.
Dunno how much of that’s true. Someone called out the bit about “perhaps an entirely new scale, for Canadian nature poetry,” and they were right to. If memory serves, I asked to put the “perhaps” in, making a bad phrase worse by false modesty.
I was young & anxious & sweating piss & vinegar. Well, I still like the poems in it.
Ox was a finalist for the BC Book Prize for Poetry. Its opening section received the Paris Review‘s long poem prize, and all told, about half of it first appeared in their pages. Here are a few things that got said about the book:
“His work will become indispensable.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Ox is artful, intelligent and substantial, a refreshing and generous first book from a very steady-eyed, steady-handed, steady-minded new poet.” —Coldfront
“A collection of great originality.” —Malahat Review
“A terrific first book from a sophisticated and sure-handed young poet.” —Boxcar Review
“I’ll confess to being somewhat dumbfounded by the general excellence of Patton’s poetry.” —Books in Canada
“Oxen – those deep-thinking brothers and sisters of cattle – keep their faces close to the ground most of the time. So does Christopher Patton. It’s an excellent posture for munching the grass and an excellent posture for poetry. Here’s a voice that is eyeball-to-eyeball with all that we stand on.” —Robert Bringhurst
The title comes from the 1st of the “Ox-Herding Verses” of K’uo-an Shih-yuan:
In the pastures of the world
I endlessly push aside tall grasses
in search of the ox.
Following unnamed rivers,
lost on the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains,
strength failing, vitality exhausted,
I cannot find the ox.
I only hear locusts chirring through the forest at night.
The cover’s a picture of an absence of an ox. Outta here!