By turns garrulous and gnomic, playful and foreboding, tender and raucous, these poems plumb our daily contradictions and divided natures. Treading a fine line between bemusement and despair, they tiptoe through the unexploded ordnance of time. Like the compost pile invoked by its title, this book throws off the heat of transformation: a shoplifter’s onion tumbles through the Spanish Civil War only to surface in a California chicken farm; a cream-coloured Persian kitten provokes a reckoning with Viagra; a cafe menu in Phnom Penh redeems the inventor of the AK-47. These poems dissolve the distinctions between heartbreak and humour, politics and pets, mortality and the taste of a single strawberry, revealing our inner and outer worlds as—thrillingly—the same.
Poetry of witness as Carolyn Forche termed it many years ago, is a prayer against impending and experienced loss. In these poems much is lost—friends, species, even the act of gardening seems a futile process of seeding for yet more seeds, but Reiss’s poems themselves are the hoarded seeds, finally released to sow his rich, heartbreaking poems on our waiting ears. These poems recall the surreal works of Charles Simic, while pulling past holocaust into present environmental loss. As in the poem “Baldspot,” moments of age, death and loss are carried in the body, releasing the poet to “write without restraint off the top of my head.
— Yvonne Blomer, Victoria, BC, poet laureate (2015-2018)
… lyric, confessional, and disarmingly honest. Like the poems of Gary Snyder, Reiss’s work reveals a passion for … social justice, particularly ecological. … His open-hearted desire for questions rather than answers … indicates his preference for the unknown, however painful it might be.
— John Wall Barger, Freefall magazine
A book of poems dense with despair and indignation at human frailties, yet at the same time aerated with an enormous zest for life and filled with impossible hope and optimism. The twists and turns within the poems produce startling juxtapositions that kept me alert and curious as to what would come next. This freshness and surprise, as Reiss brings the world into his Salt Spring backyard, while presenting the everyday from unfamiliar angles, makes the book such a worthwhile read. “Wild Strawberries,” the long prose poem on eating strawberries is a little miracle, and it alone would be well worth getting this winning book.
— Naomi Beth Wakan, author of, most recently, The Way of Tanka
Copies of Cemetery Compost can be ordered from your local bookstore, Frontenac House or Amazon.