Like the Appalachian mountain setting from which Gloss arises, the language in this collection is in flux, full of paradox and thresholds, each word and line a peak or a range. The poems are mined from the ruptured and fragmented rock and dirt of the colloquial, creating a kind of “landguage” or “langscape.” Indeed, the poems (mis)behave like little ecosystems, in which word-play, rhyme, and enjambment simultaneously make and break sense, join and repel—evoking the tensions between progress and resistance. Embedded among the strata of Gloss is loss: many poems respond to mountaintop removal coal mining, which is literally flattening the rich complexity of the Appalachian landscape and culture. As the poems give voice to the mountain-top, they consider the delicate relationship between humans and nature, lover and beloved, as well as the natural complexity of communication and utterance, the struggle to say the unsayable.
Wild sarsaparilla is the fool’s sang.
Follow jack-in-the-pulpit, goldenseal,
cohoshes black and blue. To find true heal-all,
fall head-over, get brave, get fangled up
in bobcat mouths or caves, and wrangle twang
and drawl from fiddleheads into a single
clear-cut note. Then forage through the leaf-
like chiming, sundried light. Hear me, stranger?
Feel it pull you underground, elide
you—forest-body, heart, and mind—to root,
moving through the dirt, a shape like a person.
You are wherewithal and you are wild.
cohoshes black and blue—
You are real and dream and dissolute.
I mean you are a tangle and a song.
Listen to “Ginseng,” “Soil,” “Point Blank,” and “Casserole,” read by Ida Stewart at Perugia Press’s 20th anniversary celebration at Smith College on November 12, 2016:
“Ida Stewart’s marvelous debut is pitch-perfect whether one thinks of pitch as a reference to the extraordinary qualities of sound here, or a reference to the velocity of this poet’s verbal curveballs and changeups. Even the recurring image of mountains comes to represent pitch as the slope between gravity and levity, mayhem and harmony. Few poets combine such a musical ear with such transfixing insights and associations. Gloss is a brilliant and endlessly resonant first book.” —Terrance Hayes
“Think Marquez in Appalachia, Kay Ryan at a strip mine, and you still won’t have the whole of this brilliant book. In Gloss, Ida Stewart makes magic out of a mountain, out of a childhood lived in West Virginia and the relentless pillaging of that land by commercial interests—and never does she compromise her art with cliché or polemic. Conscientious, charming, cunning, and complex: Gloss is a significant poetic debut.” —Kathy Fagan
“Even at her most playful, Ida Stewart brings deep feeling and serious insight to the page as she propels her readers from poem to poem.” —Nick McRae, The Journal
Ida Stewart asks “the reader to slow down and reconsider what is usual and accepted. In doing so, she brilliantly leads the reader by the hand down a path of complex contemplation.” —Karen Pickell, Flycatcher Journal
Stewart “has given us sorrow and uplift, despair and hope, in language that satisfies our yearning for beauty even as we read of destruction.” —The Journal-News
“Gloss is not a volume for the hasty or fainthearted reader, but it is brightly and endlessly inventive and surprising.” —Appalachian Journal
“Musical and deeply rooted in a sense of place, Ida Stewart’s debut poetry collection highlights the essential element of sound within contemporary poetry.” —Alyse Bensel, New Pages