In Floating Up to Zero, Ken Norris introduces us to “a traveller from an antique land,” though in this case that traveller’s story is not Shelley’s meditation on the vanity of ancient kings, but rather the poet’s meditation on the here and now, on the present moment, precariously balanced between a certain frozen past and an uncertain fluid future. spanning a year in Norris’s life, the centre of this poetic journey finds the poet trapped in his house. It is mid-winter, the thermometer reads 35 degrees below zero, and he’s trying to dig his way out to the world, where the blizzards and the city snowplows seem to conspire to undo all the pathways shoveled, the driveways cleared. His physical isolation turns him inward: “Surprised when anybody sees me. I’ve lived in the obscurity of exile. And now am deemed too old for practically everything. I fade into the wallpaper, with only my senses alive. Little by little you become an object to the world, then a useless object the day you vanish from sight completely.”
He should have read the stars in the book’s opening section more carefully: avoided the nostalgia for youth and lost loves; the illusion that we can vacation from our residential lease on life. Having “faded into the background, years ago,” as season followed season, the poet begins to understand that the present is not trapped by the shape of the past, but open to the infinite possibilities the world offers us if we let our past melt away: “How the wallpaper longs for what’s in the room.”
Meditative, incisive and light in their touch, these poems tell us: “The old star charts were perhaps a little out of date. That is, new stars had since been found, though sometimes they were only streetlights, mistaken.”
About the author
Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s and quickly became one of Montreal’s infamous Véhicule Poets. One of Canada’s most prolific poets, Norris has always given his readers subtly capricious and edgy poetry that reveals unanticipated possibilities and explores new horizons. He is the author of two dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, and is the editor of eight anthologies of poetry and poetics. His work has been widely anthologized in Canada and throughout the English-speaking world, as well as published in translation in France, Belgium, Israel and China. Québècois poet Pierre Des Ruisseaux has translated two of his books into French, La Route Des Limbes (Limbo Road, Écrits Des Forges) and Hotel Montréal (Éditions Du Noroit).
Norris teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of Maine. He divides his time between Canada, the U.S. and Asia.