A month ago I ordered four books for my seven-year-old, and Eric Ormsby’s Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (Porcupine’s Quill, 2010), from Amazon.com. Some time later I received an e-mail saying shipment was delayed because of the Ormsby title. Last week, my son’s books arrived, sans Ormsby. On Wednesday another e-mail appeared:
“Due to a lack of availability from our suppliers, we will not be able to obtain the following item(s) from your order…[a link to the Ormsby title at Amazon.com follows]…We've cancelled the item(s) and apologize for the inconvenience.”
Ormsby is among our finest poets and critics, and I use “our” in the broadest collective sense, for he was born in Georgia, was a longtime resident of Canada and now lives in London, where he is professor and chief librarian at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. He is a citizen of the English language and holds visas with several others.
The book cancellation is a farcical déjà vu. More than three years ago I had similar difficulties with Amazon.com when ordering Ormsby’s Time's Covenant: Selected Poems (Biblioasis, 2006). I finally ordered it through Amazon.ca, the Canadian cousin, and now it’s among my favorite collections by a living poet. At the time I lived in Houston. Now I live a hundred miles from the Canadian border. In an excerpt I found online from the title essay of Fine Incisions, Ormsby complains of the “weariness,” in the “Ecclesiastes” sense, associated with reviewing books:
“It's a fatigue which comes from the application of considerable ingenuity, concentration, and judiciousness to a supremely ephemeral object: the composition of a thousand or so words—more if you're lucky—which may catch a reader’s attention for a few minutes and then be quickly forgotten. Vanity of vanities, indeed! In fact it gets worse. Only the most clueless critic imagines that those books which arrive day after day in the mail will themselves last forever, let alone long endure. The review is little more than a snowflake riding the back-draft of a book’s larger meltdown. Only a few books will survive their blurbs. Of the unmaking of many books there is also no end.”
This reader has discovered another.