Jan 15, 2019
Hands sunk into the mud, pulling out fossils containing memories of joy and trauma, January’s Snapshots bring you a diverse range of voices that are all deeply personal. This month's Snapshots are written by Jase Falk.
Tumour is Evelyn Lau’s seventh collection of poetry. The first section, “Ancient History,” digs into the past with a familiarity that comes from working over memories again and again so that the major feelings are no longer found in moments of intensity, but are revealed in the everyday. A dissatisfaction with the present cannot be remedied by nostalgia, for the past is complicated and going back dredges up a mix of hurt and anger. Instead, the speaker goes to dinner parties, indulges in reminiscence and laughs at “the sort of people who discuss the price / of real estate at poetry readings.” The second half, “Tumour,” written for Lau’s dying aunt, is a confrontation with mortality that feels raw and honest. Amidst moments of reflection, the reader is reminded of time’s perceived forward motion: “I pressed it to my ear and heard the roar / of my future life rushing towards me.” Many of the poems which are titled after various body parts (“Face,” “Skin,” “Brain,” “Vagina”) portray a fragmented subject alienated from its body through the accumulation of memories it is both holding onto and ready to let go of. Caught somewhere between self-reflection and a negotiation of the expectations and objectifications set by the self and by the world, Lau’s poetry holds a reverence for moments of exquisite beauty while showing the necessity and inevitability of change as the future rushes forward.
The Size of a Bird
Beginning with the poem “Write a Place for the Pain,” The Size of a Bird calls its reader to “find the words which are not words which are sounds.” Clementine Morrigan envisions language as a physical reaction to trauma—to find words to circle around and make attempts to explain the inexpressible. Longer prose poems sit in contrast with short, airy poems that resonate with tenderness: “My mouth / cups the vowel / It is sweet / between my lips.” Heartbroken and tender while also at times rough and unabashedly calling out the sexism of various lovers, Morrigan’s poetry deals with desire and the messiness of young relationships amidst the reality of sexual violence. This exploration of queer femininity moves through the transient spaces of cheap hotel rooms, skate parks, late nights at the bar, and beach days to bring affirmations of the possibility of a lasting love even in the face of disheartenment. Where Lau’s angst is present but veiled behind dinner scenes and the distance of old memory, the emotions in Morrigan’s poetry are fiery and close to the surface. This book contains an urgency which defies sentimentality and demands feminine desire be taken seriously and without compromise.
University of Calgary Press
Fail Safe is by far the most experimental of these three collections. Reading it is like tinkering with a cypher that reveals ever more cryptic answers. Combining text and diagrams to create a landscape undulating between the absurd and profundity, Fail Safe asks a parallel question to The Size of a Bird: instead of what it is to write, the reader is asked what it is to read. Language is explored through multiple senses; through its texture, taste, sound, and often through its failures and the humour that follows. The question of what it is to read returns again and again: “Reading is messy. It likes / the brink, walks the gangplank.” Poems engage with different systems for procuring or collecting meaning—surveys, thesauruses, semantography—which are then balanced on the edge of unreadability. The reader is given the sense that Nikki Sheppy is playing a game with this book. The rules of the game are unknown as meaning continuously slips through the cracks, denying clarity and instead forming absurd jokes: “what would a whale review / of Moby Dick en-tail?” This organization of signifiers extends into an investigation of social media as a new architecture for facilitating the exchange of meaning. The uncertainty of which passages hold weight in the text creates an “archive of distraction” where the reader is unsure of what language to privilege, and thus must dig around the strange piles of surreal images in an anarchistic levelling of linguistic value.