This poetry is of the body; of the distances between the self, the other, the world, and how sometimes they fold over and we find there is no distance between them at all. This poetry is a site of struggle. June brings you three marvellous poetry collections all by trans writers. This month's Snapshots are written by Jase Falk.
Jase Falk is a queer, non-binary writer and student who lives on Treaty 1 territory.
Gwen Benaway’s third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, is a daring call to preserve tenderness and sacredness amidst ongoing trauma. These are poems of the body — one that refuses to be defined by the desires of often hurtful lovers and, by extension, the colonial institutions they live under. Quill Christie-Peters, whose art appears on the book’s cover, speaks of this in her introduction as “words that weave homeland into body, ancestors into flesh”. Benaway’s poems ache and breathe. They are sensuous, sorrowful, and also sites of struggle as the body opens up, calling to “cross borders, break boundaries inside of me”. This inner breaking reformulates trauma as a space of opening, a space containing the potential for love and healing. In poems like “Dysphoria,” there are heart-aching laments for how trans women are treated as sexual objects and for how difficult it is to foster intimacy in the face of intersecting oppressions: “as if I’m a good girl to take from behind / then throw away”. Yet, there is a refusal to give up on the possibility of love, for oneself and for one’s community. There are no allusions to the pain that goes along with becoming, but moments of deep connection to the self crystallize and jump out of the page: “a girl breaks open in me”. Parallel feelings of heartbreak and healing converge into an urgent call to root the body in place, in community, and in history. There is a dance in these verses as Benaway conceptualizes her body as a site of struggle and sovereignty — a sovereignty she refuses to lose to the desires of men and colonialism.
Disintegrate / Dissociate
Arsenal Pulp Press
Disintegrate / Dissociate is the second in a suite of collections this month which are all written by trans poets. Arielle Twist’s poetics are more sparse than Benaway’s, but take up similar themes of desire, the body, histories of trauma and colonialism, and how these are all intertwined. In poems that, on the surface, could be interpreted as being about the speaker reeling from the loss of a lover, there are depths of loss which go beyond that as the body is knitted into history: “an esophagus where my / mother tongue / was spoken seldomly”. Loss and even death are positioned as spaces of grief, but also as sites of possibility with poems like “In Dying I Become,” where the body is expressed in multitudes through lack: “mourning a body / never whole / never mine”. This relinquishing of self speaks both to the violence enacted against Indigenous trans women, and to how bodies are beholden to the earth, to something bigger than ourselves. Twist’s book is a call to honour identity and to reclaim autonomy, and it recognizes the need for community with human and non-human beings: “these memories feel like they’re pulled / from pasts I absorbed through my leaves”. Like Holy Wild, this collection foregrounds the struggles of relationships and sexuality, with the writer refusing to be made object; Disintegrate / Dissociate is a radical expression of trans embodiment and self-love.
icehouse poetry (Goose Lane Editions)
Although tonally different than the first two collections, Hymnswitch also reckons with themes of intimacy, trauma (in the form of past alcoholism), and becoming. Blythe moves more slowly, circling and creeping towards the “hole at the centre / of our beings.” Divided into two sections that are separated by a page, blank but for a small constellation of asterisks, Hymnswitch ambiguously prods at the impossibility of binaries, suggesting that “fleeting isn’t the opposite / of infinite, but its perfect match.” These poems lilt between connection and disconnection; they move like a graceful falling, often suspended between contradictory emotions — an anticipation of possibility which never comes to full resolution: “to disorganize towards life.” Poems such as “Cage” explore the sensation of “my new body” — the irresolution of trans identity where one arrives at a totally unfamiliar place of embodiment and the journey of self-discovery begins anew. Other poems such as “Sad Desire Ad” speak directly to the reader, exploring similar themes of transcorporeality as in the previous two poetry collections, but in this case the relationship is specifically between the reader and the text rather than the writer and the world. “You are wearing / my skin”, Blythe states, “you are holding this book / or my breath, or the gaze.” In this brief passage, Blythe exposes his readers to the reality of their engagement with reading practices. You, as reader, have been invited into an intimate space, to wear the poet’s skin for a moment, to hold his breath as you read out the lines and are reminded of how you hold “the gaze” which, to me, suggests the inherent power relations between reader and writer. What categorical boxes have we unknowingly placed this text into? What assumptions about trans experience does the reader of this poetry hold and how does that affect their interpretation? The intimacy Blythe creates with Hymnswitch compels readers to address these questions.
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.
Jase Falk is a queer, non-binary writer and student who lives on Treaty 1 territory.
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.
The August edition of Snapshots is written by Ariel Beynon and celebrates diversity, deviations in structure and mode of telling.
Ariel Beynon is a poet whose work has appeared in multiple past issues of Juice Journal, and in the upcoming anthology Persian Sugar in English Tea (Volume III)—a collection of love poetry translated from English into Persian. Hailing from the scruffy, lovable North End of Winnipeg, Ariel draws upon nature and everyday life as primary sources of inspiration for his writing.
Book of Annotations
Cameron Anstee’s debut collection of poetry Book of Annotations takes the reader on a journey of discovery with work that switches between the “sensuous, natural, familiar, unexpected [and elusive].” Each piece is one thread in a diverse tapestry of the different aspects of life, moments of need—“I believe you when you say / I don’t know what I’ll do if—,” and moments of interaction—when “the cat sniffs the length of my arm.” There is fearlessness to explore the common while simultaneously considering the sublime. The way the poetry is structured also metamorphosizes throughout the collection. There is an excitement that comes from not knowing what the next page will look like—how the stanzas, how the lines, how each word will be spaced. The true enjoyment, however, comes from appreciation of how the diversity of the structure ties into the diversity of the subject matter; the structure reflects the theme in each different narrative that Anstee takes the reader on—a trip well worth taking.
Wolsak and Wynn
David James Brock’s poetry collection Ten-Headed Alien straddles poetry and science fiction in a way that integrates both of these literary conventions seamlessly. There is a sustained narrative that runs throughout—the arrival of a monster and the simultaneous breakdown of human society—tropes common to those familiar with the genre of science fiction. The medium of poetry, however, allows for the narrative to be told in a new and exciting way—each one a short glimpse into a different viewpoint from someone in this new world order, whether it be a woman with the head of a fish in Parkland or one of the heads from the ten-headed alien. Vivid imagery and remnants—:“The Once Popular Sci-Fi Music Genre (Recording Found),” “Artefact Carved in the Bark of Garry the Glass Tree (Undiscovered),” and “Skeletal Remains at the Bottom of Former Fishtail Lake (Discovered)”—provide backdrops and flesh out the world even more, allowing for further immersion. This new vehicle for telling doesn’t hamper the mode or the flow; instead, it allows for a greater concentration of varied ideas and ruminations on “human failure, vulnerability and hubris.” For those looking for something off the beaten track, David James Brock’s collection is the perfect springboard for exploration, whether it be a light reading or a more in-depth examination.
What If Zen Gardens...
In his collection What If Zen Gardens…, Henry Beissel invites the reader to take in a spectra of images ranging from more traditional subjects of reflection, to sections of thought, to a linear exploration of the four seasons. Accompanying the poetry is a collection of illustrations by Arlette Francière, which further enhances the reflective nature of Beissel’s words. Writing in an ancient poetic structure that creates restraints when it comes to visual structure and length, Beissel is able to create in exactly seventeen syllables—no more, no less—images that stick with you; read through it too quickly and you miss out on this. The firm structure and brevity doesn’t create a sense of disconnectivity; each poem is one piece in a puzzle. In a world where time has become something of an obsession, the reader is given the chance to slow down and enjoy each haiku individually or as a part of a greater whole, to revel in the beauty of words, in “violets—blue chips / scattered from heaven. Summer’s heralds on the ground,” to be drawn in by the first line and want more when the third and final line comes around.