Apr 10, 2018
This is poetry for a more honest, emotionally and politically astute future.
I Have to Live
Penguin Random House
In an era where lyricism and conceptualism over-determine what counts as “good” poetics, there is something startling about an epigraph which reads: “What would I write if I were going to live?” The body is alarmingly present in Aisha Sasha John’s work, threatening the existence of the poem itself: “Why should I know what I’m talking about / When I could merely feel it?” And yet there is pleasure in the game—not of “knowing”, exactly—but of dancing around reality. In “I like it when we give the world to itself,” the speaker chimes, “Folding it to it / Like a soft-shelled taco. Hi, God. // I said in the photo’s caption. / It’s Aisha. // I volunteer.” And yet no intervention will do—Jim Jarmusch’s nostalgically orientalist Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t make the cut: “It was as fake as most movies. […] Tangiers / Is not like that.” The issue is not so much that some specially privileged “I” has to live, but that we have to live together: “My heaven meets me in the day. / My heaven meets me in / Your company.”I Have to Live offers a profoundly relational and radically readable poetic.
Coach House Books
In addition to her poetic and academic pursuits, Queyras is the founder of Lemon Hound, Canada’s preeminent source for poetics online, where emerging and established voices are put into a curated conversation.My Ariel is a highly personal variation on this sort of project. Writing over, under, and beside the life and work of Sylvia Plath, her critics, and her biographers, My Ariel establishes the rules of the game in its opening poem, named after Plath’s “Morning Song,” as the speaker wakes and groggily checks their phone: “What is missing in me? Refresh. Refresh. / I can’t stop looking for love here.” Love, absence of sanctioned desires (filial, romantic, poetic), and an excavation of intensely private spaces—Queyras’ and Plath’s—carry the collection. “Daddy” is haunted by fathers: “I feel all the daddies, Sylvia. They brawl inside me like drunken Colossi, elbowing my aorta, kicking my uterus. […] I wish I could laugh when the hands that caught me at birth and later slit me in two like an apricot fly up at me in the middle of sex.” Mothers retreat only to return as wounds the speaker does not know how to live without: “How can I escape the force / Of her narrative, how she pulls everyone / And everything into her design? Then, / How will I survive without her voice? What silence / Will invade the dark centre of my mind?” Children arrive to the speaker and her partner, but fear and failure tug at the corners of this new love: “I dreamed I was crossing the Verazano on foot / and an earthquake came. I was caught, holding on to the railing, / both babies in my arms. // One fell. // We understand the solitude of the journey when we sign up, we don’t understand the solitude of the journey.” Towards the end of the collection the speaker asserts: “I needle through the / Black eyes of my past, / Which must also be my // Future (you can’t / Create what you can’t / Imagine).” This is poetry of and for pain but also, unrepentantly, of and for love.
Assi, the land of the Innu, rises in Fontaine’s Assi Manifesto and speaks: “Precious water. Flowing water. Fierce water. / I dance on the river. Working the rudder of the medicine wheel. My thirst is a manifesto. / then there is Alberta, Fort McMurray, Athabasca. / Where I stumble.” There is an urgency to these poems, a violent ecological and spiritual longing: “I’ll write you a manifesto / a love manifesto a paper manifesto // I hear you beating my destiny / the north and south dying / […] Hurry up and join me / the tundras are sagging.” Time expands to embrace the speaker: “I am three women in one / I am daughter / mother grandmother / […] I am moon land sea / my memory / […] a territorial tremor / a rumbling of ancestors / the heart the emptied wombs.” Joy becomes revolution: “Pleasure is resistance / resistance is pleasure / in your hand / red blood / red framework.” The speaker cries for an apocalyptic rebirth of the land: “The caribou / the buffalo the horses / the deer will come / with the land / drown the pipelines // We will burn / the residential schools / the paper acts // We will embody / a huge fire.”