In the Tiger Park by Allison Calder; Muse by Dawn Marie Kresan; Status Update by Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang
Available for order Polar Peek Books & Treasures in downtown Fernie
- Reviewed by Angie Abdou for The Fernie Fix’s July 2014 Issue
A poetry recommendation is way overdue! This column has become a place where I promote upcoming author events, and because Fernie’s literary scene is suddenly thriving, I’ve been busy letting Fernie Fix readers know all about the novels and memoirs of visiting writers. Before I gear up to brag about the Fernie Heritage Library’s 2014-2015 season of “Booked,” let me take advantage of the lull and tell you about some of the great Canadian poetry I’ve been neglecting in these pages.
One of the first reviews I ever wrote for The Fix was of Alison Calder’s Wolf Tree. Shortly afterwards, she taught a workshop at the Fernie Writers’ Conference. In a break from events, we did a beautiful (if a touch wet) hike at Island Lake Lodge, an outing that is responsible for this sentence in the acknowledgements of her new book: “Thanks to Angie Abdou for reminding me that it never rains in the forest, except for when it does.” That is not the only line in the book that made me smile, but since I always read the acknowledgments before the poems, it is the first.
Calder’s new book, In the Tiger Park, voices the same sharp wit, keen intellect, and startling originality that I so admire in Wolf Tree. I suspect Fernie readers will delight most in the poems’ multifaceted exploration of the natural, wild world. The moon in particular is everywhere in this book. In my favourite piece, Calder with her characteristic irreverent humour expresses her frustration at the moon’s ubiquity, beginning with the surprising line: “F*ck off, moon! Get out of my poems.”
The interplay of nature and poetry in Calder’s work is, as always, profound and thought-provoking. In a poem called “500 words per day,” Calder compares writer’s block to a bad day of fauna watching. Like wild animals, inspiration and poetic insight too can be elusive: “When I hiked up the mountain, the elk were down in the meadow,/ and when I walked down to the meadow, the elk were gone./ Some days are like that: might as well nap, / [….]/ Some days a large animal is off in the distance./ I should be happy to see it, even there.” This reader is glad for Alison Calder’s many good writing days. In the Tiger Park is another Calder collection to treasure.
In Muse, Dawn Marie Kresan also examines poetic inspiration but through the figure of Elizabeth Siddal, wife and (tragic) muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The feminist, revisionist approach of this collection is hinted at by the opening quotation of Robert Graves: “Woman is muse or she is nothing.” Though Siddal was a poet in her own right, she has gone down in (patriarchal) history primarily as the inspiration for her husband’s paintings. In the poem “Viridescent,” Kresan compares the way Siddal saw herself to the way her husband represented her: “He painted your gaze downcast/ claimed the right to control/ what your eyes gathered in. / Yet, in this, your only self-portrait, / you stare back – those / large, sad eyes, confronting.” Kresan admires Siddal’s defiance, her strength. Through poems, Kresan re-remembers this marginalized woman and puts Siddal in the center of her own life. This is tremendously moving poetry, and Muse is an impressive debut.
Finally, I highly recommend Status Update by Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang (via Fernie’s own Oolichan Press). Often when I sit down to read poetry, I put on my Serious Face. With my pen hovering over the page and my heart filled with existential angst, I try to determine: “What does it all mean?!” I approach Tsiang’s poetry very differently. When I hear Sarah’s name I smile. When I pick up one of her books, I giggle with delight. If I had to pick one word to describe Tsiang’s poetry, I would choose FUN. Her poems brim with energy and joy. Each poem in this newest collection is inspired by a single Facebook status update. Smart, contemporary and wonderfully playful, this book is the kind I cannot bring myself to shelf after reading. It sits out next to my computer where I can revisit it often. The thought of shoving Status Update deep into a bookshelf where it will collect dust makes me sad. This book is too full of life for such an ordinary fate.
Angie Abdou is a local fiction writer. Her fourth book, a novel about contemporary parenthood and domestic labour, will be out in September 2014. Come to the launch at the Fernie Heritage Library on September 26th! For more information on Angie’s books and upcoming speaking engagements see this website.