Divergent Perspectives on Grace and Memory
- Fiona Lam (Author)
Enter the Chrysanthemum. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Gillian Sze (Author)
Fish Bones. DC Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Moez Surani (Author)
Reticent Bodies. Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Kuldip Gill (Author)
Valley Sutra. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Sharanpal Ruprai
It is with a heavy heart that I am reviewing Kuldip Gill’s second book of poetry, Valley Sutra. Kuldip Gill passed away in May 2009. Marisa Alps and Kate Braid edited the collection as Kuldip passed away a month after the collection was accepted by Caitlin Press. In the first section, “The Mill Town,” Gill presents us with a young Punjabi Sikh girl’s memory of growing up in Canada. In “The Clicks and Snaps of a School Day,” the narrator recalls feeling guilty about being from “Indja,” and not knowing any of the history of Calcutta. In “Recalling Home,” the sixty-year old narrator meditates on how as a young girl she asked her mother questions about her mother’s body only to receive pinches and stares. These poems are located in tense childhood nostalgia and reveal how the young narrator has come to understand her world around her. Gill is masterful at weaving issues of race, gender, and religion to recreate a Punjabi Canadian childhood experience. In the second section, “Bill Miner’s Notebook,” Gill fictionalizes Miner’s life and imagines Miner speaking of Canada’s first train robbery and places a Sikh man, Amar Singh, on the train guarding the safe. The story of Miner and Singh is weaved together and I am left to ask, who was on the train that night? Was there a Sikh man wearing a turban? Gill’s skillful narration and imagination leave the reader yearning to know more about Canadian history. As someone who considered Kuldip as a friend and mentor, her passing has left a pressing question: who will now write and share these stories, memories, and history of the Punjabi Canadian women’s life in the Fraser Valley? I am truly grateful that Caitlin Press published this work and made it available for us to read. Kuldip Gill’s grace and storytelling are deeply missed.
In Fiona Tinwei Lam’s second poetry book, Enter the Chrysanthemum, childhood memories are a dominant theme within the collection. Lam associates her childhood memories with her son’s childhood and her aging mother’s memory loss. In “Nursing Home,” all three narrative threads are woven together. The poem “Kindergarten at the Transylvania Flavour Restaurant,” suggests that through childhood questions over lunch we learn of our histories “crumb by crumb.” Lam’s collection is rooted in narrative and she tells the reader of the pitfalls of being a single mother in “Kite” and “Snowman.” At times, the poems are excessively marked by narrative and require more precision, craft, and focus. Nevertheless, Lam’s collection is a pleasure to read.
Moez Surani’s debut collection Reticent Bodies is plentifully stocked with stylized lyrics that are sharp yet vulnerable. He addresses the limits of poetry by using parentheses as in the poem, “Sunday Morning (after the Gujarat Quake)” where he states in the last stanza,“(How many times have I put off writing this / and even now as I begin / I know I’ll tell only half-truths / of sunlight and not monsoon).” In a later poem, “Ally Dolle,” he uses parentheses to assert the poet’s voice. I found myself reading repeatedly “White Tub” in the second section, “Fictions.” The tension between images of love, sex, and violence are vivid, for example, at the conclusion of poem when the watermelon is cut and the “Seeds dive laterally from the knife’s discourse / the blade falling into sheets / that once held orgasms and repetition.” Surani’s poems are skillfully written and the craft of writing is exhibited within the collection. At times a second read is required because some of the line breaks cause some perplexing meaning. In the final section of the collection, “6 Reels of Joy,” the poet assumes an incongruous tone that is at times lost on the reader.
Fish Bones is Gillian Sze’s debut collection of “punchy poetry.” The collection is riddled with unique city images such as in the poem, “She Has a Lovely Face,” “How to be Dead,” or in “17th Floor. ” In “Fragmented” the narrator sees herself ingrained in the city, “I have found bitefuls of me on the curb, / scraps of me in the gutter.” These fragmented images of the body in the city are visually disruptive but are innovative. The collection reads as a series of writing assignments that are loosely connected by titles and would have benefited from some stronger organization. However, the poems stand on their own with a distinct voice, imagery, and confidence. The last poem of the collection, “The Changes Between,” is for anybody who returns to Winnipeg for the holidays. Sze captures the old beauty of Winnipeg when she writes “So bright you could mistake it for the sun, / the bus is still yellow and orange,” or further in the poem she references “Robin’s Donuts” a Winnipeg landmark (in my mind). Sze has an upcoming chapbook, Allow me to Conjugate, with Withwords Press.
Gill and Lam’s second collections of poetry expand upon Canadian women’s literature and engage readers in their divergent perspectives on memory, history, and women’s lives. Further, both women poets address cultural memory and the significance of cultural memory for women. Both collections would have benefited from some further editing to cut down the narrative leaks. Surani and Sze’s debut collections represent bold new voices that convey complex lyricism.
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MLA: Ruprai, Sharanpal. Divergent Perspectives on Grace and Memory. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 29 July 2015.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010), Mordecai Richler. (pg. 141 - 142)
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