(in)Visible Subjects

  • Sachiko Murakami (Author)
    The Invisibility Exhibit. Talonbooks
  • Katia Grubisic
    What if red ran out. Goose Lane Editions
  • Andrea MacPherson
    Away. Signature Editions
Reviewed by Erin Wunker

Something is amiss in Sachiko Murakami’s debut collection; or rather someone is missing. Murakami deftly manipulates the fine distinction between these pronouns. Who do you see when you look at a woman on the street? A person, or a thing? Do you see her at all? Or do you only see her when she is gone?
The Invisibility Exhibit walks the reader through the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside paying close attention to the people the Olympic planners would rather you didn’t see. Whether stalking ghosts or examining the minutiae left behind, the poet unflinchingly looks into the void left by the scores of women who have gone missing from Vancouver’s Skid Row. The implicit and urgent question here is what damage do we perpetuate when we thing someone.
“Exhibit A (Boxes)” uses the imperative to direct the reader’s gaze: “Leave the box beneath the tree. Leave parents to their cruelty./ For dinner, try pasta, try fury, try feeding after fray./ Try a split lip.” She continues, “Try Exhibit A./ Open the box: lump of coal, wormy dirt, slap of adult palm to knee,/ you and your big disappointment.” The rhetoric of courtroom evidence is woven with the language of the quotidian around a disturbing lacuna. Exhibit A does not have a subject, it has many, or none, depending on what the reader commits to seeing. But, as the poet concedes, not even mighty Charon can “bring to rest/ images of the dead” for whether or not we can spare any change, these dead “never lived” (“Negotiating with the Ferryman”).
One of Murakami’s most effective tropes is her subtle use of repeated images that are threaded through the collection. There is the bag of Okanagan peaches, appearing first in “Portrait of Mother as Missing Woman” (“haven’t spoken since that day/ in the hotel with a bagful of Okanagan peaches/ I didn’t want, wanted her to have”), then in “Poem to stop the Recurring Dream,” (“No one knows/ what’s worth archiving. Peach rot slicked pebbles ripped pictures can’t stop”), and again in “Exhibit D (Peaches)” (“Now she is too thin from her smaller and smaller suppers/…./ a bag of useless imaginary peaches”). There is also the recurring correlation between women and meat, where the faceless man makes the uncomfortable connection between dinner and the news but “swears it has nothing to do with him” (“Meat”). These recurring images work to sketch the connection between the reader and the missing: who deserves to be seen? Don’t mistake Murakami here, this is not a question for Vancouver alone, this is a question to you, to Canada, and to the world, whose eyes will be on Vancouver soon enough. But ultimately the demand Murakami makes in her brilliant debut is, fittingly, left invisible: will you continue to look when it is inconvenient? When the spotlights are off and the media has packed up, will you remember these women? “Now that the lab is nearly empty./ What gentleness we muster now, to lift DNA/ from a microscopic edge, to protect/ the whole of the woman contained there” (“We’ve Seen Littler of Her in Life and Less of Her in Death”).
   Katia Grubisic’s debut collection is an affirmation that some of the most interesting young poets in Canada are writing in Montreal. What if red ran out is not posed as a question, but rather is a testament to the impossible, painful, and surprising beauty of the delicate, the rare, and the everyday. Not to mention the irreverent. “Baffled King Collage” asks “what if the things we fear are / Leonard Cohen covers, or/ coats made of chagrin” and then, tongue in cheek, wonders “what if it ends up/ you and me and another/ hallelujah/ not much godly/ about it.” Whether she is cutting and pasting Canadian cultural icons, or calmly meditating on the mercurial and the mundane (“I will put all my clothes in boxes/ …./ Like others/ who have successfully lost their minds, I will exist/ on raspberries”),  Grubisic’s voice is self-assured and original. From “Last Tango in Outremont,” which reconstructs the dance of death and desire as an ebb and flow between familiar strangers, to “The Rough Guide to Home,” which parodies the ubiquitous, hip tourist guidebook, Grubisic’s red-whatever it may be-shows little sign of running out.
Away, Andrea MacPherson’s most recent book of poetry follows the poet on her travels from Ireland to Scotland, France to Greece. While none of the poems experiments particularly with the travel genre, each section captures a snapshot moment. What you’ll find here is steady, dependable reflections on what it means to journey. The opening poem, “St. Stephen’s Green Dublin in May” is exemplary of the collection: “Standing under a great green tree/ thankful for this reprieve from concrete and stone/ (a reminder of the west coast of Canada/ the only scent missing is the sea)./…./ Behind me the Green is lit with sunlight/ and the pond is calm as Sunday sleep/ as if this city has never known sorrow,/ never felt it close and taught as marrow.”

This review “(in)Visible Subjects” originally appeared in Asian Canadian Studies Spec issue of Canadian Literature 199 (Winter 2008): 228-229.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.