Loosed Intensities, Tangible Abstractions

  • Tiziana La Melia
    The Eyelash and the Monochrome. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Adebe DeRango-Adem
    The Unmooring. Mansfield Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Dale Tracy

The Unmooring comprises two sections: “Nations Float” and “Time is a White Lie, Travel a Veil.” These suggestive titles establish Derango-Adem’s interest in moving across distance (whether literally or figuratively), as does the collection’s title, especially as “unmooring” evokes the Middle Passage in this collection. Despite the definite article, The Unmooring refers to many unmoorings and often to forms of freedom, as when “you extract / all that has destroyed you.” Ocean imagery tethers these poems variously to the gentle movement of waves or to deep feeling flooding to the vastness of the mood-setting sea.

Titles for individual poems like “Liberty Shell / I Hear the Ocean,” “Déjà Voodoo,” and “Black Humour(s)” highlight Derango-Adem’s earnest use of punning: this is not wordplay with a smirk but instead a serious investigation of relationships between ideas. It’s an investigation filled with interesting echoes, like “matryoshka” with “martyrdom” or “phlegm” with “requiem.” That these speakers are frequently sirens—as in “Treading Water” and “Odes to Alterity: Or Life Between the Waves”— suggests the sort of enticing calls this collection makes. With noteworthy use of adjective and rhyme, The Unmooring indeed calls to be read out loud, and listeners won’t want to resist what these poems often name as their song.

A floor plan precedes The Eyelash and the Monochrome’s first section. This schematic already abstracts a structure, but, further, text crosses or ignores the boundaries it represents. Outside the lines representing walls, a sentence oriented on the downward diagonal situates the collection “in the space between.” The speaker has “wondered how the simple weave of something you stare through every / day might begin to organize the rooms in your mind.” The Eyelash and the Monochrome refuses only to stare through the weave, using “mesh barrier” and “grid gaps” to filter out “[t]he gross stuff that makes / up a story.” What’s left is texture and abstraction, and La Melia challenges readers with a unique filtration system—decidedly not designed for purification as these poems engage swamps, scum, swabs, and bathrooms.

In the process of acclimatization, readers may align themselves with an “impatient and feverish” interlocutor whom La Melia’s speaker addresses directly: “you asked me: What is your subject?” The carefully calibrated repetitions (and meditations on repetition) across the collection respond to this question, though they refuse a direct answer since the speaker is “bothered” by “[a]ssumptions attached to questions,” seeking instead “broken-heart abstraction.” This collection of text, image, and blank space emphatically rewards rereading after leaving assumptions behind. In “Box,” the speaker notes, “There are many sad things, and one of them is having moved / on before understanding each other’s interests and disinterests.” This collection invites readers to stay scrabbling for understanding in and through the walls between rooms.

This review “Loosed Intensities, Tangible Abstractions” originally appeared in Rescaling CanLit: Global Readings Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 238 (2019): 140-141.

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