Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Licking Stamps: The Ann Shin Edition

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Friends, it’s been a week full of hudging and drudging. But labour no more! Instead of making a few last widgets for the week, let’s mail it and read a poem, shall we?

Like the last two weeks, I’ve picked a new book of poems and asked that book’s editor to say a few words about it. This week it’s The Family China, Ann Shin’s second collection of poetry. I contacted Alayna Munce, who edited the book, and posed her the uselessly broad question, “Could you tell me something about The Family China?” Fortunately for us, Alayna comes through marvelously with some insight into the book:

“To me, the central strength of The Family China is how it manages to be at once raw and taut, heartfelt and smart, bold and reverent. As a reader I don't feel she's leaving out any of the messiness of life as I follow her toward its shining moments. Ann has a remarkably agile mind and spirit. The multimedia aspects are pretty much all her initiative, products of the way Ann thinks and dreams, though I was involved helping her develop the "corollary pieces" that haunt the main text of the book like memory-footnotes. These corollary pieces strike me as emblematic of Ann's aesthetic and approach. They will appear in the e-book as hypertext. She has all sorts of other great ideas for the e-book version of The Family China (including the film and interviews as part of it, as well as developing some interactive elements), and I'm looking forward to seeing what it will become—I'm sure we'll learn a lot from the process at Brick. (We've only begun to publish e-book versions of our titles in the last couple of years at Brick, and though we're aiming at simultaneous publication with the print versions in the near future, we're not quite there yet.)”

In the untitled poem below, Shin shows that she is (as Munce points out) well aware of how messy even the shiniest moments in life (and poems) are. Writing a poem about a dead bird can lead to some very easy and empty lines, and I really appreciate how Shin's poem avoids the easy routes of offering either a hollow aesthetic whitewashing of the moment or a too-clever wink at how easy it is to write a dead-bird poem.

But less talk and more poem!:

It lay in the bog among velvet-brown leaves,
one wing flung out as if, groping for the sky,
it missed.

half-drowned
among brambled branches veiled
by sky submerged in water.

Spindly feet curled
like the blackened tines of a fork
lost in the rubble of a burnt house.

Bent beams
and a skewed horizon,
a tangle of thoughts in free fall.

All this
pathos and pastoral imagery ain’t
getting me nowhere.

As Alayna mentioned, there’s a corollary piece that goes along with it. I’m not quite sure how to reproduce it here—I’ve typed it out as it appears on the page, though the line breaks I think may be just as much a result of where on the page it’s positioned (it appears like a sidebar or a floating (ghostly?) footnote) as they are of strict poetic consideration. These wandering notes in the margin appear on most, but not all, pages in The Family China, and it'll be really interesting to see how they work in the e-book version.*

*The possibilities provided by the e-book format are woefully underused, and it’s good to see Brick and Shin trying to actually do something with it other than simply reproduce the print version of the book verbatim on a screen.

Here’s the corollary piece:

house: swallows
fly in and out
through your
grandparents’ first
home, fire having
blackened the
stone walls, ravaged
the thatched roof,
leaving empty
rooms flayed open
to the sky.

But that’s not all! Because it’s my last Friday with you, and I feel bad for mailing it in so late today, here’s some bonus material. It’s a poem from Placeholder by Charmaine Cadeau, also published by Brick Books this spring:

Inside out

Heat comes through smart
girls wearing lipstick
gesturing quotation marks with their fingers.
They’re herky-jerky like a dancing
bevy in a silent film, the dark
city dirtying their awkward
dresses. Store windows reflect slick
bodies filled in by anything.

There’s no cold light of day, only
the mall’s shatterproof sky.
Flecked and flickering,
sparrows wad up nests from burger wrappers,
soft receipts tumbled off of trays—molecular
plastic a near wild glare—and hoist themselves in
atrium trees.

We breathe in perfumes, food-court pretzels,
sweet tobacco from the cigar shop. Exhale,
every cell emptying itself, these small purses.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Andrew Faulkner

Andrew Faulkner co-curates The Emergency Response Unit, a chapbook press. His first book, Need Machine, was published by Coach House Books in April 2013. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Andrew Faulkner’s Author Page