Monday, March 23, 2020

Laiwan, Tender

            Read as a retrospective and as a continued call for a passionate caring for one another, TENDER offers us freedom in the face of limitation: a working at setting free. Each section of this collection captures a moment in time and feeling. Haunting, political, and defiantly sexy, Laiwan’s voice is a guiding force. Ghostly images are choreographed to leave us alerted to longing and hope, absence and presence. It is as if the entire collection were a garden at different stages of growth, with the inevitable decay and renewal that each season brings. (Deborah O, “Foreword”)

I’m fascinated by this new book by Vancouver “visual artist, writer, activist, thinker, speaker, and educator” Laiwan, her Tender: Selected Poems (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2020), especially given that this is the first I’ve been aware of her name. The book is structured in dated poem-sections, providing some interesting context for the length and the breadth of her ongoing work: “on heroics” (1997), “notes towards a body I (mozambique)” (1998), “a mythology from the earth” (1986), “untitled I” (2000), “LUNG: towards embodying” (2008), “ode to a ferocious thistle” (2009), “untitled II” (2002), “notes towards a body II” (1999), “to gut and a rise” (2002), “what is a park” (1996), “whale (contrary to shaping a permanence)” (2002), “untitled III (poem for the week after the summer solstice)” (2009), “thieves 1, 2, 3, 4, and tender 5” (2019) and “she who had scanned the flower of the world” (1987). Her poems exist both as short bursts and as small studies, poems and poem-sections that move back and forth through a period of some thirty-plus years of thinking and composition. Hers are a sequence of moments and thoughts slowed down and stretched, as she writes as part of the poem “voice of the body,” from the opening section, “If feeling is a language, how and what have I been taught to articulate?”

her hands washed my face in motions that kept
my eyes clean and my heart direct

we walked this path to the pomegranate tree
she showed me the seed. she showed me the sprout

she shows me the love of earth : the root of perception

and from the sky
i imagine her bathing in steam : flames of water

and from the sea
i imagine her diving for anemone and dulse
and water laps against her
moulding her clay into a shape of smooth
strength and rock (“a mythology from the earth”)

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