Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Teethmarks, Sina Queyras
2004, Nightwood Editions, $16 / $14 US
96 pages, isbn 0 88971 193 3

Following her incredible first poetry collection, Slip (ECW Press) in 2000, is Sina Queyras’ second collection Teethmarks, published by Nightwood Editions. As a Canadian living and teaching in New Jersey, the first of the four sections in the new collection pay their own homage, as “Jersey Fragments.” The other sections, then, are: Dizzy, or, My Mother’s Life as Cindy Sherman; Eight Small Stones; and Bridging & Tunnelling. She starts the first part of the first section with the three part “Three Songs for Jersey,” that begins:

Welcome to the hourglass. Doormat or
escape hatch, depending on what side
of the Hudson you call home. Verdant
once was state of industry and strip clubs,
nail shops and roadways, soprano land cum back door
of America. Birthplace of Ginsberg and Williams. Slim
remembrance of Whitman in ginkgo leaves and crumpled

I like the physicality of the poems in the Jersey section, referencing the connections between the two cities against Jane Eyre and Virginia Woolf. For the longest time, New Jersey has been portrayed as the joke New York forgot, the suburbs of the sister city only recently being given more serious cultural consideration through Zack Braff’s magnificent film Garden State, and the many films by writer/director Kevin Smith, including the most recent Jersey Girl. The poems in this collection don’t strike as hard as the poems from her first collection; the movement more subtle, underlying.

Amma pirouettes.
Even here the tea
is always cold.

In Jersey, cicadas
taunt pumpkins:
we are all avoiding.

The second section, “Dizzy, or, My Mother’s Life as Cindy Sherman,” works through a number of images of the 1970s housewife, from babies hanging off her to grocery list, vacuum and feather duster, writing a less than forgiving portrait of the narrator’s mother; writing her mother as trapped, and seeking escape.

Nothing about her says
pins in her hair
sleeps on her side.


All her attempts to fade
into landscape fail.


She wishes
she had known how
lovely is to marry

Nothing for its own sake


Is this a fear the narrator has, of becoming her own mother? It could be any fear, once we become old enough, but the lines here blur, just enough to wonder.

She watches her m/


On top of this sits the image of Cindy Sherman, New York resident and New Jersey-born photographer. Considered one of the most respected of the twentieth century, Sherman has predominantly used herself as subject, while challenging the questions about the role and representation of women. Her work includes a series of “Untitled Film Stills,” in which she recreated herself as multiple characters in self-portraiture, and a series of photographs now referred to as “Sex Pictures,” using dolls and prosthetic genitalia in extreme close-up.

With Queyras’ links between mother and Sherman, it makes me wonder what are the poems doing, exactly? Without this information, the poems seem to shift through less than forgiving portraits of the narrators’ mother. With this, a layer of disguise emerges, watching the mother change roles and disguises based upon who is watching, and giving so little of her own personality, and thus revealing so much more. In a series of poems of the mother shifting states, we read the narrator watch as she even loses track herself.

The prose-poem is a form that seems more prevalent in American writing than in Canadian, with obvious exceptions of course, including the prose-poems of Vancouver writer Meredith Quartermain to the genre-blurring prose/poetry/performance works of Anne Stone (a Montrealer now in Vancouver) and Corey Frost (another Montrealer, currently in New York). Less about the break than the line, Queyras works a number of prose pieces throughout the collection, including the eight pieces in the section “Eight Small Stones.”


It is midnight when they pull away from the house, her collection of
45s. The Bay City Rollers, Jackson Five, stacked in the unfinished
basement. Her father’s truck is loaded with grease guns and tool
chests, smelling of wine-tipped cigarillos and coffee. Snow slices
sideways in the headlights. She has told him about each of her classes,
how she dreamed of flying, and now he puffs, the window open a
crack and whistling. She thinks of what she did not say: eating
cigarette butts in the girls’ room, Brent’s tongue in her mouth, his
fingers prying at her crevices, Shelley carving “Donny” into her right
arm, the men who followed her mother home. She thinks of her
mother, rolling in now from a night serving beer, how she will look for
her. He says nothing as he pulls into a Husky stop where she orders
hot chocolate and a donut, watching him pour cream into his coffee
with his calloused black hands, half expecting him to launch into
rhyming tales of the north, like the ones she’d been forced to
memorize at school. But he is hunched over his cup now, under the
weight of nothing ever turning out the way he dreams, of her mother’s
refusal to do as he says, of the endless road unrolling before him. And
although she knows she is too old for dolls, it occurs to her that hers
will not sleep tonight, that they will be stiff and lifeless in her pink
room, waiting for her to do her rounds.

The last section, “Bridging & Tunnelling,” is a series of mostly straightforward descriptive poems, the strongest one being “FORTY FAST APPROACHING,” that begins:

All is Pema: red oak, Provencal gold.
Desire a Zeppelin.

Squirrels eat tulips. Your lips
tangy. Eyes on springs.

Spring is a puddle in 1969: mojos
spearmint or banana. Sludge of toes.

Alone, seasick, this hooked year
on the verge of either falling or flying.

In this section, Queyras brings us back to the beginning, writing of endless departure and arrival, from Jersey to New York (as she seems to define it, against what it is and is not, the ying to New York City’s yang), to Toronto against the whole of her United States. As she writes in the poem “SURFACE,” set in the Danforth area of Toronto:

You say you don’t want to leave, but who
can afford the luxury of home these days?

Has something been lost through the need to travel? Has our plucky narrator lost her footing?

on an unrelated note, some cartoons my daughter & i spent father's day watching; a song i can't get out of my head...

No comments: