Monday, June 17, 2019

Rahila’s Ghost Press: Emma Tilley, Kyla Jamieson + Brandi Bird


I inherited my green hair from my mother. She’s a quarter cup salt and a soupçon of blue food colouring. Dad left his genes at Old Navy, came home with wool socks pulled up to his knees. The family tree is rooted at Fourth and Main: one hundred years of pity, bar fights, and the occasional vegetarian. I smash the fine china and rearrange it into snowy mountains. None of us cry at concerts, micromanage, or hug longer than the sell-by-date. We send each other e-cards on the wrong birthdays. Dad adds extra sugar to Mom’s brussel sprouts for texture. The magic skipped a generation. Mom likes to fly kites on days there is no wind.

The third season of Vancouver’s Rahila’s Ghost Press chapbooks [see my review of the first season here; the second season here] include Emma Tilley’s Carp Dime (2019), Kyla Jamieson’s Kind of Animal (2019) and Brandi Bird’s I Am Still Too Much (2019). I’m enjoying these small collections, although I’ll admit I’m not sure why such short titles require tables of contents (my own quirk, I suppose). And why are there no author biographies included in these collections? Either way, Rahila’s Ghost has, through nine published chapbooks-to-date, established themselves as a press with a preference for the local, publishing emerging poets (all but one title so far, Meghan Harrison’s third chapbook, Amateur Hours, last fall, have been debuts) with a focus on the narrative lyric. Given their website offering that they are a publisher of emerging and established poets, I am curious to see if and when a more established writer might appear on their roster (this isn’t a complaint, merely a curiosity; there is nothing wrong with preferring the emerging, and perhaps there aren’t any established writers sending them manuscripts that excite the editors enough for publication).

These are chapbooks by poets who, on the whole, seem to very much be writing themselves into being. Vancouver Island poet and flash fiction writer Emma Tilley, who has a BA in Creative Writing from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, is the author of the debut chapbook Carp Dime, an assemblage of short prose poems. “I am a poet in a prose body.” she writes, in the opening poem, “SELF-INTRODUCTION,” a poem that closes with: “I stumble to make sense of the world through similes and metaphors. Tape the word writer to my skin and re-apply as needed.” I find her collection of first-person narratives rather curious, and I’m taken with the cadence of her prose poems. The poems here that are strong are quite strong, and I look forward to seeing where else she might go with the form.

Vancouver poet, reading series curator and editor Kyla Jamieson, who seems to have published in a variety of journals to date, is the author of the debut chapbook Kind of Animal, an assortment of lyrics around survival and recovering from a concussion. I’ve been enjoying the understatedness of her poems, striking just as one might not expect, and allowing the wisdoms to quietly unfold. There are parts of this collection that are extremely sharp, as her title poem opens: “sometimes it’s exhausting / to be awake and alive // at the same time. with my / concussion comes tunnel vision // this is not a metaphor. / the periphery disappears.”


Can we talk about the moon
tonight low and full
in the baby blue sky. Brigitte
at my door, the sound
of her laugh and well-loved
heart. I want to be held
up like that. I need a poem
about happiness that I haven’t
written yet, an ode
to the ducks in my neighbours’
pool, another for the pink
magnolias of spring—some trees
make it look so easy: yes,
I can hold all this beauty up

Originally from Winnipeg, Brandi Bird is a Two-Spirit Saulteaux and Cree poet who has published in a small handful of journals, including Poetry is Dead and PRISM International. Bird's debut chapbook is I Am Still Too Much (2019), a collection of first-person lyrics that focus on navigating and negotiating the immediate of family, culture, tradition and belonging, as well as a deep sense of loss. As Bird writes in the poem “Manitoba”: “This is the Red / in springtime. It thaws slowly / and then faster. A father / in an ice floe. A father as water, / faceless in the riverbed. Melting / like a body into another / body and coursing north / like all rivers here.”


I triage the landscape. The prairies
are numb today and so am I.
I am too thin. Built
like I won’t explode on hot
afternoons, a mirror
to the sky. My body is a hurt
where tall grasses grow, where
clouds pass, where rain sinks. It
aches where I touch
the ground. The prairies are split
into farmland locked in the control
of continuity and destruction. A plaque
of canola on my arm itches and
I want to scratch. Someday I will move
to where the land cradles me, swallows
me whole, erodes flesh from my body
in the surf. I can’t explain how I feel today
except: the wish for winter. Every season
an emergency, distinct but repeating
like the bones of my ribcage
or prairie highways in blowing snow.
I am the outline of a person
on the shoulder heading west, formed
into black plastic garbage bags. I am still
too heavy for the wind to take me
anywhere fast. I am still too much.

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