Friday, June 04, 2021

Andrea Actis, Grey All Over


Well truly I think it is something that you cannot really measure in this present. The soul is something that is going to be eased upon death that goes back to how it goes back really goes. Goes into this whatever this plasticine this kind of playdough kids use. So it’s going to be fun again to be some other persons. Like is going to be transmitted and you should get a really big chunk of oh my. In their sadness or even health or what have you. See in the future it’s not you it’s not me. You might actually resemble Jeffrey just because by chance you took a piece of that playdough. But you know a well-defined shape? You know a random assimilation? You gotta be so so so good that that was truly the case no I know you put people in the drawer. You know gathering all kinds of ashes from people and giving them a line in a drawer in your apartment. (“SOUL ASH”)

Poet and editor Andrea Actis’ full-length poetry debut is Grey All Over (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2021), a book titled after the email handle of her late father, assembling the accumulation and detritus of loss and what remains. Structured in nine sections, Actis examines the limitations and the excesses of the archive, including photographs, emails, handwritten letters, old receipts and other scraps as the structure, the scaffolding, upon which her texts stand. Dedicated “For my dead dad,” Grey All Over explores how and through what process one grieves the loss of such a complicated person and a complicated relationship. There is a heft to this collection, moving through the intersections between two whole lives—hers and her father’s—including conversations with the dead and the remains of the dead. This is less a book of ghosts than, quite literally, memory and the archive, how one impacts upon the other, and how both allow, in their own ways, for interpretation and uncertainty.

Messy, open and devastating, Grey All Over is composed as a poetry-memoir build as a scrapbook, both in form and in content: not seeking completion but an assemblage, where craft is less about the carved form than the consideration of memories, mementos and, quite simply, what remains, whether from him directly, or through her. This is a polyvocal book exploring echoes on addiction, trauma, memory and conversation, all around a beloved parent that she found, at times, extremely difficult to interact with. Grey All Over explores the ways in which death prompts consideration and reconsideration, and, as Sachiko Murakami writes as part of her back cover blurb: “When a loved one dies, there’s all this stuff to deal with, and in the midst of grief we begin to collection, sort, document, store, and discard.” As part of the extended “VOLTA: ONE POEM,” Actis writes:

To be honest, this is the first time
I’ve written a poem and been
able to hear myself saying something inside of it.

In listening, my own
exactitude takes shape.

This isn’t a prize or a price.

We are labouring together
even though I owe you.

The fearlessness might be
surplus itself.

We will keep renaming everything.
I will keep fucking up.

I will keep not killing myself
for fucking up; instead

I will quietly grow loud
and finally learn to drive

so I can wait for you in the car
as you’re stealing your things back

to take us wherever
we need to go.

It will be
a better here, but here.


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