Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Barbara Tran, Precedented Parroting


Imaginary Menagerie

In the end it was
as in the beginning  No one
learned anything  What was alive
was killed and stuffed
put on display  The remaining live
wandered around amongst the dead
wondering what they looked like
when they were alive and in the positions
in which they were now posed which the live
could have witnessed in life
had they not killed
the now

The full-length poetry debut by Barbara Tran, author of the chapbook In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words, winner of the inaugural Tupelo Press chapbook award, is Precedented Parroting (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2023), published as part of Jim Johnstone’s Anstruther Books imprint. I’m fascinated by the threads and fractures of Tran’s first-person expositions, a lyric composed through a rhythm simultaneously layered with both the breathless stretch and the thoughtful pause. “Pregnant  my mother carried a packet of salt,” she writes, as part of the extended, staggered lyric of “Mt: Rooted,” “wherever she went In Church she would lick / a finger then press it to the fine white grains // Was she remembering her father and / a life lived according to the tides The sharp / bite of salt on the tip of her tongue Was hers // the pure, sea salt sadness of the outcast?” The rhythms here are layered, propulsive and fragmented: thoughts that don’t require beyond the clipped phrase to be fully formed. Tran writes of home, being and belonging through numbered six sections of poems that stretch across familial connection, first-person observation, memory and anti-Asian violence, providing layered fragments of observational lyric that manage great distances across form and structure. Moving between blocks of prose lyric to more open structures, longer sequences and hybrid stretches, Tran writes of familial loss in ways heartfelt, graceful and precise, even as, as she writes as part of the extended “Interlude”: “in measured layers, offering facts but withholding / crucial details, repeating certain phrasings, teasing / with ambiguous wording.” There is incredible power in this collection, this debut, as subtlely held as it is immense.

1 comment:

Maria Coletta McLean said...

A lovely review of a lovely poem and a lovely poet, Barbara Tran. Brava!