Today's book of poetry: A Grain of Rice. Evelyn Lau. Oolichan Books. Fernie, British Columbia. 2012.
Evelyn Lau is the current Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver, she has won the Milton Acorn People's Poet Award, the Pat Lowther Award, a National Magazine Award and her work has been selected for both Best American Poetry and Best Canadian Poetry anthologies.
A Grain of Rice is Lau's sixth book of poetry and that experience shows. There are no elaborate fireworks or highly emotive drama in these poems - instead, I would suggest there is a quiet, firm elegance. Lau is constantly adding light with stunning language to a pallet immersed in grief.
A Grain of Rice is broken down into sections and Part Two of this collection is called Dear Updike. It is part eulogy, part dirge and all homage to the great American writer John Updike. It is an exercise in grace sung through a voice of despair.
The book opens with the poem Fortune.
Today on the seawall, the wind spraying
my clothes with stars of salt, the ocean
boiling to a cream froth around blue rocks,
I remember that a man drowned in English Bay,
swimming off one of the rusty freighters,
striking out for the golden shore --
what a paradise this must have seemed to him,
our soft sloping mountains and clean wide sidewalks,
a dream of heaven he reached for and reached for
until the freezing waters swept his body ashore.
Fortune strongly sets the emotional tone for everything that follows. In A Grain of Rice, Lau, who is also a successful fiction writer, uses all her poetry chops. From her touching and tender tribute to her hero John Updike through her musings on mortality and home - Lau strikes the right tone again and again.