Friday, May 2, 2014

STATUS UPDATE - Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang (Oolichan Books) - 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award Nominee

For the month of April (and the first couple of days of May), this blog will be looking at the nominees for the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Raymond Souster Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award as recognized by the the League of Canadian Poets.

The Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman published in the preceding year, and is in memory of the late Pat Lowther, whose career was cut short by her untimely death in 1975. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Raymond Souster Award is given for a book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member (all levels, dues paid) published in the preceding year. The award honours Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the LCP Annual Poetry Festival and Conference in June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors’ tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers. The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.


Today's book of poetry:
Status Update.  Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, BC.  2013

Duke Lang...yes, the cocoon of it, your "body
outgrowing its own sorrow"1 ...

Like - Comment - Share - 5 hours ago

Look through the sympathy cards:
pastels, oceans and clouds.
Eloquent peace, God.
Appeals to your sense
of faith.

What a poverty of words.
If I were honest, I'd tell you
that you will never get over
this grief.

You are damaged.
His death is a wide wound
that will fester.  Healing means new skin,
scars, an ache in the body
when it rains, or snows, or when age sets in;
and we know more by our loss
than our remaining senses.

Every time we access a memory,
we change it.
The people we have lost
become distant echoes
of our own voices
every time we try to name them.

We make poor copies
of those we loved.

What's left to us are those copies,
hundreds of tattered revisions.
torn pages, over and over again,
his face, his face, his face.

1 This unattributed quotation is taken from a Susan Musgrave poem.  "One-Sided Woman", which can be found on 
page 92 of her Collected Poems, What The Small Day Cannot Hold.


If there is a more beautiful and haunting poem about loss I'm pretty sure I don't want to read it today. Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang uses FaceBook updates as a spring board to launch her whimsy.  It is clear to this reader that Tsiang is so sure footed she can navigate with her eyes closed.

These 'chirps' off of FB could just as easily be obscure quotes from any source, it wouldn't matter in the least.  Tsiang sees the poetry.

Sue Fisher I burned it.

Like - Comment - Share - Yesterday at 8:30pm

I burned bras, a bonfire of lace sparking in elegant whorls,
fireworks of speech until all that was left were the clasps and
underwire, a metal skeleton of breasts, a cage whose smoke
whimpered words like lift and support and push up as though
tits were children who need help up the slide and I burned
books, the gleeful and sadistic voices of parenting experts
curling and blackening like when I burned dinner watching
my girl push away my nipple, head the colour of an egg, the
colour of milk, the colour of the emptiness that was drying
up inside my ducts, and I burned midnight oil with her,
both of us smoking dreams, high with our eyes half open,
the half life of scorched nights, her cries a scatter bomb,
stuffed animals dispersed like casualties over a hand-knit
rug, and I burned bridges, tossing a torch over my shoulder
every time we crossed anything, her childhood always the
far side of a river, my memory a crumbling bridge of ashes,
and I burned witches in her closet, her fever glimmering like
coals in my chest, I ripped apart the room as if I could find
the monsters we both saw there, and I burned


Tsiang's first book Sweet Devilry was so completely charming (see Today's book of poetry: that it won last years Gerald Lampert Award.  Status Update is now nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.  This isn't an accident, random, or coincidence.  This is what happens when someone of such elastic wisdom and giddy grace comes out of the gate singing electric.  This is why we read books of poetry.

Carolyn Smart thinking of Bronwen Wallace and
the 21 years gone by.

Like - Comment - Share - on Tuesday

that harder wisdom
you are rediscovering now
some people are a country
and their death displaces you.
                          Bronwen Wallace's "Coming Through"

Last walk of the evening, and the dog lags in long, slow steps.
This summer has set the stars to panting.
The leash is loose, and the dog is having a desultory affair
with the post.  We are both in love.
My steps recite your words and the sidewalk glimmers with your genius.
The dog and I imagine love in lost messages.  What have we become?
I place you in each of the lighted windows,
washing dishes, talking on the phone, the cord twisting.
You are in none.  It is fearsome,
that harder wisdom

Let me start again.
In China girls could be married to
a ghost-husband.
An empty house, a wandering spirit, a girl.
She recites the language of marriage
and so it becomes one.  Every night she imagines him touching her brow.
Somehow our lives are transformed
when we are just pretending to live them.
There is only one way to love but there is no how.
You are rediscovering now

the lessons in grieving what was never
yours.  Our hearts are worn pockets,
the kind children fill with pebbles and feathers
because they have nothing of their own.
So it is with love.
If not pebbles, let's say, comfrey.
Your word
s can still knit the bones,
but the ache of you is a ghost in the marrow.
You once said, and now I see,
some people are a country

and their deaths displace you.
This is true even for places
we have never known.  Our aches are named as cliffs,
and fields full of Marram grass.  Your death was tectonic shift;
we had to redraw all the maps.
All I have of you are history books, glossy brochures I knew
by heart.  Lessons you have taught me by example:
there are some people
you could have trusted your life to,
and their death displaces you.


Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang's poetry is utterly convincing, completely engaging and thoroughly enjoyable across the entire spectrum of my palette.  I liked these poems so much I wanted to steal them and keep them for myself.

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books), which won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada and was nominated for the Re-Lit Award.  Her work has been published widely in journals and anthologies, and appears in Best Canadian Poetry 2013 (Tightrope Books).  She is the editor of the all-Susan anthology Desperately Seeking Susans, as well as the forthcoming anthology Tag: Canadian Poets at Play (Oolichan Books).  Sarah is also a children's author and essayist.  Her new Young Adult novel, Breathing Fire (Orca Books), is forthcoming in Spring 2014.

"I read Tsiang's work and was taken immediately by how well she navigates our time.  She injects poetry into our online community, which is becoming like a park in the city where we as poets meet to exchange and share our news.  And she does it with the spirit I've come to expect from her: wild, funny, proper.  Tsiang adds some much-needed verve and sass to Canadian poetry."
     Sue Goyette

"As Tsiang's poems depart from life to virtual life to burning imagination, they become strangely illicit.  You wonder about your own conduct.  Should you be reading / so closely / the lives of others?"
     Ian Williams

Rocking the Page:  Canadian Writers Share... Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang

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