Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sabotage - Priscila Uppal (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Sabotage.  Priscila Uppal.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2015.


Priscila Uppal is some piece of work.  Sabotage, her eleventh book of poetry, is the child with the nasty grin taking his/her finger out of the dike just to see what happens.  

Like the Batman's butler said, "Some men just want to see things burn."

These poems are precision bombing, smart strikes into the daily minutia that makes up our lives.  Subjects big and small are jury-rigged for destruction.

The Police Came for a Visit

just as grandma used to drop by before
             her nervous breakdown & the stroke.
I laid out two pots of loose-leaf tea
             & a selection of wheat-free, dairy-free cookies.
They removed their boots & caps
             but looped their guns around their fingers
& joined me on the carpet where I taught them 2
             expert knitting stitches while they explained
clause 3.21 of the Search & Seizures Regulations.
             My bladder was full so they insisted on escorting
me & standing guard as I washed my hands
             with cranberry soap. We traded photographs.
Yes, yes, that's my uncle, I assured the tall one,
             no, no, he's not a doctor, he's a nurse.
The short one placed uncle in a special envelope.
             I put on a video while they napped &
napped & napped--why wouldn't they wake up?
             Just like grandma, I thought, to visit & leave
you to lift crumbs off your floor. I was looking
             forward to testing out the sirens & earning
a new badge, kissing their smooth cheeks & waving
             like a widow from the driveway.
The walkie-talkie won't stop bleating. In a few
             moments, after I finish combing their hair
I'll sing Happy Birthday to You to the dispatcher
             just like Marilyn Monroe.


If it can go wrong you'll find it in here.  Priscilla Uppal is your tongue prodding your sorest tooth.  Poke.  Poke.  Poke.  Uppal is all about pushing over the apple cart, because that's what humans do.  These poems dive in and out of our continuous fall from grace as though Uppal got the directions for conduct right out of our collective unconscious.

She is on top of every devious moment since the beginning of time and she knows who to blame.


A millionaire is shot. And his wife. And their unborn child.
Revenge selects an arsenal of weapons.

Armies drawn by lots construct arguments.
Leaders rise like tanks and airplanes.
Gardens plant anxious roots.
Gossip punished by banishment.

Goodbye beautiful youth.
Perhaps you would like to marry a sweet blond or bouncy brunette
before the bullet rounds.
Perhaps you would like to use a lifeline to mail a letter
to your attorney, or ask your dear
old mother for advice.

Each week, ten thousand foot soldiers are served
faulty gas masks, ten thousand more must give up
their limbs for tent pegs.

The challenges get crueler. The prizes stranger.
The confessions more predictable.

Nations text their ballots into the trenches,
go back to genetically modified dinners
and genetically modified cares.

As soon as a commercial break calls truce,
the fan website nearly crashes from all the orders
for bright red poppies and T-shirts that read Never Forget.


If it weren't for my trusted Pharoah Sanders playing "Body and Soul" in our office right now --  I think we might have a mutiny.  Sabotage is entirely that.  At our morning read Sabotage stirred things up.  The more we read, the more you could see it, our gentle Milo was ready to kick the chair out from under the first person he could just to see the look on their face.  These poems are the just-lit match heading for the fuse.  They rile readers into various degrees shitstorm.

Frankly Today's book of poetry thinks more poetry should be this incendiary.

Sabotage had a whole bunch of poems we wanted to share just to rattle the cage, but we stuck with our three strike rule.  We even overlooked a fine list poem of sorts -"In The Psych Ward".  Uppal speaks with such natural authority it never occurs to you not to listen with care.

There Are No Timeouts in History

At best there are pauses between rounds
to stitch skin, wipe blood, spit into the bin,
& except for a few predictable platitudes,
collect bets & wave to what's left of the crowd.


Poem after perfect poem in this dart shooting contest just nails the bulls-eye with a laser taut moment.  Uppal really does have her finger on the pulse and the jugular.

Today's book of poetry gives out big props for Sabotage.  Sustained smarts like this are what make that poetry train hum down those tracks.

Priscilla Uppal

Dr. Priscila Uppal is a Toronto poet, fiction writer and York University Professor. Among her publications are ten collections of poetry, most recently, Ontological Necessities (2006; shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry
Prize), Traumatology (2010), Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, U.K.), and Winter Sport: Poems and Summer Sport: Poems; the critically-acclaimed novels The Divine Economy of Salvation(2002) and To Whom It May Concern (2009); the study We Are What We Mourn: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy (2009), and the memoir Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother (2013; shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize and the Governor General’s Award). Her work has been published internationally and translated into Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Korean and Latvian. She was the first-ever poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games as well as the Roger’s Cup Tennis Tournament in 2011. Six Essential Questions, her first play, had its world premiere as part of the Factory Theatre 2013-2014 season, and will be published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015. Time Out London recently dubbed her “Canada’s coolest poet.”

Priscila Uppal
reads "Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder"
Video:  PBS NewsHour



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