Tumour. Evelyn Lau. Oolichan Books. Fernie, British Columbia. 2016.
Tumour is the third poetry title by Evelyn Lau that Today's book of poetry has shared with our faithful readers. We figure you have to feel the same way about her work as we do. Had Milo, our head Tech, go to the stacks and besides Living Under Plastic (Oolichan Books, 2010) and A Grain of Rice (Oolichan Books, 2012) which you can read about here:
We also had You Are Not Who You Claim (Porcepic Books, 1990), Oedipal Dreams (Coach House Press, 1992) and In The House of Slaves (Coach House Press, 1994). These other Evelyn Lau titles were on the shelves but came out to play at our morning read. More about that later.
Evelyn Lau has become, in Today's book of poetry's estimation, a "can't miss" poet. This reader knows for a certainty that there will be ample reward for any time spent invested between the covers of an Evelyn Lau poetry book.
Tumour does not let us down. Lau navigates some difficult water with various family relationships. We know Lau is working for harmonious solutions but the usual barriers of personality, culture, vanity and ego have to run their indelicate course.
The indignity of seeing you change,
even you. Your lips used to be springy
to the touch, a miniature trampoline,
a little fat cushion of flesh. It seems someone
let all the stuffing out. Now the inner labia,
once so tidy and trim, are stretched
and distended, and sometimes poke out
like the tip of a tongue in a cruel tease.
That's all you want me to say about you.
Lately you've grown reticent as a maiden aunt
in your middle age, desiring flannel nightgowns
and ten o'clock bedtimes. So open to proposition
in your prime, it won't be long before
you grow a white fur, prepare for hibernation.
Lau is putting all her excellent cards on the table. She will go there. The title poem in Tumour is about a dear Aunt and her end. Very succinctly Lau rambles over the big three, LOVE, SEX & DEATH. Lau knows that ultimately these are what we really think about and her objectivity is bracing.
Today's book of poetry admires how quickly Lau gets to the important true thing in her poems, she names it. This is mature poetry free of the frivolous nature of flirtation, Lau gets to what we really want/need to say/hear.
All I wanted was the small grace
of sleep, that swift darkening.
But Ativan led me through the dream gates
to the childhood house on Cambridge Street--
the bang of the metal mailbox,
the lurch of the key in the lock,
the sweaty sheen of linoleum.
Shoes lined against the wall in a mad precision.
My stomach flip-flopped in fear--
somewhere in the house, the mother,
like an escaped tarantula. I am shrieking
in my sleep, a horror film with the sound
turned down, the milk duvet an avalanche
stuffing ears and nostrils with snow,
the scrap-metal sky a dun glow, fading.
Finally, words shatter the surface:
You didn't protect me--
the indignant wail of a four-year-old
choked out in a thick-tongued mumble,
a rasp into the sour breath of the pillow.
Would you believe it?
In a few months I'll be forty.
Mortality is a mean bastard. You know it is out there but you really don't feel the full weight on your shoulders until you see those you love fall to mortality's certain charms. Evelyn Lau has a voice that knows. This voice has the experience of a life of extremes.
Our morning read was a gas. With our six Evelyn Lau titles on hand and in full rotation it was a lesson in perspective, perseverance and passion.
On the eleventh hour of 11/11/11,
I am at Winners with the other bargain hunters,
the early Christmas shoppers, the bored.
It's soggy, miserable out. The sky
has swallowed all the light, sunk
into a greyed puff of dirty down.
Trenches of rainwater in the road,
burnt leaves mulching underfoot,
mourning of seagulls. A clerk's voice
breaks into the piped-in '80s music
to remind us of the day. She stumbles
over a few lines of "Flanders Fields",
announces a minute of silence.
Who knew sixty seconds could be
this long? We rotate round the racks
of marked-down designer clothes
in the uncomfortable stillness.
I glance around--there's nothing
on anyone's face, just a slight frown
of concentration as a sweater slips
off a hanger, a flinch of irritation
at being bumped by a stranger's cart
from behind. My friend Szeming
who was ten years old during the Japanese
occupation of Hong Kong remembers
the meagre two meals a day, going without
the luxury of socks or sweets. Remembers
the crowd peering into a bucket
on the sidewalk--a street urchin's head,
discarded after the rest of him
had been used for food. The relentless rain
drills the windows. In the distance,
the jet roar of thunder. What a relief
to be inside this bunker, bathed
in artificial heat and light, training our sights
on the perfect winter coat, holiday dress.
Finally, the tinny music cranks up again
and we relax, relieved of the burden
of remembering. Some young woman
is singing about love, how love
is like a battlefield.
Today's book of poetry has been a big fan of Evelyn Lau for a long time. Tumour is another fine example of why we always have time for this tough and tender poet. She always finds our heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOREvelyn Lau was born in Vancouver in 1971. She is the author of several volumes of poetry, two works of non-fiction, two short story collections and a novel. Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, published when she was 18, was a Canadian best seller and was made into a CBC movie starring Sandra Oh in her first major role. Lau’s prose books have been translated into a dozen languages worldwide. You Are Not Who You Claim won the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award; Oedipal Dreams was nominated for the Governor-General’s Award.
Her work has appeared in over a hundred literary magazines, garnering four Western Magazine Awards and a National Magazine Award. She has also won the Air Canada Award for Most Promising Writer and the Vantage Women of Originality Award. Her poems have been included in the Best American Poetry and Best Canadian Poetry series. She has read from and discussed her work at literary festivals and universities around the world; she presently freelances as a mentor to aspiring writers through UBC’s booming Ground and SFU’s Writing and Publishing Program.
Reading her poem "Fatal Attraction"
Video: Vancouver Poetry Slam
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