Fish Bones Review + New Poems by Gillian Sze
Reviewed by Laura Roberts
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I love Gillian Sze. Not in a “we’re romantically involved” kind of way, but yes, we were classmates at Concordia University for our undergraduate degrees in creative writing, and from the first moment I read her work, I knew she was a great writer. So you’ll have to forgive me if I gush over her first book of poetry, Fish Bones, published by Punchy Press (a new poetry imprint by Montreal’s DC Books), because I’ve always had a bit of a girl crush on her.
Hopefully that doesn’t sound totally creepy and stalkeresque. I just mean that I am in love with her words, and have always hoped she would go on to publish and get the larger recognition she deserves. (And yes, she does deserve it.) So obviously, I am biased in favour of liking this book of poetry, even though I’m not exactly poetry’s Biggest Fan.
In a previous Black Heart review of Gillian’s chapbook, This is the Colour I Love You Best, I said that her work “[made] me regret everything negative I’ve ever said about poetry.” I feel very strongly that she’s a people’s poet, or would be if more people were willing to give poetry a chance. She’s great at capturing details and emotions with an artist’s eye. She also doesn’t get melodramatic, or seek to confuse her audience by leaving things out. Instead, she presents unusual images that allow readers to make of them what they will.
When done well, good poetry appears effortless. Sze’s poetry definitely seems as though she has strung words easily together, like the salmon bones threaded on a bracelet from the books’ title piece, “Playing Fish Bones.” Though she may downplay her work’s significance as
My feeble crusted offerings:
striving for sweetness
(as in “Cantaloupe”), each snapshot is actually quite deeply meaningful.
Perhaps my favourite poem in the collection is “fragmented,” which describes a woman who sees herself in bits and pieces throughout the city she calls home. It is at times narcissistic, though mostly in a bittersweet mood, the piece describes the narrator’s lack of identity. The city, she says, has her by the ankles; it has wrestled her self from her. Yet the city has also made her useful, perhaps in ways she never could have dreamt, as when a bird has created a nest from strands of her hair,
so I now live in the trees,
curled beneath the fledglings [...]
I particularly like the image of the narrator as “part-statue / part church-top.” Her reflections are everywhere, in everything ordinary and sublime.
Like her poetic persona, Gillian Sze is everywhere at once; the poet whose eyes see right through you, but expose your weaknesses with tenderness.
As a Black Heart exclusive, Gillian kindly sent me two of her newest poems to share with you, “Wolf Call” and “Song of The Other.” These are not included in Fish Bones, but they are pretty darn sexy. We hope you enjoy them.
by Gillian Sze
Faith flays from your forehead.
You are beautiful when you are anxious.
We’ve been assigned our roles
and I am nothing short of the other.
I am encoded across her chest in Morse
and you will unexpectedly find yourself
mouthing the words of another language.
you’ve learned to read
the signals of light, sound,
Me? I’ll be fine.
I’ve been on this southeast corner before
of a busy intersection,
cursing at or being cursed by love,
that ghost who never crossed the street with us.
Patience is the poor girl who waits.
Free is in my boots.
I have streets to articulate.
I have a pack of wolves at my back
and one who slushes behind me.
When I turn the corner,
he’ll call out, “Lady, where you goin’?”
and I will be tempted to answer.
Song of The Other
by Gillian Sze
You and I
we are a fever.
This sheeted indulgence
is our home,
this burn can damage
our logic irreparable
oh but what is logic anyway.
You are my Houdini –
but who can make whom disappear?
She sits in your office
like a kettle
of boiled water
and when I ask you what she’s good for
you tell me, Peace.
I’m aware of that.
Doesn’t that make me
You’ll never admit it.
I’ve kept your thirst for years
not because I stole it
but because you set it forth my way.
We took no vote.
There’s no need.
It would only be the same delivery.
So here we are.
Isn’t it good enough
that we have this?
Let us sing question marks,
the language of blind birds.
For more on Gillian Sze, or to buy a copy of her book, check out her website at gilliansze.com. You can also see where she writes her hot poems over at Sitting Pretty Magazine, or follow her on Twitter.