Benaway’s poetic probing resonates

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Gwen Benaway’s day/break (Book*hug, 100 pages, $20) offers a sequence of 42 poems exploring differing facets and moments in her life as a trans woman.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/04/2020 (946 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Gwen Benaway’s day/break (Book*hug, 100 pages, $20) offers a sequence of 42 poems exploring differing facets and moments in her life as a trans woman.

Benaway’s poems explore how language is galvanized or weaponized for or against the poet’s own existence: “this is what the poem / and a transsexual want, // to be past / what can never be said / in proper speech, // to remain, / inviolate and brazen, // in the margins / of the sky.”

Elsewhere, Benaway writes that “a birth certificate is a poem / the government / writes for you.” Benaway’s poems often move through rage or pain, but they work best when they sit with a strange sadness that she keeps trying to twist away from and finds herself back inside.

“I’m sorry / I thought the trip would be romantic // and it is / you take me to the ocean / to watch the sunset // … you cry by the shoreline / I sit away from you.”

Poems that keep turning like this, that suggest her mistake is forgetting other definitions of the word “romantic” and expecting the wrong things, are shot through with powerful, dense emotion that comes across well through their straightforward, clear lines.

● ● ●

Marie-Andrée Gill’s Spawn (Book*hug, 88 pages, $18), translated by Kristen Renee Miller, offers a series of short poems where the speaker meditates on the process of her coming-of-age in Quebec’s Mashteuiatsh Reserve.

Rather than the usual clichés of growing up, Gill presents “the northern lights dancing on nintendo / chicken buckets” in a world where people “grow / beautiful as airplane graveyards.”

The poet compares self to salmon, the ouananiche, whose cyclical lifecycle offers a meditative metaphor. The comparison bleeds into and affects the reading of other poems that don’t examine this image, but rather delve into more urban imagery: “I’m in the underwater level of a video game just as the air runs out, just as that little tune begins to play.”

● ● ●

Simina Banu’s Pop (Coach House, 80 pages, $22) overturns the coffee table and knocks every bowl of Doritos to the floor in search of what might work in a modern love poem.

As a relationship comes to an end, the speaker dissects it through her pop-culture obsessions — one poem presents “our relationship through the years, performed by a procession of zany Pringles.”

Another poem is titled Finally, a Poem Classy Enough to be ‘Untitled’. Banu’s alternately funny and furious, but also frequently introspective and sad, and at her best when she’s all of these in combination: “It’s important to remove your clown makeup after destroying the life you thought you were building together.”

Come for the Doritos poem, stay for the Tostitos poem.

● ● ●

Dani Spinosa’s OO: Typewriter Poems (Invisible, 80 pages, $22) offers visual poems composed using a combination of typewriters and digital technology, which function like glosas, a poetic form that uses portions of an existing poem as the seeds of a new work.

Spinosa thus performs a combination of paying homage to the concrete poetry tradition and literally overwriting that tradition to privilege a feminist approach to the male-dominated material.

One poem reads, “aren’t you tired of explaining? / why not write something / you don’t have to explain” — nevertheless, Spinosa offers an introduction and an interview to bookend the poems and help explain the project, which showcases her dexterity and depth.

Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and to celebrate it is free at www.jonathanball.com/freebook.

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