Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener
In their debut poetry book’s introductory comments, playwright, poet, and author Michèle Saint-Yves notes, “I write with the intention for audiences to come away with a greater caring for the otherness in each other; however that manifests, I began writing to paint with words what my symptoms felt like to advocate for myself with specialists, which in turn aided my medical journey. Writing now aids my ability to live in a model of living well enough in ‘my ordinary stuff of life,’ the medical path having ended.”
At turns confessional, self-empowering, and refuting of norms, Saint-Yves’s vibrant poems combine assertive language with compassion, joining well-worn grief with emplacement and transition. The Single Poet series made a wise choice in selecting this poet’s work to join their kin. What it means to thrive in “shadow” is less the book’s question than what it means to persist without defiance but, instead, because of an insistence upon ethical access, engagement with lineages, and reflections on temporal shifts. (Im)mortality, (im)morality, and motherhood co-mingle here with intermittent (yet arguably always-present) attention to doctors’ appointments and the sometimes dehumanizing experiences that can accompany othering and medicalization.
As mentioned by Michèle in our initial correspondence about the book, this work hails from “the city closest to Antarctica.” Towns in Australia and Scotland, and the musics of seasons—and their mushrooms, dirt, insects, and fruit-bearing trees—accompany us through a “kaleidoscope” of imagery. In the book’s beginning, the author mentions a commitment to their “whole kaleidoscope of life (with disability one prism, sexuality another).” The description does not disappoint, as these poems fulfill this promise; they do so in abundance, even when the theme may be, in part, one of deep loss. In “Summer’s Seasoning: Sydney 1988,” we learn:
She knew what dying was at two.
Snowflake died. A white mouse Dad saved from the Army.
First in a long time… Snowy SnowWhite Salt… Flake.
Last in a long line that Dad said died.
There’s a “Day of Cremation,” an “Allegro of Departure,” and a “Day of Ashes,” yet we also come to understand how “This red squirrel became the ghel’s totem” (in “Defragging my DNA” / “subtitled ‘The Last Colonial Girl…And Not’”) and that “Having understood a corner is a diagram / we draw a topography of what can be / beyond the bounds of where we are” (in the section from “Odes to the Lost Confessional” called “This Corner,” which, as the poet notes, was “inspired by Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space). We visit with various kinds of ants, ideas of deviance and examples of deviation, and, yes, there is much to be lamented. But the lamentation throughout is not like biblical Jeremiah’s (or a grief-stricken Job’s); here, the overall trip is ecclesiastical and existential—and, yes, holographic, in its kaleidoscopic momentum.
Author: Michèle Saint-Yves
Publisher: Friendly Street Poets
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About the Reviewer
Diane R. Wiener (she/they) became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. She is the author of The Golem Verses (Nine Mile Press, 2018), Flashes & Specks (Finishing Line Press, 2021), and The Golem Returns (swallow::tale press, 2022). Diane’s poems also appear in Nine Mile Magazine, Wordgathering, Tammy, Queerly, The South Carolina Review, Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest, Diagrams Sketched on the Wind, Jason’s Connection, the Kalonopia Collective’s 2021 Disability Pride Anthology, and elsewhere. Her creative nonfiction appears in Stone Canoe, Mollyhouse, The Abstract Elephant Magazine, and Pop the Culture Pill. Diane’s flash fiction appears in Ordinary Madness; her short fiction is published in A Coup of Owls. Diane served as Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Assistant Editor after being Guest Editor for the Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics. Diane has published widely on Disability, education, accessibility, equity, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Genderqueer and Enby, Ashkenazi Jewish Hylozoist Nerd (etc.) who is honored to serve in the nonprofit sector–including as a Zoeglossia Board member. You can visit Diane online at: https://dianerwiener.com.