Off to a Poetic Start with Gillian Sze


Some poetry takes us to another place, somewhere far away and exotic. However, my favourite thing about Sze’s poetry in The Anatomy of Clay is that her writing takes me to places -and literary works- that I loved visiting before.

I find myself getting involved with her characters, if only for one short page. As a reader I’m not always left with that closure I need, which sounds even more peculiar when I think about only just meeting said character a few stanzas ago. How can I fall for them so fast, and why do I care what happens to them next? Maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve too often. Or, like many readers -and hopeless romantics-  I expect a happy ending in anything fiction.

For example, we’ll bring up the woman in “The Taken Wife”, found towards the beginning of The Anatomy of Clay. Explaining her lackluster living conditions with her husband, she tells him

“These evenings
you find more joy in the television
than in me:
your face an empty dish” (13)

Her attempts to get him to take notice of her are all-for-naught as the poem moves along, expressing how “domesticity … is the distortion / that takes place when all that’s left / is the cooling stovetop, …”. Yet, it is the ending that really gets me:

“Before you come home,
I wash,
tumble dry on low,
and fold myself into your drawer.”

This is no unfeeling Stepford Wife. It harkens to the dream of finding someone to provide for you, only to find yourself doing the complete opposite, fulfilling stereotypical gender roles along to boot.  The narrator’s attempts to attract her husband with lotions and potions reminded me of A Work of Artifice” by Marge Piercy, with “the hands you love to touch”.

But not all of the poems take on such a sad tone; there are ample examples of silver linings. In an experimental set of “Delilah in Seven Parts”, the young divorcee character ends with seeing her neighbour on the bus. The often shirtless attractive neighbour . Sitting back to back from each other and seeing each other in the window, “their gaze thickens and sets on the glass for a couple seconds  before shattering it” (vii., 37). Now is that passion or what?

Sze touches on a number of playful and fun topics throughout the two main chapters of Anatomy of Clay. It’s an enjoyable read that is relatable to both the simplicities and complexities of our lives. As I sit in my apartment on a busy artery of the city, I know what it’s like for the man in “Watching Cars” who “watches the cars approach”, and that “frequent tremble from a passing semi” (8). I would also join -by unscientific estimates- half of the school population in feeling the same way as the narrator in “Notes Outside Your Window”, where she recalls seeing an ex:

“I looked up at your window,
(so bright-eyed, poised and observant)
until you walked past.
How I wished I could mistake you for a stranger.” (84).

Sze will be reading from both old and new works on Thursday, October 26, and I hope you’ll make it out to this and the other Morris House Readings this year. We have a busy and incredible first four weeks planned beginning with a kick-off reading from Sze on Thursday, September 26, Italian-Canadian writers Gianna Patriarca & Connie Guzzo-McParland the next Thursday on October 3, and author/literary review Charles Foran the Thursday following Thanksgiving, October 17.  Don’t be a stranger!