25th Trillium Award

Postal poetry experiment: Mabi David

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We all know in our darkest heart of hearts that the end of bookstores is coming.

A few might survive, but we might not live near them. Or like them. Certainly, the poetry sections of many are looking a little sparse of late.

But, at the same time, ordering from Amazon has been demonstrated to count against your soul in the afterlife. (Each “order with one click” subtracts roughly ten points.)

What are the poetry readers of the future to do? I think, for a while at least, until we all get Library of Alexandria chips implanted in our brains, we will have to return to the good old days of ordering by mail.

To those keeners among you who wish to get a head start on this, I advise the following experiment:

  1. Go to the High Chair poetry catalogue. (High Chair is the Philippine publication I mentioned a few posts ago.)
  2. Follow the instructions for ordering You Are Here by Mabi David.

I cannot promise that this experiment will work out perfectly for you, as I have not yet tried it myself. (My copy of You Are Here comes via my local dealer of contraband Philippine poetry, with whom I enjoy an exclusive arrangement not open to the public.)

And I cannot promise as fully as I would like to be able to that you will love David’s poetry. Due to the looming end of National Poetry Month, I speed-read her collection this morning. I was moved enough to know that I will return to it, perhaps during the more leisurely Bike Month in June—drivers beware—and give the poems the time they deserve.

But I still think you should give this old school, intercontinental Pony Express poetry ordering experiment a go. David’s poetry is muscular and reverent, hitting some of the same notes as Christian Wiman’s Every Riven Thing and Mark Callanan’s Gift Horse, minus the underlying theme of deadly illness. The rhythm and division of her lines is masterful.

She subverts the often straightforward settings of her poems with astonishing images:

when they stagger in midday, too early to be

too full of the city, it makes her feel (she hides it
well) like she’s caught in a fart. They leave again.

She makes an affecting, disturbing addition to the pantheon of poems about big cats:

                                        They snuck in
and in the dark strained and tottered
to find this seething fierce kept magnificent.

Circling inside tight metal ribs
this thick black fanged lumbering bulk
grumbling its large resentment the boy

wanted to step back from.

She writes memorably and insightfully about war, ecology, and history. And she repeatedly gets away with using the image of light without sounding the slightest bit hackneyed:

tidy retrieval, her study filling the meager cupful
of her mind—lamplight, silent, steady prow—

into the dark river from their home in San Vicente

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