Over the next four weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will come from the seven works on the newly announced 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. We will be showcasing two selections per week, with one work in the fourth week. This is a bit of a departure from our usual weekly schedule to…
Over the next four weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will come from the seven works on the newly announced 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. We will be showcasing two selections per week, with one work in the fourth week. This is a bit of a departure from our usual weekly schedule to ensure that you get to enjoy selections from the entire shortlist before the accelerated 2020 winners announcement on May 19th. (And really, don’t we all need double portions of poetry right now?) The first of two selections this week comes from How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy.
The citations offered each year by the Griffin Poetry Prize judges provide, in addition to resonating and unalloyed praise for the works before them, guideposts into those works. This part of the citation for How to Dress a Fish intimates intent and influences that seem to inform this particular selection, “Find a place”:
“Bringing languagelessness into language, Abigail Chabitnoy’s How to Dress a Fish is an act of remythologizing and personal re-collection, a text of redress to the violence of US colonialism. Like the contronym cleave, like swallowed fish that appear whole, her poems assemble a narrative of displacement and emergence, of that which is half-revived and half-buried, to address instability and unify across divides.”
There is subtle drama in the way the words are laid out on the page, accompanied in the book by the faint image of a mysteriously glowing photograph. There is vertical and horizontal space around the text, seemingly to accommodate the breathing that the poem gently requests. Those breaths are the languagelessness that Chabitnoy has succinctly and deftly turned into language.
Attempting to get comfortable with and then commune with ghosts is just the start of a narrative of dealing with displacement and emergence. That blurry, haunting photograph – do you know the people hovering in it? – is a compelling fragment of “that which is … half-buried” but calling out to be revived. Yes
“you might wake spirits
and once revived, does learning how they uniquely communicate ultimately “unify across divides”? We are encouraged to listen – “not in word/but sound” and find out.