Reviewed by Melissa Dalgleish
Tuft. BookThug, 2013.
“We are geniuses in love with our city!” (32). So cheekily declare the speakers of “Laneway,” the third poem of Vancouver-based writer Kim Minkus’s third collection, Tuft. As one of these “Women in love with our city!/ …geniuses and women” (40), Minkus joins those poets, Lisa Robertson and Erin Mouré foremost among them, whose city-celebratory collections write a refocused vision that can see the softer architecture of the green world beyond and in the hard surfaces of the manmade. Tuft shares much with Robertson’s exploration of the intersections between civic surface and natural history in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture, one of the primary inspirations for the collection’s opening poem “Bird” (13), and with Mouré’s discovery of hidden streams in grocery store parking lots and the poems of Fernando Pessoa in Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person. All three look to see what more ordinary sight misses.
In the untitled opening poem and in “Bird,” Minkus selects an avian familiar through which to see her city anew. Tuft’s speaker declares in the untitled opening poem that “I have visions. I see colours as birds do./my sparrow gaze lifts me up” (9). From this high vantage point, one she fully inhabits in “Bird,” “new spaces for my city are revealed” (14) from which to “observe the green elite” (19) and “challenge the order of things” (23). Just as observing phenomena inevitably changes that which is being observed, the observer—writer and reader alike—is likewise changed. Poems about the green world, in a world where the word ‘green’ carries so much connotative weight, can no longer simply be about communion or transcendence. Poetic vision is, Minkus suggests, automatically political. What the bird sees is a present or future:
green boutique city…
green pushed into walls, roads, stones
green strangling light and machine
green grass blades curl into crevices (15)
The verdant tangle of Minkus’s lines complicates any possibility that this re-greening of the cityscape, once a “monotony of paved paths” (19), is a simple boon. Class is one of Tuft’s constant concerns, as in “Laneway,” where “we can hear the fountains, but can’t afford them” (37), and in “Industry,” where the “labourer and intellectual” are “sharply separated” and there are “innumerable divisions among the masses” (70). Minkus’s Vancouver is a place where green, the colour of money, is available to those who can afford it. It is between the “green elite” that “plants are bartered/ and traded” (19), and it is the tony Lululemon-clad inhabitants of this boutique city who “take…paths that were once roads” and fill them with “flowers and jeweled planters” (17). The interplay between the primary colours of Minkus’s colour palette, red and green, highlights the artificiality of this greenwashing—the city’s eerie cleanness and calm, its lack of blood, its multitude of surfaces. “[T]his city allows little room for red” (21): the bird “laments the lack of meat….admits he has been/dreaming of blood” (20), “the stories of our lives are marvelous/tangles of peace and calm//this boutique is all city without noise” (21), and “eggs are the only meat we eat” (21). The collection’s title poem attempts to remedy this unnatural detachment, this movement to the margins of all that is wild, untidy, and animal. “We are all attached to something,” the collection’s back cover reminds us, and the world where red meets green is always interwoven with the polished emerald surfaces of downtown:
the city and the animals
flourish—together. coyotes, skunks, raccoons—nightraiders
lull the streets luminous. when you see the animals you forget.
the city translates (27)
Minkus and her bird’s efforts to “slowly…punch holes in our class” (19) are perhaps most intense in “Industry.” The product of bike rides between the jade (and jaded) city core and the brownfields of Vancouver’s industrial neighbourhoods, the poem seeks to explore what is in and beyond the “random middles” (76) between these two landscapes. What Minkus finds beyond is “the pauperization of all workers/ the crash of industries of/our present imperfect” (77), the wrong answers to “questions of increase” (77), and hope to be found in those middles, the middle classes and and the drab spaces between city and industry. “[T]he best middles revert to agriculture” (76)—green again, but green in and for the in-between, not just for the green elite.
The definition of tuft—a bunch of small things attached at the base—suggests that the collection is a gathering of miscellaneous work; sections like “24 Nonets Written after Reading Edward Byrne’s Sonnets: Louise Labe” and “Philomena” fall outside of the city-poems frame that defines much of the rest of the collection. But Minkus’s visionary through-line—rather like the tire-tracks of the bicycle she rides to gather the green-glowing observations that inform most of Tuft—gives the book a remarkable coherence. As she notes in a recent interview with Open Book, her current project—her first book-length poem—aims to sustain that unity of vision over a larger scope. Considering the quality of the luminous and gritty visions that Minkus reveals to us in Tuft, that’s certainly something to look forward to.
At press time: Melissa Dalgleish is the Research Officer in the Faculty of Graduate Studies and a doctoral candidate in English at York University. Her research focuses on Jay Macpherson’s modernist work and the mythopoeic turn Canadian poetry takes in the 1950s, as well as graduate training and reform. She is a founding editor of Pivot: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought and an Editing Modernism in Canada graduate fellow. She is currently preparing for publication a digital edition of Anne Wilkinson’s 1951 collection Counterpoint to Sleep, funded by Editing Modernism in Canada.
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