For day two of #thesealeychallenge I read Fleche by Mary Jean Chan for the second time. My overall impression is that this is a fully formed collection with a clear narrative and chronology. I felt that each word and image was carefully crafted and chosen with purpose to create a feeling of tension bubbling beneath the surface. There is a feeling of restraint that holds the reader in the same quiet and unsure space that Chan is navigating throughout the collection.
There are lots that can be unpacked within this collection. There are references to fencing throughout including the title which is a fencing term that plays on the word ‘flesh.’ I don’t know anything about fencing, and I found the use of terms peppered throughout really clever and interesting. For me, the themes of mother and daughter relationships, queerness, and the immigrant experiences were the most resonant for me.
I loved the poem Always. It begins with Chan’s mother asking if she is ever the subject of Chan’s poems. Chan goes on to explain how all of her poems are about her mother in the ways that all of us are always reflecting on, digesting, offering, and rejecting the influence of our parents and/or important adults in our lives. The imagery ties in the present to Chan’s family history and tells of the subtle ways that trauma can be passed from one generation to another. The refrain of the word ‘always’ adds to the lyrical structure of the poem. It’s very, very good. In the preface, Chan states that this is a book of love poems, and even in the poems where Chan and her mother are struggling to understand each other the undercurrent of love is strong.
There are also some beautiful poems about queerness and immigrant-ness, and about generally feeling othered. I loved Safe Space and the way it played on the idea of being inside a closet and naming that a safe space. The line, ‘To love a city and to not have it love you back is its own form of torture,’ from A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far is the kind of unassuming line that holds so much under its surface.
So who would enjoy this book? If you are newer to reading poetry, this collection has a clear narrative arc and some essential themes that make the collection work well as a whole. If you are interested in any of the themes I’ve mentioned above then you would enjoy this collection. The language is accessible and the writing is sharp and concise. There is a good mix of structure throughout that adds a lot of texture to the collection overall.
I want to address something that came up for me while reading, and I don’t think that I’m going to articulate myself well (why start now?). I am a big queer immigrant kid (both in birth and in adoption), and when I was a kid I would have loved to have as many stories reflecting my experience as exist today. But … I’m sort of over this narrative. I’ve heard it so many times now that I’m rarely surprised by how the story is told. It always reads: queer immigrant kid struggles to be themselves and meet the expectations of their parents, they become a young adult and come out to their parents and it doesn’t go so well and they end up compartmentalizing their experiences, eventually their parents and the writer find a way of loving each other through it all and things are hopeful. The end. I’m sort of bored of it.
I want more, I want to see what happens after all that. I want poems about queer immigrant kids who become queer immigrant adults who have kids and have to navigate parenting in ways that seem strange or incorrect to their parents and culture. I want to read poems about queer immigrant kids having to care for older parents during a health crisis. I want to read about queer divorce. I want to read about queer folks getting mortgages, having jobs, using eye cream because they have wrinkles. The rocky coming out story that ends up being fine is just not doing it for me anymore.
Am I a piece of shit for saying that? I don’t know. Probably. And I’m sure that poetry addressing what I mentioned is out there and I just haven’t found it. And I’m not saying that queer folks should not write whatever they want. I guess, like I said, the more stories of queerness and immigrant-ness we have the better we all are, AND, I think I’ve aged out of these stories. Does that make sense? Anyway, if you know of poets who are serving up some queer immigrant middle-aged magic let me know.
Always (pg. 9)
Dress (pg. 10)
A Hurry of English (pg. 12).
- “An odorless room is not necessarily without trauma.”
Rules for a Chinese Child Buying Stationary in a London Bookshop (pg. 13-14)
Safe Space (1) (pg. 18)
A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (pg. 20)
The Five Stages (pg. 22)
What my mother (a poet) might say (1) (pg. 27)
At the Castro: for Orlando (pg. 33)
// (pg. 17)
An ode to boundaries (pg. 49)