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Sweet Devilry by Yi-Mei Tsiang
Fernie’s Oolichan Books has a big winner on its hands. In June, Yi-Mei Tsiang was awarded the prestigious Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, given annually by the League of Canadian Poets for the best first book of poetry. Days later, we were lucky to hear her read from Sweet Devilry above 2nd Avenue in the Oolichan office. Yi-Mei also publishes children’s books and speaks often at schools. Her enthusiasm and energy, which must win the hearts of children everywhere she goes, were also a hit with the adult crowd.
Sweet Devilry is about motherhood. The title’s play on words, with delivery transformed to devilry and linked unapologetically to sweetness, holds an oxymoron that is central to the collection. Sweet Devilry celebrates the miracle of children while simultaneously staying true to the challenges of parenting. The book comes with the endorsement of some of the country’s very best writers. Helen Humphreys says: “This is a book to treasure. This is a poet to watch.” Susan Musgrave writes: “These poems put a stake through the heart of any romantic notions we have that motherhood and the creative process are not compatible.” The recent nod from the League of Canadian Poets puts Yi-Mei Tsiang on the road to fulfilling all the lofty predictions Humphreys and Musgrave make for her and her writing career.
Really, I could go on (and on and on and on), but ultimately I simply agree with Susan Musgrave when she says: “…and, oh, what the hell … I totally love this utterly great new poet and think everyone should read her book.” With Sweet Devilry published at Oolichan and sold at Polar Peek Books and Treasures, you have no reason not to pick one up now. Let me quote a few passages to whet your appetite.
On delivery: “Oh, the morning of your birth/ and I am a gutted fish./ The one that swallowed a diamond ring / whole, pale belly split to reveal such /an unlikely wealth.”
On baby monitors: “Rooms apart, I can hear your breath / better than my own, can set my heart / by the soft tides of your sleep.”
On children making their own way in the world: “We show you a thousand ways of leaving us, / practice our goodbyes with brave faces/ teach you to let go of night’s ledge, / fall into sleep in your own, narrow bed.”
On how to dress a two-year-old: “Practice by stuffing jello into pants. / Angry jello.”
This book is a glass of wine with a good friend, one who understands, absolutely. Read it. And then read it again. And then buy another one (you won’t want to part with yours) for some mother you love.