Pan­i­cle by Gil­lian Sze


Gil­lian Sze’s fifth po­etry col­lec­tion takes its name from a botan­i­cal term for a multi­branched clus­ter of flow­ers. The book re­flects this idea of sprawl­ing, mul­ti­fac­eted growth in rich, in­no­va­tive po­ems, ex­plor­ing the con­cepts of trans­mis­sion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion by re­flect­ing on top­ics such as per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, cal­lig­ra­phy, vis­ual arts, and cin­ema, in forms that range from prose pieces to ex­per­i­men­tal son­nets. Pan­i­cle is a book fiercely in­ter­ested in the con­nec­tions, of­ten un­ex­pected, be­tween high and low cul­ture, ref­er­enc­ing Eastern and Western lit­er­ary au­thor­i­ties and the an­cient and mod­ern worlds. In this, the col­lec­tion re­minds me some­what of Elana Wolff’s most re­cent ti­tle, Ev­ery­thing Re­minds You of Some­thing Else (Guer­nica Edi­tions, 2017), an eclec­tic book that, like Sze’s, unites seem­ingly dis­parate sub­jects and speak­ers with a few com­mon threads. Sze’s pan­i­cle-like method is il­lus­trated early in “Noc­turne,” where the speaker’s thought process drifts from the fleet­ing thought of lupines to an anec­dote to the mem­ory of a photo, fin­ish­ing up with an orig­i­nal apho­rism that pulls the dis­tinct el­e­ments in the poem to­gether and re­turns to the thought of lupines: De­sire is God’s fin­ger­print, the pyro that sets it all ablaze as I lie here, thinking of lupines, watched by the hid­den wolf. These lines sug­gest a cer­tain rev­er­ence and awe that con­tinue through­out the col­lec­tion, which is di­vided into four sec­tions: “Un­der­way,” “Stag­ings,” “Guillemets,” and “Pan­i­cle.” The last two sec­tions com­prise long se­quences; the first is a po­etic re­sponse to Roland Giguère’s chap­book Pou­voir du Noir (1966), which

is ac­com­pa­nied with art­work by Jes­sica Hiem­stra, while the sec­ond, sub­ti­tled “A draft for two sea­sons,” is a long poem in sec­tions that de­pict dis­tinct scenes. Here, Sze makes good use of the de­scrip­tive skills il­lus­trated ear­lier in the book in pieces like “Stag­ing Pairs; Or, Tableaux Vi­vants.” In read­ing the sec­tion “Pan­i­cle,” I found my­self paus­ing to ex­am­ine and ad­mire the pre­ci­sion with which Sze links phys­i­cal de­scrip­tion to the speaker’s emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, as when she de­scribes the tide in a cove:

Its in­ces­sancy grows un­til foam gath­ers around my an­kles. A wil­ful frailty washes and breaks over my feet.

It con­tin­ues on for hours, be­comes fa­mil­iar and in­ti­mate with my long­ing.

Save for a small re­dun­dancy (“con­tin­ues on”), the pas­sage is con­cise and limpid. Here the speaker ex­plic­itly ref­er­ences the emo­tion that un­der­lies the whole poem. Like an ex­ten­sion of the awe that runs through­out the col­lec­tion, the long­ing ex­pressed in “Pan­i­cle” sug­gests the po­si­tion of the speaker in re­la­tion to her world: rev­er­ent, she ob­serves, she reaches out, and “ahead, / where our gaze meets the sky” she can just see “a small gasp / / a small ah.”

Annick MacAskill

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