By Roy Miki. New Star Books, 96 pp, $21, softcover.
Roy Miki’s latest book of poetry, There, examines the here and now, up against the forces of social history that disrupt the language of the then and there. For example, an opening poem is introduced by a photograph of a leather-trench-coat–attired Pierre Trudeau with a clean-cut, leather-bomber-jacket wearing kid getting his poster of a necktie-wearing Trudeau signed—a metamoment on so many levels. In the accompanying “Young Kid”, Miki, author of Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice, writes: “As he gazes at the hand of the man who incarnates the historical process, holding in his hands the artifact as proof, he does not look at the authorial centre who is caught in this reflection of his power and cannot re-articulate the gaze—which is the nation.”
Miki, who maybe is that young kid, locates the moment not only in personal history—the then of anecdote—but also structurally, as in how the whole photographic event gets staged, and historically, as in what it means in terms of larger concepts like multiculturalism, as Trudeau scrawls his signature across the whole thing.
The work is layered. Miki pulls out images and ideas that simultaneously reflect the local, like “The Fronds on Galiano”, a poem that explores the sectioning-off of private and public shorelines; the national, like “Flow Nation”, a series of poems exploring the slippages of identity in growing up Canadian; and the global, like “Enthralled”, written in response to a trip to Taipei: “i was too headed in the spiral tongue of the/endless irresolution, call it the curtain call.”
Added to the book’s trajectory is a series of photographs that address the question of what constitutes location or situation at any moment in history.
The book is full of rich intellectual pleasures but is also populated with intensely beautiful domestic moments. In “About”, Miki writes:
The chain of emery is the cliché
of haphazard sand dunes
When in the sleeper’s eye
the ocean swells in the orbit
Miki’s writing is sociable, an opening into a compelling conversation.
Roy Miki receives an Outstanding Alumni Award from SFU on Tuesday (February 20) at a public ceremony (www.sfu.ca/alumni/events/ ).