By Sachiko Murakami. Talonbooks, 96 pp, softcover
If you’ve ever engaged in the Vancouver-speak about how to find a better, cheaper place to live (and who hasn’t?), then you will appreciate how Vancouver is taken apart, examined, and reconfigured in Sachiko Murakami’s new book of poetry, Rebuild. A follow-up to her Governor General’s Award–nominated collection The Invisibility Exhibit, this book questions the excesses of the real-estate market as it has morphed into the very culture of Vancouver, asking us to look at the ridiculousness of the structures we inhabit and the identities we attempt to derive from them.
Humour creates one route through Rebuild, and in light of Vancouver’s recent worst-dressed-city designation, the opening line of the book is apt: “Here, one can walk out the condo door/dressed in ‘clothes’ elsewhere known as ‘pyjamas.’ ”
The casual attitude to fashion is surely one of the ways you know you’re in Vancouver and not, say, Montreal.
The book also owes an acknowledged debt to many of the writings and art installations about the infamous “Vancouver special” form of housing, as that architectural splendour signifies “Enough failed attempts at beauty” to “Let the home stand for us,” even though “There’s nowhere to hang a metaphor.” The repetition of the structure indicates a civic reliance on sameness built into the visible history of the city.
The other crucial aspect of Rebuild is the loss of the speaker’s father and the layering of grief across the changes of the cityscape. Creating a sense of family that also has to be rebuilt, she encapsulates grief in wrenching simplicity: “Now he’s a father, a body. Now ashes./Now begin./Now begin again.”
Throughout the book, poetry itself is “rebuilt” as Murakami, who grew up in Vancouver but recently moved to Toronto, creates multiple versions of the same poem, using a poetics of erasure to black out the space of what existed previously. But since the space is at such a premium, like Vancouver real estate, it will have to be used, refilled, and built up again.