Contents of a mermaid’s purse
By: Phoebe Tsang
42 Poems/ 62 Pages
Tightrope Books, Toronto, Ontario
Review by Karen Schwartz
Contents of a mermaid’s purse is a collection of poetry that takes the reader on a fantastical trip among the magical, enchanted and daunting with subjects that nudge at the inner child who wishes to reconnect with their fairy tale past.
In The Princess and the Pauper, the poet walks us through the small town of hunchbacked cathedrals to admire its intimate ambience as “…cobblestones gleam like cowbells/silent under the strike of hoof or wheel.” The “spinster spinning loneliness” inside this allusion to an imaginary tale evokes a wistful longing to gain first hand historical experience for oneself even if only from afar in order not to spoil the authenticity of this dreamlike adventure.
In His Mistress the Witch, Phoebe Tsang’s fabled Hansel takes steps toward his keeper turned gingerbread lured by her seductive charm. Hansel’s character is oblivious to the beauty that surrounds him on his fated walk as the storyteller reminds the young boy of old velvet “...shaking out the dust/of dead insects that tickled/your ears like secrets-” but her words go unnoticed as the naivety draws him forward without a cautious glance. In this provocative account, the storyteller tempts Hansel with probing questions toward Tsang’s sexualized candied treasure revealing a unique approach to a familiar ending.
This collection embraces an assortment of colourful personalities from magicians, mermaids, and a hypnotist who manipulates his female participant as she yields under his direction. Careful the narrator warns, “Your words/ are a river. She could drown if you let her.” In Ghost Girls, metaphors abound as no man’s land shrinks “…to a spidery thread anyone can cross” as the poet delivers a vibrant picture between life and death and the supposition of what lies in-between.
In several of her poems, Ms. Tsang alludes to separation of a loved one with a twisted edge stimulated by the painful intensity that is brought about by loss. In Seven Days Without You, the poet’s personae recalls nightly dreams filled with tortuous ill-will shown toward her until her misery reaches resolve, while Right Hand Man references the loss of her beloved as severe as losing one’s right arm. This passionate poem is filled with drama and imagery that cuts to the reader’s core. The poet writes, “I’ve no blood left to spill. I used it all up/ dying for you, until I realized I’m better off/ without a useless limb that never knew/ how to hold on to you, or let go.”
Phoebe Tsang’s poetry is filled with conclusions that ring true to anyone who has ever loved, imagined or speculated. Joined in partnership with poems that pay attention to extraordinary roles is a poem which focuses on the live portrayal by an inanimate object as threads come to life. In Unfinished Knitting Project, the sweaters began”…to sneak out/ of their drawers one arm/ at a time, shaking out/ loose stitches like worsted/ strands of Rapunzel tresses” weaving a relationship between reader, a fairy tale and apparel now able to dance.
Contents of a Mermaid’s Purse features poetry written in the first person suggesting the poet’s central attraction is more toward fiction than fact. Much of her work is appealing. I recommend this collection to readers who are seeking an escape into fantasy through poetic expression.
Phoebe Tsangs Website