Phoebe Wang, 105 pages, McClelland & Stewart, penguinrandomhouse.ca, $16.95
At first glance, the title Admission Requirements feels like a reflection on the limits of belonging. “Admission” as inclusive, welcomed and “requirements,” exploring the threshold between what is allowed, and what has been breached in spaces of acceptance.
“Do not limit yourself / to the space provided,” Wang writes in the poem, “Application Form,” as if the given parameters are not just physical. Our memories, desires, and longings of elsewhere are intensely compelled by the imagination.
This is what lingers throughout Wang’s collection. She surveys how spaces hold more than what we see — a public park, for example, with trees shad-owed by city buildings or surrounded by Victorian homes in “Dufferin Grove Suites.” Or historical sites and museums where re-enactments of the past are relayed over and over again in “Portage” and “The Canadian Exhibit.” All of which are spaces that have been carefully curated and defined by permits, entrance fees, and visiting hours.
Wang’s poems uncover how spaces are haunted by an emotion, a memory. “Are we done at last / with the idea of breaking ground / now that every bit of terra nullius has been subdued?” Wang asks in the opening poem, “Tea Garden,” reminding us of the limits of our own claim in what belongs to us.
What then, does it mean to belong? Is admission required for belonging? What is breached when those requirements fail? The difficulty present in Wang’s collection is the tension that arises when confronted with these questions. We are constantly reminded of our own unbelonging, our alien-ness and unfamiliarity to a place. Instead, Admission Requirements moves and swells. There is always movement — a current like an unsettled longing across distances that echoes throughout. (Philippe Pamela Dungao)