Kate Rogers, Out of Place, Aeolous House, 2017. 65 pgs.
Kate Rogers’ latest collection of poetry, Out of Place, is immersed in the recurrence of loss, longing and loneliness that subliminally changes to verisimilitude, wisdom and solitude in a deliberation marked with evocations of Canadian histories and Ukrainian ancestries. Memory acts as a fishing rod in Rogers’ confession: “I cast my line from a high cliff, hope to catch just enough.”
The poet holds signifiers of identity proximate to the heart of her poems, in familial ache, be it for mother, grandmother, father, grandfather or unborn children. We see this in the lines “[e]very summer I swim lengths in the outdoor pool … but I never reach the lake besides my mother’s house”; “[f]ather, if you’d put a hand on me/ to calm my frightened animal, / I would have settled ” and “[f]or fifteen years I’d borrowed children to fill my heart for the ones I’d lost.” About the hauntings of offspring, or the future, she writes “My students write memoirs from their dreams.” In collated folds of historical remembrance, she silhouettes a family tree, setting a pervasive tone of privation in the physicality of things.
Rogers double-voices the heteroglossia of movement behind the meaning of home, tainted by a sense of familiarity in cultural signposts. She perpetuates patterns of the staged and the real, in mass confiscations of imagination: “I met the King of Kowloon. In Hong Kong he drew his story under bridges, on the walls of banks.”
This book divides itself into four sections: “Out of Place,” “City of Change,” “Kateryna’s Children” and “The Moment,” offering passports to various places, in quadruplicate.
As a Hongkonger, Rogers’ nebulous vision is not blurred, like the old woman’s cataracts in her poem with “their orange, red like the urns of flowers, / blooming like the shadow,” but rises sharply as crystalline incisions undercutting memory to tender poetic veracities. Steeped in independent culture, the expatriate gaze becomes that of an insider’s, with the precise habit of viewing habitat. City estrangements and the ways of molding life at the margins of a port city—world headquarters—become permanent in their sensing, bringing polished city life via the side-street walks and views of the homeless.
Rogers reckons in fresh phraseologies, returning through poetry what realism loses in lines such as “rose-breasted grosbeaks will return to her trees” and “when they were beaten by gangs of men who think children must taste the bitter iron of their own blood,” indicating how poets territorialise styles of expression.
It reminds me, also, of how feminism is country-specific. And that Hong Kong deals with a different variety—more white-collared, perhaps, shone and subtle, than India’s blue-collared, extruded explicit crimes. The gazes, the leers, jeers and catcalls sketched in this book contour the starkness of the gang-rapes, abductions, murder, acid-attacks and infanticide other Asian geographies bring.
We reach lingering Ukrainian inheritances in narratives of Roger’s maternal family—how ancestors traversed cold seas to make places warm, and home. We see the Adams and Eves of householdry. We sense the raw wilderness of nothing-too-familiar, known or traditional, before the setting-stone of ritual in lines like, “[y]our wedding was not written in the county book” and “her name was buried without a stone.”
This section, “Kateryna’s Children,” was my most favoured for its compelling lore, in which personal histories superimpose the political antiquities of Ukrayina as Kateryna—Roger’s great grandmother’s name alluding to the title of a poem on national independence by Taras Shevchenko.
Chapters of history gift permanent birthmarks to a miniaturised epic. The adoption of languages is a clear telltale sign of how cultures move through bloodstreams of migration and accommodation: “I do not speak in Cree, not in French, nor Ukrainian. The English I dissolve on my tongue is my only communion wafer now.”
Even as Rogers proposes, “I will not bend to the breeze like a green poplar,” she says, “[e]ven the wild fruit trees can’t flourish in this cold.” We enter a silent trove of lifestyle, in life-size impressionistic paintings of quaint days, in a world before the pre-modern.
The crunch tailorings of Ukrainian names for linguistic adaptation to new cultures—such as in “[m]other tore out her first tongue, / learned to double her vowels, crisp / hard consonants”—present petite artefacts of the old, adorning the living walls and windows of this recollection-room, in intervening lines of transcendental materiality.
The intimacies of desire are frank with lines such as these: “Maurasia yearns for a tall man / to touch her / with pale, quiet hands.” This is a search for parents and grandparents, through a crackling archival of imagery, only to sense the present in permits of the future. East Slavic scenography and its spatial monologues provide a tapestry of reformation, asymmetrical as a dream.
An arsenal of exhilarating disguises, iconographies, inconclusive immigrant vignettes in the passing of time emblazon and diffuse into another poetry-reading day, defining formative roles in identity-creation of the globalised populace that we have become.
My grouse is only that this book ends too soon. It should have had more, in each of its sections, to savour. The solution is to read slowly.
Author of The Arithmetic of Breasts and other stories, Four Degrees of Separation, and Paper Asylum, Rochelle Potkar is alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program and Charles Wallace Writer’s fellowship, Stirling. She is the winner of the 2016 Open Road Review story contest for “The leaves of the deodar”. Her story “Chit Mahal (The Enclave)” appears in The Best of Asian Short Stories. Her poems “Cellular: P.O.W.” and “Ground Up” were shortlisted for awards, while her poem “The Girl from Lal Bazaar” was shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, 2018. She is editor of the Goan-Irish anthology, Goa: a Garland of Poems, with Gabriel Rosenstock, and co-founder of the Arcs-of-the-Circle artists’ residency program, Mumbai. Visit her website for more information.