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Pickle Me This

April 1, 2012

Sweet Devilry by Yi-Mei Tsaing

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsaing is author of the picture book A Flock of Shoes which we’ve adored for ages, and I’ve wanted to read her book of poetry Sweet Devilry ever since I read her poem “How to dress a two year old” (which begins “Practice by stuffing jello into pants./ Angry jello.) As A Flock of Shoes has autobiographical elements (the story’s main character has the same name as Tsaing’s daughter), there is some delightful overlap between it and Sweet Devilry, though they’re directed at different audiences. I love in particular the reference to Abby’s shoes flying high in the sky in the book’s final poem (though there’s no mention as to whether they sent her postcards).

I’ve added Sweet Devilry to my list of essential Motherhood books. The first poem begins, “On the morning of your birth…” and contains the wonderful line, “Learn a good latch, kiddo–/ it pays to hold on/ to someone you love.” And from then on, the book was unputdownable– I read it walking away from the bookstore all the way to the subway, even though my hands were cold. The first section includes poems about ultrasounds, various perspectives of pregnancy tests, poems about two year olds, tantrums and starting daycare.

The next section riffs on other texts, namely government-issued household manuals from the 1920s and well-known fairy tales, to reinvest familiar tropes with narrative. Section 3 is a long poem reworking The Little Mermaid. And finally, Section 4 explores the various corners of contemporary family life, including the joys of home-ownership in a “transitional neighbourhood” (“We find a pair of shat-on men’s underwear/ sitting at the back of our yard,/ casually, as though it’s always been there,/ as if it’s not embarrassed by its own/ telling state”). The rest are poems about loss (in particular of a parent), and how elements of loss and tragedy co-exist with ordinary life, and about the painful fact that love itself is always about letting go.

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