Source: the poet
Paperback, 81 pgs
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Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is a collection of poems in which all is not as it seems. She is an inventor of transforming verse in which death takes on a new life and ghosts are the living. The collection begins with a quote from Anatole France that sets the tone: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Whether we are looking at the crime scene and all the parts except for the dead girl at the center or considering the mass extinction of pigeons in Venice, Ang has caused us to pause and rethink our perceptions.
Death is a clear preoccupation in these poems, as the narrator examines what it means to be a dead woman floating down the river in “The Model Particular.” She examines how that minutiae serves as a sign to a larger picture, like the bracelets that become scars on the girl floating in the river, revealing more about her past and how she may have ended up there. “When a red shoe finds/the silt, it may take up to thirty years/before it reaches the ocean.//The girl is wearing bracelets/of scars. She is purpling under both eyes./She is all poise and dead leaves.” (pg. 15)
Her poems speak to not only the temporary nature of life in the body, but also the temporary nature of the impressions we make while we live and interact in society. Ang juxtaposes the beautiful and the horrifying, challenging her readers to see the gruesome allure of death, murder, and more. In “Field Trip,” “The man under the bus was previously dead. … The smell of rot became his speech and, towards the end, we were all talking about it … There was oil all over him and oil all over the dead man in the manner of really good excuses to start a war.” Stories within stories unfold in these poems as the characters tell lies to themselves, to the narrator, and the reader. It is up to the reader to uncover the truth.
From “Process of Forgetting” (pg. 19)
That’s how we knew mortality is all
about forgetting. Even as we observed each other,
the holes were already in place: the skull is structured
around them, the senses merely tenants
who might suddenly choose to go for a swim
in something as absurd as ballet shoes and plastic gloves.
Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is filled with the beautiful moments of sitting by a dying mother in her last days to offer comfort in any way the narrator can (“To Sweat”), which are then juxtaposed with the deaths of women and men who may or may not have had the same comfort (“Pictures”). Stunning in many ways, readers will want to read every last poem to reach “Rediscovering Paris Through Female Body Parts,” which is by turns exquisitely sensual and unsettling.
***Another contender for the best of 2015 list***
About the Poet:
Arlene Ang is the author of “The Desecration of Doves” (2005), “Secret Love Poems” (Rubicon Press, 2007), and a collaborative book with Valerie Fox, “Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon” (Texture Press, 2008). Her third full-length collection, “Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu” was published by Cinnamon Press in 2010. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Caketrain, Diagram, Poetry Ireland, Poet Lore, Rattle, Salt Hill as well as the Best of the Web anthologies 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books). She lives in Spinea, Italy, where she serves as staff editor for The Pedestal Magazine and Press 1.