Saturn Peach is an impressive debut. Withdrawn and melancholy, this collection is rich with fresh imagery. With beautiful images like “beetle-tongue”(“Some Trees”), “almond milk in all the trees”(“Stadium Show”), or waving “one’s heart at the sky like a dirty washcloth” (“Figura”), Lily Wang juxtaposes playfulness with a feeling of melancholy present throughout her collection. This sadness is more peripheral than outright, hanging off the poems, leaving space for love and friendship. In the poem “For My Friends Who Save Me,” the speaker exclaims, “Here come my friends. / Chirping in a rainbow floating on a puddle. Easy. / I’m clutched in a claw.” The more vulnerable moments are touching, but not too saccharine, maintaining the cool voice of the narrator. Adept at hugging the line, Wang never becomes overly sentimental nor too absurd, keeping the reader on their toes but never plunging too far in one direction or the other.
Though far from a narrative-driven book, the collection still has a through-line, the speaker’s voice distinct and consistent. Coupled with her sharp and watchful eye, a witness to the beauty, sadness, and weirdness of the world, the speaker reflects new ways of seeing. “All The Things You Have Are Real” is one of the more successful poems in the collection. With straightforward language, we are left with anything but simple images. It is an atmospheric poem located in the speaker’s house, the sister upstairs in her room, and the father downstairs in the kitchen. It is easy to visualize the architecture of the house, and the two characters are physically set apart from each other. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker, while downstairs says, “I heard a splash then it just came down. / All at once like an upturned bucket.” The image of the upturned bucket and the splash of rain grounds the poem, and the unknown parts of the poem can sit comfortably alongside that which is more concrete. The sparsity of interaction between the speaker, the sister, and the dad leaves the reader with more questions than answers, though this unknown is comfortable. Wang still reveals so much about the relationships between different characters with so few words.
In “For My Sister,” the speaker says, “In which your mouth is full of jam, mother is always home, and longing never reaches us,” and we are left understanding the longing for more, the wanting for something to be different, the mother’s absence. Wang once again surprises the reader with her imagery, in this case, a “mouth […] full of jam,” a little bit absurd, creating levity before the two phrases that follow, which are much heavier. The collection adeptly handles tone, giving the reader space to laugh despite so much longing.
There are moments in the collection where the persona could be magnified, à la Tommy Pico, to make the voice even more particular. There are other moments where the poems could be even stronger if they relied less on poetic tricks and tropes. Nevertheless, Saturn Peach is a strong, consistent debut, showcasing Wang’s strong imagistic language, and her dry and playful humour. Poetry readers should be excited about such a capable new voice in the Canadian literary scene.
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is a queer Arab poet living in Tio’tia:ke, unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory (Montreal). Their work has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 anthology, GUTS, the Shade Journal, Arc Poetry Magazine, Room Magazine, and elsewhere. They were longlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2019. knot body, a collection of creative non-fiction and poetry was published in Fall 2020 by Metatron Press, and The Good Arabs, a poetry collection, will be published in Fall 2021 with Metonymy Press. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter @theonlyelitareq.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.