Pineapple Express by Evelyn Lau

Pineapple Express is rooted in the mind and its disorders. This collection explores moods, medications and side effects, capturing the flatness of depression while still making the language sing. It also probes the landscape of mid-life in all its manifestations: physical changes, psychological upheaval, the notion of becoming “invisible,” aging and loss, mortality, and the haunting of family and cultural history.

I first met Evelyn at a poetry class at Simon Fraser University. She was one of two instructors teaching the course. An inclusive warmth accompanied her into the room. People smiled. One idiot screamed, a fangirl squeal as though the Beatles had just exited the plane. A game warden removed the overly exuberant student for “relocation.” This culling, mind you, only happened in my imagination. The course, however, was good, Evelyn’s tutelage excellent. The Vancouver Laureate and I have since become friends, the two of us getting to know each other much more than either of us may’ve intended. Usually, we find ourselves walking a stretch of seawall skirting Vancouver’s False Creek and English Bay, a scenic blend of skyscrapers, marina, and parkland.

Publisher Anvil Press launched Lau’s newest book as part of a four feature event via Zoom – a stable of pedigree poets paraded through a virtual showground like thoroughbreds at the Breeders’ Cup. Given the chance, I’d have liked to examine their teeth. But instead, with understated impact Lau kicked things off with her new book’s opening poem, reminding me of what I admire most, her work autobiographical, honest and gut-wrenching. From Pineapple Express, Part One, Family Day:

Once you lived inside her body, / heard its thumps and gurgles, / that liquid house sloshing in the dark. // She hated the way you pressed your stomach / against the sink while washing dishes. / In the teenage bedroom you measured / your doughy thighs and pondered / where to cut. Hid Mars Bars in the dresser, / the desk, under the olive shag rug.

I think of talks and walks we’ve shared, discussing such things through good weather and bad, one time in a diagonal downpour on grass the texture of wet sponges, as crows sought futilely-fleeing worms. Of course, this came to mind as I read from Part Two, Earthworms:

We had just read a poem about earthworms, / sprawled in the hundreds across the sidewalk / after a deluge, the poet stepping gingerly / among the stranded creatures.

Perhaps no better metaphors than weather and earthly creatures to relate one’s introspection and experience in quintessentially poetic fashion. I wonder if days of fighting falling torrents lingered as our author wrote the following, from Part Six, You Are Here:

… Scanned the surface / of the pond for a flicker of anything / to skim the surface — // water strider, lotus bud, dead leaf. / You try to want what you have / but like everyone else whine and complain, / temperature never in that narrow range / of just right, and today it’s raining. / Blue-grey sky like a wet stone. / Sleet against the windows.

Shedding light through the elements and personal insight, Evelyn Lau continues to deliver poetry that is nothing less than exceptional. I see her exemplary work continue to raise a bar only she can see, the rest of us simply left to be inspired and bask in its glow.

About the Author: Evelyn Lau is the Vancouver author of thirteen books, including eight volumes of poetry. Her memoir Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, published when she was eighteen, was made into a CBC movie starring Sandra Oh. Evelyn’s poetry has received the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award, the Pat Lowther Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman, as well as nominations for a BC Book Prize and a Governor-General’s Award. From 2011-2014, Evelyn served as Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver.

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, the Gone Viking travelogues, and A Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot (Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.