“Ghosts know what they want.” Evie Christie’s second poetry collection Mere Extinction forthcoming from ECW Press is a sprawling empire of beating hearts and lost children, apocalyptic prepping and climate change, single moms and human bewilderment. The poems are harrowing and honest. Neighbours make small talk, men high on cocaine stand on balconies texting, the heart goes on repeating itself, and mere extinction awaits us all.
It is impossible to talk about this brilliant collection without addressing the tragic death of Christie’s infant son which is written about tenderly and factually in many of her poems. Anyone who is a parent feels that sudden flare of pain and empathy, deep inside one’s DNA, when Christie writes:
One afternoon I lay against my grandfather’s chest, before rigor mortis set in, and one evening I dressed my baby for the furnace. They were the same moment.
These lines from her poem “Birthright,” among others clench at the heart, and prepare the reader for the poet’s view of the world which is one of tremendous loss in the face of continued living. The every day, the quotidian, has become a little muted, colours and shapes a little less bright, but there are still other children to raise, and food to be prepared, and this feeling is aptly expressed in the poem “Homecoming” where Christie sets down:
The holes get deeper and big as quarries and empty as some mines until the next day and the next day and so on. The tragedy lends itself to the modern machine: a late car payment, a busted heart, a leaky condom transforms into just something that happened, like a key broken in a door or a key that turned and did the job, successfully. It’s all the same.
In this poem, it is as if every day has become its own memento mori, but the speaker is not yet giving up. She is just a little worn out by life, by death, and perhaps in need of a pick-me-up to get through another tomorrow as Christie writes in her poem “Lorazepam Fact Sheet”:
You could be richer and thinner; but you are not dead, girl. Go get it, you deserve to feel seen. Don’t waste another diet cola day being anything but a better you, a calmer you, buffer the sadness, forget to kill yourself. Try on your swimsuit and think, if it fits this snug your ghost would be much too fat. Be beautiful. Remember when you gave up smoking? Don’t stress carcinogens right now —get a pack. Don’t text an ex. But if you must, text an ex who choked you like he meant it. Forget about test results and take three pills, or watch a song and dance picture about being in love. Chill, baby girl. The side effects are all rare. Self-care is everything. You may find you are doing much better now.
The speaker of this poem is a survivor, one whom time and experience has taught a hard-earned wisdom, which is on full display in Christie’s short poem “Plan Ahead”:
The space love cuts out will need to be filled with loss. Make room, pain is big.
Moving away from pain and parental loss, however, the poems branch off into other areas—women sleeping with men, single moms sitting in parks together, cold floors making children hop in the morning—but there is an atmosphere in this collection that disaster is imminent, that it can strike at any moment, and the speaker is not so green as to dismiss these feelings. Take, for instance, Christie’s poem “Advice from Homesteaders Online: Prepping for the Event”:
It’s not going to happen like you think, a jar of apples bathed in water, sealed with wax will get you through many days, I can’t say how many but we’ll make enough. Costco has mac and cheese, like a barrel, lasts 18 years give or take, imagine being with someone that long? Anyway I don’t eat dairy. I’m learning how to build fires and strip things, de-feather, de-bone, un-life things, de-breathe them. When the event occurs, they say it’ll be people like me who know these things, who have apples who may or may not know you anymore who will really be living their best life.
In this poem, disaster—climate change, societal breakdown, etc.—is looming on the horizon while we go about talking with our neighbours and spouting platitudes like,” It is what it is”. The climate crisis is a certainty we all must face in the coming years, and poetry is as good a place as any to start dealing with its lumbering reality as it inches closer.
These poems in Evie Christie’s Mere Extinction take their solace wherever they can. Perhaps “they skip form and tell too much” as the poet worries in one poem, but a baby’s death doesn’t need to rhyme. It is not a literary construct. It is a seismic event. An ocean change in the life of anyone, nevermind a poet as gifted as Evie Christie who has survived it and processed it and turned it into art so we, the astonished readers, the witnesses, can see, “The whole heart, thrashing gracelessly, on.”
Evie Christie is the author of Gutted and The Bourgeois Empire. She has adapted plays for Luminato, Necessary Angel Theatre Company, and the National Theatre School of Canada. She lives in Ontario.
- Publisher : a misFit book (April 6 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 64 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1770415467
- ISBN-13 : 978-1770415461
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Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of six collections of poems with Deepfake Serenade from Nightwood Editions forthcoming in Fall 2021. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.