Scientific Marvel by Chimwemwe Undi

I admire poets who can address the ordinary and bring it to our attention. And perhaps it’s her legal background — one of her many roles being lawyer — but Chimwemwe Undi’s first poetry collection, Scientific Marvel, examines common experiences and elevates them with a musical quality that moves.

A beautiful country, so full of breath
The sky as wide open as a howling throat.

My throat as wide open as a prairie sky
As blue, as hungry to ungive what's been taken.

It is, perhaps, the technical aspects of her poetry that primarily drew me, in above and beyond the considerations of birds, high school crushes, etc. She plays with repetition and slight changes to word choice to find a rhythm that sometimes flowed like gentle waters, and other times punched like a punk (c.f. “No, Suffer Here“, the black-out poem that used only three words and somehow still told a story.)

Speaking of black-out poetry, Undi leans on surprising sources of inspiration to share some of her ideas. Supreme Court decisions are carefully deconstructed and censored to share realities of being Black in Canada (“approached and asked questions/unable to choose/and/possess/perspective”). Another piece creates a veritable police blotter, cataloguing the omnipresence of cops in the community (“Six, between Langside and Furby, one ponytail swishing and a knee in someone’s side./Six, later, between us, futile with regret.”).

Scientific Marvel is intelligent and incisive in a way that belies their legal training, and yet it was perceptive and vulnerable in a way that can only be experienced by someone with a well of deep feelings and an eye for beauty.

The best I can do
is pledge to you the balance
of my brief forever, vanishingly bright.

You can have me 'til the worms do,
and I hope the worms survive.

Chimwemwe Undi is a poet, editor, and lawyer living and writing on Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her work has appeared in Brick, Border Crossings, Canadian Literature and BBC World, among others. She was the recipient of the 2022 John Hirsch Emerging Writer Award from the Manitoba Book Awards, and she is the Winnipeg Poet Laureate for 2023 and 2024.

Publisher: House of Anansi Press (April 2, 2024)
Paperback 6″ x 8″ | 96 pages
ISBN: 9781487012250

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Bryn Robinson lives in Quispamsis, NB, although she still, and always will, consider herself a Saint Johner. She uses her BA in psychology and French, and her PhD in experimental psychology, from the University of New Brunswick, to help her support health research in the province. She prefers contemporary fiction, narrative non-fiction, graphic novels and poetry - and if they are humorous, all the better. When not reading, she's exploring the New Brunswick forests and seascapes, camera in hand.

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