A review of Feria:a Poempark by Oana Avasilichioaei
Published on September 1, 2008
Wolsak & Wynn
Oana Avasilichioaei’s ambitious work puts a new spin on the ancient tradition of the topographical poem. Her topography is also typography, so to speak: like William Carlos Williams in Paterson
, she turns landscape (Hastings Park in Vancouver) into language and vice versa. And the landscape is no mere plot of ground – it has a troubling history that Avasilichioaei interrogates in multiple ways. George Black bought the land in New Westminster in 1869 for a slaughterhouse and one of the ironies the poet explores is the evolution of a slaughterhouse into a pleasure ground. The site holds a race track, Italian gardens, a memorial garden marking the Japanese-Canadian internment, various playing fields, and the Pacific National Exhibition. “I sit history on my knees and I seduce her,” the narrator says, and Clio, muse of history, obligingly speaks of the internment, of Columbus (his statue is in the Italian gardens), and of the growth of commercial enterprises. There is a continuing civic struggle to turn much of the highly developed site back to green space, which would undo some of the damages of history.
A park is meaningless without people to use it, and Avasilichioaei populates her poempark with voices, past and present, most of them taken from documents, like pompous boosterism from early Vancouver newspapers. The narrator enters the work to query its referentiality, a typical postmodern strategy. The most charming personal passage rests on memories of the gypsy fairs in the author’s Romanian past. The word “feria” in the book’s title is a rich one, denoting fairs, fests, and free days. Narrative, imagistic brevity, mutilated quotations, mythical interludes: the author’s stylistic resources turn this poem into a bustling poetic fair where everything is on offer. A section called “Haunted House” uses the figure of Orpheus as an emblem of the descent into the Hades of the past. Like Orpheus, Avasilichioaei has emerged from the underworld, or at least the park, with songs to sing. A final list of books pays homage to the poet’s inspirations, which include Nicole Brossard, Joy Kogawa, Erin Mouré, and Lisa Robertson, along with a history of the Pacific National Exhibition. The sources indicate dialogue rather than imitation. She extends the tradition that she has defined in her final list. mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.