The World is a Heartbreaker

By Bert Almon

A review of The World is a Heartbreaker by Sherwin Tjia

Published on April 1, 2005

The World is a Heartbreaker
Sherwin Tjia

Coach House Press
$15.95
paper
160pp
1-55245-153-4

Sherwin Tjia, who is perhaps better known as a cartoonist (Pedigree Girls) than poet, has described his “pseudohaiku” poems as “crunchy potato chip poetry.” I’m reminded of the Dundee barman in a Bill Duncan story: “Potato Crisps? A dear fucking way o eating a tattie.” Tjia’s description of his book seems apt: these brittle poems are salty and perhaps not very nutritious, but before you know it, you’re at the bottom of the bag – or the end of the book, having paid a little over ten cents a page (with GST) for the snack. These are satirical one-liners written in three brief lines. In Japan, a satirical poem of this nature is called a senryu, and it follows the same 5 / 7 / 5 pattern of the more evocative haiku form. Tjia is not concerned with syllable count.

One reason the reader keeps compulsively munching on the poems is curiosity about how they might link up. There are ten of them scattered on each page. The mind tries reading across, or in columns down the page, or even in a slant pattern. None of these approaches goes very far. A munch of these chips will find puns (“panties / from / heaven”), insights into human nature (“easing over the / speedbumps – new / baby on board”) and the occasional raw obscenity. Plots start but have no time to thicken (“i promised / sex and lured him / into the woods”). There are bawdy observations for all sexual preferences, but the male gaze predominates, sometimes rather sophomorically (lots of bras, breasts, and bikinis). Tjia is fun to read, but Gertrude Stein’s immortal rejoinder comes to mind: “Hemingway, remarks are not literature,” especially when the poet says “i’ll write / them until / i run out.” mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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