Book Review: Primitive
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
Explore the complexity of human existence as that which comes naturally in this deeply original collection
“But animal minds live in animal men.”
Hypocrisy, repetition, and dreams of something better. These are the things that Primitive considers to be part of the human condition. Dedicated to the poet’s mother, Primitive is an ode to all mothers whose daughters must now navigate an unrelenting world.
One of the first images in the book is of the speaker’s mother’s hand shadowing the image of a bird onto the wall at bedtime. With this image comes the question of the divide or even convergence between reality and fiction, nature and creation.
“In the same way you cannot move a hurt animal without causing further harm, you cannot visit the ghost of your mother.”
This collection of prose poetry tells a story in vignettes that peer into everyday life. The book is sectioned in three parts, each encapsulating the contradictions between nature and the world that has been created in its place. Part one seems to focus on birds and how people emulate the mannerisms of birds. Part two emulates city life in all its beauties and horrors. Part three has a recurring image of the flower. In a way, Primitive takes on the form of a narrative triptych transitioning from nature to creation to rebirth.
“Our ancient atoms will clash and distance, love and hurt, dirty and clean and dirty again.”
The book finds its strength in its lyricism. Take, for example, “Symbols are symbols are symbols but is truth in the joining or parting of tans in a tangram, fragments of a stained-glass saint in the hands of a child looking to the heavens for help?” The repetition of “symbols” mirrors the patterns created in tangrams or the kaleidoscope stained-glass found in churches. The poet knows what questions to ask not only to keep the reader intrigued but also to provoke deep introspection and analysis of the world we have created.
“Real and decorative battle for primacy like naked and nude. (We cannot be semi-barbaric.)”
Though the book focuses on the interplay between what is created and comes naturally, sometimes, the transition from one poem to the other clouds the purpose of that particular poem. Some poems such as “ugly things” and “the changing room” are longer more narrative prose poems while others are shorter bite sized pieces of poetry. While the book has a strong handle on balancing the impacts of these two types of poems, the transitions occasionally leave the reader wanting more, feeling as if the stories are not quite resolved.
“Maybe her heart is square. It cannot quite decide which way it should be oriented; it has not ups or downs.”
Insightful, lyrical, and deeply original, Primitive prompts the reader to reexamine—or examine for the first time—the world that has been created around them. The book treats nothing as assumed and brings to the forefront how odd the rituals and repetitions we hold in everyday life really are. This is a book for readers who need to once again become uncomfortable with life and to realize what we’ve taken for granted.
Genre: Poetry / Prose Poetry
Print Length: 96 pages
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