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Poetry Canadian

Enter the Chrysanthemum

by (author) Fiona Tinwei Lam

Caitlin Press
Initial publish date
May 2009
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2009
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 16
  • Grade: 11


Enter the Chrysanthemum is a luminous collection of poems about family, love and loss. Employing precise imagery and concise language, Lam plumbs and mines ordinary events and experiences to find a central core of poetic insight and sometimes harrowing truth. Whether written from the vantage point of a young child observing her parents, a single parent struggling to raise a child, or a daughter watching a parent’s decline and death, these poems reconnect us to what it means to be human. Enter the Chrysanthemum is Lam’s second book of poetry.

About the author

Fiona Tinwei Lam is a Scottish-born, Vancouver-based writer whose work has appeared in literary magazines across the country, as well as in the Globe & Mail, and anthologies in Canada, the US and Hong
Kong. Her work has also been featured as part of B.C.'s Poetry in Transit program. Her book of poetry, Intimate Distances (Nightwood 2002), was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. Twice short-listed for the Event literary non-fiction contest, she is a co-editor of and contributor to the anthology of personal essays, Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (McGill-Queens University Press, 2008). Her work will also be appearing in Best Canadian Poetry 2010 (Tightrope Books, 2010), edited by Lorna Crozier. Her most recent collection of poetry, Enter the Chrysanthemum (Caitlin, 2009), depicts the journey into single parenthood, exploring themes of family, love and loss. She is a former lawyer.

Fiona Tinwei Lam's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Fiona Tinwei Lam’s third collection of poetry is Odes & Laments. She has authored two previous poetry books, a children’s book, edited The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer, and co-edited Love Me True: Writers Reflect on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Marriage with Jane Silcott. Lam won The New Quarterly’s Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Prize and was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. Her work appears in more than thirty anthologies, including The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English: The Tenth Anniversary Edition and Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC. Her poetry videos have screened at festivals locally and internationally. She teaches at Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies.

"Lam's poems resist too much gravity. She deals with the arc of three generations as they experience, variously, birth, childhood, divorce, disintegration and death. Grave enough, in every sense—and Lam leaves us in no doubt that our end and hers is to be "mere husks/sourly persisting, as humans do." Nevertheless, one closes this book, after all its anatomization of life's overwhelming disappointments, losses and despair, with a strangely uplifting sense of optimism.

This is partly because of the hope and consolation—and the new beginning—that her son provides against the crumbling of everything else: she redefines her identity and helps her son to build his. Lam says, in "Kindergarten at the Transylvania Flower Restaurant" that they are gathering it "crumb by crumb."

It's also because she brings the reader into the intensity of the moment, while keeping herself a little removed by wry humour and wise understanding. There can be good writing that abandons itself entirely to passion, but this is rare and depends on rare genius: those who attempt it are more often in the realm of therapy than art. Lam's is a necessary distance of perspective and craft—she needs, paradoxically, to put herself calmly outside the experience in order to bring the reader into its intensity."

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

Librarian Reviews

Enter the Chrysanthemum

The poetry in this volume focuses largely on childhood memories of the poet’s parents and life as a single parent. Love is very much a theme in Lam’s collection, but love associated with pain and loss permeates many of her poems. She visits her father’s grave or describes her mother’s memory as a “skim of debris that disintegrates while she flounders in a nursing home”. Yet, despite her melancholy, Lam savours special moments spent with her parents and son, whether it is observing her father in the morning preparing for work or drinking chrysanthemum tea with her son. Using striking imagery and metaphor, Lam paints a passionate portrait of her life.

Lam’s Intimate Distances was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. Her work has appeared in Canadian literary magazines and anthologies such as The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire and In Fine Form.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2009-2010.

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