Winner of the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
Finalist for the 2008 Asian American Literary Award
Rita Wong's new collection of poems explores how ecological crises relate to the injustices of our international political landscape. Querying the relations between writing and other forms of action, Wong seeks a shift in consciousness through poems that bespeak a range of responses to our world: anger, protest, anxiety, bewilderment, hope and love. In her words, "the next shift may be the biggest one yet, the union of the living, from mosquito to manatee to mom."
Forage is accompanied by marginalia, Chinese characters and photos that give depth to the political context in which most of Wong's poems are situated. She is instructive without being pedantic, and thought-provoking while still calling forth humour and beauty.
It isn't surprising that Rita Wong's Forage won this year's Dorothy Livesay Award, the poetry component of BC's roster of provincial book prizes. It embodies pretty well everything we've come to think of as British Columbian--environmentalism, political activism, and multiculturalism with a distinctly Asian flair.
From its cover, which depicts a landfill overburdened with outmoded electronic devices, to the handwritten quotes that encircle so many of the poems, this book is all its own, distinctive even in how its pages look. It might best be described as a literary collage--one that explores a number of forms, and employs Chinese characters and long quoted passages within its various texts. The sources for these cited passages reveal much about Wong's eclectic reading. Her inspirations come from such diverse thinkers and artists as Northrop Frye, Rachel Carson, and Laurie Anderson.
Many of the poems see Wong skewering various players in the corporate world. Sample from this bundle; picture first the fact that the poem is encircled with tiny, careful letters, spelling out one of the book's many horrifying bits of information about Monsanto--how the company had to pull some of its genetically modified seeds "after testing revealed that at least one of the patented herbicide-tolerant transgenic varieties contained an 'unexpected' gene." Even in the face of such a horrific statement, the poem uses language almost playfully in its condemnations: "vulture capital hovers over dinner tables, covers hospitals a sorrowful shade of canola ... despite misgivings i blurt, don't shoot the messy angels" (36). This poem, "canola queasy," isn't the only one where language games are evident. Among other influences, Wong acknowledges the Kootenay School of Writing. Consider this section from a piece called "trickledrown infect": "intermittent insistence sinister complicity stillborn mister minister / toxic tinctures stinking pistols stricken cysts or cynical sisters / strychnine biscuits kiss or desist" (48)
Part of the recently revived blewointment imprint from Nightwood Editions, this book is experimental on many levels. Visual manifestations range from prose poems to word lists, to poems that are left-margined or broken into double columns, as if they were a news article. Even photographs play their part, enhancing the poems.
But beyond the quirky design and appearance of the work in these pages, its real power lies in the content of her message. From the almost-title piece, "forage, fumage":
how does one say give back in seminole? in salishan? route through the land's indigenous languages, bend inglish towards their spirits
verb the kanata, verb the ottawa, verb the saskatchewan, the manitoba, quebec, start in the middle of rupert's lament and work out, start from the coasts and work in, start
lament kneels, redress, roams, navigate through hairshirts, armor, corporate crime, factory farms, invoke camaraderie's rough surfaces
lament, foment, reinvent" (30)
Forage presents a thoroughly modern view of our times. The poems speak to the future, and perhaps represent something of the future of language in literature. It will be interesting to see how Wong follows up on this startling book.
--Heidi Greco, Prairie Fire
Forage is a book to be read intensely; no one should ever try to scan this style of writing. The effort required to read Forage properly will certainly be repaid.
--Rob MacLeod, Canadian Bookseller
Forage, Rita Wong's second collection, is poetry that attacks modern power politics and attempts to modernize traditional poetics without stripping them of their value.
These are poems that find their voice in the didactic. Indeed, the instructional nature of Wong's poems often feels like a conscious attempt to barrage the reader with syntactical information rather than poetic concern, perhaps mirroring the obscene amount of information North Americans consume daily ...
The book's marginalia are arresting and provide needed instances of poetic subtlety. Chinese characters adorn the borders, and early photographs of Chinese labourers add dynamism to the work. The deliberate lack of order and punctuation makes a silent reading of this collection confusing, but these poems find a more vibrant voice when read aloud.
--Evie Christie, Quill and Quire
Forage strikes me as a fierce achievement -- a summing up, for the poet so far, of her wisdom and her poetic practice, utilizing two languages and two cultures. It is a formidable fusion.
--George Elliott Clarke, The Halifax Chronicle Herald
Forage, recent winner of a BC Book Prize, combines social, political, and economic critique with instances of everyday discomfort and joy ... Wong's poems always function on multiple levels that expose abuses of power while articulating beauty and employing humour.
--Jacqueline Turner, The Georgia Straight
[Forage] posits the praxis of poetry -- its attention to alliterations and allusions and parallelism and pastiche -- amidst larger global conversations on the cultural, the social, and the environmental. It is a writ-large, fierce commentary on the current and future state of the globe ...
--Mark Nowak, Harriet: A Blog from the Poetry Foundation
This book is a dynamic mixture of styles--ranging from the lyric to the list to the prose poem--addressing a litany of public and personal injustices ... This diverse collection coheres because of the author's voice, which is emboldened by a sense of sheer affront and the need to find 'ground to push against, red earth/ bloody earth, stolen earth.'
--Aaron Giovannone, Canadian Literature
Just when I think Forage is too devastating, the way my heart stops at 'she must make home up' I move out of the 'r' section and into the 'l,' softened from growl (necessary) to love (necessary) as desire we Forage.
--Jill Magi, Boog City New York City's East Village Community Newspaper
Forage, Rita Wong's eagerly awaited second collection, [winner of] the Dorothy Livesay Award, is a series of entreaties, vilifications and chants that take on hyper-capitalism in the form of Monsanto Foods and the US military-industrial establishment. Divided into two sections: rise/riven/rice and lore/loose/lode, the book addresses the trickledown effect of pollution set in motion by First World technology, the sting of racism and the loss of one's mother tongue through assimilation.
--Peter Richardson, Arc