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Poetry Canadian

Splitting Off

by (author) Triny Finlay

Nightwood Editions
Initial publish date
Mar 2004
Canadian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2004
    List Price

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Triny Finlay's debut collection of poetry is a meditation on the self's negotiation with the material world. Finlay pushes poetic form and language, creating images of love and loss that are at once playful and profoundly disturbing. The poems in this collection are rife with metaphorical leaps and unexpected associations: the troubled self as conjoined twins or as a flatiron building; the predatory lover as axe-wielding gardener; coming-of-age as a surgical procedure. Blurring the line between subject and object, the voices in these poems explore individual experience from multiple points of view, never privileging any one possibility. These voices fill the book with startling discoveries of conflict and hope, simultaneously stitching and ripping the fabric of female identity.

About the author

Triny Finlay was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in Toronto. She is the author of Splitting Off (Nightwood, 2004), Histories Haunt Us (Nightwood, 2010), and the chapbook Phobic (Gaspereau, 2006). Her poetry has been anthologized in Breathing Fire 2: Canada's New Poets, Qwerty Decade, and Gaspereau Gloriatur: Book of the Blessed Tenth Year; her writing has also appeared in various Canadian periodicals including ARC, Broken Pencil, Contemporary Verse 2, The Fiddlehead, The Globe and Mail,Grain, Other Voices, and University of Toronto Quarterly. She has studied at Mount Allison University, the University of New Brunswick, and the University of Toronto. She lives with her family in Fredericton, NB, where she teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick.

Triny Finlay's profile page

Excerpt: Splitting Off (by (author) Triny Finlay)

Self-Portrait as Ekphrastic Tension

Let's call it what it is: desire,
or hope, or chaos. Something

sublime--a gilded frieze you touched
in Brussels, for love, in the public square;

a vase you carried on your back through
Asia because, though it cracked

along the way, you thought it was sacred.
What you should know about hope

is that it can't be pinned down. Either
you feel it or you don't and don't

mistake it for desperation. The old
stone will shift because of your

fingers; sugar peas snap.
The morning light in your living

room will catch every gap
in the vase if you glue it back together.


I was looking for a way into him,
a point like a piano key that could
be struck, or played, followed through with
a finger stroke or the full force heel
of my hand and still transmit its tonal
pulse to the intended string. He found his
way into me as if there were no felt
at all covering my small, embodied
hammers. Maybe, like a harpsichord,
my strings were simply plucked, with a quill
or some incised thorn of leather. Music
was never a direct hit with him: some
days the tune could resonate for hours,
others he lay mute, naked and controlled.

Temple on the Gore Road

We don't have words
for this kind of incongruity,

ancient beauty replicated
on Canadian soil, plunked
at the edge of the subdivision,
postcard ziggurat.

We drive south into the city
on a Thanksgiving Monday
while the cars going north
queue along the Gore Road, idling
as if caught mid-parade. We are going
the wrong way for worship--

a lineup we will never join,
not for the pantheonic rush,
not for the budget homes,
not for the wonder.

But we will stop for fresh corn at the side
of the road, for funeral processions, red lights.

We've chosen our temples, our gods,
and now their resplendence defies us.

Editorial Reviews

Splitting Off by Triny Finlay
reviewed by Laurie Fuhr

If poetry is partly a way to let adults continue the play instinct, words on paper substituted for toys on grass, no longer the problem of getting Barbie's mini-skirt up over her sticky rubber legs - and if the reading of poetry fulfills the play penchant as well as writing it does - Triny Finlay's Splitting Off could be the ultimate playland. Follow the poet-playmate through the parkscape of her imagination. I bet in girlhood Finlay had the neatest ideas for what Barbie and friends were going to do to hapless Little Sister Kelly next.

In Splitting Off, you get a variety of structures and forms. Poems of two, three or four line stanzas to monkey up and down with eyes. Non-rhyming sonnets, each of fourteen lines the plank of a playstructure's tipsy spanbridge. Square block, chunky imagist poems full of malleable words: sandcastles built here.

Each of five sections generally follows a different exercise the poet has set up for herself. In Liking Chocolate Again, Finlay reclaims that underrated colour, pink, from the walls of little girls bedrooms and inserts it into verses of adult feminine concerns: Holly Hobby's caplet bonnet vs. pink pills, pair of panties as an unasked question, pink elephants that aren't blushing and a liquiscape of pink cocktails. Then in the section's last poem, Pink Sneakers, enough is enough: "Eschew pink jeans, pink tank tops, pink cashmere sweaters. The force is sudden, and limited to shoes" - the force of wanting pink again, the force to be near something in the present for reminding you of past instances it featured in your life, here pink and its symbols for the past in this section. But don't overdo it; checkout one item or less. The present is not, in fact, a very 'pink' place; it's not made up of the past even though the past got us here, because when what a thing or colour meant before is imported into the now, it alters now - but it's also altered by now. Oh, the glorious convolutions! Pink could stand in for anything whatsoever in the present that reminds a person of their many encounters with it in the past, and how it now affects them to be reminded. The entire section of poems in turn assumes the function of a single poem about then vs. now, safety of childhood vs. dangers of the outside world, hopes vs. outcomes. Readers can deduce this through the series of poems, writing a kind of poem of sense in their own heads, so that the writer provides a message without seeming to promote one. Is this really what she's up to? Or just how I'm interpreting it? Is the poet, or the poetry, more responsible for the reader's interpretation? Whatever the case, the reader may come away impressed by both poet and poetry, and also with him- or her- self as poetry translator. Finlay's is a rare modern poetry that actually rewards its readers and whets appetites for more calamari, Bermuda honey, black olive stuffing and roasted pumpkin seeds (just some of the exotic fare for feast in the book).

Section two, The World We Already Knew, is a fairly eclectic section of stranger-than-fiction personal experiences operating within the world you think you know til the inevitable, unexpected accidents of chance, happy or otherwise, go down. These are situations you can imagine the circumstances around, but never the emotional substance of, til you're in them: Getting off the phone after bad news might find you oddly paralyzed, as though an Orange Plastic Chair held you up; choosing one's weapon against an enemy sickness hiding below a friend's skin, below friendly skin; the very specific objets Finlay chooses and all their very subjective meanings (as per the individual's perception of pink through remembrances in the previous section) that alter, with her empathetic interpretation, the seemingly easy to imagine. A poem called The Virgin's Bathroom alters whatever image its title brings to mind. Through Finlay we see how many poets are guilty of easy poetic logic: a lesser poet undertaking such a poem, title first, might immediately begin trying to describe how a virgin's bathroom could be the same as or different from that of an experienced gal. Finlay enters door number three and pointillisticly paints the intricately detailed picture less likely seen by the mind's eye at first glance. Taking into account the personal subjectivity of all experience, exampled in Splitting Off, could The World We Already Knew hardly exist, since knowing truly knows no we?

Other poems in this section seem to defy thematic categorization, perhaps another rebellious act by the poet. There is a loose theme of transit in many, mostly by cars, once walking a dog and another two on foot. A tighter theme could be instances of that which we wouldn't expect in these scenarios: the dog finds and gobbles up a rotten fish plus corresponding ick-factor; a daytime dark pub revelation; a temple vaulting up beside a highway. In the latter poem, Finlay states "We don't have words for this kind of incongruity", then attempts words anyway - descriptors that provide the feeling of the mystery if not dispelling that mystery. Finlay's poetry is one of defiant triumph; she sees poetry's possible limitations then pointedly attacks them where others might turn away. Here is a poet of real spunk who will enjoy a long career if she chooses, one not likely to get taken in by the depressing maxims of embittered writers looked up to. If this book misses out on awards and due attention, which ought to be very unlikely, I doubt it would keep her from continuing to write work of this quality.

My favourite section has got to be the title section. Here we have truly unusual metaphors for self portrait: Self-Portrait As The Gooderham Flatiron Building, Self-Portrait As My Own Brain Tumour, Self-Portrait As Daisy and Violet Hilton (whom, it is explained in a back of the book notes, were conjoined twins) and so forth - I'm not about the ruin the element of surprise by explaining further. Yes, the poems are as good as their concepts. In section four, Confidence Tricks, Finlay continues to turn into unexpected objects and food but it's the audience of her poetry that morph her by their actions. She is become the walnut-dusted skin of a small goat cheese ball, a flax loaf spread, a flightless parrot, she is carried under a callus. Then she turns it around, turns someone into a dried apple, and thereby, a mummy. Soon objects are rebelling against being turned into people; insidious little tufts of lint grow like moss on a pair of lovers.

Finally, having found that The World We Already Knew is actually so unknown, we can anticipate by the title of the final section, The Moment When It Seems Most Plain, that very little in this section will be plain in either the obvious or the boring sense. The titles seem most plain, one word titles which, like the interesting titles of the other sections, tell you very little about the content of the poem - this time setting up an expectation prejudice in the reader's mind with but a single word before smoting it. Here are fourteen-line, non-rhyming sonnets that woo subtly with cleverness, making classical attempts seem so squarely straight-forward. Sensuous, pointedly unusual and eclectic images, metaphors, and similes, and the wondrously surreal effects of their use together, continue to surprise and inspire. Get your hands on a copy of this book before you read another review that gives too much away.

Splitting Off is a best-case scenario debut. It allows Triny Finlay to demonstrate her skill, grace and versatility like a jock - maybe not then a Barbie girl after all but a climber of trees, a soccer player. She might be showing off as she kicks another one between the goal posts but she's so good you bite your green tongue til it turns purple. Better yet, grab your pen and start playing along. This is the kind of book that can inspire writers and non-writers alike to write; it aptly demonstrates that the potential for inspiration abounds. What we need to learn is not only where, but how, to look.

bloom oon Canadian Surrealist Journal
Vol. 1 No. 1 - January 2005

Laurie Fuhr's Review of <i>Splitting Off</i> in <i>bloom oon</i>

"Triny Finlay's Splitting Off is declaratory poetry. She writes a fast line: an arrow shot with little trajectory but great speed... Her approach is sensual/erotic/wet, this in a country parka-ed, toqued, and frozen for half the year. She's moving mountains to bring us exotica. 'You think I am different./ You don't know difference' (35). That is indeed what we wish our poets to do: make a difference/ make it different."
-Andrew Vaisius, Prairie Fire

Prairie Fire

"Inventive, quick, charged with appetites, these poems realize a lively, engaged poetic intelligence. Triny Finlay's Splitting Off is a marvelous debut, a highly accomplished book, versatile and confident in pleasure and form."
-Sharon Thesen

Sharon Thesen

"Finlay's first collection of poems articulates her contemporary woman's sensibility while quoting, paraphrasing, and alluding to literary works of the past. Finlay's incorporation of literary forebears structurally and thematically gives depth to the poems...her poetry in Splitting Off, is already brilliantly accomplished.
-Thomas M.F. Gerry, Canadian Book Review

Canadian Book Review

"Splitting Off is a best-case scenario debut. ... it aptly demonstrates that the potential for inspiration abounds."
-Laurie Fuhr, bloom oon Canadian Surrealist Journal

bloom oon

"Throughout Splitting Off, intimate scenes are created and emotions are transmitted without extraneous melodrama, without histrionics. Finlay has presented a relaxed rationality so the reader can revaluate symbolic objects. Via her speakers, she has render a humble stoicism, a private logic."
-Michael Lockett, The Fiddlehead

The Fiddlehead

"Triny Finlay's voice is unique, sensual and muscular. Her poems are threatening and seductive; we're pulled in by our faith in the everyday objects that fill them and find ourselves led willingly into a sinister domestic wilderness that surely lives somewhere just down the block. This is poetry of intense, feral beauty."
-Sean Johnston

Sean Johnston

"Finlay's dry mixture of cynicism and epicurean delight struck me as very much of the moment, capturing a particularly modern disillusionment that comes from searching for love in today's landscape of gender politics."
-Sonnet L'Abbe, Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

"In Triny Finlay's Splitting Off, all objects are erotic--they reach out to you: pinking shears, seductive omelettes, a fine-boned teacup. A kiss and there are 'flashes of sweet, gapped-teeth lacunae infuriating the room.' She knows the innards of words, and has a painter's eye for detail. A mistress of impersonations, she plays riffs on family, friends, freaks. A wonderful debut collection."
-Rosemary Sullivan

Rosemary Sullivan

"Splitting Off is a tour through a talented early poet's rigorous testing of her own voice, through a range of poetic styles and devices, from momentum-heavy prose pieces to taut couplets and sonnet-variations to one of the best glosas I've ever read: "Winter Ritual," which avoids the standard pitfall of paling in comparision to the four-line quotation around which it is built...Finlay is sharp, rhythmically masterful, and playful."
-Anita Lahey, ARC: Canada's National Poetry Magazine

ARC: Canada's National Poetry Magazine

"Finlay's ability to create unexpected, colourful images is impressive..."
-Melissa Price, The McGill Tribune

McGill Tribune

"This is the work of poetry; this is the kind of talent I require to hold attention; this is the debut that seems as if it could have been written instead by a pseudonymous ten-book poet; this is poetry that seems so shaped, so aged, so ripe, so playful, so idiosyncratic (save for the snake in the grass cliché) that it can only come from one consciousness -- splitting off, as it were. With this book, Triny Finlay has made her mark."
-Shane Neilson,

Shane Neilson

Other titles by Triny Finlay