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Poetry Canadian

Waking Occupations


by (author) Phoebe Wang

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2022
Canadian, Women Authors, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2022
    List Price

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The second collection from the acclaimed author of Admission Requirements.

This astonishing new collection of poems contemplates our obligations to live in a creative, generative, and revolutionary way amid a cascade of global contingencies.

In a four-part meditation on what it means to live on occupied land and in colonial time, the subject of these poems has moved beyond arriving and departing and wakes each day to meet her commitments and to heal from complicities, exclusions, difficult truths and the pandemic of forgetting. It follows the figure of the female artist as a time-travelling woman, embodied by mother and daughter, through the gallery of memory. The poems enact brief encounters with objects, events, and works of art that hold us accountable. Finally, a set of shadow elegies mourn what the next generation has already lost, while searching for traces of the wild and for ceremonies that might mend us.

Waking Occupations is an urgent, essential collection that considers what we carry from previous generations and our liabilities to the cyclical nature of the work that uplifts us.

About the author

Phoebe Wang was born in Ottawa and currently lives in Toronto, where she writes and teaches. She holds a BA in English from York University and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. She is the author of two chapbooks, Occasional Emergencies (2013) and Hanging Exhibits (2016), and was the 2015 winner of Prism international's Poetry Contest. Admission Requirements is her debut collection of poetry.

Phoebe Wang's profile page

Excerpt: Waking Occupations: Poems (by (author) Phoebe Wang)

for a Veneer of Progress

When I concede a fictional country, I gain a battleground,
wake stunned as if under attack and come to relearn
the architecture of my sloughed-off clothing, my uniform
of striped shirts and rigid black jeans splayed books,
unagitated water glass, brass and silver chains
fastening light to the wall, holding it accountable.
Another time I rose from a rush mat on the floor,
fastened myself into hooks and eyes heard myself
named by honorific nonexistent from the record of harvests
except as a handprint in dust an unscripted drama.
Another time I masked as a boy and vanished to sea.
So this morning that is a rupture is a gain of sorts
though the body is still contested under ribbed occupation
and to rise under the deadweight of progress
is to unlatch myself from soft, enveloping creases
is to overcome the paralysis of productive time while enfolding
in my collars and eyelids acts of sleepless refusal.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Phoebe Wang and Waking Occupations

“Traversing the personal and the collective, Phoebe Wang’s Waking Occupations offers profound meditations on creativity and survival that honor artistic works as sites of memory, and that recognize the poet and artist as memory-keeper. Rich in ache and eloquence, these poems thrive in their gifting of language and sonic fluidities reaching across time and space. Wang’s collection restores toward a new futurity while refusing to be forgotten.” —Mai Der Vang, author of Yellow Rain
“The politics of this collection are experiential, immersive, are breathed in and out of the living body, waking or sleeping. The voice is often calm, meditative, but shot through with urgencies. I read the first poem again and again, couldn’t get over its uncannily embodied portrait of colonial trespass inflected by a doubleness of identity—a poem that is truly an 'embrace in reverse.' The subsequent poems are infused with the same intelligence, imagistic vividness and rich responsiveness to the world of and beyond the self. Read this book and feel your nerve endings extending more deeply into the multiple spheres of life you inhabit.” —Sue Sinclair, author of Heaven’s Thieves
“‘We had stable conditions until we didn’t,’ Wang writes, inviting us to glean insights from collective history and art. These poems are a precise calm in the midst of stormy weather, salvaging life’s humble moments from the catastrophe that is history, refusing monstrous calculations, and gifting us the possibility of a future, even when the system's odds have been stacked against life itself. Without guarantees, this book honestly attends to life.” —Rita Wong, author of beholden: a poem as long as the river

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