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Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names

by Soraya Peerbaye

In many ways, the debut collection from Toronto-based playwright and translator Soraya Peerbaye is a typical, even generic first book, built on rather serious free-verse and prose lyrics, and anecdotes focused on family history, post-colonial cultural identity, and travel.

Peerbaye originally hails from Mauritius, and many of the poems reflect the island’s Creole dialect. The book’s second poem, for instance, is titled “Zistoire,” which the glossary tells us is Creole for “story.” Any promise the poem might hold for zesty narration, however, is doused by a dull-as-ditchwater, self-conscious opening line, complete with a clumsy repetition: “I’ve learned that the story comes from the invitation to come in.”

There is not much grotesquely bad about the collection, but neither is there much that leaps off the page. In an early poem, “Disque,” and in fits and starts elsewhere, Peerbaye demonstrates that she is far from deaf to the musical dimension of mimetic language: “Not the fumble for cassettes, / the noisy sputter and catch / of sprockets in the deck’s / mechanism.” But this sort of assonant and alliterative play most often yields to the flat rhythms of expository prose larded with inconsequential, presumably factual, details.

There’s more poetry in a single image like “the cricket-quilted dark” than in page after page of agram-bagram (the Creole term for “this and that”). Much of this book reads like early drafts awaiting the adze. This is a debut that shows glimmers of promise, but its author seems not to trust her better instincts as an artist.