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by Evelyn Lau

Evelyn Lau’s latest poetry collection contains her signature bleak insights into relationships with an added twist: the poems are written in the second-person voice. The poems in Treble address a variety of subjects, mainly relationships with men, with a keen eye and an intimate voice. But the drawbacks – repetition of themes and subject, jarring transitions – weaken what could have been Lau’s finest work.

Lau uses her own past – including her years as a prostitute – to better flesh out her poems, many of which focus on marital affairs. In “The Divorce House,” Lau points out the sadness in “gum wadded/under sofas and banisters,/a zoo of toys.” While riding in a car in “Travelling Nowhere,” infidelity is tinged with guilt: “I am sitting/in the wife’s seat and when you reach for me/you reach into your past.”

This emotional tug enriches the individual poems but eventually hurts the collection: going over the same subject matter, directed at a nameless “you,” turns Treble into one long letter that needed to be condensed. The persistent longing in the poems stretches the reader’s patience, even when the writing is beautifully tender. Lau’s metaphors and attention to detail make the poems as readable as her prose, but the abrupt endings and confusing transitions disrupt momentum.

Lau’s rare departures from her usual path stand out. In “Forced Knowledge,” she addresses a Serbian soldier who murdered 29 Muslims, telling him “you know you have the power to take something away/without the power to give it back.” Her imagination roams wildly in these less autobiographical poems. It’s a shame Lau didn’t take advantage of her curious mind to expand her thematic range even further.


Reviewer: David Silverberg

Publisher: Polestar Books/Raincoast Books


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 112 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55192-789-6

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2005-4

Categories: Poetry