When was the last time you gave yourself the treat of cracking open a new book of poetry? Cristina Holman’s new chapbook, Stop Wincing / We’re Fine introduces via 17 short pieces, a talented and highly entertaining new voice in poetry or for that matter, in any style of writing coming out of Canada’s West Coast. You don’t need to be a poetry fan to love this, nor do you need to take yourself too seriously to appreciate it.
Stop Wincing / We’re Fine is a product of the Artspeak Studio for Emerging Writers’ 2017/18 session and is beautifully bound by Vancouver’s Moniker Press. Holman is one of six talents shepherded by program director / poet and UBC Creative Writing lecturer, Sheryda Warrener.
The object itself is cleverly designed with a two-sided cover in bright neon orange, one side titled “Stop Wincing” and the other, “We’re Fine.” There is no indication of which is the front and which the back — it reminds me of the punk pop band Buzzcocks’ singles, where one side is labeled Side A and the other Side One, no preference intended.
On the page, the poems appear visually rhythmic, engaging both the reader’s eye and intellect. Holman’s observation plays upon a cascade of ideas with seemingly effortless verbal calisthenics, at times calling to mind Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem, “Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15).”
“my father says my brother thinks I’m smart
my mother says fog
makes her feel like a lobster in a cosmic pot
I sip my mix of mercury and argon”
As with music, poetry is meant to be heard aloud. Not yet having had the opportunity to attend a reading by the poet, I can only imagine how hilariously some of these would go over. This is virtually poetry as stand-up material: The Button-Down Mind of Cristina Holman.
These lines are from her poem “On Normalcy and Snack Practices:”
“Guarded, on the subject of coffee,
a coworker confesses he has
ten-cup days but today is a twelve-cup day.
On main I meet a woman
who ends calls to her mother
with a quick “Hail Satan!” before the click.”
I laughed out loud frequently while enjoying this chapbook, and yet there are moments of deep consideration of existential questions, as conveyed in the poem “Matters.” Ostensibly about a sailing mishap, it explores the ultimate question: what is the meaning of existence? With the poet self-talking her way from nihilism and fear through hopeful surrender, and finally, acceptance and exaltation:
Mattering or not it is vast. I strong-arm my attention to it,
the strangers that perplex me. And if I am vexed,
I’ll turn from the slumping NOTHING, open up and yell
EVERYTHING! EVERYTHING! EVERYTHING!
as I run from it.”
Stop Wincing / We’re Fine is available online via Artspeak.