USEREVIEW 099 (Capsule): An Orchid Astronomy

Jade Wallace/ October 19, 2022/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Tasnuva Hayden
An Orchid Astronomy (University of Calgary Press, 2022)
ISBN 978-1-77385-271-3 | 196 pp | $24.99 CAD | BUY Here


Tasnuva Hayden’s debut poetry collection is a weighty 186 pages of poetry, segmented into 5 long, semi-narrative poems (ranging from 28 to 40 pages each), variously titled, and 10 short poems (1 page each), titled after, and focusing on, individual constellations. The semi-narrative poems orbit around particular subjects, which are both as changeless and changing as the constellations’: the young Sophie, who functions as a speaker and sort of protagonist; Sophie’s Mamma who died by suicide; a nebulous lover; an orchid; a tin of biscuits; reindeer; an enigmatic, folkloric figure called Sarvvis; and the vanishing ice of Norway.

One feels a persistent melancholia in these poems, not because the poems are overly concerned with feelings — in fact, they scarcely if ever mention emotion directly — but because of Hayden’s skillful imagistic evocation, and her representation of Sophie’s earnest grasping for a sense of meaning. Sophie offers up pieces of her life in sentence fragments, or simple subject-verb-object sentences, with her more loquacious turns of phrase reserved for rote but grandiose facts about the universe. Through this stylistic choice, Hayden reflects a young person’s desperately sincere attempts to situate herself (and the frail details of her life) like a small celestial body among far larger, quasi-universal truths, as the loneliness of the landscape and the coming apocalypse bear down upon her.

Recommended excerpt:

It is both incredibly difficult and unbelievably easy to select an excerpt from this work, because of the recapitulatory nature of the text. Actions and symbols echo. Sections of a movement in a sonata. My choice of a segment from ‘Polaris’ (p. 110) is both arbitrary and as usefully illustrative as any other.

Jade Wallace is the Reviews Editor for CAROUSEL. More:

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