The Gremlin’s Library: Unraveling by Elaine Marilyse

Elaine Marilyse is a disabled Anishinaabe poet who I’m quite happy to say that I inhabit the same local creative community as, and so Unraveling is one of those lovely pieces of work that I acquired at a zine-off at a coffee shop in Ottawa. Other ways of getting poetry are fun, too, but there’s something about sipping weird tea, trading books with homemade covers and excitedly talking about your projects with each other that has a charm all of its own.

Unraveling is also a perfect example of how some of the most hard-hitting poetry really is found in those environments. Hand-stapled chapbooks with photocopied covers rarely win Pushcart Prizes or Hugo Awards, but it’s in books like these that I find words that describe experiences I understand. Marilyse’s work in Unraveling in particular hits home in terms of dealing with a parent you might sympathize with, but are tired to death of dealing with. “Your Perspective” is an aching declaration that this time, they’re not getting any more slack, any more good faith, any more credit towards “their perspective”. And “Tightrope” taps into the sense of falling, the constant balance and exposed nerves, that come with complex PTSD and long-standing trauma. Not all of the poems are completely serious; “Ink” is full of Ottawa-specific references and talks about bodily autonomy with tattoos, about how the body doesn’t have to be a temple, and ends with a cheeky picture of ‘no ragrets’.

“I would have swallowed, in a heartbeat,
The poison core
For a chance to have my efforts rewarded,”

Your Perspective, p 23, Elaine Marilyse

I think tonally my favourite thing about Unraveling is that tonal fluidity; it’s like having a conversation with someone. It’s full of joking-around and casual gallows humor next to moments of vulnerability, bits that sidewind towards truth before bravely looking in the face and then glancing away again. “Awkward” feels like a criticism, but it’s a very human feeling, and when so much confessional free-verse-style poetry goes for a conversational style without nailing it, it’s very fun to see it done well.

Elaine Marilyse also makes a webcomic, and links to her works, projects and poetry are available through her twitter (@ourladyofcoffee) here!

A quote from “Tightrope” is used with permission as an epigraph in Ghosts in Quicksilver: Book Two: Sulfur.

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