Sweet Devilry is the winner of the 2012 Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada.
Yi-Mei Tsiang’s debut collection, Sweet Devilry, explores the tenderness of loss that informs motherhood as well as the power and the conflict that come with being a woman. Both celebration and elegy, these poems find their centre in familial love. Lyric and traditional, though attuned to the visual and the experimental, Sweet Devilry also has a whimsical, and sometimes biting, sense of humour. Tsiang’s smart, imaginative, and emotionally resonant work offers a keen and woman-centred perspective on the stories we tell ourselves about love, personal and societal struggle, and the inevitability of death.
What people are saying about the book:
“This is a book to treasure. This is a poet to watch. These are poems to savour. They are an impressive mix of tender, beguiling, and wise. Tsiang is bound to become a formidable voice in Canadian poetry.”
“These poems put a stake through the heart of any romantic notions we might have that motherhood and the creative process are not compatible. Witty, poignant, wise, memorable, this is a book to savour, and, oh, what the hell…I totally love this utterly great new poet and think everybody should read her book.”
This book of fine and graceful poems sweeps the reader toward birth and death with equal grace. “My daughter, on a bed/ of leaves, as if she had fallen/from the sky.” In Visit, she writes of her dead father:
He smelled of apples, an autumn of leaves
for skin. I remember you like this, I said,
a harvest—an orchard of a man.
He opened his shirt, plucked a plum
From his lungs and held it out to me.
Everything, he said, is a way of remembering.
And so Yi-Mei Tsiang helps us remember: her joy, her daughter, her grief, her father.”
“Through such focused images, Tsiang guides her readers to difficult places, to questions often painful to confront as mothers, as women, as neighbors, and as individuals reckoning with the archetypes that society uses to define them. Tsiang reminds us to look beyond the test result, the canned advice, and the stock character into the complex problems we face as individuals operating in a world that sometimes works against us. She examines the space between expectations and daily reality, and writes poems that acknowledge both the beauty and the struggle in life.”
“Yes, many of Tsiang’s poems deal with the fragility of life, and though this concept is not uncommon, it allows for accessibility; her style is pared-down, and this simplicity is effective in bringing attention and a sense of wonder to, well, exceptional simplicity: life, birth, and death. Exceptional because these experiences are inevitable, yet they hold complexity, remaining slightly outside of our reasoning. In this sense, alongside her individual poetic observations, Tsiang provides a fresh voice that is tender and forgiving of these mysteries.”
~The Fiddlehead (Allison LaSorda)
“I’ve added Sweet Devilry to my list of essential Motherhood books. The first poem begins, “On the morning of your birth…” and contains the wonderful line, “Learn a good latch, kiddo–/ it pays to hold on/ to someone you love.” And from then on, the book was unputdownable– I read it walking away from the bookstore all the way to the subway, even though my hands were cold.”
“Sweet Devilry celebrates the miracle of children while simultaneously staying true to the challenges of parenting…This book is a glass of wine with a good friend, one who understands, absolutely. Read it. And then read it again. And then buy another one (you won’t want to part with yours) for some mother you love.”
“It is hard to believe that this is a first book because the poets’ voice is so utterly confident and in stride…Tsiang’s poems are witty, they bristle with intelligence and humour. These poems are in turn haunting and hilarious, all the more so because Tsiangs’ voice is one we are all comfortable with. The wise friend who calmly gives us perspective. Even though I am hearing her voice for the first time it is a voice, as a reader, that I trusted immediately…I was completely taken in by this book and enjoyed every minute of it – I don’t get to say that often enough.”
And here is a poem from the book: