My Favorite Poem in “Forage” by Rita Wong

I’ve always been a supreme fan of poetry. Having written my own shitty verses for decades now, I took a scholastic approach in college and spent a long time learning about post-modern poetry and the various veins of expression that modern poets took.

The idea of poetry strikes me as the highest form of language. It takes all the pieces of language that matter: context, sound, rhythm, pace, emotion, truth, shape, form, purpose, and places them into a package where all of the beauty of words can be experienced in one place.

Rita Wong is a Canadian poet who has authored several collections of note. Her words take a very semantic dissection of heavy topics such as the environment, social justice, decolonization, and the way in which human beings can take words and assemble them in a poetic fashion to elicit emotional truths and evoke change through a unity of experience.

In her words:

“A poem can begin with a feeling, a word, a sound, an experience, an intuition. I tend to write short bits that accumulate over time. There are recurring obsessions and themes, though they are not always conscious when I begin writing.”

This approach to gathering your thoughts as they spring up in your mind instead of trying to force ideas to flow freely is akin to my own creative process. When I sit down and “try” to write, nothing comes. I can spew out very robotic, calculated phrases, but it doesn’t pour from me organically the way it does when a certain kind of muse strikes me.

Her second collection, Forage, (from which I’m taking the poem “resuscitate” to talk about here) criticizes the way western society uses force and power politics while taking the time to work in various poetic styles to reinforce her points.

In the margins, you’ll find pictures and quotes that help reiterate the points of the poetry and also give a historical and modern look at the state of countries rebuilding themselves from within after decolonization and the wills of power-hungry people. It takes special care to explain the pitfalls and lingering effects these dynamic shifts can have on a populace and an individual, from self-identity to self-worth.

The poem opens with an immediate death metaphor, but also draws me into a sort of romantic sensibility or a cry to a lover to fit into a certain mold:

“could sleep for centuries until you break my skin, draw up my mutinous juices, could lie fallow and expectant, dormant through winters of discontent, seasons of ceaseless rain, could be graphed and quartered and undergo the hand of cartographers until the northern lights dim with exhaustion,…”

The speaker is talking about being docile and overly-accommodating. The term “fallow” being used to invoke the period that a field is plowed and left unsown in order to restore its fertility. The speaker will weather the storm of unsatisfying love and affection and lay dormant until those “mutinous juices” or the gas fire of opinion and life-bringing energy wells up inside once again.

The “hand of cartographers” implies the unfair mapping, categorizing, and “quartering” or disassembling of her body and identity at the hands of an onlooker. It makes me visualize a judge applying regions to someone’s sense of self without their agency.

“…still you might never appear in the incarnation i desire, the precise contour of resolve and steadfast sinew i seek to anchor my sororitas surges, my maternal imperatives, my infant divinations, are you hurricane or torrent, engineer’s shovel or crane’s lament?”

The speaker is disappointed in someone’s position in their life. The need for someone to be resolute, strong, and able to wrangle feelings of sisterhood, motherhood, and child-like assumptions is communicated bluntly.

Asking “are you hurricane or torrent, engineer’s shovel or crane’s lament?” breaks down a question of accountability and power. A hurricane is a force of unbridled energy while a torrent is contained and controlled into a useful stream of energy instead of shapeless mass. An engineer’s shovel is a useful metaphor for describing intent and deliberate action instead of a crane’s lament which is movement under the control of another.

This particular part of the poem always resonated with me because it is a question that all humans must contend with. Are we masters of our own destiny in the driver’s seat or are we simply the tools of someone more powerful and influential than ourselves and we’re driven solely by the need to please them?

The poem ends with extremely poignant imagery of the mark that humankind can leave on the world:

“…could wrap our spent bodies into the textures of igneous, sediment, underground streams until the crows and ravens chatter distress in suburban neighbourhoods, in hopes our porous husks feed hunters, gatherers, compassionate world-eaters”

Is all the trying worth it? We all end up used up, encased in stone, our energy flowing through underground streams. Our only worth comes when the crows and ravens in suburban neighborhoods speak our names and our tragedies, an allusion to the way that world crises only seem to become a matter worth talking about once they reach white, wealthy, western areas.

The speaker’s final hope is that their porous husks, their fragile forms, will leave some lasting and positive impact on the next wave of men who consume the planet for their means, assuming they have compassionate intent.

The liner of the page reads:

“I would rather unleash fire than have fire unleash me.” – Richard Van Camp

This quote sums up the feeling of the poem very succinctly. We are to be the agents of our self-identity, self-worth, and the impact we have on the world around us. It is not for tragedy and unexpected horrors to shape us, but for us to unleash the explosive force within before we let it take control. We are the masters of our own perspective.

I hope you enjoyed reading this poetry treatment as much as I did writing it and I highly recommend picking up this book of poetry, if you’re interested in the subject matter.

Why Art is an Essential Element of Human Life

“The Purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Creation is at the core of the human experience. By the time we’re old enough to recognize ourselves in a mirror, we’re expected to begin crafting an identity. We’re constantly forming sounds, words, phrases, likes, dislikes, symbolic representations of our emotions, and imbibing and regurgitating our understanding of the world around us. Thus is the core of art.

Collective Experience

Art is all about letting your deepest emotions present themselves in a way that throws up a digestible signal to people who are attuned to it. It’s sharing.

The best art in the world is seen as such because it’s relatable. Whether you’re watching a film, reading a book, listening to a song, or staring at a picture in an art gallery, the voice that you’re trying to hear is the artist’s. You’re only able to read and pick up on the signals because of the universality of the message being conveyed.

As much as we like to pretend we’re such vastly different people, we all go through many of the same challenges and doubts and experiences. Like any good character study, however, it’s how we deal with these situations and persist as living creatures that defines who we are. I’m not saying the serial killer is equivalent to the selfless volunteer, but they’ve all walked over some of the same crossroads.

It’s these intersecting paths and common perceptions that form the basis of art. Whether grotesque or beautiful in the popular eye, different things look different ways to different people. This is the crux of why art is so important to life. It allows you to find a shared voice among all the chaos.

The Whimsy of Amusement

“People had been working for so many years to make the world a safe, organized place. Nobody realized how boring it would become. With the whole world property-lined and speed-limited and zoned and taxed and regulated, with everyone tested and registered and addressed and recorded. Nobody had left much room for adventure, except maybe the kind you could buy. On a roller coaster. At a movie. Still, it would always be that kind of faux excitement. You know the dinosaurs aren’t going to eat the kids. The test audiences have outvoted any chance of even a major faux disaster. And because there’s no possibility of real disaster, real risk, we’re left with no chance for real salvation. Real elation. Real excitement. Joy. Discovery. Invention.   The laws that keep us safe, these same laws condemn us to boredom.”

Chuck Pahlaniuk, Choke

Many practical people will say that art is a frivolous thing, but I would have to disagree. Sure, we’re living in a society as fat, first world Americans in which we have the luxury of philosophizing. Those of us who never go without food on the table or lights when it’s dark outside don’t have to worry about how we’re getting our next meal or providing the basic necessities of live. This glib outlook only further punctuates the need for art in everyday life. It’s an escape.

The mundane nature of the middle class lifestyle is a constant merry-go-round of bemusement, boredom, sadness, happiness, joy, excitement, and back to boredom. It’s a long, even keel marked by seldom moments of happiness. As honest as I can stomach it, the moments in which I’m expressing myself and creating something unique are the moments where I feel most at ease.

When you feel that spark of inspiration that crawls behind your eyes and allows you to spew out a colorful array of thoughts that you always believed you couldn’t translate, it feels good. Every human is a creator by nature and everyone can pinpoint a time in their life where they felt such a moment of clarity. It’s like a breath of fresh air that overtakes your senses and gives you a few, brief, shining moments of extreme honesty and cleanliness of thought. Your swirling thought loops pause for a moment and marvel at something that you simply must say, for the good of your being. It could be a drawing, a melody, or a poem, but it falls out of you like liquid from a leaky valve and there’s no greater feeling.

Like reading a great book, art allows you to walk away from the dullness of life for a little while. It gives that little extra umami to your average taste of life. It’s everything you need when you’re feeling particularly down or particularly up. Art lets us imagine what could be instead of settling for what is.

Justification for Existence

Consciousness is a tricky nut to crack. Outside of physiological processes, there’s still no concrete answer as to why it’s evolutionarily superior to exist with self-awareness than without it. Our brain exists as a relational database for this reason. We’re always looking for ways to process the world around us, store that knowledge, and use earlier comparisons to quantify and qualify that stored knowledge. Art negotiates values between us and the world.

Two of the most misunderstood aspects of life are love and death. When you try to put either of them into simplistic words, they don’t carry enough weight. Straightforward language does little to encapsulate the incalculable mass of these two concepts. Love is almost cosmic and otherworldly while death is life’s greatest mystery. We all arrive at the same place, but we have no idea where that leaves us. Without art, we couldn’t even begin to touch on understanding the emotion behind these things.

Art is the tangible medium by which we, as humans, explore and search for an answer to our very existence. Why do we choose to proliferate? It’s these value judgements based on beauty and understand and purpose that guide us. Art is behind so many of these motivations.


Creating any form of art is also the only time, as sentient beings, that we’re truly free. Plucking a thought from your head and displaying it in any fashion you see fit is an act of rebellion. You’re taking your inner monologue that is constantly hidden in plain sight and reproducing its contents to put on display. Whether it’s shared with a handful of friends or an entire generation of people, the fact that you broke down the fourth wall that separates you from others is courageous.

Art is the free expression of the human mind and senses. These expressions are not beholden to any kind of utility, but rather they exist for their own sake.  It is a reflection of our innermost humanity.

However, it also exists as a tragic burden. The ever-growing distance between our most idealistic self and its actualization, that infinite universe between raw data and metaphors. We, as animals, struggle each moment to close that chasm, knowing its futility.

Art, in the plainest terms, does not matter. We, as peons milling around a blue sphere, do not matter. That’s what makes both art and life so beautiful: they exist without needing to.

Just like those indescribable ideas of love and death, we cannot live without it.