A Terrific Review for Lang's Work of Days

By Douglas Barbour
Edmonton Journal

Sarah Lang begins her first book with a witty linguistic bang: "Hibiscus, hibiscus, hibiscus, rolls / of a hip, an eye remembers like a / great flowering (this is my big break)." I'm not sure there's really anything like "a big break" in poetry, but this just sings pizzazz and chutzpah. And the rest of The Work of Days pays off on this promise.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Lang did her undergraduate work at the University of Alberta before getting a master of fine arts in writing at Brown University in Providence, R.I., where she studied with poets like C.D. Wright and Forrest Gander. She's also a fine photographer. The Work of Days announces a brilliant new talent already at the top of her game. In three sections, it offers a fractured tale of relationships broken and tossed aside, fragments of loss and foundering, all in the guise of nearly conventional lyrics, rendered in a range of possible languages.

In the first part, Lang borrows from The Farmer's Almanac, in the second from the vocabulary of occult, and in the third she entertains institutional jargon while breaking it up. Throughout, the phrases and terms from these discourses interrupt the ongoing meditation on love and loss that is rendered all the more fictional and truthful by the broken languages in which it is told.

Lang demonstrates a wide-ranging knowledge and understanding, as well as a devilishly clever ability to use the sentence within the poetic line to devastating emotional effect.

The individual poems range from fragments taken from the three discourses she parasitically uses through traditional-looking lyrics to prose pieces. Lang's control of form is matched by the turns of wit in each statement.

There's the stark rational argument of "The process of not having remembered differs greatly from that of forgetting: there is no record to misplace." But it's important to understand that both the figure of her narrator, and the structure of the whole sequence is carefully constructed. Lang can also deliver an apparently traditional lyric cry: But here, light begins as water rising to break as a body falls. A Chinook over patched ground. You are as a ghost, a stray hair blurred in a photograph already gone. How to remember and in what hue.

Lang finds a place for many other formal ploys, all of which contribute to the implied story.

To refer to various parts of this carefully constructed sequence misses the way in which Lang has arranged the whole, setting up witty and strangely tender connections, an aura of awkward sadness the speaker cannot, for all her intelligence and wit, escape.

The Work of Days is a terrific debut, partly because it is such a mature esthetic construct, a genuine work. We can expect to hear much more from Lang, an already striking poet.

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