anomalia, Cadence Chung, We Are Babies Press, 2022
scrapes and yellow bruises on her knees, she
is learning the terrain, learning that some things
cut and some things stain, she is learning
that the sky above is full of balls of light
that you can’t touch or feel or taste
she is getting used to the injustice of it all.
from ‘specimen ‘332: the astronomer’
anomalia is Cadence Chung’s debut collection, and was written during her final year of secondary school in Wellington. She has been writing since she was young, and began publishing in her teens. Cadence has made two demo albums and her musical Blind Faith was staged at her secondary school in 2021. She hit the poetry headlines with ‘Shadows / shades’, a poem she wrote in response to NZQA using a poem by white supremacist and murderer Lionel Terry in a Level 2 History exam.
The collection’s opening poem, ‘abstract’, underlines how anomalia heightens a sense of the imprecise, the irregular. Stare at a word long enough, say it often enough, and it slips into the unfamiliar, the unpredictable, the unsteady. The word ‘abstract’ may reference a summary that acts as prelude or doorway. It may be ideas that stand as theoretical window. Or the removal that signals a clearance from expected settings. The word/idea/flashpoint bounces me back to the title of the book, and I am musing on how a word wobbles on the line, how this thought or that gesture, this appearance or that choice, deviates from expectation.
Poetry is a perfect place to contest everyday anomalies. The word may wobble on the line, but the word on the line can emit light, can resist subjugation. And Cadence’s poetry demonstrates this.
Poetry is a perfect place to celebrate the present tense, to make use of the gerund, the present participle, in order to keep moving: to keep searching, collecting, surrendering, dissecting, loving, pretending, existing, recurring.
Cadence’s collection is a curious curiosity cabinet with its recurring motifs and themes: cicada, vivisect, blood, science, anxiety, specimens, antique shops, milk(y), love. But it is more than that. It is more than physicality. Cadence has probed into the tender flesh of being human, with scalpel and penetrating lens, and laid the seeping wounds and insights into the clearing that is poem.
There is the insistent and constant need to classify, sort, catalogue or vivisect the specimen. The specimen may be a gathered object, a body’s organ, but I also see it as self. The poet is driven to sort, classify, catalogue, vivisect self. It is the beating heart, the fragile state. It is elusive and unknowable. Self is placed in display cabinet. Self becomes cabinet. Self becomes poem. And if the specimen is dismembered, split open, if the self is vivisected, this is poetry of pain, hurt, danger, vulnerability.
The floating and ambiguous ‘me’ is more than body parts. It is astonishing to peer into the glass cabinet of the poem and hit the sharp edge of anomaly. Where the most important things (I love you) are incommunicable. Where sorrow is easily categorised but matches no category. Where uncertainty is a certainty. Where life is sonnets and getting tender about mushrooms, a flirting moon. And life is ‘patching together / every scrap and semblance i know of’. Also from the poem ‘that’s why they call me missus fahrenheit’: ‘Because everything’s too bitter / to not suck on the sweet bits’.
Oh and scientist poet, poet scientist, becomes dissident. They long to subvert the results, the order – and gore becomes glitter cluster. From ‘anatomy’: ‘keep trying to understand the strange strange anatomy / of existence’.
The collection has hooked onto my skin, down my breathing passages. The poetry is provisional anchor. Searchlight. Distress signal. Gritty field. Self reflection.
anomalia is a breathtaking debut.
like i have admired
everything in my life
and without hesitation
how could i not?
when there are
drawers full of herbs
pictures of distant towns
long-gone family crests
love letters to dispense
from heart-covered machines
for a penny each
how could i not?
when i am so used
to being collected
like dust between pages
like sludge in a gutter
like eyeliner on skin
left to sit
how could i not?
when i am lonely so
everything reminds me
from ‘tuesday afternoon, my beloved’
We Are Babies page
Rebecca Hawkes launch speech
We Are Babies pick ‘anatomy’ on Poetry Shelf