Spotlight series #80 : Nanci Lee

rob mclennan
3 min readDec 5, 2022

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Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.

STATEMENT

Poems are how I metabolize, calibrate, recalibrate. A way of climbing back into my body. Sitting with something that’s moved or puzzled me. Or playing with a different ending. It’s one of the closest things I know to freedom. When I’m struggling, I have a bit of a fractured sense of self and that plays out in my poems, their forms. Somehow in poetry, I can sit more comfortably with fragments and silence, not quite knowing. I love muscular art at the edge of understanding that reminds us to feel. These days I’m fascinated with rupture and repair, how we cobble ourselves and our circles back to something resembling whole. We’re such a hot mess of bodies. I’m playing with a verse novel about the role of art and fantasy and ceremony in the cobbling.

TWO POEMS

Binary

I am not
what you think or
see, not what you need.
Not Arab or Asian, not
chosen not that.
Not their real
kid. I heard not
real, took it as licence -
witches dreaming me
real before dawn.
Parts of me I am
but wouldn’t claim.
That’s awkward. I’m
not a shikamoo but I love
the word in my mouth.
Adopt what I need.
Just loved Bugs Bunny
dodging the artist brush
erasing him. Not beyond
tweaking you see I’ve been
done before. Same body
different verse. Same verse
different form. I’m not cagy
or cunning. Just the gift of a
body that cannot lie. So many
ways to be singular. Infinite.
Can you see me yet? I’m not
nature or nurture,
neither nor both. To be honest
I’m not sure but I’ll play if you
let me. Of course, I’m not being
serious and I’m not quite through.

Hors commerce

Began as an inventor in orthotics of all things.
First wheelchairs to tilt. Next phase,

the sink of poems pressed to their edge.
Few span ground and sky so well.

Toad and eagle my Jungian told me. You’re
all fire and water. Need more earth, clear seeing.

Staying with Hugh is close. We nap in the day,
play with letters and ink, talk Cuba and Rothko.

There are those who look for imperfection he told me,
and those who sees what’s possible.

He stumbles daily to split the metal, tweeze the type
and start again. And again. Block, press, check

the pressure, the letters, that the ink has taken,
travelled well into St. Armand’s Autumn leaves.

As the weight of the press urges the paint
with each revolution, I think alchemy but it’s

wider. More like antidote or politic unspooled.
“Hors commerce” he added to my list

of new words: ligature, quoin. Bind and chase.
Closes the press with a single malt toast.

Art that bleeds by god, he’d say, calling me even
on romanticizing letter press. Off off your high horse, he chuckles.

Insists on carrying the box with that bloody weak heart of his,
offended at my offers to help, to pay every time at the diner.

I don’t need don’t need need charity he said, missing my fumble.
The gesture caught between our masculinities.

Take this money, I said, grabbing some poets to go.
No, send me a cheque in the mail the way we used to.

You’re just trying to get a Christmas card out of me, I said.
That’s what I do. That’s just what I do.

Nanci Lee (she/her) is a Chinese-Syrian poet and facilitator. When not writing or playing outdoors, Nanci works for Tatamagouche Centre, a spiritual and justice-oriented learning and retreat centre. Nanci’s work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, The Malahat Review, Matrix Magazine, The Antigonish Review, The Literary Review of Canada, The Fiddlehead, Rattle Magazine, This Magazine, and various anthologies. Hsin is her first trade-length book (Brick Books, April 2022). Chapbooks Preparation (Free Fall, 2016) (short-listed for the bpNichol Chapbook Award) and Hsin (Thee Hellbox Press, 2016) are contained in this book. A racialized settler, Nanci is based in Mi’kmaki (Nova Scotia), unceded, unsurrendered Mi’kmaw territory.

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