At first a casual reader might think that Brian Chan was a private poet of the inner self, but that is not the case. For him, acts of inward reflection, intimate communication, the gestures and institutions of human solidarity and the affairs of state are all indivisibly connected. He sees people torn between the need to reach out, because to live alone is ‘too heavy a reminder of the soul’s slightness’ and the temptations to corral within safe boundaries, to fall into the tribalism of nostalgia for ‘one mother-tongue or the investment of cowards’. For Chan, such tensions bedevil both human societies and such intimate relationships as marriage. Concerning the latter, for instance, he celebrates most movingly what remains after ‘every flood and dove of our heart’s peaked ark’ but also writes of ‘the cage that even the most sacred contract could not but spore’.
He writes as a Guyanese (this ‘mudcrab’) living in the prairies of Canada, where the ‘wind’s scythe slashes in a dark scar through screams of grass’, who has left ‘one tribe behind’, who, in search of a ‘free state’ has felt the need to escape colonies ‘abandoned to a mess/ of incestuous whispers and stunned tributes to indifferent ghosts’, who has lived closer than most to the rages of an ethnically divided society where he has seen ‘the numbness of his drunken brothers bent/on raping one another’s sisters’.
But Chan retains of vision of people who ‘know all their lives are a web/ of interlocked spreading circles’, and the dream of a ‘a kind of home’ with its ‘promise of binding of all coals/into one flame as strong as each coal’s dying’.
At the heart of Chan’s obliquely political vision is the conviction that ‘all is given to be handed on’, that miracles can happen if they are ‘not erased by a collector’s itch to own them to dust’. He stares into an abyss of numb, meaningless emptiness, rages against the cages, but keeps faith with love and pride in his ‘brave human comrades’ who keep like faith.
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Brian Chan grew up in Guyana. He is an accomplished musician and painter, and now lives in Edmonton, Canada.
Published: 26 May 2008