ANGELINE KEK WRITTEN – To read The sunflower cast a spell to save us from the void by Jackie Wang is to return to familiarity delivered by mystifying means. In the surreal landscapes evoked by the speaker, we are shown a world largely made by an unbalanced mind. Yet in this we also see a reflection of our own imagination in its freest form: the mind taking the stage when the body is in a state of sleep. The speaker draws on the universal dream experience and delivers quick, cage-free extracts of confused dream-like landscapes where normality is certainly not a priority, as it never has been for wandering minds. These dreamy landscape pieces are accompanied by eccentric illustrations by Kalan Sherrard, resembling elaborate cave paintings and can only be described as “Never intact.” Always half dissolved â, much like the rest of the book.
The act of dream has long been a confusing puzzle for human civilizations of all ages. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Native Americans, among other cultures, believed that dreams were the means by which the gods and the universe conveyed their messages to humans, making dreams prophetic tools. Ancient texts from various civilizations detail a process called âdream incubationâ. Although specific rituals vary, some common concepts include offering a sacrifice, sleeping in a temple, and involving an oracle as a dream interpreter. In modern science, Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis suggests that dreaming is the brain’s way of resolving unconscious desires, motivations, and problems. As a result, dreams are the brain’s way of revealing things that are buried deep within our psyche and begging to be discovered.
Jackie Wang’s latest collection of poems is a living and breathing example of how Freud’s theory plays out in a literary landscape. As a work inspired by the author’s dreams, these poems certainly tend to unravel on themselves. However, that doesn’t mean there is an absence of strongly defined emotions, issues, social commentary, and a compelling voice. On the contrary, the premise of the dream only acts as a labyrinth through which readers come to larger ideas. Even though these destinations span the entire dreamlike landscape, many of them revert to themes of trauma and healing, the experience of the female minority, women’s rights, the value of the writing, self-doubt and the effects of the gaze and judgments of others. .
In Wang’s pages, the speaker presents a duality of voices intrinsic to human nature.
One: the vulnerable, naked voice that explores and reveals every thought fueled by anxiety, trauma, and the weight of existence. This voice is strongly present in “Instead of thickening my skin, I buy a neon hood”, where the intervening playwright finds himself in hiding from an obsessive and hateful critic. Although the speaker shuns criticism to “escape public scrutiny,” he realizes that in this game of hide and seek, fueled by enmity and demolition intent, there is a sense of intimacy. fanatic who only exists between those who care deeply about each other.
As the speaker continues this game of hide and seek with the critic in a shopping center, they reflect on the closeness between love and hate: love. It is possible that I confused his obsessive desire to possess me with love. Repulsion, fascination, hatred, intrigue. This dance of ambivalent reaction, this tense intimacy traps meâ¦ What I love about being hated as the interviewer hates me is that he is, in a sense, my only witness. Being watched and analyzed by others is a double-edged sword – the pleasure of being watched and the pain of being judged are symbiotic.
Two: the voice that sounds as if it came from an intercom system turned up to maximum volume. This voice is fueled by a thirst for justice and radical change. It is the voice that is loudest during protests, stops at nothing and can be heard in an untitled paragraph: “Instead of opening doors and going through them, I break windows and glass walls. . Everything is still locked, so it has to be that way. I carry a giant ax with me, which I stole from a fire emergency box. I’m afraid the ax will betray me and get caught, but I’m not trying to be malicious. . . I am just impatient. This method of entering buildings is going viral. Now many of us carry axes and never wait to be let in.
Throughout this monologue, the speaker’s voice is unwavering, even in the face of doubt. Imagine the voice of a person who is done sitting down and being frustrated with a cruel system and taking matters into their own hands. This little package contains a call to action for those who are oppressed and want to take ownership and claim their rights, with clear reference to the glass ceiling faced by women and people of color in almost every professional field. It is the voice of those who fearlessly criticize the tyrannical nature of modern society, those who are not afraid to stand up for change.
In one interview with Mask MagazineWang talks about the function of doubt in his writings: âSelf-doubt is usually the starting point for much of my work. I always have to write through this doubtâ¦ many women are plagued by self-doubt and especially anxiety about writing or asserting any sort of authority in their writing. Possessing this doubt can be a political gesture.
Like a “[queer] Black studies researcher, poet, multimedia artist and PhD student at Harvard University’s Department of African and African American Studies, âWang said thatâ[her] interest in literature developed in parallel [her] interest in politics. The sunflower cast a spell to save us from the void is a complex fusion of the author’s literary and political passions, bound by an abundant imagination and elevated by the abandonment of logical parameters. It is also Wang’s first collection of poetry – his previous book Prison capitalism (2018) is a collection of essays âon the racial, economic, political, legal, and the technological dimensions of the US prison state. As a scholar and witness to the prison system, Wang is an exceptionally virulent prison abolitionist.
These poems are composed of sequences of elusive dialogues, bursting with slam throughout the pages of the book and confuses the reader’s mind – transfiguring it into a ball of yarn that appears unrolled, colorful and temporarily understandable. Just as dreams only make sense to the brain that directed, staged, and produced the sequences, Wang’s dream poems can mean anything the reader might dare to ask. This is what makes reading this collection a treasure hunt where the power is in the reader’s hands to find their own treasure chest with the help of countless clues dotted between the lines.
The reader travels through the flow of the speaker’s consciousness (or rather subconsciousness) and is left on their own to figure it all out, making this perhaps one of the most intimate books ever written. What takes more trust and vulnerability than opening your mind like a suitcase for strangers to search and take what they want?
Angeline Kek is a book review writer and contributor to Asia Media International. Recently graduated from LMU, she majored in English with a concentration in poetry and creative writing. She is interested in poetry and in writing honestly against all odds.