“The good thing about pen and words”: A Review of Shani Mootoo’s Poetry Collection THE PREDICAMENT OF OR

the predicament of orI count Shani Mootoo as one of Canada’s most gifted writers, her first novel Cereus Blooms at Night being one of the first queer books I read after coming out and still one of my favourite books of all time. So I was interested to learn a while back that she had published an early collection of poetry. If I remember correctly, actually, I found my copy of The Predicament of Or in the discount section of Little Sister’s, Vancouver’s queer bookstore. The poems in this collection are often about identity, desire, and place; about immigration and colonization; about feeling neither here nor there; about life’s small moments of beauty and revelation; about the words women and queer folks use to describe themselves.

Unfortunately I liked, but didn’t love, The Predicament of Or. Likely my expectations of this book were a little too high, given that it represents really early work of Mootoo’s. In fact, it seemed like as the collection went on and the poems got older I liked it less, which is probably a testament to Mootoo’s growth as an artist. So I’m gonna talk about some of the poems that I loved, which were the ones in the beginning of the book, and her most recent.

One of my favourites was the one of the first sets of poems in the book, actually. In a series called “Beach Compositions,” Mootoo attempts to capture the ephemeral beauty but also the harsh reality of, well, the beach—in stark contrast to the exoticization tourist industries make of beaches the world over. In the third “Beach Composition,” she writes:

There was a camera, too—

in my hand and loaded—

but I could not bring myself to use it

for fear of what I would make:



                a theory




                romancing the crumbling


The good thing about pen

and words:


                the plan to ensnare and remember


                is a true, a final,

                a most perfect forgetting.

The title poem of the first section was probably my favourite: “The Way You Bounce Off a Pane of Glass.” I’ll just show you it in its entirety and you can see what you make of it:

Mayaro Beach

facing east


you talk of futures

etch your name

in vain with mangrove quill


you claim name-length portions of sand


coconut tree come all the way,

you say,

from the western shores

of Africa


today is today, you say,

just as the sea crawls up the sand,

washes your name away


moments used to be few

and far apart


now they line up

a stream of dots, islands,

vivid as sunlight reflected in glass

Or maybe I change my mind, and this, the short, first part of a series of poems that give this collection its name was my favourite:

It is remarkable

                worth remarking

how I am with you

                how you are with me

There are a few breath-taking moments in this collection; I’ve highlighted which ones those were for me, but maybe those moments might be different for you, if you decide to pick up The Predicament of Or.

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Canadian, Caribbean, Poetry, Postcolonial, Shani Mootoo, South Asian and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “The good thing about pen and words”: A Review of Shani Mootoo’s Poetry Collection THE PREDICAMENT OF OR

  1. Pingback: Link Round Up: April 11-24 | The Lesbrary

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