Arlene Ang’s writing style is slightly surrealistic and completely stream of conscious in this hidden gym entitled Banned for Life. Filled with dark and light imagery, poems that one does not simply read for simple understanding, and complexity, Ang draws the reader into the poem, and forces them to think about the poetry. Having to reread most poems twice and thrice, the reader is caged in Ang’s words, perplexed and filled with a little bit of dread and anxiety from lines like, “The girl is wearing bracelets/of scars. She is purpling under both eyes./She is all poise and dead leaves.” She casts light onto dark images and embraces that life is not simple, life has never been simple, and will never be simple.
She addresses reality:
The brain, forever the battlefield,
is littered with the dead and the living
assigned to take the bodies of the dead away.
Life and death are both accounted for in less like a neat circle, than a messy scribble. The life line goes back and forth and there is little that is neat about life. She also juxtaposes living, animated creatures, with living, non-animated creatures. “What is Wednesday to a tree?” she asks of no one specifically, because, all of the days are the same to the depressed person she is writing about and the tree, so Wednesday has lost its meaning.
In some poems, she also talks about romance. “See,” she says, “our pictures together are proof of the universe.” The prose poetry is beautiful, and yet, insightful, funny, and also relatable. “A meatloaf is only 5% meat,” she says. That got a good laugh out of me.
This is poetry that reminds you that everything on the page is supposed to mean something. There is no fluff or empty calories in any of her poems. This is poetry that gives you thought, poetry that gives you pause. This is poetry that digs its claws into you and nails you on your back.
Though I was thorough in my reading of this, I admit that it took some warming up to get into this poetry collection. I find that for humanity, it is easy to do what is easy, and hard to do that which we find hard. Arlene Ang writes hard poetry that takes a good look at all sorts of aspects of life, and I find it to be a rewarding read.