Fleche (the French word for ‘arrow’) is an offensive technique commonly used in fencing, a sport of Mary Jean Chan’s young adult years, when she competed locally and internationally for her home city, Hong Kong. This cross-linguistic pun presents the queer, non-white body as both vulnerable (‘flesh’) and weaponised (‘fleche’), and evokes the difficulties of reconciling one’s need for safety alongside the desire to shed one’s protective armour in order to fully embrace the world. Central to the collection is the figure of the poet’s mother, whose fragmented memories of political turmoil in twentieth-century China are sensitively threaded through the book in an eight-part poetic sequence, combined with recollections from Chan’s childhood. As complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history emerge, so too does a richly imagined personal, maternal and national biography. The result is a series of poems that feel urgent and true, dazzling and devastating by turns.
The completely deserved winner of the recent Costa poetry prize. Unlike anything I’ve ever read. A powerful (and timely, contemporary and gorgeous) poetry anthology, which explores queerness, what it is to be a woman, multilingualism, questions of identity (gender, cultural and racial) and the Chinese cultural revolution – all with profoundly beautiful undertones of culture and tradition, mother and childhood. Just so, so good!