Intimacy and infidelity, warmth and vacuousness, possessed and free. These are all the paradoxes that are found, lost, and found again in Tiphanie Yanique’s debut collection Wife. It is to no surprise that such an effortlessly honest portrayal of the female, as both confined and fierce, has won The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.
The collection is organised in parts that subsequently follow one another, as in most marriages. They reflect the mind of the self and in this case the self assumes the role of wife. The wife, however, can take multiple forms, one such that the wife is possessed, one such that she one with another, and one such that she belongs only to herself. It is these stages that we follow.
In part I, Notes for Couples Therapy, Yanique quickly establishes the capacity of strength of which the woman possesses by comparing her being to an island, below it which resides, ‘beautiful things, also-which can be the most dangerous.’ The island, most certainly a reference to the corporeal woman, is ‘small and vulnerable/ it is a woman, calling. You love her.’ More than that the woman holds all of which we are she, the island, is the portal to our histories which, ‘we will never be beyond.’ In this part, Yanique also offers a brazen but still rather elegant Dictionary which lists different origins of wife, most all of which allude to the woman in sexual servitude.
The woman becomes the mountain atop which the husband calls in part II Altar Calls. References to the sky and the sea and the forces of nature are connected to the wife again. The poems in this part alternate from the ‘I’ perspective to the ‘we,’ the joint unit of a wife and a husband- and the physical joy that comes along with it. Illusions to the natural elements suggest that while often resisted by humankind, these earthly beings will undoubtedly hold the history of our ancestors and turnout triumphant. Thus, it is the wife who will prevail fertile, and continue on, even when, after such degradation or infidelity, the we, ‘cannot believe our failure/is a wave coming/steadily at them/from behind.’ The wave is the wife.
Part III, Abandonment Stations and IV Words (Last, Fighting, True, Etc.) place emphasis on the abundant mother and the intimate nature between an infant and mother similar to the manner in which a wife becomes native to a husband and vice versa, ‘I am/ yours./I claim you.’
Yanique leaves us with the delightful To Capture Ghosts, a letter for Jean-Michel Basquiat and Moses Djeli. It is with this resolution that the narrator, most seemingly also the voice of Yanique, seems to speak directly to somebody who she tells that she, ‘travelled all the way from the Virgin Islands to the find love of my life.’ She speaks again of love, and she speaks that, ‘maybe I should dedicate myself to these people. To people and not the love of people.’ She speaks here also of ghosts, of mothers, and of lovers. She alludes to differences and inequalities regarding race and gender in a way that seems ironic but translates to hope. In the last line of the collection, Yanique gracefully mentions fear and the nature of humankind to be afraid- perhaps of such intimacy, such legacy, such nurturing and such versions of ourselves.
By Victoria Lancaster
Wife, Tiphanie Yanique, Peepal Tree Press, 2015, £8.99