Enter the Chrysanthemum

Fiona Tinwei Lam

Enter the Chrysanthemum is a luminous collection of poems about family, love and loss. Employing precise imagery and concise language, Lam plumbs and mines ordinary events and experiences to find a central core of poetic insight and sometimes harrowing truth. Whether written from the vantage point of a young child observing her parents, a single parent struggling to raise a child, or a daughter watching a parent’s decline and death, these poems reconnect us to what it means to be human. Enter the Chrysanthemum is Lam’s second book of poetry.

A delightful volume that made reading even more of pleasure than it already was…

We learn much more about the narrator’s relationship with the mother, and father, in the first thirteen poems that make up part One of this 82 page edition. They are by far my favorite poems, perhaps because they unfold the child’s complex relationship with her parents with all the beauty of the unfolding chrysanthemums in this first poem.

In the end, though, it’s perhaps the subtle way each of these poems reflects on each other that I most like about this book.

Loren Webster

Lam’s poems resist too much gravity. She deals with the arc of three generations as they experience, variously, birth, childhood, divorce, disintegration and death. Grave enough, in every sense—and Lam leaves us in no doubt that our end and hers is to be “mere husks/sourly persisting, as humans do.” Nevertheless, one closes this book, after all its anatomization of life’s overwhelming disappointments, losses and despair, with a strangely uplifting sense of optimism.

This is partly because of the hope and consolation—and the new beginning—that her son provides against the crumbling of everything else: she redefines her identity and helps her son to build his. Lam says, in “Kindergarten at the Transylvania Flower Restaurant” that they are gathering it “crumb by crumb.”

It’s also because she brings the reader into the intensity of the moment, while keeping herself a little removed by wry humour and wise understanding. There can be good writing that abandons itself entirely to passion, but this is rare and depends on rare genius: those who attempt it are more often in the realm of therapy than art. Lam’s is a necessary distance of perspective and craft—she needs, paradoxically, to put herself calmly outside the experience in order to bring the reader into its intensity.

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal