Sarah Lang’s For Tamara: post-apocalyptic poetics

978-1-77089-367-2_tSarah Lang. For Tamara. House of Anansi Press 2014.

That For Tamara was published in the same month as the I.P.C.C. released its latest statement on the looming crisis of global warming seems only fitting. Whatever broke the narrator of this powerful fragmented tale, a war, storms that destroy cities, something else, she lives, & writes note to her daughter & her missing husband in the stark aftermath.

Lang has created a fascinating form here, of quickly dashed off thoughts (by the narrator, not the writer), scatter-shot bits & pieces of her memories & ideas. She attempts to remember useful information for survival, makes references to the lost past, & declares her love for Tamara, & for her missing husband, who ‘worked all over the world. / CERN, LHC, Arecibo / and a handful of National Labs where he is now,’ & where she hopes he is still alive & trying to fix things. But, as the title implies, she is writing all this as a kind of survival guide for Tamara, who she hopes will read it all sometime in the future, & who may well have heard much of it as she grows up in a new wilderness full of the remnants of humanity who may have gathered around her, because, although ‘Before this, your Mother was a writer. / Now she is a doctor & teacher. / I suppose this still counts as writing.’

The person we only know as ‘your Mum’ tries but knows she is failing to give her daughter all the information she needs. Like most urban people, she has snippets of useful facts in her head, but like us all she expected that she could always look such stuff up. There are some drawings, obviously the best she can do in pencil, of a bare bones map of North America, of the stars, of Chamomile, among other things. Paper & books (she has a few on medicine & a few other things) are scarce, but then so is everything, especially drugs & hospital equipment, as all power is gone. She does what she can with her ordinary faulty memory, but she is definitely not one of those survivalists most of us only read about.

Smart, sarcastic, trying her best, the narrator swerves from helpful hints to loving gestures to sardonic quips, to terrified memories:

I saw whole cities being destroyed. / T., I never want you to see that, ever. / Rebuild, always. / At least my thumb is healing.

Find yr grandfather’s radio that says “Fisher-Price” on it; those things will outlive most other tech. / Good luck with finding batteries.

There is no normal narrative development, no obvious plot, but as we read on, we feel the years pass, we note that some of these notes are direct addresses to others in the small community Mum has created around her hospital & school, & we understand that Tamara is growing up & helping out. Some entries suggest various crises of health, food supply, possible fights or collaborations with other groups. For Tamara refuses any easy conclusion; everything is up in the air: this is a text of determined indeterminancy.

I have never been able before to categorize a book as both poetry & SF&F, so it delights me to be able to name For Tamara both. Despite its unusual format, it is highly readable, each fragment adding to a slowly developing complex configuration of a human being responding as best she can to ultimate crisis. Sarah Lang shows in this, her second book, that she has a vibrant & off beat imagination. For Tamara is a keeper.

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