Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The collection’s title poem is short but cutting, evoking the power of words to hurt the vulnerable, but also the ambiguous function of silence. The linking of a silent reply with a donkey image softens the sharpness while underlining the biblical connection.
The collection is evenly divided between two sections: “Poems for My Enemies” and “The Wedlocked.” At the end, a stand-alone piece, “Poem for Wednesday,” is a long cry of anticipated grief.
The identities of the “enemies” are never made quite clear. Is Kogawa referring to the nameless old man in the library, subject of the poem “Old Man in the Library,” who is struggling to turn his newspaper pages? Is she referring to orange-haired old woman in the poem “Orange Hair,” whose tottering across the beach makes others’ eyes seek refuge in a book?
Perhaps she is. Certainly, age is a felt enemy here, along with the demanding serpent of success (“The Success Ladder”) and even insomnia, compared to a procession of bugs swarming over the body (“Or Poor Coordination”). “Office Toads” evokes the rarity of trust in the workplace. “Faucet Sounds” envisions marital discord in terms of dripping faucets and plumbing bills. “In the Almost Evening” flings out a lament about abandonment. The “tiny blue eraser baby boy” of “Erasure” brings an unbearable poignancy to remembrance of an abortion.
“The Wedlocked” poems plumb the...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Cheung, King-Kok. Articulate Silences. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.
Clayton, Cherry. “Interview with Joy Kogawa ’Kawaiso.’” Canadian Ethnic Studies 34 (2002): 106-116.
Kogawa, Joy. “Three Deities.” Positions 13 (2005): 125-135.
Lo, Marie. “Obasan.” In A Reference Guide to Asian American Literature, edited by Sau-ling Cynthia Wong and Stephen H. Sumida. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2001.
Williamson, Janice. Sounding Differences: Conversations with Seventeen Canadian Women Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.