canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

All The Lifters
by Esther Mazakian, John Barton editor
Signature Editions, 2006

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Mazakian’s grief and anger at being thrown out by her partner blasts off the page with strong and tangled images. She is not afraid to reveal her humiliation and is able to pinpoint her distress. She pulls memories and references out of the air and mixes them in ways that are personal and sometimes escape the reader but always reveal the poet struggling to express emotion.

No image is too harsh for Mazakian, as in ‘Transport’
With hopes of reaching the edge of the
she walked and walked
alone, up and down the streets, passing
the same stores, the same garbage, the
menu boards …
XXXXXXX… the moment she passed
COCKXXXXXin magenta on the concrete
bridge wall, the head
of a subway train nosed up
from underneath the earth …
She combines the roughage of the street with phallic images and ends the poem with her mother’s head-rest in the car, waiting to be used. A journey from the edge of the world, through loss and despair, to a place of intimacy and security, only possible as Mazakian seeks safety from her own trauma.

Her memories of her partner ring with passion. She hurls them onto the page, and revels in them in ‘Singe This Bliss’:
The hollowness of lust. Greed. Fasting.
Driving hungry
at night then dropping
barren and on fire into his bed.
He was wrenching
through her, singeing her lungs, ovaries,
reparation –
her phoenix perfectly inextinguishable. …
In one poem, ‘Her Pristine Seminal Texts Snake-Charming In Her In His Absence’, people follow one on another as her ‘seminal texts’. The male and female names, read in the context of the images of flowers, oppose men/women in days of calm and storm, emphasizing the duality of Mazakian’s world.

urgent first drafts on cool amethyst
the duduk’s snake-charming
autumn’s apricot chryanthemums
from their annular sphincters;
Dora then Cixous in quick succession,
timely ovulation, Medea crashing onstage
XXXXXXagain under pitting
pocks of scarring
hard rain;
Kurt Cobain …
Her use of line-breaks and space on the page add to the sense of Mazakian’s ruptured existence, her sense of wandering at a loose end:

those who search for solace in the grass,
wings off living flies of fire,
examinations, appointments,
gresh water

shits who, whenever they get the chance,
burn cigarettes into the hushed resilience

and test the limits of pain.

(Green Rancour In The Hushed Resilience Outside Waning As If For Spite p.77)
The short sequence of prose poems, ‘Little Mouldy Explosions’, move from ‘the bed that kept her so far from the floor’ to ‘the dust settled over the porcelain toilet-paper dispenser,’ to ‘the brown face cloth she’d placed there to save the ceramic from water damage that in the end caused the water damage’ to ‘the night he swung her sloppy, sopping, fetid face cloth high…’. A dense and detailed exploration of the bathroom that parallels Mazakian’s experience of humiliation.

Her honesty rings through her poetry, herself emerging as a human being with the strength of a survivor and the courage to win through using the power of poetry to a place where dark and light merge in wholeness and healing.

Joanna M. Weston: A SUMMER FATHER - poetry - Frontenac House 2006 and THOSE BLUE SHOES for ages 7-12.






TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.