Rain in Plural: Poems
by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
50 Poems ~ 120 Pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press
To Order: Amazon
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
While visiting my favorite art gallery in Galena, Illinois, I happened upon a painting by
famed montage artist Andy Thomas. The painting titled, “The Democratic Club” featured
nine celebrated Democratic presidents sitting at a round table, sipping drinks and
enjoying the moment in friendly comradeship. Barak Obama and Harry Truman are there,
along with Andrew Jackson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, among others. Thomas also
paints an audience of curious onlookers dressed in period fashions standing in the
background. As I studied the painting, my mind was immediately immersed in history
and memories of life in America during their tours in the White House.
My Galena montage experience came into play as I read Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s latest
collection, Rain in Plural. The collection reveals the inner-life of a truly remarkable poet.
Radiantly intelligent, Sze-Lorrain’s work is as musically intoxicating as the zheng
(ancient Chinese zither) she plays with precision. Sze-Lorrain paints an experiential
landscape that is at times troubling, at times consoling, and like “The Democratic Club”
immerses her readers in time, history and memories.
Stylistically, Sze-Lorrain is very much her own poet. Using varying line-lengths, stanza-
spacing and interesting indentations, her poems come alive within the montage metaphor
referred to above.
Take for example, “The Reality of a Nightmare,” which opens with an epigram by famed
Argentine poet and filmmaker Jorge Luis Borges:
At any second the rooster could have crowed three times.
A man with a gun moved the piano
from my hindbrain into my chest.
Inch by inch, my bed shortened its waking state. Potatoes I ate
for supper laughed.
into kisses between pigs. Dressed
in pajamas with eyes shut, they tiptoed
in Derby shoes,
dreaming of an abattoir now a church.
Rare is the poet who gathers such disparate items as a piano moved onto one’s chest,
potatoes that laugh and kissing pigs who dream of an abattoir (slaughterhouse) as a
church. I reflected at length about possible meanings and applications suggested by this
I’m also fascinated by the beauty of Sze-Lorrain’s lines on the page. An example is the
poem, “More Vulnerable than Others”:
So what if I break
I will continue to eat mud
mask banned signs
chew holes in every tall grapevine
breed my roots after a nap
spread fronds as free
clothes free money
lay branches bare for the moon and its jaws
while each flower falls
to its own bad dream
The double-spaced lines, lack of punctuation and varied indentations function like
speed bumps on a winding lane … I slow down so as to absorb into my soul
implications for life … growing, along with the poem’s ever-deepening roots.
The cover design is very much a part of Sze-Lorrain’s collection, layering as it does,
color and density with each succeeding stroke of her poetic brush. This layering finds
expression within the work’s five divisions: I: Closer to Clouds, II: Small Storms,
III: Nine Solitudes, IV: Django Fontina and V: Child, Don’t Hide. The layers serve not
only as a basic structural framework, but also as thresholds over which fortunate readers
enter a new courtyard of experience.
“Nine Solitudes” showcases Sze-Lorrain’s prose poetry skills. In a prose poem, lineage
is not controlled by the poet; lines end where they will. Otherwise, poetry’s basic
assumptions concerning devices and imagery prevail. Each poem, consisting of around
ten lines on average, provides a meditative moment wherein one considers one’s past in a
context of truth in the present moment. While there is an aura of darkness within these
poems, darkness ultimately leads to light. Here is what I mean:
Out in the fields, a myth grew past its radius.
I looked out from the porch and saw the child again.
In “Django Fontina” (one-sided antique postcards often used to send poetry) Sze-Lorrain
paints yet another textured layer, I like to call this section “poetry you can see.” An
excerpt from “Making Waves Straight” provides an example:
Because we believe sea cure, we allow sand to take
its grip on us—awkward glee from toes to tears all
day long. We enter each other from the inside
of this world, opal light, lighter and august.
Through four dense quatrains readers receive the postcard’s poetry of life:
We breathe this language from finish
to start. Live the strangeness of a painless
center, deep yet random, the moon skipping dinner,
corals limbic, jigging with colors from the west and the east.
Rain in Plural is a collection of poetry deserving of multiple reads in the quietude of soft
light over one’s left shoulder. There, the music and wisdom of Fiona Sze-Lorrain will wash
in and through you like a tree planted beside streams of water yielding its fruit in due