Somewhere to Run From
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is an activist poet, critic, playwright, and performer working in Montreal and Toronto, and whose first poetry collection, Emergency Contact, was published in 2006. Her second book of poetry, Somewhere to Run From, is full of bittersweet and sarcastic poems about love gone wrong, political activism, and loneliness. There is a confessional quality to many of her pieces, which examine a wide variety of emotional topics that range from unfaithful lovers to religious persecution, blending political commentary and personal tragedy. She describes both intimate interpersonal situations and global catastrophe with razor-sharp wit.
Ziniuk's work has a straightforward quality that I found myself wanting to imitate. I was struck by her use of juxtaposition, and how simple statements become somehow more evocative with pop culture references, such as “net-speak,” and unexpected details. Her black humor adds greater depth to poems about small disasters and everyday heartbreaks.
In the prose-poem titled “How To Be Perfect Men,” she writes, “...Every sad mix CD has a song about a basement on it. We do a keyword search for 'waiting' and when I finally remember you, every song I hear makes me feel like I’m on hold...” To me, the magic of poetry is the way reading lines like these reminds the reader of their own long-forgotten mix CDs and their favorite songs about basements and waiting, re-experiencing old sadness through the lens of nostalgia, and with the benefit of hindsight.
In “Through the Night,” Ziniuk riffs on a Frank Sinatra quote:
I’m for anything that gets you through the night. A warm body/hot water bottle/Degrassi special features./I’m all for take-out in bed,/crumbs, spilled shake from the bottom of the bag,/and lipstick on pillow cases...We’re all getting old./Maybe this is what lube is for./Or maybe it’s for people who never liked each other anyway.
This brief and unexpected mention of the campy Canadian melodrama Degrassi inspires a feeling of affinity with the speaker of the poem (and by extension, the poet) in me. References like this one give the collection a feeling of an early twenty-first century time capsule. Ziniuk’s poems are full of quotable—even chantable—lines: “People only spin the bottle/when there’s someone in the room they want to kiss” or “You/give/girls/eating/disorders.”
One of my favorites from the collection is “It Must Be Stopped,” which is a darkly funny poem about a misunderstanding mother. This is a wonderful example of the range of contradictory thoughts and feelings Ziniuk’s Somewhere to Run From will inspire.