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Praise for Intimate Distances
"Lam, a Vancouverite born in Scotland, has been appearing in journals, but this is her first book. It's one to be savoured. Her approachable and sometimes spine-shivering lyrics zero in on the turning points in the story of one Chinese-Canadian family, her own. Using simple language about complex events and emotions, Lam shows how childhood is often more a benefit to the parental observers than to the children, and that this fact hopscotches along from one generation to the next."
-George Fetherling, Vancouver Sun
“Here is a journey made with a keen-eyed guide through almost unbearable territories of love. I was caught up by how much story this journey holds, the tension of wondering how it might end, but Fiona Lam takes us lightly over “the barbed wire artfully/ braided into the hedges” to the relief (may I give this much away?) of a place “where everything tight releases its grip/ and breathes.” So did I — I turned right around and started reading again, for the pleasure of the craft and the intimacy of the journey.”
“Fiona Lam’s poems explore the contours of love, pain, and tenderness “with scalpel precision.” Here, both mournful witness and exuberant renewal prove the heart’s endurance in the face of grief. Lam takes the reader through the cycles of death and life with a fine sensitivity, an intense passion, and a resolute courage. In his “surrender/ to radiance” Lam taps into hidden reservoirs of emotional strength that lead us to regeneration.”
“The poems are explosive — the family in shards, which the book patiently pieces together. The combination is fascinating. I learned something too: that the mystery of this remarkable family (and possibly of all families) is that each birth, each repetition with a difference, is the rebirth of the whole.”
". . .an overriding sensation of balancing light and dark, of a voice not only finding its place in form, but of testing the limits of painful and intimate territory with candidness and poise. In subject matter, the family reigns supreme. Poems to a grandmother, mother and siblings are standard fare in first collections, but Lam moves beyond simple tributes and accusations to carve her versions with all the scalpel precision [Rita] Wong extols. In "Doctor's Widow" we see a marriage Lam characterizes as an experiment in airlessness; in "The Hyphenated," "Father's Day," and "Learning Chinese," the schizophrenia of cultural assimilation: "We learned how a mouth is a square/with a hollow inside; two trees make a forest;/ the sun and the moon side by side/ can be bright as a mind; peace/ is a woman under the roof of a home." Delving into questions of identity and aging, Lam constructs a cyclical narrative, with characters that appear in the negative only to reappear later demanding understanding: "Then, the flesh withered and soft/ as an old quilt. Fine skin loose/ around a body becoming/ unfamiliar to itself ("Maternal Archaeology"). This deft manipulation is what energizes Lam's work, yet it is when she ventures into the raw territory of the narrator's own relationships and marriage that a real understanding of life's ironies surface. Histories repeat themselves, and at her most powerful Lam resurrects a potent contemplation of familial mistakes, now revisited. . . Intimate Distances is a homage to relationships in all their passion and dysfunctionality. I look forward to the future bringing more of this writer's work."
"Fiona Tinwei Lam deals with the question of societal roles and how to play them . . . You go with her on a search for appropriate rituals to mark the sudden beauty and pain of family life. The poems talk about togetherness as they pound each other apart . . . You realize that this is where Lam does her best writing: in the domestic space, the constriction of marriage, the sensuous beauty of parenting and its attendant frustrations. You see the emotional strength required just to get through the poetic day."
The Georgia Straight, January 2-9, 2003
"Lam’s voice has a mature, cured quality that is devoid of pretension. She communicates intensity without overstatement, and you can feel the proximity between your life and her words. If I were to have a hyphenated string of adjectives to describe me, I doubt I’d share any terms with Fiona Tinwei Lam. At the same time, I feel remarkably comfortable with her poetry. This book gets a respectful grunt of approval from me, and I have a strange feeling that getting into her poetry now may give you bragging rights later."