Poetry Review by Yvonne Blomer

Leanne Dunic, One and Half of You (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2021). Paperbound, 81 pp., $16.95.

One and Half of YouLeanne Dunic’s book‐length poem, One and Half of You, begins with a blur of faces, as a child might experience in a crowd: “them, and them, and them. // Then more. Faces mixed. A pocket here, a // clan there.” These opening lines prepare you for places and people, for mixed races and mixed ancestry. The poems carry the essence of memoir in their movement from image to dialogue, from contemplative fragment to some semblance of catharsis.

Identity is at the heart of this book: race, sexual, settler, but also the narrator’s identity in her family, her neighbourhood, her school. Using the Chinese Zodiac, Dunic gives us the main characters—narrator as Dog, brother as Rat, and as‐of‐yet‐unmet lover as Snake. Images of these creatures appear in play and in dreams from the get‐go, allowing the animals and the people they represent to weave through her conscious and subconscious life. Dunic’s narrator explores who she is to herself (“Part pug? Shih Tzu? Pekingese? Definitely / of Chinese descent”); to her brother (“The girl will never be Asian. They remind / me too much of you”); in terms of her sexual identity (“I was pretty sure I was a girl / but didn’t understand why I wanted to kiss / boys and girls”); and in regard to her complicated love of her brother and how to find/leave that love to love another (“I don’t want to hear about you having sex,” he says).

What opened in me as I read One and Half of You is as complex as the times we are living in, where identity and crisis hold hands. “Who am I, living on Tsartlip land in Canada?” this narrator of Asian‐European descent asks. How can she know who she is with so many opinions flying at her, so many assumptions about how she looks— Indian, Indigenous, too Asian, too tall? Here is an exploration of liminality in a world that constantly others this narrator. “I have / two halves // mountains             I try / to move.” And while she is in the process of self‐discovery, COVID‐19 hits, and anti‐Asian violence crashes into her, captured in a poem of headlines: “Vancouver’s Chinatown lions defaced with anti‐Asian COVID….”

As a multi‐disciplinary artist, Dunic skillfully blends forms, poetry and memoir, to create a lyric memoir. Memoir, I have been known to say, is poetry’s closest cousin. Both are concerned with the “truth” of things, and Dunic beautifully captures her experiences through fragmented images and dialogue that are essentially poetry. The nuance of experience as it shifts into art has the allure of both forms.

The book is divided into three numbered sections. Early poems tackle adolescence and racial identity, where she and her brother search for themselves in popular references, “The Nutcracker on TV. Of course, my / brother pretended he was the Rat King. I / hoped for my own whiteness and a prince.”

Later, she crosses the strait to live in Vancouver, and lives in other places: “I dwelled in the Chinatowns of port cities. / Victoria, Vancouver, stints in Singapore.” No matter where she lives, her ancestry draws comments: “In Cantonese, the clerk yells, <Check out // this beautiful girl up front!> // <Bet her mother is Chinese.>” And even when she’s across the world, her brother lingers, “<I know you.> // Impossible. // <You’re his sister> // (A model Rat dated for a weekend.).”

The quoted lines above capture the many layers of speakers and story that propel this book. The way Dunic marks quoted speech— italics for the brother, angle brackets for outsiders—allows clipped fragments of dialogue to become important as in the word “impossible” above; even though she doesn’t think she looks anything like her brother, she is recognized as his sister from someone across the world. And then in the parenthetical aside, she tosses this woman away. Dunic’s use of fragments, white space, and speech allows few words to carry more meaning.

In sections two and three there is a shift into the sea and images of the ocean, and her desire to “peer beneath” the surface of things. While her brother can vanish into the life he’s made for himself, she stands out, too tall, too other, until she meets another like her. The last section is the shortest, focusing on the narrator and the sea, immersed and grieving, with a final poem‐fragment set in Vancouver where Chinatown is vanishing and her brother marries, has children. Loss and change permeate the final poems.

The title One and Half of You is complex and evocative. Who is this woman? She is herself and half of another—her brother at times, her lover at times. Her desires are interlinked to her sense of who she is, which is in constant crisis. We have moved around, colonized, entered every corner of the globe, and touched every environment. We have enabled COVID‐19, and we use difference as an excuse for hate and fear. A book is a small vessel to carry so much, but Dunic’s craft holds the nuance and confusion of a complex narrator in impossible times.

—Yvonne Blomer

As in The Malahat Review, 217, winter 2021