U is for Uppal – R.I.P. 1974-2018 – Gone Far too Soon!

 

Canadian poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, Priscila Uppal (1974 – 2018). Also Canadian Poet laureate for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London summer games.

To A Future Reader

I beg you, tell me
the words I left
ended up funny,
gave you guffaws
as the planet
went all to hell
in ways I was not
sad enough to imagine.

Ave Atque Vale
Farewell

Priscila Uppal from Ontological Necessities, Exile Editions, 2006

This kind of takes my breath away. This poem from the 2007 Griffin Prize Canadian shortlist might not have imagined that its writer, Priscila Uppal would leave this planet 12 years later at an impossibly young forty-three years of age. Dead from a shockingly rare cancer that, in her words, only attacks the incredibly fit. To hear her discuss her cancer and poems that came out of it please click here. It feels so worng that a woman who was so alive and participated in life as if each year was worth two or three, was taken from us so early.

And, for sure, little did she know in her poem above she was not sad enough to imagine her own early death nor the current Covid-19 pandemic. I think it’s safe to say Uppal was irrepressible even editing , ten days before her death, one of two collections that came out after she was gone.  And the end to her poem from Catallus, Hail and Farewell. How uncannily fitting.

Priscila was the author of among many things she wrote, eleven poetry collections, a celebrated memoir, a play and two novels and,  as well,  was a full-time  York University professor! She crammed in a lot in her forty-three years.  And if you see pictures of her decked out in some great colourful outfit or wearing a great hat you sense her vitality and exuberant life force. While it was here.

And now the title poem from her Grffin-Prize-nominated poem. How it seems almost a prediction of what was to come:

Ontological Necessity

I’d like to bruise this earth
with mental missives until it cracks. If a volcano’s brain
contains each eruption, we too must have these splits,

these dungeon pits inside us.

The harvest is nuclear.
My mouth, an octagon; my chest an F.B.I. file.
Stem cells grow off my neighbours balcony, fall into my tea.

Cancer paid my tuition. On and on the hurricane
spies and trades. No one wacthes television

for the stories. Our universe is fresh out of those.
The galaxy yawns and pops pills.

Dear Self,
How am I to know if You are still alive?

Test me, you reply.

Priscilla Uppal, ibid

The freshness of all that comes at me unexpected in this poem!  This volcanic voice. How it throws everything but the kitchen sink at me. The fun it seems to have doing this! Really: my chest, an F.B.I. file? The marvel of that. Maybe not a playful meaning in the poem but done so playfully. And then the dramatic ending. I wish she hadn’t ever written this. To ask to be tested to know her “self” is alive. Oh god, it was so alive! And she did get tested. Tested too much! Too far. Yet in her 2015 CBC interview, linked above, her confidence that she was going to beat the unbeatable was remarkable. Couldn’t have asked for more of an alive self if you ask me. Priscila, your poetry a remaining gift and maybe not all guffaws. Your death, a remaining loss and grief.

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