Queen of Cups – Review

Tom Byam Shaw reviews the new collection of poetry from Aberdeen-based poet Parel Joy and shines a light on some of the nuances there-in.

“time is not linear” opens Parel Joy’s first poem titled ‘queen of cups’ in their collection of the same name “but lately it’s been disaster / after disaster / after disaster”. This gesturing towards crisis and dislocation is a central obsession of this pamphlet from SPAM, a post-internet Glasgow-based press. The title of the ‘queen of cups’ sequence, three numbered poems each bearing this name, which runs like a spine through the collection calls to this dislocation. The Queen of Cups: the Tarot card in the sequence of the Minor Arcana principally concerned with the understanding and fulfilment of spiritual and emotional needs is deracinated. She has become separated from her deck, cast off and isolated.

The Dutch, Joy’s first language, interjections in the poetry further serve this dislocation. The interruption of the flow in these switches in language provide demands the monolingual reader draw from the translation Joy offers use, or else look one up when one is not provided. The poet is themselves linguistically adrift. Rather than necessarily expand their capacity for speech, the true curse of the bilingual poet is that, in the search for the right word, they might come across one outside their audience’s language. 

As the ‘queen of cups’ sequence progresses through the pamphlet, these interjections in Dutch grow longer and longer until by the third poem they comprise entire sentences. The poet grows more and more disconnected from the title character until she “sit[s] / on the floor of a night train” while the Queen herself unpacks her regalia in a new flat. For all the fantastic absurdity mixed with literal kitchen sink detail, at one point the poet washes the Queen’s crown and sceptre, this is no queer fairy story. At a point in culture where artistic representations of queer life and love are often idealised or over sweetened, the unflinching portrait that Joy provides is a welcome one.

Not that there isn’t warmth and exuberance in this collection. Joy’s poetry, above all, displays a playfulness with language; form; and convention. These poems dance as you read them, evolve in their meanings as you clumsily translate in real-time or trip across the page in beguiling and strange format choices. The end result of these poems is a textured painting of a range of experience.  Joy’s pamphlet is a tender dissection of queer love, loss, and desire and a sterling break into the world of poetic publishing.