Yo-yo Heart by Laura Doyle Péan

Translated and introduced by Stuart Bell

Yo-yo Heart is a poetry collection that tells the story of the aftermath of heartbreak, a personal diary after a split with a girlfriend. Split into five ‘days’ that correspond to phases in the grief and emotion of the narrator, the poems chart how everyday moments intersect with emotion and also explore the political behind such grief. Laura Doyle Péan opens the collection with a prologue about the process of survival, healing and vulnerability, ending with the memorable manifesto “allowing oneself to be vulnerable / is a political act” and they suffuse this throughout the book.

The collection is translated from Quebec French and the translator, Stuart Bell, also introduces the book to discuss the translation and the poetry itself. I particularly appreciated the discussion of some of the original French and where it has specifically Canadian and political elements, meaning that as I was reading I could have a sense of the original text lingering underneath even without having it on the page. There’s also short explanations of key pop culture references, which poetry collections have been doing more and more, and in this instance it allows for some Canadian references to be explained for readers from other countries.

The short length and powerful imagery of the poems as they move through each section makes this a hard-hitting collection, showing how healing mental processes take time even as the parts claim to be individual days. The use of space in the collection, both around words and also poems, adds to this, as well as to the initial isolation of the break up. The way images are expressed (in translation, of course) brings wit and sadness, for example in lines like “cooking soothes Ricardo tells me / i cut off the carrot ends / just like you have / all contact”.

Day 3 has some particularly memorable elements, starting with the poem containing the collection’s title and having a poem that explores grief for the personal whilst political injustice, especially borders and imprisonment, go on in the world. The way that the entire collection, not only through this poem, emphasises that personal and societal sadnesses occur at the same time and it can be a political act to be able to express yourself is a highlight of the book. Also in Day 3 is another of my favourite set of lines in the collection, “in pastel gel pen I have written / invitation cards / to all my demons / to the monsters under my bed / where I’m going / you are going too”.

Yo-yo Heart is a book that will stay with me for a while, thanks to the use of sparse imagery, emotion, space, and politics throughout a narrative of heartbreak and slow healing. It is in a style I love and I really enjoy collections that tell a full story using any style of poetry.