A poet never breaks, a poet breaks free: On paying for the world’s most expensive drug with a poem

“ …my body sheds virus like the forest sheds dead limbs in a storm,” UNDETECTABLE by Kim Goldberg.

Undetectable, Kim Goldberg, Vancouver, poetry, book review, Pig Squash Press
A snapshot of part of the cover of Undetectable, featuring its author, Kim Goldberg. Photo courtesy of Pig Squash Press.

While there is a lot of excellent must-read Canadian literature, there is little known for being simultaneously written while commandeering a deeply personal conquest over a lifelong enemy.  

The award-winning poet and author Kim Goldberg can always be counted on by her readers to be entertained by a literary surprise or two. But none would have guessed that her seventh book was a Faustian-bartered 84-day deal with a corporate interest she would normally rail against to fortuitously end a half-century of hepalogic torment – for freedom. 

To her credit, this uber-contemporary poet imparts boundless contemporary relevance to the struggle of millions battling the blood-borne viral affliction Hepatitis C, offering them unbridled hope for a cure whilst masterfully deploying and introducing us to the literary form known as haibun, best exemplified by Goldberg’s reverence for the work of Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō.

Without map or compass, but diarizing in alternating prose-cum-haiku-verse, Goldberg traverses between her physical and psychic journey over a three-month clinical trial for a new drug (Harvoni with sticker-shock of $1,200 a pill per day), yet never descending into the maudlin or didactic, in spite of the gravitational pull of her reality which has been fraught in a cirrhotic orbit.  

 

To the contrary, she enlivens and breadcrumbs her liver disease ordeal for us to follow with the edginess of war correspondent reportage, interspersed with grounded Jungian wellness-holism, or peppered with the focussed eye of an ornithologist or other trained observer, repeatedly end-spiked with a poignantly packed haiku but always infused with the voice of the brazen boomer hepper warrior inciting insurgence both political and literary.

every word

a seed seeking                                                                                        

soft earth

In turns, Goldberg is our gifted spirit guide as her travels take us on innumerable, pleasantly unexpected excursions which include stops in places like Tangiers, wishing to drown a soothsayer in the casbah, to laments for long-gone humpbacks haunting a Salish Sea lagoon site of a former whaling station, to witnessing a lynching by Governor James Douglas of a pair of Indigenous men to equally insightful reflections on an Earth doppelgänger known as Kepler 452-b. 

 Unpacked, Undetectable is a unique interactive mix of mind-body-meld narrative and haiku, evocatively posted like interpretative park signage with life and limb pill bottle instructions glued on.

Together, Goldberg richly inherits the élan vital of Bashō. Each day page entry takes imaginative flight in the most stunning and vulnerably colourful manner akin to the plumage of bufflehead, guillemot, kingfisher, grebe and towhee, ‘cannonballs on wings,’ that are among the poet’s most favoured companions, as she cautiously yet fastidiously hikes off and records her daily ‘pounding rush of cellular evacuation.’ 

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