Content Note: this review, as well as the poetry collection being reviewed, contain mentions of subjects like addiction and self-harm.
We know that we are entering Murakami’s world before we even read the first poem in her newest collection, Render, the definition of the titular word both an introduction and a signpost to guide us on our journey: “to submit[…]to give or make available[…]to translate[…]to reduce, convert, or melt down.” Render’s entirety orbits around this series of definitions like our planet does a star, forming a thematically tight collection of poems that captures various forms of ebb and flow, the way “[t]he begin again begins again. Carries you with it.” Murakami has found a way to, if not directly express, then at least accentuate the expanse of affects that accompany the themes of recovery and loss, addiction and relapse, and the ongoing search to understand one’s mental health. From uncertainty and questioning to fact-like recollection, Murakami’s poems try on an assortment of tones and styles, participating in the varieties of arrangement and experimentation that the word “render” encapsulates.
The timing of Render’s publication plays a not insignificant part in how some of Murakami’s poems can be interpreted, adding an additional layer of context that is the global pandemic to the already dark humour in poems like “An Internment” — “You think you have a home until the landlord rings” — and “Breather”:
Call your boss: you’re not coming in today.
Then return reality to the nurses’ station. Sealed in a plastic bag.
Act crazy so it’s not just a spa day.
While I would not describe Render as humorous by any means, Murakami’s poems feel like they have returned the oxygen to a vacuum-like room, depressurizing is physically and metaphorically. In mapping the poetic geographies of the emotions and the self, whether by using first or second person or by engaging in a kind of poetic examination of the human condition, Murakami takes the reader on an intimate journey that shifts between the pixelated whole and the individual in sharp focus.
Naming is an underlying matter that weaves its way through Render. As well as the unnamed “I,” who periodically feels like they are voicing our current collective grievances — “on the neighbour’s porch/ scrolling through his phone/ checking for updates/ on someone else’s disaster” — Murakami has also included a cast of familiar figures from myth and stories, “Godiva in the back, Ichabod in the front. Behind the closed door, a million wives.” In the sequence of poems titled “Thanatophobia” I-III, “Death won’t shut up about the knives that could cut an artery, now that she knows/ about arteries,” less a personification than an embodiment of those parts of the self that one might try to keep hidden and fight in silence.
At times, however, it is not the unreal or the corporealized fears that are the most terrifying, as in “That Feeling When,” a poem where Murakami’s ability to construct an emotional landscape is at its strongest.
can someone please send me
the full list of attendees
so I can decide well in advance
whether it’s safe
to carry this weight
into a room of strangers
Here, the speaker’s recollection of trauma and search for safety and closure is coupled with Murakami’s directness, the sparse formatting ensuring that the reader is always able to return to the speaker and, therefore, to the theme of rendering. Found in the last section of Render, titled “Still Here” with the byline “re-enter the rendered,” “That Feeling When” is part of a group of poems that become to writing and to survival and to writing-as-survival. Instead of asking what comes first and what takes priority — the writer or the written — Murakami’s poems remind the reader that writing and rewriting the poetic self extends to the writer, who recovers and reinterprets and re-renders who they are in an ongoing cycle of reconfiguration.
It is difficult to ascribe a single “type” to Murakami’s poems. Rather, Render feels like a sampler, a glimpse into different voices and bodies and minds that resist the neatness of moralization. In this way, Murakami’s latest collection feels a bit like a modern-day bestiary of emotions, a reassuring hand extended to the reader in the hopes of resisting “the seiz[ure] of fear [that] shuts down the machine/ of language, the hurtle towards the end of the sentence.”