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A Review of Samara Garfinkle’s Debut Poetry Collection

by Mirabel

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Avleen K. Mokha, also known as Mirabel, is an award-winning poet based in Montreal. Originally from Mumbai, India, she holds a B.A. in English Literature and Linguistics from McGill University. Mirabel was the 2019 winner of McGill’s Peterson Memorial Prize for Creative Writing. Her poems have appeared in carte blanche, Yolk Literary, Dream Pop, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and more. Her writing has been supported by the Quebec Writers’ Federation Fresh Pages Initiative for promising writers from underrepresented backgrounds. Mirabel’s debut poetry chapbook, Dream Fragments, was published by Montreal’s Cactus Press in Fall 2020; the collection received critical acclaim from The League of Canadian Poets and PRISM International. Her first full-length collection, The Vanishing Act (& The Miracle After), is forthcoming by Guernica Editions in June 2023.

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Samara Garfinkle is a Montreal-based poet, classical soprano and voice teacher with a Master of Music from the University of Ottawa. She collaborates with pianist and composer Michael Darling in creating contemporary art songs set to the work of various poets, including herself (Darling & Garfinkle). Her poetry has been published in Lantern Magazine, Columba Poetry, and Yolk Literary, and her debut chapbook, Dual Realms, was released by Cactus Press in summer 2022. Samara has been a facilitator for McGill’s Poetry Matters series and a featured performer for events such as the QWF’s Words and Music Show, Accent Open Mic, and The Lawn Chair Soirée, among others. In 2022, Samara became the new host and co-coordinator of SpeakUp: The Montreal Interactive Poetry Exchange. Instagram Website

Samara Garfinkle’s Dual Realms (Cactus Press, 2022) is the Montreal-based author’s enchanting debut. Garfinkle’s work is confident in its mythic tone, with words and phrases creating an ambiance of a bygone era. Perhaps it is this quality of her writing which makes the poetry chapbook so cohesive as a collection. In fact, Garfinkle has become known in the Montreal poetry community for her mythical writing style. Phrases such as “looking-glass waters” and “vinegared words” appear at the start of the collection and invite the reader into a fantastical world where characters and objects represent fragments of the human psyche. When creating such a world, an author faces the risk of being didactic, sermonic. This is not the case with Garfinkle’s collection, which takes an exploratory approach to a range of topics: psychoanalysis, reflections on the nature of time and language, and the divine feminine.


Garfinkle is currently studying at Concordia University for a second bachelor’s degree in Psychology, following the footsteps of her father, a psychoanalyst. Her training and fascination with psychology appears clearly in her creation of characters which represent facets of human behaviour. For instance, the poem “Mother” is written from the perspective of a woman who addresses her child. However, this character appears to stand in for the divine feminine, who is aware others may discount her labour but chooses to persevere nevertheless: “I am the smile given by the wary stranger / who smiles anyway.”


Garfinkle uses capitalization of key concepts and characters to guide the reader, making her use of symbolism accessible to the reader. Inanimate concepts, such as a rift, are personified and living beings become centralized. One of the chapbook’s longer poems, “The Masks of Narcissus”, is a short tragedy which follows different stages of a relationship, in which a narcissistic character moves through stages of idealizing, devaluing, and eventually discarding their partner. In this poem, Garfinkle capitalizes the start of words like “we” and “you”, making it clear that the opposition between the two characters is central to the tragedy.


In what appears to be another way to explore nuances of the human mind, Garfinkle generously uses parentheses, dashes, bold and italicized text to inject in her stories an element of the subconscious. This is perhaps most evident in “The Minotaur Mind”, another Greek-inspired poem which follows the Minotaur, a creature which is part human, part bull. Garfinkle varies the size of individual lines of the poem, mimicking the winding nature of a labyrinth, historically the home of the man-eating Minotaur. Garfinkle uses parentheses to show the Minotaur’s internal struggle to come to terms with his own creation and his feelings of self-hatred. In doing so, Garfinkle successfully paints a thoughtful and empathetic picture of an otherwise monstrous figure.

I mentioned that Garfinkle’s undergraduate studies in Psychology at Concordia University is not her first. That’s because Garfinkle is foremost a soprano and voice teacher. Her musical training is reflected in her writing, which is sensitive to the placement of sounds. In “Dream Forest Fable'', Garfinkle tells the story of a witch who creates meaning from the dreams of a magical forest. As the witch describes her process of cracking open a tree trunk, Garfinkle writes: “spilling shavings of signs / syllables, sinuous syntax, / And the silent language of symbols.” The repetition of sounds in this quote is at once soothing and chilling, a contradiction which foreshadows what comes next.


For me, the collection’s most impressive poems reflect on the nature of language. Garfinkle’s “[Love] Language Acquisition” compares the experience of learning a language to the experience of learning the love language of our romantic partners in an incredible fashion.

She writes:  


… The stubborn confines of dialect


display that we acquire little native ease

beyond what was already given to us

when too young, too naively tactile

to choose to unwrap our mother tongue

(love’s lexicon),

or to understand its chain reaction.

In this excerpt, Garfinkle compares the power of the first languages we are exposed to (“our mother tongue”) to the power of the first attachment styles we develop with parental figures; our childhood makes us impressionable and unassuming (“too naively tactile”) to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Garfinkle revisits the potency of language in shaping our worldview in her final poem of the collection, in which the main character leaves the reader with a convincing call to use judgement when interpreting words. Garfinkle draws the reader into a world with symbolism but is aware that she communicates it to the reader by using language. This collection makes Garfinkle an emerging poet to watch out for. If you are looking for a meaningful poetic escape from the world, Dual Realms is for you.

Dual Realms by Samara Garfinkle is available for purchase at: Cactus Press.

From the collection:

[Love] Language acquisition


Much like the language of feeling we learn,
should you misuse it, others won’t stay:

There is likely no way to connect when we can’t

speak with the same taste-budding
affection. Words weighted with collective
unconscious symbols inspire

inner-eye channeling of metastasizing
mandalas, our cochlea guiding sound-
spirits to the angular gyrus

(—cue mystical image of gyrating gurus—)
churning inescapable syntactic rules

that turn gaseous grammar into solid

state. We parse and wait for someone
with phonemes less fickle to repeat the same
refrain: the stubborn confines of dialect

display that we acquire little native ease
beyond what was already given to us
when too young, too naively tactile,

to choose to unwrap our mother tongue
(love’s lexicon), 
or to understand its chain reaction.


These attachments made when babes compound

in futures fragile, dangling participants

that cling, fragmenting, anxious-

avoidant styles conjunctive with possession.
Strains of sterile vocabulary are rooted

in the plot of Mother Earth;

These fateful family ties of ours
secure the linchpin of lifelong patterns:

the beauty (or damnation) of our [love]—

language’s origin.

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