Sennah Yee’s ‘How Do I Look’, and The Pleasure of Anecdotal Storytelling

June, 2019
Hadiyyah Kuma, Blog Correspondent
Hadiyyah is a third-year sociology major as well as a fiction writer, sometimes poet, and freelance writer. She’s curated a playlist of restaurant sounds because she is soothed by indiscernible chatter.

I like stories where “nothing happens,” because it’s not true that nothing happens. I like that story I wrote where a girl sits at a bus stop and watches a little boy sticking his toe in and out of sewage lid, thinking about which kind of fish to bake for dinner that evening. 

I like people who watch The Fast and Furious (2001) and connect it to the fact that they were named after a dead race car driver, going on a mini-expedition as to what driving means to us as humans. This kind of approach means that everything is basically a poem. When Toronto poet Sennah Yee talks about being named after Ayrton Senna she is talking about fear, connecting it to a piece of herself that is defined by her late-blooming when it comes to getting behind the wheel. It’s a meditation on confidence, summed up in the line, “Next week I retake the driver’s test and when I get my photo I.D. taken, the guy at the booth tells me to stop smiling. I have to.


Photograph by Jovis Aloor via Unsplash

Yee is the kind of poet who finds universality in those seemingly mundane moments in which everyday events force us to contemplate our existence. Poems such as “Flower Crown Snapchat Filter” detail the experience of relishing the ways in which social media make us seem more “beautiful” to ourselves. It’s something everyone has experienced and it quintessentially linked to the title of her collection, which is an examination of an infamous concept: the Gaze. Forgetting the Gaze always exists is easy when we are looking outwards as much as we are being looked at. Yee allows us to take a look back within ourselves while taking a close look at her. Her writing, in this way, is almost a kind of sacrifice towards the greater good. She bares her soul to empower women and shed light on the Asian-Canadian experience. 

I like stories where “nothing happens,” because it’s not true that nothing happens.

As a South Asian-Canadian, I felt I could relate to the ideas of exoticism, microaggressions, and being at a cultural crossroads. Poems like “Cho Chang,” uncover the feeling of desperately identifying with an Asian character, because there is so little representation in Western media. It’s the same feeling I had with characters like Pavarti Patel and Indie Mehta from, How To Be Indie.

In an age of sensationalization, it’s easy to look towards instant gratification and the next big things. This idea allows us to betray ourselves by ignoring the things that make us the most human. The way Yee writes, in this regard, is precious and rare. Much of her writing is blatant. This action is a refresher from much of the convolution of academic or luxury-oriented writing, which often comes from a place of exclusionary status-symbols and privilege. Writing accessible poetry is actually a practice of social unity. It means relaying your deepest thoughts without forcing readers to overanalyze what you’re trying to say. 

Goldenrod Haze

Photograph by Noah Buscher via Unsplash

When I write down anecdotal memories I feel myself achieving honesty in my work. Honesty is found in the time I wore a Cinderella costume with a built-in-white-skinned cleavage for a preschool Halloween party. It’s in the shape of the moon when I’m zooming through the soggy field outside University College with my friends. It’s thinking about the connection these memories have to freedom, or happiness, or inclusion. I think human stories are almost always based, at least somewhat, on anecdotes. Things happen, we process, we write. And that’s what art is, processing life through the medium of your choice and accidentally creating moments of beauty. These are the stories that never truly end.

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