Poetry in the pool (with Ewan McGregor)

Analysis by Chris Tse

Featured in Capital #50
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Everyone at the Pool Looked Like Ewan McGregor

By Sharon Lam
From Starling issue #4, 2017

Ewan McGregor was doing freestyle
Ewan McGregor was trying to do freestyle
lifeguard Ewan McGregor watched over all the Ewan McGregors and I
while Ewan McGregor snuck into the sauna without a wristband
I shared my lane with two Ewan McGregors
one had red Speedos and one had teal goggles
we swam up and down the lane: Ewan McGregor, Ewan McGregor and I
we fell into a rhythm, swimming equal distances apart
I grew attached to my two Ewan McGregors, how could I not
the three of us made a rectangular volume of water our own
Ewan McGregor was tired and stopped
Ewan McGregor was tired and stopped
I also stopped, how could I not
catching our breath side by side:
Ewan McGregor, Ewan McGregor, and I


The poet: Sharon Lam is an architectural graduate and writer whose work has appeared in Starling, Salient, Pantograph Punch, Headland and The White Pube. She’s a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters, where she wrote a novel for her MA in creative writing.

In brief: Sharon’s poem first appeared in Starling, a journal that showcases young New Zealand writers under the age of 25. It’s essential reading if you want to discover the future of New Zealand literature.

First things first

The first question I asked myself after reading this poem is: are all the Ewan McGregors the same one or different versions of him from his entire filmography? I for one would like a swimming pool filled with the suave, caddish Ewan McGregor of Down With Love but I’d settle for a bunch of action star Ewan McGregors.

Why I like it

This poem is effortlessly funny. The image of a swimming pool filled with Ewan McGregors is so delightfully ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. It’s also doing some great technical things: the use of repetition creates a calming rhythm akin to swimmers doing laps. The name “Ewan McGregor” becomes an unlikely mantra, and the multiple uses of the phrase “how could I not” suggests a surrender, on both the speaker and perhaps the reader’s part, to this fantasy scenario. It’s a surprisingly immersive poem despite its strangeness.

What is it about?

My initial thought was that this is Sharon’s sly reverse takedown of the “all Asians look alike” brand of casual racism. But the more I read it, the more I felt that the speaker was also an Ewan McGregor, thus making the poem a comment on the mundane sameness of life. It’s a sobering interpretation of an otherwise amusing poem, but if you can’t see the brighter side of the homogeneity of life, how else are you going to get through the days?


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