Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I'm Reading (and Hearing): Adamantine

46º ~ bright sun today, one more day in the 80's according to those in the know, then down in the low 70's where we belong, exhale

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Shin Yu Pai's reading at Hendrix College.  Shin Yu is a new poet to central Arkansas, and I'm glad we are growing in numbers.  (N.B. As regular readers know, when I've become friends with a poet, as I have with Shin Yu, I dispense with the academic, last name only moniker, and use first names in my reviews.)

 While the reading was a bit short due to another event on campus, it was packed densely with poems of skill and agility.  Shin Yu began by reading from one of her books that I don't own yet, Equivalence, her first major collection.  With a background in both writing and art, many of these poems were either straight up ekphrastic poems or highly influenced by pieces of art, in particular photographs by Stieglitz along with other works by major artists of the 20th century.  After hearing the poems, I've added this book to my list of future purchases.

Shin Yu then read briefly from Sightings: Selected Works (2000 - 2005), a book she graciously exchanged with me when we met for dinner in August.  I've been working my way through these poems. Although they are a bit outside my comfort zone in style, I've enjoyed their energy and references to artworks and current events.  It was great to hear Shin Yu read from "Nutritional Feed," the fourth section of the book and based on her time working in advertising and PR.

Finally, the last half of the reading was devoted to the new star, Adamantine.  As I struggle with the title of my own manuscript, I have to admire this title for its ability to represent the book as a whole.  As many of you may know, adamantine is a a stone that is hard and indestructible, much like diamond.  Shin Yu illuminated this even more at the reading by mentioning the connection to Buddhism's "adamantine path."  The poems in this book beautifully showcase Shin Yu's global perspective, with much influence from Eastern beliefs and experiences.  While they are meditative, they are also poems of hidden hard edges that expose the pain of living in this world of chaos.  As Shin Yu said last night, her goal with the book is to "narrow the distance between the I and the other."  She does that exceptionally well.

In the opening poem, "This Is Not My Story," the speaker tells of a mouse discovered in the kitchen of two lovers.  After the appearance of the mouse, Shin Yu writes, "her lover says / it has a very tiny heart, // you need only chase / it until it tires... ."  This image of chasing follows through to the end of the poem with this meditation: "... the human heart is / a wholly different animal, / we must sense when to give in // before the other gives up."  This poem seems a perfect choice to open the collection as it introduces that theme of the distance between each of us, even in our most intimate relationships, and it contains a hint of a threat about the destructive as well as constructive elements of those relationships.

One thing I admire about Shin Yu's work, among many, is her ability to write about current events as they unfold around us.  While I am often caught up in the dramas of our world (the BP oil spill, the wars at home and abroad, violence against women and children, etc.), I've not yet been able to write directly about them.  In the poem "Search & Recovery," Shin Yu writes about the search for James Kim, who in 2006 became lost in a blizzard with his family in Oregon.  While his wife and children were rescued, James Kim perished of hypothermia when he left the car to search for help.  Shin Yu's poem manages to honor his bravery and his love for his family while also broadening the moment for all of us and saying something new about how we search in vain for what we've lost.  Here's the second half of the poem, the part that moves me the most:

the signs
you left for those 
who came after you 

a red t-shirt 
a wool sock, 
a child's blue skirt

layers of a life,
stripped down to 
a family's fate --

the weight of being
unseen -- to travel
a path back to

what you knew 
at birth, the warmth
of being held close

brought home

It's a delight to welcome Shin Yu to our local literary world and it was a particular delight to be able to hear the poems in the flesh last night, as I believe all poems live best in the voice and breath of the poet.

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Buy or Borrow this Book Today
Shin Yu Pai
White Pine Press, 2010


Jessie Carty said...

I like how you write up the event including poems read and your thoughts on them. I should try that on my own blog sometime :)

I also find that I can't write about current events. I'm almost always writing about things from years ago. Guess i just need A LOT of time to process!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Jessie, thanks! I, too, am a long-time processor.