Tuesday, June 08, 2010

World Universe Poetry Tour: Sam Taylor, Tung-Hui Hu, and Khaled Mattawa

One of the pleasures of poetry, unlike, say, the latest topical novel or political treatise, is that there's no "expiration date." Here are three slender volumes, not newest but delicious, that make up a world tour, without leaving the back porch.

1. BODY OF THE WORLD by Sam Taylor

Here's a debut collection from a poet whose East Coast beginnings and Texas/New Mexico existence are nearly invisible, as he probes love, strangers, and the resonance of form and line. Consider this portion of the poem "Arc":
And soon
you have forgotten that the world is new.

And in the middle, you will be a two piece suit
between traffic signals,
but in the end, the underside of ambrosia
and the breath of green tea.
In the middle, women will come to you naked

with hair clips given to them by their grandmothers,
a sari from the Indian coast,
a limp from when they fell running through the park.
2. MINE by Tung-Hui Hu

This 2007 collection won the Eisner Prize and is blurbed by Mark Doty; Hu lives in San Francisco and had an earlier career as a computer scientist working on Internet architecture. The poems tremble on the edge between blocks of free verse and chunks of prose, and they swirl above a sense of "where" to sample instead the sense of coming to know life and love. Here is the first portion of "On Power Outages":
Knowing someone by touch is like being able to move around a dark city without power or signs. And even when it is easy to move around it is always awful to be inside. One man proposed during the blackout, it was reported on the news. Another is inside, sitting quietly -- everybody can hear him thinking to himself, trying not to move, waiting for the morning to rise.
3. ZODIAC OF ECHOES by Khaled Mattawa

Dreams and not dreams, home and distance, the South and also North Africa: Mattawa's second collection also follows his translation of three volumes of Arabic poetry. Born in Libya, he arrived in the United States in his teens. I like especially when his poems dip into his childhood, as in "Home Front," which concludes:
Aisha's baby will not sleep
and I am a monkey and I am good.
A cat meows. Ibrahim barks.
Who did the zebra bray?
Please trumpet like an elephant.
Please, please the owl's hoot.
And to satisfy that longing for a journey, here is the start of "Echo & Elixir 7":
The stories you believe are the stories you make.

So one enters a room alone.
People there and they see the dust
and they hear the echo of travel.

They remember distances and songs,
they read a script that befuddles the page:
trains, airports, short-term leases,

hawkers and dingy bars.
Last and perhaps best, surely most amazing in this volume, is the long "Dark Anthem" that concludes it. I quote here just one triplet of lines, one sequence that rings in me tonight: "my fingers loose but firm, / picking the air's locks, / unchaining a miracle from the dark."

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