The Animated Reader: Poetry of "Surround Audience"

Critical Writing
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Phew! What a journey betwixt East and West that was, the mere description of the process of the process-poem. What [Jonathan Stalling] allows to subtly unfold in these poems are two popular visions of China dreamt up by the West (and it would hardly be controversial to say that the Westerner's dream of China has woven itself thick into the fabric of Chinese reality). The beginning of each poem - here, "Please speak a little louder. I can't hear you" - evokes the businessperson's China, the tourist's phrasebook in which language is a tool, the straightforward economy of exchange in which nothing is lost in the gulf between languages - because nothing has really been said. The end of each poem sounds like a garbled version of appropriated ancient Chinese wisdom and culture: the ending verse, which begins with "persuading guests to drink wine / one silk thread at a time" sounds, to my half-trained ears, like a parodie condensation of the great poet Li Bai mixed into the I Ching with a dash of Confucius to finish. I love that these poems receive their movement from the contingencies of language itself - passing sometimes across the smooth surfaces of sense, other times along the striated channels of sound - to get from language as utility (sensibility) to language as poetry (senselessness). Certainly these poems function as a gentle critique of Orientalism and are a testament to the infinite pliability of language. But the contingencies that are the poems' internal connective tissue produce accidental beauty along the way: the double, parallel descent of the shape of the poem, for one; and lovely lines like "rest on a mourning shrine / sins dark / veiled, narrow pass" all the more gorgeous for having travelled through the tumultuous waters of translation.

There is so much more I want to write about yet there's so little room, but shout-outs to: Laura Solórzano's post-Steinian gem of a poem (p. 189); Bela Shaycvich's hilarious drunken correspondences on the tasks of the translator (p. 56-57); Desmond Kon ZhîchengMingdé's masterly sestina (p. 193). By way of a cautious conclusion: The Animated Reader is a worthwhile thing; it serves as a whirlwind intro to some stellar and inventive writers; it's mostly a fuckin' blast to read because it hitssomanydifferentkindsofpleasurenodcs; and it reminds you how potent the poetic form is, and that poetry will not be slain by new Internet for ms, but will forge a head, procreating gloriously with them.

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Daniel Johannes...