The poetry I have chosen for you today is a little bit different from what I usually go for–almost always, my choices for this page have been classic poets simply because they are what I’ve been immersed in in my classes or ones that I’ve grown fond of over the years.

This poet fits into neither category.

As someone trying to get my own poetry published or looked at, I find myself on different websites and looking around at foundations that like to highlight good work. Through Frontier Poetry’s website, I stumbled upon their 2018 Chapbook winner: Xiao Yue Shan.

If you’re wondering what a Chapbook is, it’s basically a smaller version of a poetry book (usually 40 pages or less) and they are much more practical to make yourself as well as print in small volumes. Frontier Poetry likes to give people a chance to have their work digitally published and in 2018, the content I’m reviewing today was published by them in this form.

So why this author?

Well, let’s dive into her work and through what you read, you’ll see why by the end of this.

How Often I Have Chosen Love–Xiao Yue Shan
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

One thing that I enjoy about this chapbook is that everything is pulled from the author’s life or relations or perspective. She lives in Tokyo and was born in China; I have never experienced either of these places, but she makes it seem as if I could have. Even just a little bit.

One of her first poems is called “When I was four years old my parents took me to tiananmen square.”

In four different parts, the beautiful thing about this poem is that it pulls you straight into the speaker’s experience. The first two stanzas start the poem out like this:

in the train car from dongying
to beijing, the light, 3am humming, sleeps
in strange directions. different weights

of yellow. I close my eyes,
dizzy. mama’s warm hand greying exhale
against my forehead, the world

Photo by Thomas Stephan on Unsplash

Just from this, you can understand what a “greying exhale” might sound or feel like without ever having considered that as possible thing before. The color yellow has a weight, you’re in a train car you’ve never seen before, your eyes are closed… Even when they aren’t.

Poetry isn’t just about what you read on the page, but also about how it impacts you in your imagination and the way your heartbeat might still, speed up, skip, or all of the above. And how the author jumps straight into a culture she knows in a way that the rest of us can catch a glimpse too, she does it quite well.

Take a look at this next one, “a nation of aphasia”:

when a writer goes missing in china
we take the red and gold paper emblems
that display the character for luck
off of our doors and paste them
over our mouths.

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

This is only the first sentence within the poem’s entirety and yet, it walks you right into its rhythm and meaning. Just the first sentence and stanza alone say a lot.

Do you know what aphasia is? By definition, it is a noun that means the “loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.” When you put that definition together with the first line, “when a writer goes missing in china”… Writers represent the absence of aphasia, the ability to express speech, to understand it. Without us, this understanding isn’t possible.

All in a title and one line.

Without going into the rest of her chapbook, I chose these two pieces of her work simply because of how much it tells you about the author’s style and sound. She finds a way to talk about politics, an awareness of space around her, and even just the idea of ambiguity in what one person sees versus another, all in one chapbook.

I bring this to you today because she is a writer who I had never gotten to know before, but I wanted to share now. If you’re interested in the rest of the chapbook, you can find it online here. Ultimately, I think there is at least one piece throughout that every one of you may enjoy and in the spirit of poetry, I hope you give it a chance.

Maybe you’ll see something you didn’t before. After all, that’s part of what this page is for.

See you Friday.

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