A collection of brief, impressionistic verse, with occasional images and translations.
Watson’s (One Hundred Leaves, 2013, etc.) eclectic mix is an uneven but enjoyable outing. Almost all of the book’s considerable length is made up of micropoetry—short entries of about three to seven lines—which seem intended to be read both as individual poems and as components of one extended sequence. There is no narrative to speak of within the micropoems, but similar images crop up over and over again; water, nighttime and longing glances play starring roles. Much of Watson’s diction is fresh and unexpected—“brush me with / your loose- / leaf kiss”—while other word choices are plagued by cutesy rhyme schemes and trite rhetorical questions: “to feel vs. to know / does it matter / to the soul?” Apart from the strengths and weaknesses of the individual poems, the collection as a whole feels less original as it progresses. There is, for example, a mysterious “she” who appears throughout, in lines such as “I knew her once / but now she is just / smoke & wind” and “her mouth / contained all / the secrets.” After several such similar mentions, lines like those cease to feel meaningful, and the collection loses a sense of momentum or progress. In both the micropoetry section and the handful of longer poems that follow it, the inclusion of translations—most of early Chinese poetry—is a further confusion. Though impressive, they feel out of place next to Watson’s own very different style, and their attributions are often murky, with some citations including no more detail than “Translated from an anonymous Chinese poem in the Shijing.” Still, despite the collection’s flaws, many of Watson’s poems offer nuanced explorations of love and uncertainty, and they’ll be especially compelling to those intrigued by the author’s experimentation with formal limitations.
A grab bag of musings containing its share of gems but hindered by a lack of cohesion.