Evocative and lyrical free-verse poetry.



A translator offers two poem cycles—supposedly uncovered in two scrolls—that involve the politics of love and reading in ancient China.

This book includes a mysterious explanation about the unearthing of the Xian scrolls. The translator of these poems from Old or Classical Chinese into English, known only as E.O., relates that the anonymous archaeologist who found the two scrolls died under “mysterious circumstances.” This requires “circumspection” about the details of the scrolls’ location and the identity of E.O. and his contacts in China. These two collections of verses—“The Poems of Cangjie” (circa 2650 B.C.E.), by the Chinese historian, and “Visions of Cangjie” (circa 213 B.C.E.), by a poet and translator called the Sculptor—share vivid styles and themes. Both poets write in shimmering free verse about Cangjie’s forbidden love for the Yellow Emperor’s favorite courtesan and the consequences. The “furious emperor” forbids Cangjie to speak to the woman, and the historian, to circumvent the order, invents the written word to deliver his message to the object of his affection: “What you hear / is not what I hear. / I grieve / as at death.” Over 2,000 years later, the Sculptor demonstrates a similar ingenuity when he translates Cangjie’s poems onto a silk scroll. He hides that treasure, along with his own poems on a second scroll, in one of the hollow bodies of the terra-cotta army figures he labors to create. He thus saves both his and Cangjie’s work from the First Emperor’s massive book burning. Cangjie’s images are more concise (“Like your lashes / your hands flutter— / quails in a bush”) than the Sculptor’s: “One woman walked / as a falcon in soar.” The parallelism of the two collections remains pleasing in its symmetry. For readers who can let go of their need for undisputed proof that these are indeed lost poems, gems await, including this line from Cangjie: “Sly slip / of moon, / you made me wait the night / to see you.”

Evocative and lyrical free-verse poetry.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9848403-4-2

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Risk Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

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    Best Books Of 2012



Merging geographic precision with detailed lyricism, Berry’s collection of poetry spans continents and states of the soul.

The best poetry focused on a particular locale tends to evoke sensory stimulation as much as meaning, and Berry’s collection of nearly 60 poems is no different. Born in England, the author has travelled widely throughout Africa and the United States. With a doctorate in geography, she casts a discriminating, discerning eye on the landscapes to which her travels have taken her. In unrhymed, compact poems—few more than a page in length—the poet speaks with seriousness about the relationship between the natural world and one’s inner world. In “Music of Place,” she writes: “Carried in the wind is the music of place, blown / like washing on a line, white sheets flapping, sending / large billowing folds of sound back to me,” which typifies her ability to translate a place into a finely detailed, highly specific moment in her past or present. Some poems set in North Africa elevate journallike jottings into sharply etched experiences. The dominant moods suffusing these poems are calm and meditational, perhaps reflecting the influence of poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also attuned to inner and outer geographies. The final 20 poems shift focus from geography and place to reconciliations or frictions with family members; many relatives have passed on but are vibrantly alive in the author’s memory. These family sketches often turn on a particularly poignant phrase spoken to the author by a parent or loved one: “Windows” pivots on Berry’s father’s comment, “I could drive if I wanted to,” as the author notes that her father never owned a car. Few books of recent poetry reveal such a penetrating awareness of how the environments in which we live affect us as much as we affect them. An extraordinary, nuanced collection by a gifted poet.


Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935514749

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Plain View

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Wise, kind and lively verse that truly “dances to a tune that’s / gloriously redeeming / of anger, hate, and envy. / It’s an...



Engaging lyric poetry that manages to be sensual and cerebral, fun and profound.

Readers willing to dig deeper than the work of poets Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Anthony Joseph will find that exciting new worlds of Caribbean poetry await. Although some lesser-known Caribbean writers tend to get bogged down in the exotic fecundity of their island landscapes, others write with a grace and steadiness that highlights personal experience within the larger context of culture and environment to reveal something universal. Trinidadian novelist, painter and poet Drayton (The Crystal Bird, 2012, etc.) most decidedly falls into the latter category. Her personal poems often focus on singular moments in her past, yet her evocation of the slippage between past and present, of how we manage to exist in both times simultaneously, speaks directly to readers. The exploration of how “time…magically overlaps generations” pervades this collection. Her narrators are buffeted by nostalgia but are never fatalistic or cloying; instead, they treasure the past and the present as a single fabric of interwoven threads. One narrator, for instance, revisits a memorable beach and finds that the “scenery I knew has all but gone, / except for the sea. / Longing and waiting, I dream of the days / that never can be again. / The sea waits while I dream a dream / where I stand on the balcony of this precious day.” Drayton invests symbols with a similar complexity; the titular brown dove, for instance, is at once a symbol of maternal devotion, sexual allure, rebellion and quiet endurance, and is rife with gender and racial resonances. Occasionally, her more contemplative poems suffer from excess erudition, and she is sometimes prone to distracting alliteration, but she also delivers unmatched similes such as, “The morning stormed my day / like a drunken party crasher / with streams of gold and white ribbons / coming through the window.”

Wise, kind and lively verse that truly “dances to a tune that’s / gloriously redeeming / of anger, hate, and envy. / It’s an awesome authority / with boundless energy.” 

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478160045

Page Count: 120

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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