On Poems On
by Sandra Liu
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012
28 pages / $8 Buy from UDP
Even though there’s nothing particularly insular or fragmentary about Sandra Liu’s work, it’s still difficult to grasp exactly what’s going on in the book because of the restless nature of the poems’ wanderings through landscape, experience, character and image. Nominally this is free verse written in standard syntax, but individual lines or sentences in Liu’s poems aren’t trustworthy indicators of what might come next. This is always a good thing, because the unpredictability adds to the poems’ allure and as I read through the chapbook I found myself drawn closer and closer to whatever sharp turn the poem might next, unless there’s no sharp turn or the poem cuts off abruptly. The poems in On Poems On are a ceaseless lateral movement along or between landscapes either literal, linguistic, or informative that leave you with a sense of having visited a location or moment without being allowed to linger long enough for details of daily life to become mundane.
This isn’t to say that the poems are particularly wild, save for the punctuations throughout the book of often deadly violence; the work is measured and light, and could pass as graceful observational poetry if there weren’t more at work, like the aforementioned violence. A good example of this is “Static,” in which dryly delivered information about the geography of and south of Indonesia is woven together with scenes of rioting crowds gunned down by state forces:
archipelago, grenades, AK-47s,
household bombs and machetes alternate with an underwater
topography, flats of nadir in several areas of the city and extended airscaping
leading to Halmahera,
itself comprising four peninsulas, each,
a 12-year-old boy, drawn out by congeries of islets,
traversed by SUV.
October 12th, 2012 / 12:00 pm