Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chinese Blackbird

Sherry Quan Lee’s poetry is mainly focused on ethnic experience as an Asian/African-American living in America. Her poetry book Chinese Blackbird (Modern History Press, 2008) bears close similarity in theme and modes, to her other poetry book How to Write a Suicide Note (Modern History Press, 2008). One perceptible difference is that of tone. How to Write a Suicide Note sounded more poignant and exuding the feeling of ethnic discrimination and identity crisis to the extent of leading one to suicide attempts. But Chinese Blackbird sounds more involved in self-expression and story-telling. Some pieces in this collection are in fact written in prose with the poetic feel coming through loosely maintained rhythm.

After a very warm, inviting preface by David Mura, Sherry Quan Lee’s very first line, “I’m pregnant with myself”, speaks her inner urge of having another birth, a sort of inner rebirth by conscious choice. There come poems then which question the arbitrariness of blackness, the biases gearing the judgmental process, and the deceptive standards of identity (based mainly on skin color). Some of the questions are quite broad and would challenge the intellect as a whole: “Is it too late to break silence?” “Am I the woman I’m in love with?” There is enough in this collection to spark some meaningful discussions.

Chinese Blackbird also tells more about the author’s family and her experience of family life as well as relationships. And at more than one place, it rejects men on different grounds. This is not to say that the poet sounds phobic of men without reason. But her interior self seems to express a greater trust of women, epitomized in the poem “Naming” where her tribute to her mother shows why she ultimately can trust a woman, and with good reason. Maybe, men would like to question her position, but they have to beat the poet’s inner voice with stronger reason and at least equal poetic talent.

If How to Write a Suicide Note was an uplifting book standing for the value of life against adversity, Chinese Blackbird is a poetic picture of the strengths of one’s interior and the possibility that one might find success with living by being true to one’s inner self, even if it implies looking at one’s face in the mirror with no social makeup on. These poems are important in addressing both personal and social aspects of life in a multi-ethnic society.

ISBN: 978-1932690682


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ticket to Ride

This book is interesting and important in many of its qualities. Primarily, the author Philip Scott Wikel, shows that back in the 60s, with things turning upside down and inside out in individual and social lives in the developed west, two young people didn’t let their sanity detach from the normal and traditional, while also moving ahead with a new spirit of the age. Morgan and Livy – the main characters – are thus simultaneously conventional and unconventional youth of a time when breaking the convention was becoming a rash convention in itself.

Ticket to Ride is a work of great creative and artistic merit, especially when you consider the different styles of narration so flexibly and with perfect literary ease blended together such that various stories set in different times and places are read as self-standing events, and yet are expanded upon later to arrive at a complete end without expressly answering the questions that arise in the reader’s mind. The stories are mostly showing than telling, something highly desirable in literary fiction.

The lead characters hold life and warmth of living it as a dream. A few are unique or quirky, like Psalm, until you actually see what led them there. There is lots of imagery in the book, and the experience of reading really emulates a ticket to ride in the literal sense with descriptions of travel presented in the style of literary journalism, beside journal entries by the main characters. Morgan and Livy also love to fantasize, so much so that Morgan finally has a brief conversation with Herman Melville along a beach. Imagination and love for wisdom at its peak!

Also enjoyable are many snippets, excerpts, and quotes from celebrated works of literature and most popular songs (Beatles remain alive throughout the book). If one must name any weakness of the book here, it must be the typos that are spotted here and there. But the charm of the book is not in the least shadowed by them. From page one to the last line, Ticket to Ride is a treat for the reader with the taste.

ISBN: 1450588271

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