Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sandy Tseng, Sediment

Sandy Tseng's debut collection Sediment is reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

Publishers Weekly

This vivid and clean-lined debut weaves strands of personal and family narrative into short poems with wider symbolic force; the best of them contemplate both autobiography and ecocatastrophe. Tseng's free verse creates strong moods: “Apple season, the dog eats his fill and falls asleep beside the space heater./ I thought the world was going to end years ago.” Questions of East Asian immigration and assimilation dominate some early poems before giving way to more abstract spiritual dilemmas: “if our books burn up,/ we will suffer loss and still be saved,/ as those escaping through the flames.” Tseng is equally at home depicting modern cityscapes and presenting far-flung rural locales. In both, she seeks sublimity while restricting herself to familiar words; in both she is able to see impending doom, as when the title poem presents the Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in two haunting pages (“The last thing we see is a wall of white crashing... Oil rig evacuations. Cars and cars against the sea wall”). In Tseng's strongest work, everything takes on a surprising, religious dimension as the book drives to a close: “The voice of the Lord is upon the water,” she warns: “he intends to strip the forests bare.” (Nov.)

Publishers Weekly, 10/19/2009

Tom Healy, What the Right Hand Knows

Tom Healy's debut collection What the Right Hand Knows is reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

Publishers Weekly

Laconic yet passionate and sparely personal, the poems in this first book set urbanity and unfolding tragedy in common words and slow-moving, short lines. A gallery owner since the 1990s
and a significant figure in New York City's art scene, Healy unsurprisingly sets some poems there; his real gifts emerge, though, in allegorical or remembered rural locales. In one poem “mother and son” take “a Sunday drive on Tuesday” through the land where they grew up, “their remembered selves waving,/ as farmers do.” The specter of chronic disease, likely HIV, looms over that and other verse (“Everyone is so involved/ keeping track of my pills”), while the shadow of time passing besets them all; readers who admire Mark Doty may find far more concise versions of Doty's effects. Healy's finest moments make him spare, elegiac and wry all at the same time: “What do we do when we hate our bodies?/ A good coat helps.” So often interested in bodies, their pleasures, their troubles, Healy frequently decides that neither poetry nor anything else can console us when bodies don't work: “sleep, vegetables, short walks” or even poems all seem to lead “to the logic of failure,// the panic that mind/ is not enough.” (Nov.)

--Publishers Weekly 10/19/2009