Although I sometimes felt baffled by Lo Kwa Mei-en’s poetry in this book, I always felt dazzled by it. I am noticing a trend this month, one that first became clear to me when I was reading Alice Fulton‘s Barely Composed, and was heightened by following closely with Terrance Hayes. The poetry that is a bit…beyond…me is the poetry that is making me re-examine my own work, inspiring me to try (if not to leave narrative’s camp altogether) something new.
Yearling is published by Alice James Books, a press I have long admired. It begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson, “This world is not Conclusion. / A Species stands beyond–” and juxtaposes bright facets of images with sounds that chime and jangle together to make music. “Bulbs of velvet gold wink in the insect // night like meteors sailing…” (“Man O’War”). That I had to reread and ponder and reread (again) — as I have with other poets playing so with language and lyric — was not the poet’s fault, but mine. They make me want to rise to them.
Here is just one poem for you to sample. I may have fallen down the rabbit hole in reading this entire collection of poems in one day, but — oh! — what a trip.
The Body as an Empty Cup
They bring things to you in smaller glasses
when they are stronger. Rogue hazelnut
ale, well-diluted soap, blush wine: these are not
stronger things so should come in buckets. Yes,
I see what you see — girl all appetite
riddled with holes. No, my throat has not drunk
down a barrel of Dawn. The West Coast sky
says I should’ve expected that from you.
So it comes down to forecasts and delays.
We used to sit, stare, and wait for what
was promised. When buckets of weaker
copies came instead, I recited cardamom,
whiskey, blow beneath my breath. If I ever
come back to you, it will be in thimbles.
Lo Kwa Mei-en, Yearling (Alice James Books, 2015)
The way the first line informs the last, gives you a clue to this poem’s interior. I had a sense that once I’d hit on its kernel of meaning, it came unlocked, one of those little puzzle boxes with a secret drawer. Do I fully understand it? I’m not sure. But I can see its strength.