Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple: The Poems of Frances Chung

Walter Lew, Compiled by, Walter Lew, Afterword by, Frances Chung, Author Wesleyan University Press $30 (189p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6415-3
Chung died in 1990 at the age of 40, leaving behind several different plans for collections of her work. Poet and scholar Walter K. Lew (Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry) has chosen the two manuscripts of the title, which repeat several poems between them. In ""Crazy Melon,"" the earlier collection, Chung captures something of the crepuscular underside of Chinatown culture in the '70s and '80s. As Lew notes in the afterword, Chung's speaker can be flaneur-like, composing poetic miniatures that at once participate in and conflict with the voyeuristic acquisitiveness of souvenir shoppers and amateur Orientalists (""the gypsy men with pocket full of holes/ count their slippery fistful of coins""). At other times, the poems pointedly describe some of the anger, anxiety and alienation of a ""Chinese"" in New York's Chinatown: ""Neon lights that warm no one. How long/ ago have we stopped reading the words/ and the colors? On Saturday night,/ the streets are so crowded with people/ that to walk freely I have to walk in/ the gutter."" While Chung's poems do not always display a great virtuosity, some of the later, more formally accomplished poems in ""Chinese Apple""--including a pantoum and several quasi-metrical lyrics--seem to succumb to some of the exoticizing the younger Chung would have dismissed or scolded. Nevertheless, many poems are the product of careful attention to rhythmic and tonal effects, and recall the early Williams in their generosity, unorthodox line-breaks and beauty. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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Paperback - 189 pages - 978-0-8195-6416-0
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