TO BE THE POET

Maxine Hong Kingston, Author . Harvard Univ. $22 (128p) ISBN 978-0-674-00791-8

A collection of stories and legends, Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976) is a collegiate fixture and a centerpiece for the Asian-American canon; her subsequent works buttressed her reputation for fiction and autobiographical prose. This short volume chronicles Kingston's attempts to adopt "the life of the Poet": "The Poet's day will be moment upon moment of gladsomeness. Poets do whatever they like." Though they were first delivered as lectures at Harvard, these three chapters in note-like prose with interpolated verse read more like short diaries. Brief meditations on Kingston's late parents; glimpses from her travels to the U.K. and Hawaii; sketches and even numerical jottings; daily events ("I'd ordered a burgundy, but got white wine") and portentous sentences on her poet acquaintances (Gary Snyder, Alice Fulton, Fred Marchant) punctuate what are mostly Kingston's notes on her attempts to write verse, and on her ideas of what verse-writing means. "Taking the day off, I was already acting like the Poet"; "Try for poetry day and night./ Try in various places"; "I actually felt diamonds of light touch me." Part three includes more of Kingston's own poetry, which is mostly unfinished (as she says) and largely unsatisfactory (as she acknowledges): "Word or picture cannot show/ the Reality of Cow." Her last and most effective poem revisits her first book—it versifies the story of Mu Lan, the Woman Warrior, and Kingston's devotees will appreciate that, even as they await her return to other forms. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/19/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 124 pages - 978-0-674-03963-6
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