cover image The Ginkgo Light

The Ginkgo Light

Arthur Sze, . . Copper Canyon, $15 (69pp) ISBN 978-1-55659-299-7

Sze's sparkling ninth collection is largely obsessed with people, animals, plants and planets, caught in moments that suggest (without exactly revealing) their place in a cosmic order. In the first poem, “a praying mantis on the floor sips water,” “an ex-army officer turned critic frets,” a welder watches an overpass, “teenage girls compare bra sizes,” “light from a partial lunar eclipse/ diffuses down skylight walls”; in the last “Cottonwood leaves/ drift on the surface; a polar bear leaps off ice.” In between, the images—as in the compound eye of a beautiful insect—add up to a persistent, even a single-minded, whole: Sze's free verse emphasizes at once how difficult, and how necessary, it is for us to imagine our world as a system whose ecologies and societies require us to care for all their interdependent parts. At worst, the poetry looks like a set of lists, an interminable photo album; at best, as he says, “we lift and turn the incidents until... we find their true and living place.” Sze (Quipu ) weaves southwestern sights, Native lore, pre-Columbian peoples and languages, and East Asian poetry and thought throughout his verse, along with almost photographic reports on things seen: for him “Memory is encounter: each incident,// a bee thrumming in a hive.” (June)