cover image Compass Rose

Compass Rose

Arthur Sze. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-1-55659-467-0

Known for his ambitious and dazzling array of subject matter, Sze (The Gingko Light) exhibits a contemplative, image-based poetics in his ninth collection. Sze achieves a truly present tense in this book, weaving scenes of small, precise, and remarkably authentic actions throughout the poems, covering music, war, nuclear weapons, and comets, along with the “tiny spider” that “hangs a web between a fishing/ rod and a thermostat.” “Vietnamese, English, Hindi/ and Spanish ozone the air” that suffuses these lines, as does a plethora of other languages and places. In his commitment to recognizing the activity of the world around him, Sze creates pauses between his long poems and series with untitled, aerated fragments; short catalogues of immediate, disparate actions that hang in the moment: “Twitching before he plays a sarangi near the temple entrance, a blind man-” Never, not even in his more lyric, manic passages do we feel the poet giving in towards a typical, anxious post-modern voice. “In this world,” Sze insists, “we stare at a rotating needle// on a compass and locate / by closing our eyes.” Sze assures us, in fact, “ardor is here-/ and to the writer of fragments, each fragment is a whole.” (May)