cover image Phrasis


Wendy Xu. Fence, $15.95 trade paper (60p) ISBN 978-1-93420094-0

In her second collection, Xu (You Are Not Dead) carefully navigates the lyric form and the affective tension of the interior/exterior dichotomy, exploring the nature of what can be felt and what can be written about. A painterly, James Schuyler–esque sensibility infuses this inward-driving work, as seen in “Some People,” in which Xu writes, “If they found/ me oblique then I am doing this for my bluer/ augmented self now.” It is a powerful statement of writerly self-affirmation amid the crowding, judging, monolingual “they” that readers encounter throughout the book. The poems are primarily composed of grammatically torqued phrases and fragments, dream notes, revels in “the abstract middle” between attachment and estrangement, and observations—the material of everyday life. For example, in “Recovery,” Xu writes, “The it of love was on my mind,” and she also recalls a war, “a syntactical/ construction pointing back toward itself.” Xu’s tendency toward abstraction is an attempt to protect (rather than obscure or erase) the personal, the sacred, and the private. In one fragment, the poet names her accumulation of poetic matter as “A catalogue then, of the present as it shifts into rose view.” To read this catalogue is to see the world transformed through Xu’s attentiveness to the possibilities of language in a surveillance-riddled landscape. (May)