100 Chinese Silences

Timothy Yu. Les Figues (SPD, dist.), $17 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-934254-61-5
Yu (Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965) combines his academic background in Asian American studies with his talent for verse in a witty and illuminating collection that unmasks cultural appropriation in American literature. Most of the 100 poems draw inspiration from source poems, but that source material becomes the target of intense and deserved criticism, not idolatry. Yu eviscerates his array of predecessors—including Ezra Pound, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Tony Hoagland—for their generally ignorant use of Asian stereotypes and their reductive approaches to Chinese culture. He sums up such reductionism in a line about Pound: “He tried to embrace an empire/ In an ideogram.” Yu goes far beyond such cringe-worthy titles as “I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets” and rewrites the poems, emphasizing the clichés and deep-rooted insensitivities. In doing so, he breaks the silence of the appropriated and subverts a homogenized history. The poems ask when, if ever, cultural appropriation is acceptable, or respectable. Yu’s poems often slip into anger over the accumulation of cultural insults: “We’re not asking for a goddamn prize./ We just want to be appropriated/ with a little fucking consideration.” Through deep insight and creative repurposing, Yu makes a place for himself within an evolving, and more inclusive, narrative of American poetry. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/20/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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