cover image Genghis Chan on Drums

Genghis Chan on Drums

John Yau. Omnidawn, $17.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-63243-100-4

Yau’s latest brilliant (after Bijou in the Dark) brims with social critique and the linguistic play for which the poet is known, while also being suggestive of a writer and artist eager to situate his multifaceted work in the context of a collapsing society. The poems shape-shift from prose to lyric, trying on voices as readily as actors and prompting the speaker of the first poem to ask: “Can anyone prove reliable in this environment?” Indeed, as Yau’s poems examine the fraying social fabric around them, his satirical humor accumulates into moral outrage, as in the poem “The Congressman’s Explanation,” which begins: “If you live in your car, I don’t have to worry about you not being able to pay rent/ If you eat scraps from a dumpster, I don’t have to worry about you stealing food.” Yau also tackles anti-Asian hate in a series of “O Pin Yin Sonnets” (a play on the system for Romanizing Chinese characters) that gathers and reimagines racist and stereotypical language in order to capture its absurdity: “They scrape donkey hides and turn the piles of pickings into youth jelly.” Self-aware yet self-effacing, these necessary poems testify to the power of language to transform reality. (Oct.)