cover image Tell It Slant

Tell It Slant

John Yau. Omnidawn, $22.95 trade paper (74p) ISBN 978-1-63243-125-7

Yau’s charming latest (after Genghis Chan on Drums) reflects on a lifetime of making art from the periphery. Playing on the eponymous phrase, Yau explores artistic process and the limits of communication, all under the specter of anti-Asian hate and racism. Many poems make overt reference to painting and painters, suggesting Yau’s strong association with poetry and painting as primarily imagistic and often abstract art forms: “I spend all night painting a single blue tear, which I scratch away in the morning.” The sense of pathos running through the collection extends beyond a description of the writing process into the speaker’s recognition of his own aging. In “After I Turn 71,” he remarks: “I realize this passport is the last one that will be issue to me.” Lines regularly straddle between a resigned sense of loss and a gruff illumination, an understanding that the trappings of a polite, stable self are only illusions: “I decide making sense is no longer an acceptable form of lying.” Ultimately, Yau’s speaker discovers that in order to express the truth, “poets always/ Need to be foreign, even in their own country.” This wise and sometimes ominous collection shines. (Oct.)