Hoarfrost & Solace
Chapbook, Fan Wu, espresso-chapbooks.com, 36 pgs, $15
“Long away I turn / through window’s deathless autumn. / Hoarfrost and solace.” In this chapbook, Fan Wu’s variations on Tang dynasty poetry builds on impressions of 8th and 9th century China. And each poem, while succinct, traces the landscape with a tranquil hand and clarifying eye.
I’ll admit that it’s tough to chew through all 36 pages in one sitting. Each poem is pretty heavy and, in skimming, can leave a bit of a headache — like holding in a sneeze. But taken in small servings, as minute and impressionistic portraits (as I believe they were intended), the works in this collection prove more than expansive on their own: “A forest elk-trod / trills loss: / a friend / fit for no death, / no bend in water / nor bell tolling / its fractious hour.”
And so Hoarfrost & Solace reads a bit like a montage and, like a good montage artist, Fan Wu’s approach is focused and self-reflexive: “My own translations might be called free improvisations; or variations upon a latticework of themes; or experiments in rearranged prismatic perspective.” These aren’t staunch, verbatim translations. Instead, they stem from the seeds of Wu’s own unique experiences and interpretations. As such, the text reads with an added sense of contextual vulnerability: “you leave me / a lone tumbleweed / wandering through wheat / shaken ablaze.”
Overall, Hoarfrost & Solace is a good chapbook to keep on your coffee table; it might take a while to chip away at this one. (Jeff Low)