Copper Canyon. Sept. 2019. 88p. ISBN 9781556595707. pap. $17. POETRY
“Our generation has gradually learned the great art of living without security,” says Stefan Zweig in an epigraph to this generous and approachable new work from Balaban, a multi-award-winning poet (e.g., Path, Crooked Path), novelist, and translator of Vietnamese poetry. (He is also a founder and director of the Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation.) It’s an appropriate quote, for in the first part of the book, Balaban makes poetry of unsettled history, traveling from the Chang dynasty (“soon enough there would be only wind/ shushing its sad music”), ancient Greece (“My poetry recited along the Aegean/ when we heard the brass trumpets of the Asian tribes”), and Vietnam (“my taxi/ would turn a corner, stirring up a memory of some dis-/ tant encounter”) to 9/11 (“refrigerated trucks/ filling with human debris”) and a return trip from Barack Obama’s inauguration, as his train passes near a North Carolina town where in 1970 “a black GI was shot to death.” The book then moves on to portraits, including Taos art gallery owner Tally Richards and translator Elling Eide, and then a sort of ars poetica (“The Uses of Poetry,” “Finishing up the Novel After Some Delay”), and other scenes and landscapes that make for a grand tour.
VERDICT Written with a storyteller’s verve, this collection entertains as it provokes and will appeal to many readers.
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