A Distant Center

Copper Canyon. May 2018. 80p. ISBN 9781556594625. $22; pap. ISBN 9781556595219. $17. POETRY
Many know Ha Jin for his fiction, the Pulitzer finalist War Trash and National Book Award-winning Waiting being two novels of note. However, he has also written six poetry collections in English. Clear, centered, and lacking artifice, this latest is a quiet series of contemplations about the domestic and home building. Home here takes a few shapes—the arms of a lover, the country from which the speaker and his family came, the simple pleasures of the quotidian. While some of Ha Jin's representations of the home, specifically those of gender roles and dynamics, may feel out of step for some, his tenderness, clarity, and honesty will make readers feel as if they are listening to an old friend wax poetic over coffee.
VERDICT This pleasant collection will appeal to fans of W.S. Merwin, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver, with the poems about China even eliciting resonances with Charles Simic. But some readers may leave feeling underwhelmed by its simplicity and quotidian focus. Those looking for more contemporary Chinese poetry in English might be better served by Liu Xia's Empty Chairs. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/17.]
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