How To Not Be Afraid of Everything

Alice James Bks. Oct. 2021. 100p. ISBN 9781948579216. pap. $17.95. POETRY
An opening note to Wong’s second collection (after Overpour) describes the Maoist campaign known as the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in tens of millions of deaths from famine in the People’s Republic of China between 1958 and 1962; Wong dedicates a poem to members of her family who went missing or died in the famine. In many ways, the entire collection converses with ghosts, whether through invocation of the “good daughter,” address of an absent gambler father, or the thematically resonant invocation of food and its decay. One of the best poems links superficially disparate lines, giving readers the sense of connecting a puzzle from its outer pieces in. For instance, “Everything” introduces toxic boars in Japan, a fork as potential weapon, and an admonition to suspect men who call from balconies, all of which reappear, woven into a poetic whole linking family, xenophobia, cultural assimilation, and the past. Not a spare word remains. Frequent poetry readers will appreciate the formal diversity of the collection and its use of empty space. A poem might appear as hyphenated phrases in a paragraph, in Mad Libs style, or as simple enjambed free verse.
VERDICT The collection often surprises in its playfulness or self-deprecation, given the weight of the poems’ subject matter, and is a solid addition to poetry collections.
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