The Rupture Tense: Poems

Graywolf Sept. 2022. 120p. ISBN 9781644452011. pap. $17. POETRY
Xie follows the National Book Award finalist Eye Level with a remarkable collection that uses the photography of Li Zhensheng to examine the awful excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the arduous process of absorbing memory in general. As Xie deftly describes him, Li was “a government-backed photojournalist…[who] made his own theater in cellulose nitrate…. For every propagandist photograph he published, he earned eight frames of film. The photographs that would never get approved.” The 30,000 negatives he hid under his floorboards were finally developed four decades after he took them, and they show us “The brutalized. The hanged. The stoned. The lashed. The suicides. The betrayed. The paranoid. The disappeared. The executed” and elsewhere “eight stripped trees matching eight individuals on their knees.” In her sharply observed lines, where “memory-images spill over an unarticulated margin,” Xie literally demands that we look at these prints as she does, fiercely and courageously, communicating shattering truths as she reveals the “friction from the future [that] lies in the folds.” As she writes, Xie further elucidates the very act of taking pictures and the ultimate unknowability of what is past, even as she plunges into memory, taking the descent past “stale tropes…. Checkpoints of [her] own making.”
VERDICT An elegy for Xie’s grandmother points out, “Nowhere goes clean through the static of decades without hitting a nerve,” and Xie hits nerves throughout in stunning and evocative language. Highly recommended.
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