Friday, March 10, 2006

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa's In the absent everyday

Ever since I discovered her work through her first collection, Rules of the House (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2002) (see my review of it here), I've been a fan of the poetry of San Francisco poet Tsering Wangmo Dhompa. On the back of her second collection, In the absent everyday (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2005), is a quote from Ron Silliman, writing that "As the first Tibetan-American poet to receive any substantial distribution, Dhompa opens U.S. poetry up to new modes of possibility in almost anything she does. She is a terrific poet, on any terms." I would certainly have to agree with that.

The construction of his taste

He is livid behind his mask in the photo. Later, he wonders
if that did him any good. The object of his anger
reads out a passage to him and he hears flotsam. He thinks
mendicant because flotsam can be a vagrant.
He worries he is living through associations, that too many
choices are given to live out life. She is his sister and does
not know him. What is it about flesh and blood that makes us
so foolish? Nothing, yet he would kill for her happiness.
Blind children are painting in the yard behind him. They know
the boundaries of the paper. They paint without desire to see
what is created but can tell you what they have memorized.
Perhaps that is all one needs to know, he thinks. He writes
in the center of his palm, taxonomy of my dislike: he can
taste it. Coffee ought to be only black, he thinks. (p 38)

Shifting her focus from the immediacies of where her two cultures meet, from her first collection, Dhompa's In the absent everyday works a sequence of deceptively simple yet highly complex poems that each work an individual magic, rife with small and smaller wisdoms; just as in her previous collection, her poems exist through the collision of opposing ideas, ideals and considerations, working to find that place where opposites not only attract, but might almost agree. Dhompa's poems demand the strictest of attentions to her smallest details, which through the seamless flow of the language wants to push you along almost too quickly; it is easier to let yourself be pulled in multiple times through her poems than force a stop at any point in the process. These poems are repeated offerings, meant to be lived with for a longer time.

City of tin

Politeness prohibits saying what I really think.
Viaduct: a code for a feeling. Like mauve
over the street of tarmac, a grave summer day
offering painted toe nails and a leg longer by perspiration.
Or gannets in sight. That women are said to speak so much
of feelings, as though to clarify would mean the end.
It never is. Clarification I mean. To indicate trust
I tell you the fish is who I look at most these days.
For love, for love. Endings happen. Words I use
because I like who I become. Give me nothing. Tiny,
tiny pebbles used as prop. tilted and tinted glass.
City of my desire has lines rigged at the waist.
One minute of sleep at a desk might bring
it all down. Words you find under my nail.
(S)wallow. Some night owl effusion. (p 22)

I would highly recommend anyone not only going through either of Dhompa's poetry collections, but various books published by Berkeley, California's Apogee Press, one of my favourite small presses in the United States, with titles by Truong Tran, Cole Swensen, Stefanie Marlis, Kathleen Fraser, Pattie McCarthy and Maxine Chernoff.

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