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An Aquarium: Poems Paperback – October 28, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975135
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975135
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #555,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Yang's debut is as full of surprises as it is full of fish. Most of its 60-odd short poems, arranged alphabetically, take their names from aquatic creatures: Orca, Parrotfish, Nudibranch. Though he does incorporate oceanology and fish biology (Scientists exploit/ the mormyrid's unique electrical/ properties to test water), Yang also brings in Chinese classical poetry, Hindu myth, intelligent design/ and think tanks and political quips (The U.S. is a small fish/ with a false head). He is no less attentive to modern history and contemporary, Internet-based events: one poem praises the Italian revolutionary hero Garibaldi; the next explains, Google is a sea of consciousness. Another thread has to do with East and West—and the oceans between. Yang's pithy free verse insists on entanglements among the literary arts and the natural sciences, as among East Asian, South Asian, European and American literatures: Triggerfish includes Hawaiian proverbs, Catholic philosophy, comparative mythography and that inveterate comparer, the poet Ezra Pound, always testing the overtones. Those who read the collection quickly may find it witty but gimmicky; those who bring more attention will take more away from this rare first book that combines a simple theme (poems as sea life, the book as their tank) with clear, sharp thought at the level of sentence and line. (Nov.)
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“If you ever need to remember that we live in outer space and all that it implies, go look into an aquarium. Or read this fabulous book that wraps eco-history into alphabet and weapon development and marine movement and actually proves that they are cooperating in the construction of the monster planet that we inhabit. Thrilling, scientific, mystical, clear, hilarious, horrible—an ‘aquarium’ in all its complexity: this very book.” —FANNY HOWE

“Jeffrey Yang’s witty, glitzy, erudite, and musical icthyographic extravaganza is the best bestiary since Lawrence and the snazziest first book in years. A starfish is born!” —ELIOT WEINBERGER

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ted Burke on April 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
The book's conceit, an appealing one , is to write a series of poems on the fish and other ocean creatures one would come across in an aquarium, in alphabetical order. It's a sort of involute indexing of whims and amusements that would soon get ragged with repetition in heavier hands, but Yang's touch is light , and varies his approach , creature to creature, and what his musings land on, of course, are continued inquiry into how we know the world.

We mirror, we model, we mimic, we claim credit for all the nobility that happens in domains that are, in fact, alien to our cities, countries and cultural ambiguities that Yang has the pleasure of gentle yanking our chain. As usual, the real issue isn't so much the wonders of sea life as exhibited--and the phrase ''exhibited underscores the problematic nature with which human languages address the external world as if it depended on our giving it narration--as it is something else altogether.
There is great appeal in the work of poets who can artfully contain a series of ideas in a brief piece of verse, the goal being to turn philosophical precepts into the glitter surface of a poem's allure and still address an issue quite beyond the more comfortable subjects of beauty or an aesthetically constrained idea of Truth, capital "T". Jeffrey Yang's first collection, An Aquarium (Graywolf Press) is a series of poems that at first seem like they concern themselves exclusively with ocean life; indeed they do, but the author is shrewd in seeing what other areas, outside the aquarium tank, these creatures touch upon. Yang offers up a view on how we think about things.
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Format: Paperback
A man who has made a career out of working with poetry, "An Aquarium" is a chapbook of poetry from translator and poet Jeffrey Yang. Using the vehicle of fish, Yang's poetry translates its goal well, providing excellent verse. "An Aquarium" is worth the investment for poetry fans. "Remora": R is for Remora, for: 'The mightiest power/does not always prevail. A ship/may be detained by a small remora',/quotes Borges of Diego de Saavedra Fajardo's/Political Emblems (1640).
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Format: Paperback
Jeffrey Yang's "An Aquarium" showcases the poet's expertise in the biology of any number of creatures found in an aquarium and beyond, and laces these rattled off definitions mixed with poetic devices, unique line breaks, and political commentary with varied success. Poems such as "Crab", "Jellyfish", "Lobster", "Parrotfish", and "U.S." are examples of the best of the collection, where Yang's narrative voice is clear and poignant and his tightrope structure between biological lecturing, and effective commentary blend nicely.

Though the idea behind the collection is seemingly immersive and intriguing, the collection is bogged down by an overuse of impossibly difficult descriptions, comparisons, and traces of historical ramblings that make for more of a biased account of history and opinionated stances on the environment, than an engaging read of beautifully crafted poetry. Granted, there are words in here that you can pass over to enjoy the poem, or poems, but whole stanzas and blocks of poetry are hard to read without a dictionary at hand, which takes away from the whole meaning and message of the collection. No one wants to have to be taken out of the world being created, or the beautiful imagery described because they have no idea what "tectinous/agglutinated, or calcareous/endoskeleton/crytoplasm steams/thru foramen chamber/to chamber of/ a single cell granuloreticulose pseudopodia motion" even remotely means. Seriously. Read the rest of that poem, "Forminifera" and convince me you know what's even happening.

Much of the poetry has a tendency for these listing descriptions. It is clear to me that the poet is highly informed and masterfully well worded in regards to these creatures he's specified and commented on, but just because you use this structure tirelessly, dryly, and compare eels to politicians that doesn't make it poetry.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on June 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Is this the kind of book one feels proud of oneself fsor reading while actually doing so? Not sure I understand it, but it sits elegantly in the hand (the book as artifact? try p26 and see what I mean) - and it's certainly put me off eating lobster. Elegant? Certainly. Precious? Modernism torpedoed poetry that was too refined, but I think it's creeping back in by the back door, with a light dusting of Eliotelian mystique eg Prince Kropotkin emerging blinking from Sponge, no doubt as bemused as the rest of us. Generally the less fishy Yang manages to get, the better (U.S., White Whale, Zooxanthellae); the plague of humans is surely something he can and should run with.
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