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on April 12, 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this new collection--it was a delight to read, though in saying that I don't mean that most of the poems were meant to be amusing. It is simply that they worked, and they worked together as a collection, too. In style, subject and attitude, Farang reminds me of Patrick Hicks's This London.

"Farang" is the Thai word for "foreigner", and the focus of the collection is Blair's experiences in Thailand. The sense of foreignness is woven throughout the collection, and applies not only to Americans in Thailand. An ex-monk just out of the monastery feels foreign; a Chinese son fled to Thailand sends letters home, to the amusement of the government censors; Blair feels foreign among his friends back in the states. The effect is a sense of unreality even within the activities of everyday life:

He's naked except for flip-flops
and frayed jeans cut-off
above mid-thigh and tight
around his bulging belly.

Look at that farang strutting
down the sidewalk, I think,
sweaty, hairy-chest and shock
of frizzed, blond hair bright
in sunlight. Ragged pants,
no shirt, that beard.

I'm about to cross the street
to warn him that we Thais
find big white bodies unsettling
as ghosts, until I glimpse
my pale reflection in a store
window, my round farang eyes
staring back at me in wonder.

One thing I liked about Farang was the way that the poems connected and supported each other. Since Blair writes essentially in prose, unconcerned with any syntactic devices, the collection reads like snippets from a travel diary. As you continue to read, you get to know the personalities of recurring characters: Blair, his Thai girlfriend, his American associates, Thai friends and students. They interact in various situations and small threads of narrative develop. Other poems are not connected to this, but all are somehow concerned with exploring a strange new country that the poet clearly loves.

Making Sticky Rice on Edgerton Place

I pour the dry white grains into water.
Golden chaff rises to the surface.
Remembering the rice's bready smell,
the roots of my teeth stir, anticipating
its sticky sweetness. I ate it plain,
or wrapped in banana leaves and roasted
over coals, crunchy outside, a raisin hidden
in the center. I ate it with Sirpan,
at Professor Kwaam's party.
In the cool season wind, I drove her home
on my bicycle. He came running
with a basket of sticky rice:
For later tonight. Now I stir the pan.
In the water, a curled brown thing wakes,
moves tiny antennae, legs hugging
a swelling rice grain. After 12,000 miles,
years in dry sacks, months on a shelf
at Kim Do Store, this creature revives
in the ricey water like a seed
opening, a memory: Sirpan's smile
as she lifted her dress around her thighs
wading in the Mekong's moonlight waves.
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on July 19, 2012
Peter Blair has a flair for place and profoundness. I felt as if I walked with him in Thailand. Each description is so rich with color, each conflict with natives so jarring that I felt I was seeing the land through his eyes, feeling the punches through his skin. In one poem he can present the environment, a scene, a moment in a regular day, and somehow in the end hit us with something profound. A realization that ties everything together, a detail that spins us from the comfortable path he had guided us along. Sometimes, sections were titled after a singular poem. That poem usually provides a greater impact than the others in the collection, something to keep us pondering its implications or the events. The title of the book, in particular, conveys not only a poem within the collection, but also the overall sensation of his experience. No matter how long he is in Thailand, no matter if he calls it home, he will always be a "farang," a foreigner. And so would we. What he experiences, we would encounter as well if we were there. In a way, I want to go where he went, see what he saw, but in another way, I already have through his rich poetry.
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on January 19, 2010
This exotic poetry is comprehensible thanks to a farang, a foreigner, who makes us privy to the "other-ness" of the Thai culture and language. Farang is a linguistic jewel that comes alive in that zone between languages.
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