From Publishers Weekly
Quipu are knotted cords used for record-keeping in Inca civilization, and, Sze reminds us, by the ancient Chinese. As in earlier work, Sze (The Redshifting Web
) weaves together details from nature (especially from New Mexico, where he lives), questions from philosophy, and discoveries from modern physics, collecting facts with a Thoreau-like patience. To the hints of Taoism some readers have found in his previous work, Sze adds a focus on domestic life and erotic love. Liminal encounters between people and animals, lovers and strangers, even rocks, fish and sky, create a poetry of simultaneity, and a contemplative mindset: "A moment in the body," he writes, "is beauty's memento mori: when I rake gravel in/ a courtyard, or sweep apricot leaves off a deck,/ I know an inexorable inflorescence." Sometimes Sze has trouble putting his details together, letting the poems and sequences go on too long, or degenerate into mere lists. As in the verse of Charles Wright, however, powers of observation give the best poems and sequences undeniable energies, whether considering a bowl, a candle or a tile in Sze's own living room, or else watching as "a broad-tailed hummingbird whirs in the air—/ and in a dewdrop on a mimosa leaf/ is the day's angular momentum." (Sept.)
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The knotted strings of a quipu, a Peruvian abacuslike device, are the defining threads of connection in Sze's new collection. Whether incorporating nature, philosophy, history, or science, Sze's poems are expansive. They unfold like the time-slowed cinematic recording of a flower's blooming: the seed of an idea is germinated, thought or feeling buds, then the poem blooms entire. Sze has a refreshingly original sensibility and style, and he approaches writing like a collagist by joining disparate elements into a cohesive whole. This approach feels simultaneously familiar and radical because the poems are distilled to essentials we can grasp (an object, a sensation, a thought), but arranged in such odd order that readers will naturally want to search for associative meaning. This quality may make Sze's poems seem too abstract or confounding to some readers. Yet, if one simply allows the poems in (in the same breathlike way Sze inhales the world, filters it through his perception, and exhales it back), they will resonate in surprising ways. Janet St. JohnCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved