Shin Yu Pai (Non-Fiction, Poetry) | Seattle, WA
Blurbs, Press & Reviews
Shin Yu Pai’s new collection of poems, AUX ARCS, is rooted in the Ozarks but makes arches and connections across the globe. In taut, luminous lines, she explores cross-cultural tensions and digs ever deeper to claim ‘the warmth of metaphoric stone hollowed out from the body’s beryl.’
In poems both brilliant and spacious, Shin Yu Pai creates a language to inhabit the in-between places of the world and imagination. An apple might be the spoils of urban foraging or a childhood memory—a persimmon might be a domestic failure or an expression of enlightenment. As large as international politics, as small as the death of a cat, these poems work the metaphoric connection at the root of poetry.
A good tour guide is one who is curious about her surroundings, enjoying as much the learning about new things as she does sharing the information with others. Thus we find the perfect guide in Shin Yu Pai, who maps a centuries-long tour, in AUX ARCS, of China, Chile, South Africa and other locations through a residency in the United States’ Deep South. From Arkansas and Texas, the poet shines a global light on the geographic monoliths of the natural world and the manmade marvels of architecture and visual art, just as she illuminates humanity’s interior motivations and misconceptions of the “other.” As temporary voyeurs, readers follow Pai’s keen eye and ear through a structure wide in arc but sharp in focus. Aux Arcs is a book you’ll want to visit, like the best museums, again and again, letting the ideas and images of prior reads inform and enhance your future tours.
The heart of these poems broke open even before this poet was born. Shin Yu Pai has maintained a practice to keep it this way, so that she and all of us might live in that open, compassionate field with neither boundary nor end. How wise of her to know that what is adamantine is the open heart. Fearless seeing, ancient mutterings on contemporary pathways and boulevards, inventive poetics, merciless memories and tender, knowing hands all take their proper place here, where she finds “every event a mirror / of mind & heart.” Her eyes will help you open what you’ve held onto too tightly, too long, and her heart will open the rest of you from the first word to the last.
The freshness, luster, and charm of these poems derive not only from a superb and seemingly easeful craftsmanship, but indelibly from a generous infusion of the poet’s good heart.
Shin Yu Pai’s new collection Adamantine bristles with taut, startling language that continues to yield surprises even after readers realize that they are at serious play within the fields of the human heart, a realm in which “we must know when to give in.” Diverse personae inhabit these poems, rendering insight into their traumas, sacrifices, and psychic pathos: from the ‘ruined man in a wheelchair’ strapped in place on a city bus; to the Chinese migrant worker who suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her comatose, and who was almost cremated alive because her family couldn’t afford her hospital care; to the Vietnamese Buddhist monk immolating himself in protest at Indochinese oppression, ‘his heart refusing to burn’–this line repeated thrice like a mantra or prayer. This is poetry of compassion and clarity that “sees past the icon” as the poet makes a journey to China to explore her own ambivalence toward ‘traditions that constitute / a personal inheritance.’ These poems, ‘incised with oracle / markings’ whose urgency is heightened in the poet’s ancestral legacy, both ‘crush illusion’ and take ‘the Buddha back to his origins.’ Reading these poems, we are gratified that the poet has ‘come / to make this offering’ of language to us.
Shin Yu Pai’s imagination is like a fine pottery bowl, delicately shaped but capable of holding many things: playfulness, candor, descriptive elegance. She is working out her own welcome blend of cultures, Eastern and Western, and Equivalence is the lovely and often challenging result.
What fascinates me most about Shin Yu Pai’s work is the sense that, while it is informed by various genres and various histories, what we encounter here is new, even “tentative” in the very old sense: that is, in the sense of being “an attempt,” but also “tempting.” There is an element of the daring in this work which gives a paradoxical authority to its language: a combination of humility, subtlety, and risk.