By Vida Chu – I don’t usually review poetry, it being strictly a case of “I know what I like,” but my friend Vida Chu has published a lovely, evocative collection of 43 poems, The Fragrant Harbor (Hong Kong), and I like it a great deal.
Her poems recall the legends of ancient China and the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, the dislocation of being far from one’s roots and finding home, and the attenuation of family relationships across generations. In beautifully quiet images, she indelibly describes Hong Kong, writing (“Fragrant Harbor”):
The city’s colored lights and stars
Embroider the velvet water.
I especially liked the poems that recall the days of scholars and monks, Emperors and concubines (from “Things I Never Told You About Chinese Painting”):
That Wu Daozi once brushed a huge landscape
onto the palace wall. When he pointed to the grotto
and clapped his hands, the entrance opened.
He stepped inside the painting
in front of the Emperor’s eyes.
The family dynamics Chu describes in many of the poems are universal. What people leave unsaid, the haunting family ghosts, moments of joy (from “Wedding Rain”):
With rings on their fingers
The couple sobbed in each other’s arms
The heavens applauded with a downpour
Like all émigrés, always a bit out of time and place, and in a way that for her has sharpened her perceptions, Chu also describes her roots in America (from “Foreign Students”):
Our lives no longer can be packed in suitcases.
We return to visit as tourists.
We have grown complacent in the rich feeding ground.
We have lost the passion to swim upstream.
This is a collection to read time and again. A special gift for a special person. Yourself? Enjoy!