Reviewer: James Midgley
TITLE: A River Transformed: Wang Wei’s River Wang Poems as Inspiration
AUTHOR: Gary Blankenship
PRICE: print: $15.00, ebook:$8.35
POINT OF SALE: http://www.lulu.com/content/178110
Blankenship’s A River Transformed is an engaging, visceral journey through the landscape of his verse and its relationship with the Chinese poetry that served as inspiration. If nothing else, the first twenty poems are an interesting look into intertextuality, with Blankenship’s poems juxtaposed directly with their corresponding progenitors.
The comparisons between each poem are obvious in content as well as stylistically; the poems inherit the disposition toward unadulterated images to communicate, much the disposition Ezra Pound injected into western poetry in the early 20th century. This results in endlessly tangible verse, but often the point of clarity, that climax of comprehension, is grasped at but never quite pinned down.
The workmanship also varies, with brilliantly poignant lines such as ‘in a world without walls, there are no windows / to hold the moon, my songs’ mixed with such over-modified, redundant disasters as ‘I tap dull keys in muted silence’. One wonders, too, how well these poems sustain the Zen orientation of their parents, especially with the introduction of direct narratives. The vers libre is generally well controlled and wholesome, and Blankenship has an understanding of the line that is rare amongst his contemporaries, possibly thanks to his keen interest in ancient Chinese poesy. In attempting stricter forms, however, such as the later pantun, the poet appears obviously stretched.
Blankenship manages to make much of his verse relevant, which is certainly to his credit considering the gap of time, language and context he has to work with. Often, though, this reader is left wondering just what the point is; it seems that much of the time the link is more important than that the poem work under its own steam. For someone interested in examining inspiration, intertextuality or the original poems themselves, this is ideal, but for those simply looking for evocative, intellectually stimulating poetry, on many occasions this collection falls short.
Furthermore, the relationship across time, the connection between the parent works and these contemporary pieces, is never used except as a raison d'être. There seems to be little meaningful interplay or commentary on the act of updating beyond the constant reminder that this is what is being done.
In and of themselves, it is the final poems of the collection that prove more fulfilling. They are often surprising and a genuinely interesting mix of modern life influenced by their ancient sources. Again, though, no reason is placed behind the mix, no salient factor arises that justifies ancient Chinese influence in the contemporary world, and the question itself is barely touched upon; indeed, when it is examined, it is under the guise of linguistics and translation, rather than anything that could be considered a poetic manifesto.
The value of the book, then, resides in what one demands of it. For someone interested in the process of writing poetry, ancient Chinese poesy, intertextuality and the motions of inspiration, it is difficult to imagine a more suitable collection. The gimmickless, visceral style is a breath of fresh air, regardless, and one can almost forgive the book’s flaws for its brave resurrection of the imagist approach.
AVERAGE RATING: 7.75