An independent small press poetry review

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Salt Publishing PO Box 937
Great Wilbraham
ISBN 1 876857 35 8

Wild Peony Book Publishers Pty Ltd
PO Box 636
NSW 2007
ISBN 1 876957 02 6

Wild Peony ISBN 0 9586526 4 3

Shearsman Books 58 Velwell Road
ISBN 0 907562 85 X
9.95 [$16]

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This is an impressive collection from a major Chinese Australian poet.

Throughout the 113-strong work, Ouyang Yu styles himself as ungrateful and displays an acute sensitivity to the plight of the immigrant, while acknowledging that he has learnt to thrive as an outsider. This slowly builds through the work, written over a seven year period, and maturates into the waybook of an everyman figure, relevant to every society, at all times.

	I'm disjointed
		Out of time and place
		I suppose I'm writing for myself
Yu cranks up his purpose and pokes his critical facility into outsider life. He explores the grime of modern life in Australia because he knows he is mired within it. Some of the early pieces strike me as some of the finest nihilist writing I've read, and then this explodes:
	we are eating ourselves new and raw
	with the passage of time
Themes develop from this point, and branch out in many strands, particularly the death of language and then the death of culture, and primitivism versus modernity. Yu's sense of slavery within freedom continues with a steady rage, and poems such as MELBOURNE, GREY MELBOURNE and MEMORY stand out as distillations of the poet's descriptive vision and skill. From THE WANDERER:
	wherever you go it comes back to you
	you are yourself and the loss of you
	hovering around the border and dreaming of the freedom on the other shore
	you have walked for a long time in the territory of the heart
This is a collection that takes several readings to find paths into, and I found that space between readings crystallised the impact of the poet's vision. It's a tough, no holds-barred collection, but a vital, urgent necessity of words.

reviewer: James Murray-White.

Ouyang Yu lives in Melbourne, Australia; he is originally from China and publishes poetry and fiction in English and Chinese. A hundred-odd poems explore a few themes with great skill and, consequently, a good deal of wearing repetition. As in THE BONE OF A TREE, he certainly has an enviable knack of carving out firm original images:

	the beauty emerges:
	the steely skeleton of the burned-down high-rise
	the intact bone structure
	of an animal eaten clean
	and the bone of a tree like a steel fork
	that penetrates into a single moon
Ouyang Yu is caught between two lands and two cultures, and his poetry is built around this dichotomous tension; in PERMANENTLY RESIDENT IN AN ALIEN COUNTRY he writes that
	i have no land of my own
	but a whole person of wishes
Sleepless troubled nights enable him to recall and empathise with his other world, its echoing history and faraway influences still close to him in his solitary night in another land; as in an untitled poem (of which there are quite a few), other people
	do not experience the mysterious stillness of the night
	that enables me to hear voices from time immemorial and thousands of miles away
Some poems are set totally within a remembered China, particular moments and images evoked through distance and time, as in THE RAIN:
	the leaves of the wutong tree soughing
	the wind sound asleep in the green
	dripping, chirping
	one dimple after another on the water
	the umbrella slipping pit-pat by
	the leaves of the wutong tree soughing
As an exile, or a foreigner amongst the natives, the theme of solitariness is prevalent, as in THE MORNING:
	on a drizzling morning
	i am walking alone among the crowd
	to work
In THE TRAIN he sees himself as the archetypal and timeless epitome of the lonely friendless traveller through unwelcoming lands:
	one place after another i go, welcomed only
	by the signal flags, peddlers on the platforms, and travellers
	dead nights on the desert and the plains and in the mountains
	i listen to my own timeless coughs and wheezes
Separation and solitariness are constant thematic preoccupations throughout this selection, and not just in terms of the distance between continents, as in TO MY CANADIAN FRIEND:
	we both live
	in a world
	of separation
	and communion
	small as this room
	with two beds
	and large as two continents
	with one ocean between
The poet describes individual isolation within populous, bustling cities, as in another untitled poem:
	dusk again. among the after-work crowds you go home.
	the setting sun shines. rustles, streets golden, you go home.
This ambivalence of solitariness within proximity is succinctly expressed in FAR AND NEAR:
	in australia
	i am as far from any australians
	as china is from australia
	and i am as near to them
	as a cloud
	is near the sky
I LOVE THE WAVES OF THE LAKE encapsulates these dominant concerns of emotional and personal estrangement within the landscape around; a poet's love and fascination for nature is but another image of his seclusion and non-fulfilment:
	I love the waves of the lake
	but they don't love me
	I love the moon
	but it doesn't love me
	I love the tall mountains the sky and the ocean
	but they don't love me
	if anyone loves me
	they might as well love the tall mountains the sky the ocean the moon and the waves of the lake
An original if rather self-indulgent voice.

reviewer: Alan Hardy.

The author's literary list is considerable, including other poetry collections, translations from English into Chinese, prose &c; the contents of this earlier work SONGS OF THE LAST CHINESE POET will come as no surprise to those conversant with his problems as an angry young Chinaman in Australia, where he has been for many years, with awards from there as well as recognition in China.

	Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
	The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated . . .
wrote Eliot. Most beat the complications by adaptation, but but in abhorrence and anger Ouyang Yu follows a 'bolshie' idealist dictum of 'if you can't beat them, don't join them', creating his Crusoe-like raft aboard which he finds a base for his persona.

The anger springs from inability to identify with post-Mao eastern or western cultures. and there are problems over the dichotomy between those of ancient and modern China. One gets the impression that the culture before serious western trade contacts would be welcome:

	when winter is coming
	is death far away?
	haunted by it
	every once in a while
	the race deep within us
	towards the end
	of new beginnings
	we feel helpless before a gods-filled universe
	abandoned on the remotest island
	is a bird with no longer dream eyes
Paradoxically, he has found a base for his persona in these very problems; Crusoe-like, SONGS emanates from a raft which is its own justification. The modality of the analysis should concern us. Obviously no formal patterned verse of western origin is suitable:
	three years on
	i no longer know what nationality i am
	i am a bit of everything
	this life we have updated to such a degree
	that with a colour photocopier
	we can easily xerox ourselves
	on an A4 or A3 of zero blankness            
	bored with life with all its advanced paraphernalia   
	we look forward to legalized excitement
	of the utopian euthanasia
	ah men
After all, the continuity in culture of old China is an ancestral force deeply an absolute stranger to Australian life. The impact manifests in complete inability to re-adapt. The one has gone for ever in practice, the other shows up as abberations and nonsenses as a way of life. Chinese communism is flayed:
	history is not really a repetition of itself
	for who is more western than him
	who wanted to achieve unique chineseness
	by destroying all that is most chinese
	by embracing a totally alien western notion of communism
	originated by a half-savage half-human mar/x
and as the persona says:
	the middle country is no longer there
	the centre has gone elsewhere
leaving a nothingness:
	let's compose this last song of our twilight civilization     
	on the stinking feet just unbound
As 'whales who are beaching thmselves on the western shore' with 'an empty hall within' and with a 'collective unconscious of euthanasia' the stage is set for a last Chinese poet in the conditions experienced.

Over-drawn and over-painted as it may be for a purpose which goes further than simple self-indulgence, I think this book worth studying for wise men who see the veneers of superficialities being gradually glued over intrinsic core values and ethics of old civilizations, until they are something else entirely. In this construction there is always a last poet.

reviewer: Eric Ratcliffe.

If there was an award for the WORST collection of the year then MOON OVER MELBOURNE by Ouyang Yu would certainly be in the running.

If, as a casual browser, I had come across this collection in a book shop I would've returned it quickly to the shelves. Sometimes the challenge of reading an unappealing book from cover to cover helps the reader to discover positive features which may initially have gone unnoticed. However, this is not the case here.

Ouyang Yu, writer and translator, moved to Australia to complete a PhD at La Trobe University and soon transmogrified into Mr. Angry Chinaman from Melbourne.

The main theme of this collection is alienation and exile. However, pity the poor immigrant hardly applies in Yu's case his seeming paranoia and egocentric self obsession, fed by a perception that most Australians are lazy Chinese hating xenophobes, precludes this from happening.

When Yu is not complaining about his feelings of alienation ONE OF THEM:

	i know how lonely sometimes they can be
	i am one of them
	it's our secret
he is busy grumbling about being ignored WAYS OF NOT SEEING:
	another way of not seeing is staring into your eyes
	and right through until s/he sees someone behind 
In fact Yu hates Australia so much that he cannot wait to leave FUCK YOU AUSTRALIA:
	When I was boarding the CAAC plane for home which is
	of course
	i said to you through the arse hole of a window:
	fuck you australia!
Yu describes his work as poetry, yet it seems there are few moments of true poetry in this collection SONG FOR AN EXILE IN AUSTRALIA:
	and all of a sudden i find my tongue
	held between two languages like a vice
Even Yu debates the value of what he writes and provides an insight into his working methods in UNTITLED FOR ALWAYS:
	something so accidentally called poetry
	that consists only of  broken lines
	that i wrote auto-erotically
Yu's work is more like a blog written compulsively, it is an outpouring of his experiences, thoughts and feelings. Often his work is just a stream of consciousness with little, if any, attempt to revise, shape or refine his material. In CONVERSATION WITH COMPUTER we find Yu at work, whilst simultaneously holding a conversation with his computer:
	sometimes i feel i could go on forever like this
	talking to you without
	feeling tired only feeling something akin to sadness
	emptiness self-pity
	deathliness of emotions all those things happening 
	without caring what i say what i do for i infact do
	not say a thing
	only my hands are doing the typing instead of my
	mouth  lips
Despite Yu's torrent of words and his rants against a range of perceived injustice, he rarely finds the telling word or phrase. Only occasionally as in UNTITLED does he capture the essence of what he labours to say in the rest of his book:
	To me West has always stood for
	all that is best:
	realisation of one's best orgasmic dreams
	until now when I realize with
	a shudder of the heart
	how Eastern it is 
	in its cruel indifference to people like us
But these moments of true poetry are rare as rare as a flower in the great Australian deserts in the land Yu loves to hate.

reviewer: Patrick B. Osada.