Book Review: 'Adamantine' by Shin Yu Pai

May 17, 2011



By Vernon Ng

Stone Buddhas. Metal Buddhas. "Undigested bits of plastic." The lines of a poem in a single sweep: "demitasse / caviar / absinthe / bouillon / silver / spoon / washboard / & jug.” An obsession with material things so grossly pervades Adamantine that one nearly misses how necessary they are to these beautiful poems. Objects exist here to mark time, so that inner states — meanness, kindness, altruism — might be expressed through them. The collection’s best poems have the appropriately glossy luster suggested by their book’s title — a lament of surfaces perhaps, a reveling in the paradox of sacredness. The poems are most successful when they reside in tentativeness and enact alienation; they are less successful when they moralize hot topics in current events. As a whole, Adamantine is a testament to the notion that meditation is not merely an emptying of the mind, but an active cultivation of being by being among things — because in these mortal bodies, “we could travel no / further than that.” The collection helps the reader to cultivate a thoughtful pose, which certainly is the foundation for an ethically lived existence.

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