February 9, 2006

Asian American boookstores are priceless -- precarious and brave. What Advanced Searches on Barnes & will never yield, what the shelves of Borders can't be counted on to carry much less surrender -- the Asian American bookstore will have gathered and displayed for you, rows upon rows of just the things you might not want to miss. It's like having a literary personal shopper.

It was thanks to just one of these stores, Asian American Curriculum Project in downtown San Mateo, that I've come across Amy Uyematsu's poetry. The book I picked up, Stone Bow Prayer, is Uyematsu's third published collection, but my first encounter. It is lovely.

And I have to confess, I'm not really a poetry person. A lot of it goes over my head. And then there's... well, best to refrain from judgment. But Uyematsu's words do what language can, at its most powerful: retool our tired assumptions that we know the world around us, that we have seen this image, heard this sound, felt this sensation before. Inside one of her poems, you inhabit a moment that was never yours, far more crisply than you've inhabited the last 18 hours of your day.

This is why I read. And why I am so glad people write. Uyematsu's language has the deceptive simplicity of the exquisitely made. It goes down so easy, and is yet so breathtaking. Hopefully she won't mind if I quote a poem here. There was special spacing in this one, which I tried to keep, but it wouldn't stick. (Go buy the book.)

* * *


after hearing "Monochrome," by the Kodo drummers

At first we hear nothing only the barest flicker of wrists and sticks appears

Then a flutter of sound coming closer together until everyone hears

This delicate drizzle pretending to lull us its liquid drone

Slowly swells to a clatter the hands moving now in frenzied precision

So unforgiving the staccato air its godly clamor

Drilling the ear then arms falling still the silence

That comes after rain and we never suspect how much heaven needs us

* * *

I think I'll read just one each day, until I'm done.


erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



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Thanks for sharing. There used to be a slamming APA bookstore in NYC, run by the AAWW, but they sold it off. There's nothing like walking into a physical space where words and poems live and breath. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have no soul.