Book Review: Sea Summit by Yi Lu
Sea Summit, Yi Lu’s English debut, is a compilation of over twenty years of work, including poems from four of her five collections. Yi’s poetry shows the world as staggeringly simultaneous, from a crowded conference room in the middle of the city to the titular wave rising under the incredible volume of the ocean. At this moment, so much “hide[s] in sealed cracks,” away from our attention. In “Goats on a Desert Island,” for example, the speaker imagines that, far from the protection of humans, goats will “run to the sea and shrink in fear.” However, her observations betray her: “when I learn about [the desert island with untended goats] / the autumn sun outside feels so warm / but it feels chilly inside.” It is not necessarily the goats’ fear, then, but her own dizziness at trying to comprehend a place outside humans’ control, her own realization of solitude.
Sea Summit was a finalist for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Fiona Sze-Lorrain deftly carries Yi’s work from Chinese to English. Take the first stanza of “By the Maple Woods” as a case in point:
here are the millionaires of autumn
yellow leaves scattered like torn pieces of manuscript
only silver gray branches
can hold the sky palace
Although these landscapes fill our everyday tongues, they might as well be other worlds. Their familiar foreignness extends even into our guts, as “One Day It Will Stop Completely” demonstrates:
there is a small boat in your left chest
sometimes it rocks violently jerking fibers in arms and back
dragging storms out of big and small blood vessels
shoulder blade like a cape where white waves break and break
Yet for all the huge distance of each scene, these poems are not escapes from engagement. Rather, the result, by the last page, is a productive loneliness, a curiosity about what is usually taken for granted. This collection is a great introduction to Yi Lu, already one of the most widely read poets in China.
Tim Lantz is the nonfiction editor for Beecher’s. His website is timlantz.com.