Volume 8 (Fall 2014)
Compass Rose, Arthur Sze's ninth book of poetry, enacts a spiritual journey grounded in the utterly unremarkable effluvia of daily life, yet rendered all the more remarkable as a consequence of the poet's deft eye and unflinching voice, piling all of these images and colors and sounds, like cord wood, into a gorgeous assemblage.
From the title poem, composed of ten numbered and titled sections:
1 ARCTIC CIRCLE
If the strings of a ¾ violin
are at rest, if the two horeshair
bows repose in their case—
the case holds the blue of lakes
and the whites of snow;
she posts on a horse inside a barn;
rain splatters on the skylight
during the night; she inhales
the smell of newly born chickens
in a stall—if the interval
between lightning and thunder
is a blue dagger, if she hears
Gavotte in D Major as he drives
in silence past Camel Rock—
she stirs then drifts into feathered
waves of sleep; a healer rebuilds
her inner moon and connection
to the earth while she plays
Hangman with her mother;
if she decides, “This is nothing,”
let the spark ignite horse become
barn become valley become world.
Similarly, the poem “The Curvature of Earth” begins with observations of the material world — “red beans,” “white lilies,” “a light well and sandalwood panels” — but travels all the way around the world, all these materials, people, and scenes enacting a single multidimensional, simultaneous experience of the Other within the Self. Or as the speaker says,
... The branching
of memory resembles these interconnected
waterways: a chrysanthemum odor
permeates the air, but I can't locate it.
In fact, Sze does locate this interconnectedness within the poems themselves, which defy easy narrative (though there are narrative moments) and yet tell a story that is all the more profound for its fluidity and intensity. Whether located in the desert Southwest, along a ghat in South Asia, or on a distant star, these poems circumscribe the "compass rose" on their way toward an "unfolding center."
Compass Rose by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon, 2014)