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:


     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."

     –Michael Broek

Short-shot Review:

Compass Rose by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon, 2014)