Friday, February 09, 2007

I'm reading Justin Chin's Gutted and enjoying it a lot. The greater part of the book is a long poem titled "Gutted" (about 100 pages) that is based on the Japanese zuihitsu, a kind of "formless form" that uses diary entries, lists, quotations, observations, commentaries, fragments. It covers a lot of territory: a father's illness, airplane travel, SARS and other epidemics, childhood music lessons, the number 12, all possible ways of dying, to name a few things. I think the "gutted" of the title can be read as a gutted fish, spilling one's guts, but also gutting it out, surviving.

Here's a couple poems (sorry I can't get the formatting quite right, some of the lines in "portamento" cascade nicely):


Her piano teacher, she said, told her to keep playing
even if mistakes were made.

Mine, however, kept
a half-foot wooden dressmaker’s ruler hovering
above the hands on the keys, ready to strike
miscues, wrong notes,
unmusic. Fingers
being as fingers are,
mistakes were made.

We learned portamento;

just as our violin cousins in adjoining studios
learned vibrato;
under the crushing threat
imposed by needlenose pliers.

The music continued.


(Petit mal)

A little evil, a small illness.
Why does it sound like pastry?

And vaguely remembered incorrectly,
a euphemism for orgasm,
which is neither evil nor ill.

Is any evil so little, illness so small
that it ceases to be wicked and ill?

Oh, now I see what it does to a body.

Yes, it is evil. Small is relative.
Illness all.

I see Gutted has been nominated for a Lammy. Good news. I think it's a wonderful book.

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