In his fourth trade poetry collection (and third with Talonbooks), Chinese Blue (2012), Calgary poet Weyman Chan explores “more than two thousand years of ancient Chinese tradition that present diverse philosophical modes of being.” Writing through a lens of contemporary Alberta, Chan writes of Calgary in February, Frank O’Hara, apple pie, sports commentary, Stephen Hutchings, Metallica and other diverse subjects stretched across a wide canvas. For Chan, the comprehension comes through the mix of divergent and contradictory philosophies, ideas and concepts and blending them together into a single, coherent mix. “I swallowed a penny / not convinced that God was / in fact (everything) watching,” he writes to open the memory-poem “1974,” continuing the poem by making a connection with history and a philosophical turn: “in the currency of 1308 / as decreed by Pope Clement V / a penny was worth an entire year’s sins // it bought a Double Bubble / five of them got you a Pep Chew / or Fanta grape for fifteen.”
There is a lyric patter and pattern that more often rise than fall flat, composing a subtlety of lyric meditation amid complex geo-political statements. His meanderings are deliberate, and nearly prove the dictum “Not all who wander are lost,” yet there are times when the book feels a canvas too large, too broad in scope, becoming unfocused and beginning to unravel. As he writes to open the poem “trellis,” part of the sequence “current infrastructure”: “Start off with some levity at the mouth of self-interest and think, / Marilyn.” There is something about Chan’s Chinese Blue that manages to convey a two-ton stone balancing precariously and delicately upon a hilltop, meticulously shaped and yet impossible to dislodge. The wisdom of the work comes through opposing ideas.
rob mclennan is author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. The most recent is Songs for little sleep, (obvious epiphanies press, 2012). He blogs at robmclennan.blogspot.com.