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A wide canvas:
Weyman Chan's Chinese Blue

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Weyman Chan, Chinese Blue
Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2012.

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.

 

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