Salon recommends

Voluptuous poems about love, lust and art, an American's view of everyday life in the new China and more.


Salon Staff
April 16, 2001 11:00PM (UTC)

What we're reading, what we're liking

Interior with Sudden Joy by Brenda Shaughnessy
It's National Poetry Month, which is both great and sad -- great to see poetry getting an extra little slice of attention, sad that it takes a trumped-up publicity campaign to make people stop and realize what poets do for us. Too much of the time, I'm just as guilty as anyone of ignoring new poetry in favor of the latest novel. The friend who gave me Brenda Shaughnessy's first book of poems as a birthday gift gave me an exhilarating, bittersweet reminder of how powerful poems can be. I was rusty reading poetry, and I had to go over many of Shaughnessy's lines a couple of times before her strange, packed, erotic language started washing over me naturally. She assembles striking images into wordplay that jumps out off the page, in a way that's both playful and deadly serious: "This performance of thighs blessed with an excruciating / unnatural talent for the part. For the parting." Lines that that hit you almost viscerally.

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--Maria Russo

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler
The author spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching English at a college in Fuling, China, a small city in the Yangtze River Valley, just upstream from the Three Gorges dam project. Though the dam is a minor player in Hessler's memoir, it serves as a powerful metaphor for the greater changes occurring in China, and also the resignation with which the Chinese accept the Communist Party and the social upheaval it has produced. Hessler quotes liberally from his students' journals throughout, providing firsthand perspectives on daily life in China. Hessler makes poignant observations about the Chinese and the ways Communism and increasing openness affects them. Hessler also finds sly ways to dodge or subvert the college's Communist cadres, like when he persuades them to overturn a ban on performing Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" by replacing English songs with revolutionary ones. "River Town" also provides something that recent media coverage of China, focusing on the spy plane standoff and the Falun Gong crackdown, does not: a rare glimpse at how the average Chinese person thinks and public opinion is formed. Those lessons could become crucial for policy makers as our economic and political engagement with the world's most populous nation dramatically increases in the coming years.

--Daryl Lindsey

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