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On Sandra Liu’s On Poems On
HTMLGIANT’s Nicolas Grider has reviewed Sandra Liu’s new Ugly Duckling book, On Poems On, the poems in which “are a ceaseless lateral movement along or between landscapes either literal, linguistic, or informative that leave you with a sense of having visited a location or moment without being allowed to linger long enough for details of daily life to become mundane.” More:
In “Static” and in other poems Liu contrasts blunt fact with an ambiguity of that fact’s application, which turns what might otherwise be nature-heavy first-person reportage into a tenuous history-in-the-making. This is true elsewhere, and its matter of fact delivery makes it eerie as in “dither here”, in which a man casually mentions to the poem’s narrator their plumber was “shot in the head five times” as part of casual conversation. As much as Liu spends time offering a wealth of even detail, there’s a sense for the characters that populate the poems that what they witness or participate in isn’t to be taken for granted.
The comma splice after sure connects bird and clothing in an ambiguous way, just as the poem itself flickers back and forth between fact and uncertainty. The catalog of colors also is indicative of how the poems work, color serving as pivot point between disparate images. As serene as some of the poems seem at first glance, like the sunsets and night skies Liu returns to in several of the poems, something is always left in question, not just open to readerly interpretation but offered with a hint of doubt, as in “Take a look at this”:
The large white and crinkles shut in the window
across from me, probably a one-block distance away,
billows;rests; billows. A plastic bag; an apron, maybe a skirt;
a plastic bag.