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Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-canadian Poetry

by Andy Quan,Jim Wong-Chu, eds.

This timely anthology aims to show the fruitfulness, for poetry, of the cultural ambiguities summed up in the term “Chinese-Canadian.” In the editors’ hands this is an inclusive label, uniting third-generation Canadian writers such as the anthology’s co-editor Andy Quan, with those whose reputations developed elsewhere, like Malaysian-born former Singaporean Goh Poh Seng. The book mixes urban and rural, straight and gay, while maintaining a predominantly West Coast orientation.

The anthology’s generational and thematic range matches its multicultural sweep. Well-known writers such as Fred Wah and Evelyn Lau appear next to poets publishing in journals or chapbooks, such as Fiona Tinwei Lam and Gaik Cheng Khoo, and regular café performers like Jen Lam. This yields enough variety in theme and style that the book can be read straight through. Readers who do so may be moved by the understated elegies of Thuong Vuong-Riddick, and then a few pages later by Glenn Deer’s witty chronicle of border crossings and cross-border pop-music in “The Eurasian Album.” Even the less innovative, less pungently observant poems such as Marisa Anlin Alps’ “After the Wedding” or Sean Gunn’s “Assimilation” gain resonance from the overall context the collection provides.

Brief, sometimes amusing contributor biographies underscore many of the poets’ commitment to education and community involvement. In doing so, they confirm the impression created by the poems themselves. Along with “a particular spark and life to this writing,” as Quan suggests, there’s also a political awareness, a questioning intelligence, and an audacity with language that should be more widely known. Swallowing Clouds is a necessary guide to a dynamic community of Canadian writers, both established and upcoming.


Reviewer: Harry Vandervlist

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press


Price: $21.95

Page Count: 270 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55152-073-7

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 2000-1

Categories: Anthologies