In a collection displaying mastery of language and imagery, Cathy Song's "The Land of Bliss" explores with often painful clarity the yin and yang of living our humanity. "The Land of Bliss"
Blissful words yield to pain
By Cathy Song (University of Pittsburgh Press, $12.95)
Review by Joleen Oshiro
"Bliss" is rich with themes, but the collection spirals primarily from one drama: a mother's descent into an immobilizing depression, told mostly from the perspective of her daughter. That topic alone is a wellspring for engaging poetry. "The Valley Boat," "Stone Soup," "Fragrance is the First to Go" and "Blue" explore this subject specifically. But Song works on a much more evolved level by turning images and themes inside out.
In "The Roses of Guadalajara," the daughter's souvenir from a family vacation is a beautiful box adorned with blue roses. Twenty-five years later, the box holds trinkets and bittersweet memories of "what appears to be now the beginning of her sadness." Basked in temporal beauty, the mother is like the garden of roses that infuse the vacation site, "spilling a withering sweetness." The vacation was a time before lost innocence, the blue roses a symbol of the mother's, indeed the whole family's, fragile existence.
Yet in "Blueroses," where the daughter begins her journey into poetry, a goddess named Blueroses provides the fortitude for the girl to start writing: "She pulled me through my mind. / I disappeared into myself, / the solitary act of entering / a work of art." The blue rose is transformed to represent the courage and growth cultivated in the girl. At the end of the poem, however, the girl is grown and Song again turns over the image of the blue rose: "I watched myself / answer the call home to supper -- / the children are hungry, / the men waiting to be fed."
The blue rose is at once beautiful and withering, powerful and compromised. The blue rose is life -- complex and often contradictory.
This is the humanity Song writes about with exquisite sensitivity. "The Land of Bliss" is a collection to return to again and again. Each time, the reader will come away with a new discovery, a deeper understanding, a feeling well explored.
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