Landlady in Bangkok

Landlady in Bangkok

by Karen Swenson
     
 

Writing poems set in Southeast Asia, Swenson absorbs the anguish of colonization and dictatorship to reveal ordinary people and events with a sardonic humor, pathos, and hope. Selected for the National Poetry Series by Maxine Kumin."She is...a poet of consequence, bearing witness in charged language to all that she has seen."—Wall Street Journal

Overview

Writing poems set in Southeast Asia, Swenson absorbs the anguish of colonization and dictatorship to reveal ordinary people and events with a sardonic humor, pathos, and hope. Selected for the National Poetry Series by Maxine Kumin."She is...a poet of consequence, bearing witness in charged language to all that she has seen."—Wall Street Journal

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
So many poets have made the requisite sojourn abroad-and written of it-that the travel genre can seem a matter of convention, and often of pretention. Partly for that reason, it's exhilarating to come upon Swenson's (A Sense of Direction) third book, a 1993 National Poetry Series competition selection, which collects her poems about Southeast Asia. These aren't the romantic escapist imaginings of a Westerner fulfilling one stage of a personal or a professional itinerary. Rather, Swenson shows how a writer can be enriched, honestly, by what is ``alien.'' The poetry, organized in sections by country, is at times lushly descriptive, but more frequently fastens on the real than on what a visitor had envisioned: ``I wake/ and shake a roach, size of a half-smoked stogie,/ from my bag back to the jungle,'' is one jauntily brisk example. Swenson writes of her own experiences but also, in numerous persona poems, puts herself in the shoes of others-assessing with empathy yet no excess of mercy the lot of various ``real'' tourists and their illusions. Her imagery is vivacious, yet not too deferential to site or susceptible to the seductions of exotica. Swenson writes with a respectful curiosity that is not self-forgetful, neither vain nor too humble. (Aug.)
Library Journal
What's best about this collection-one of five 1993 National Poetry Series winners-is its subject matter: it's a feminist travelog of Southeast Asia, giving a portrait not only of foreign places but of the modern woman, traveling: "I'm a prurient curiosity/in my unorthodox sex, to the local men." Swenson, a journalist as well as a poet, traveled through Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In "Sulawesi: Balconies of the Dead," she describes an Indonesian village that celebrates death; in "Stalking Lemurs" she writes of going animal-tracking in the middle of the night. These poems pulse with a spirit of adventure and with a keen sense of observation, but often the language is too mundane, not sensual enough to capture this strange foreign world. "Exotic is our mutual word in the village" Swenson writes, yet we don't get enough of the everyday sensual detail that makes Southeast Asia such an exotic place. Still, Swenson does escort us in these poems to other lands, to "islands of trees hummock up in green/paddies shading lean-tos grey and mud/crusted buffalo." Recommended for larger collections.-Doris Lynch, Bloomington P.L., Ind.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781556590672
Publisher:
Copper Canyon Press
Publication date:
06/01/1994
Series:
National Poetry Series Series
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.40(d)

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