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Landlady in Bangkok

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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
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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
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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556590672
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1994
  • Series: National Poetry Series Series
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Table of Contents

What Does a Woman Want? 7
Cold Blood 11
The Garden Again 13
The Beast 14
Hatching 17
Orangutan Rehab 21
Missionaries 23
Manokwari, Irian Jaya 25
Stalking Lemurs 27
Sulawesi: Balconies of the Dead 28
The Angel of Death in Sumatra 29
Market Women: Lake Toba 31
The Bracelet 32
The Balinese Witch Doctor 33
Uncoupling in Bali 34
The Dutchman in Bali 35
No Exemption for Tourists 36
Isn't It Romantic 38
Cultural Exchange 39
A Walk with Shadows in the Bada Valley 42
Medias Res 44
Wedding Bed in Mangkutana 45
The English Graveyard in Malacca 49
Share Taxi to Singapore 50
The Landlady in Bangkok 55
Fisherman in Songkhla 57
Alien Women: Songkhla, Thailand 59
Three Silences in Thailand 61
Jigsaw 62
Background and Design 64
Polygamy 65
Adam and His Father 67
Getting a Purchase 68
Felicity 70
The Ghost 72
The Guide 73
Trekking the Hills of Northern Thailand 74
An American in Bangkok 75
Hybrids of War: A Morality Poem 77
Tuol Sleng: Pol Pot's Prison 83
The Cambodian Box 84
Survivors 85
One at Play in the Fields of 86
Bayon, Angkor Thom 88
Time and the Perfume River 91
My Lai 92
The Cham Towers at Danang 94
We 95
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