Quipu

Overview

“Sze brings together disparate realms of experience—-astronomy, botany, anthropology, Taoism—and observes their correspondences with an exuberant attentiveness.”—The New Yorker

“Sze’s poems seem dazzled and haunted by patterns.”—The Washington Post

Quipu was a tactile recording device for the pre-literate Inca, an assemblage of colored knots on cords. In his eighth collection of poetry, Arthur Sze utilizes quipu as a unifying metaphor, knotting...

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Quipu

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Overview

“Sze brings together disparate realms of experience—-astronomy, botany, anthropology, Taoism—and observes their correspondences with an exuberant attentiveness.”—The New Yorker

“Sze’s poems seem dazzled and haunted by patterns.”—The Washington Post

Quipu was a tactile recording device for the pre-literate Inca, an assemblage of colored knots on cords. In his eighth collection of poetry, Arthur Sze utilizes quipu as a unifying metaphor, knotting and stringing luminous poems that move across cultures and time, from elegy to ode, to create a precarious splendor.

Revelation never comes as a fern uncoiling a frond in mist; it comes when I trip on a root,
slap a mosquito on my arm. We go on, but stop when gnats lift into a cloud as we stumble into a bunch of rose apples rotting on the ground.

Long admired for his poetic fusions of science, history, and anthropology, in Quipu, Sze’s lines and language are taut and mesmerizing, nouns can become verbs—“where is passion that orchids the body?”—and what appears solid and -stable may actually be fluid and volatile.

A point of exhaustion can become a point of renewal:
it might happen as you observe a magpie on a branch,
or when you tug at a knot and discover that a grief disentangles, dissolves into air. Renewal is not possible to a calligrapher who simultaneously draws characters with a brush in each hand;
it occurs when the tip of a brush slips yet swerves into flame . . .

Arthur Sze is the author of eight books of poetry and a volume of translations. He is the recipient of an Asian American Literary Award, a Lannan Literary Award, and fellowships from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in New Mexico.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Quipu are knotted cords used for record-keeping in Inca civilization, and, Sze reminds us, by the ancient Chinese. As in earlier work, Sze (The Redshifting Web) weaves together details from nature (especially from New Mexico, where he lives), questions from philosophy, and discoveries from modern physics, collecting facts with a Thoreau-like patience. To the hints of Taoism some readers have found in his previous work, Sze adds a focus on domestic life and erotic love. Liminal encounters between people and animals, lovers and strangers, even rocks, fish and sky, create a poetry of simultaneity, and a contemplative mindset: "A moment in the body," he writes, "is beauty's memento mori: when I rake gravel in/ a courtyard, or sweep apricot leaves off a deck,/ I know an inexorable inflorescence." Sometimes Sze has trouble putting his details together, letting the poems and sequences go on too long, or degenerate into mere lists. As in the verse of Charles Wright, however, powers of observation give the best poems and sequences undeniable energies, whether considering a bowl, a candle or a tile in Sze's own living room, or else watching as "a broad-tailed hummingbird whirs in the air--/ and in a dewdrop on a mimosa leaf/ is the day's angular momentum." (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A quipu is an assemblage of variegated, knotted cords used by the ancients for recording and calculation. In metaphorically applying the possibilities of the quipu to poetry, Sze (The Redshifting Web) weaves a shifting, shimmering fabric of images and instances, a vibrant homage to what Stevens called "the intricacies of appearance." If, as Sze writes, "The mind is new each day," then the things of this world afford endless opportunity for its replenishment and wonder: "Opening the screen door, you find a fat spider/ poised at the threshold. When I swat it,/ hundreds of tiny crawling spiders burst out./ What space in the mind bursts into waves/ of wriggling light?" With Ashberian spontaneity, Sze allows his surroundings to channel, then redirect his focus ("I try to see a bald eagle rest in a Douglas fir/ but catch my sleeve on thorns, notice blackberries"). But if the flow of his attentions seems randomly determined, his goal (evocative of both Stevens and Zen) is an imaginative harmony: "The mind is a tuning fork/ that we strike, and struck, in the syzygy/ of a moment,/ we find the skewed, tangled/ passions of a day begin to straighten, align, hum." Engaged with the quotidian across the spectrum of its manifestations, Sze recovers marvels in troubling times. For larger poetry collections.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556592263
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Pages: 88
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Sze is the author of nine books of poetry and translation. He is emeritus professor of Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts, former poet laureate of Santa Fe, and a corresponding editor for Manoa. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Table of Contents

Before sunrise 5
Earthshine 9
Ox-head dot 19
Syzygy 20
La Bajada 21
Spring smoke 22
Haircutting 23
Lobed bowl with black glaze and white scalloped rim 24
Quipu 27
Aqueous gold 39
Solstice quipu 47
Inflorescence 51
Oracle-bone script 61
The welt 62
In the living room 63
Acanthus 64
The thermos 66
Ice line 67
The chromatics of dawn 68
Thermodynamics 69
X and O 70
The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence 73
Earthstar 81
Didyma 85
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