Sheila E. Murphy Reviews
Beginning at the end of the book, an eloquently written Afterword affords the reader a venture through various tissues of context for Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei. First, its author (the name Pain Not Bread) represents a collaboration formed in 1990 by Roo Borson, Kim Maltman, and Andy Patton. All the individual poems in this gathering derive from other sources, most importantly, the Tang Dynasty poets, including Wang Wei, Du Fu, Li Bai, and others, followed by a broad confluence of primary and secondary sources, those poets and scholars who have helped disseminate the works of the Tang Dynasty poets. Pain Not Bread thus contextualizes itself as a participant in the centuries’ long relay that involves the discovery and development of texts emergent in the larger human consciousness.
At the age of forty-one:
Despite a lengthy tradition of collaboration, notably in Asian poetry, the practice remains somewhat of a novelty among primary English-speaking writers. Current collaborative poems therefore appear to be treated differently from their textual counterparts by individual authors. Introduction to the Introduction is such strong work that it would likely be regarded as prizeworthy in either category of poetry.
Like the moon she waits for fifteen hundred years,
Breadth of scope and concept notwithstanding, there is a consistency of spirit that runs through this volume, incorporating supple twists and turns and sharing of kin contemporary elements.
And so, at the end of discourse, I shut my gate,
In stark contrast, a longer line, a thicker texture, employing a less reverent attitude, is typified in ‘Drunken Battles (An Introduction to Du Fu)’:
No painting can tell you what age is going to arrive —
Not only does this writing escape from taking itself too seriously, it shares a large space of attention with the reader, and invites further perception in a heuristic manner. In ‘The Rise and Fall of Human Breath (An Introduction to Wang Wei),’ are the words:
. . . the city carries such a cargo of pathos and longing
And further, the piece ‘Literary Criticism (An Introduction to Wang Wei)’ begins with the passage:
For ten years, while the narrator lay in bed,
The same poem ends:
And what if the author of the text is dead?
The authors of this collection position their book critically, defining its context amid the various concentric circles of historical perspective. The very complexity included in this creation might be construed as a weakness, potentially driving away readers resistant to what might be considered ‘layers of remove.’ Having taken this risk, Pain Not Bread has in fact raised the bar on achievement both for collaborative and individual pronunciation of uncharted places.
Jacket 25 — February 2004