Book Review: Valerie Hsiung’s UNDER YOUR FACE

I learned back in a high school weather class that the air in the upper regions of the atmosphere is so thinly spread out that you could fly around in a freezing vastness before encountering a single burning particle. That’s close to how I feel about this collection, though clear air might be replaced by every manner of cloud, by which I mean to represent the wild, weaving language in its beautiful and dangerous abstractness.9780989734417_cvr

“we eclipse / a limit to human strength / we eclipse / eclipse when you are / dying no body listens to you / because every body does”

Part of what connects Valerie Hsiung’s poems both in their individual interior and in the context of the rest of the collection is her heavy, heavy interest in repetition. The poems also relate every human instinct and expression with a piece of a landscape or some element in the natural world, resulting in a magnetic web of connectedness.

“Azaleas to play / and thru azaleas / prescience / Azaleas to play/ and thru azaleas / the place without them / prescience / Azaleas / as if the country/ and banned them”

The collection seems to me an attempt to break us of the way we think about and vocalize our thoughts and the conflicts behind them. It abstracts and blankets these thoughts while grounding them a bit (or, rather, trying to ground them) with repetition. Either way, they guide a sort of floating along as we ascend and descend into and from these struggles to think and address. And, my god, it’s a beautiful exploration. Hsiung prioritizes playing with the space on the page and repetition to make a more interesting and open composition out of these pieces. And it does; to me, it does achieve that openness which otherwise might be absent in these poems, which don’t have many clear markers as to beginnings and endings but if they did it would feel forced against the grain of her established aesthetics. In a lot of ways, the playfulness reminds me of Stein’s Tender Buttons, though under your face is certainly more directive and space-wandering.

I’ll end by saying the best part of this book is the vast amount of surprises. You’d think repetition wouldn’t allow for many, but you’d be wrong. You’d be weatherman wrong.


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