But if, as Michelle Houellebecq has written in his book, Platform, on sex tourism, the entire world will increasingly resemble an international airport, one’s sense in distinguishing between origins and destinations will become ever narrower.
i remember i died once when i left china the sky on my way to an alien country was strewn with an ashen memory among the comings and goings of people in the airport no one came to my funeral
Explicit social themes are largely excluded from the introspective lyrics of Self Translation, which is not to claim that they are not there in the background. Like Houellebecq, who, in his poetry, takes a similarly intimate, candid approach, Yu has elsewhere dealt with themes of sexual resentment in the global sexual marketplace. This treatment can be seen in ‘Two White Men’ from the Kingsbury Tales volume:
I don't know why I thought of them still less do I know why the colour white is so prized by girls of other colour and I don't give a damn even though I know I won't ever sleep a white girl
Yu, like his speaker here, doesn’t go into explanations. In addition, the poems of Self Translation are, unlike the dramatic monologue just quoted, spoken in the poet’s ‘own’ voice (making, as I have said, the solecisms less easy to accept). To situate these poems on a scale of explicit self-reflexivity, with imagistic description at one end and metaphysical argumentation at the other, they would belong in the middle and slightly to the left, a combination of vivid imagery and lyrical affect.
The most immediate quality of Yu’s poetry, summed in a single word, is candour. Not that there is much guidance by the author to suggest the outline of a biography in linear time; rather, the impression is of a life recalled discontinuously in dream. There are departures and arrivals, women and families who seem to come and go, and memorable details observed in a way that is diffuse but occasionally precise in what it communicates. Such is the case in ‘Winter:’
Every day the fly suns himself on the window sill of this room Long dead is he but I am still alive
The poignancy of this ‘I’, fitted out with a dead fly’s wings, expresses Yu’s sensibility at its most negative, andprovides one of the finest moments in the volume. But then, in a disarmingly direct ars poetica, we are reminded of ‘negative capability’ as another strength of this poet, one that parrallelshis image making ability. In ‘Poem:’
It is the wind going through A decaying, inevitably crumbling, temple Poetry is not me I Am not poetry
Self Translation ends with the line from ‘Two Roads:’ You have no choice, you have many choices.
It’s a line that sums up much of the ambiguity masked by simplicity that characterises Yu’s literary enterprise. Like Robert Frost’s traveller, Yu – and his self-translations – are continually faced with diverging paths. The difference, so pronounced in Self Translation, is that he cannot help following both, with all their ramifications, at once.