Shangyang Fang’s debut Burying the Mountain is impressive. The relentlessly inquisitive spirit of Fang’s poetic consciousness is as comfortable with Beethoven and Being and Time as with the Song dynasty and The Heart Sūtra.
A powerful modernist sensibility in Fang’s work makes it appropriate for a poem, “Meditation on an Authentic China,” to contemplate Wallace Stevens’ jar in Tennessee with the same seriousness as an idealism “convinced/ that with a stem of daffodil one could burn down the castle.” The old and the new, grief, loss, love, and a clinical ear characterize Fang’s progression of poems here.
After recognizing the audacious scope of Fang’s project — its organization as a four-part structure, inclusion of Chinese characters, and its aesthetic, emotional, historical, philosophical, and personal depths — I considered a quality of mystery available to these poems, the way the poetic consciousness is transported from “skinning a goat’s penis to prepare/ the dish my mother had taught me” (daily life) to “a primeval dynasty,” “Hermes into Hermaphroditus” (imaginal).
The meter and musicality of Fang’s language is as helpful as his knowledge in serenading us from times of the Tang dynasty to a current day Philippines. A measure of grief for displaced peoples, botched up and corrupt political endeavors, and maybe even a grief for the passage of time hold space in this collection, but they are counterbalanced by a joyful communion with “the torn wings of butterflies,” “the sound of the autumnmoon,” and “A thousand overlapping/ eyelids of hydrangea…a thousand wine cups/ beside your grave.”
Fang’s debut doesn’t read like one. His prolific poetic vision suggests the aphorism ‘what you take from a poem is what you bring to it.’