In her well-known TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues for the importance of a multiplicity of stories, voices, and perspectives in order to do justice to the fullest range of experience and explode reductive stereotypes of people and places. “Stories matter,” she says. “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
These poems certainly elicit skepticism, but they are more than simple conceptual or design exercises. They have an oddly effective way of opening up. This is the sort of art you think you could easily make, but when you sit down to it, you make something of horribly poorer quality. Artful elimination requires a deeply tuned dedication, a kind of mental conditioning. This is how John Beer—former assistant to Lax and editor of this collection—roughly describes it in his wonderful introduction: during the writing of these poems, Lax led a spare, if not ascetic life on the Greek islands, handwriting notebooks worth of work—several poems a day—from which he would later select and typeset only the very best “worthy of preservation.”
The idea of a “gloomarium” could not be more perfect to describe Wunderkammer. It evokes a sense of darkness as something to be collected, archived, catalogued. Each poem is itself a little wunderkammer, a strange miniature, of this inevitable doom.
Don Lee’s prose is not pretty, or even particularly effortless in his novel. He tends towards wordy, didactic passages and heavy-handed, eye-rolling dialogue—one racist bar customer calls Eric a “Chinese wonton” (297). His characters remain characters, never fully embodying the human beings they wish to represent, and many seem to step in only to move the plot along or provoke an epiphany from the myopic narrator. But in failing to write movingly about ethnicity and/in art, Lee has also managed to succeed.
* Eric McDowell *
What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
What do you call a novel with no E’s? La Disparition.