On George Uba's "Unrequited Love: An Essay on Identity, or What Went Wrong, Suzy Wong?"
Also, in this spirit, I will turn George Uba's "Unrequited Love: An Essay on Identity, or What Went Wrong, Suzy Wong" on myself and say that I, too, have written a poem about the fold around the "East Asian" eye. I called mine "Asian Eyelid Surgery." I am tempted to post it and have people compare, but that may be rather arrogant of me (as in, "hey, you know, I can do it for every poem to make this blog all about ME"). I may still post, though, if only out of curiosity, but I haven't decided yet.
Having attempted to write a poem on this relatively specific subject before, I think that I admire Uba's poem more than if I had come to it as someone who had never done so. I appreciate the difficulty of writing such a poem, or at least I appreciate what I perceive to be difficult. On a similar note, I don't necessarily view a "great" poem as one that universalizes the particular, assuming for the moment that the "universal" and "particular" may be distinguished. I think it is easier for poetry critics and readers to treat a "particular" subject matter, like "a medical procedure of creating an extra epicanthic fold around the eye," as "universal" if they feel a certain intimacy with the experience before approaching the poem. Viola! -- not a great leap from the particular to the universal. For example, having never lived on a farm, I generally find poems about farms particular and exotic, and thus, it may take a special amount of energy and attention from me to keep from unjustly slighting the beauty of cows and sheep (and whatever an ignorant suburban/urban bumpkin like myself doesn't know about farms). And though I'd try my best if I was a poetry editor, I'd also be fearful that I could miss the world's best sonnet ever written on bales of hay.
When I read Uba's poem, it was hard to conceal my knowledge that Uba has long been an underappreciated poet in Asian-American poetry -- a poet who has written intelligent, groundbreaking, moving, sometimes "political" poems. You will seldom witness his name bandied about anywhere outside academic circles. I'm not sure why George Uba isn't more of a household name in poetry. Actually, I'm not sure if this knowledge of mine works for or against him. I don't think this poem is my favorite Uba poem (that honor probably goes to "The Sanity of Tomatoes"), and yet, perhaps the knowledge that he has written poems that I've enjoyed more makes me think that I may be wrong in thinking that this poem is not quite on the same plane.
If this blog was a poetry workshop, and the professor/teacher asked us to make suggestions for improvement, I would have three primary ones: 1) greater experimentation with line breaks, as in, not ending so many lines with commas and periods and trying more enjambment (I never like it when people make this suggestion to me, but eh, I guess they have their point), 2) defining the word "epicanthic" in a footnote (purely speculative here, but I'm imagining that even the "above-average" reader probably will not understand the word in the context of the poem), 3) coming up with a more powerful final couplet (the next-to-last couplet works extremely well for me, but I felt that the final couplet fizzed out for me with "subtle churnings of the heart" and "the turnings of the tide").
The poem's success lies in its taking a difficult subject and rendering it emotionally and intellectually accessible. There are at least several particularly strong lines, such as "for the scent of rosemary touch, scent, persimmon mouth/ agile hips, the play of mysterious words in the dark," "provocative hours/ of thought, feelings disguised as maxims/ from the Orient," and "My whole life I have loved without possessing you." Uba is also daring in the way he assumes a female voice and provides a complex, abstract narrative. In doing so, he provides a fascinating perspective on an issue seldom dealt with in mainstream media.