YAU, JOHN (1950- ) John Yau's lively poetic experimentation shares the intense investigation of the sound play, texture, and multiple meanings of words with the language poets, Clark coolidge, and Harry mathews, as well as with the wild humor, erotic abandon, and imaginative breadth of the earlier surrealists (see surrealism). In demonstrating the instability of individual and collective identities and in exploring perceptions of time, his work parallels John ashbery's. In addition, Yau's interest in poetic sequences recalls black mountain poets, including Robert duncan. And, like many fellow Asian-American writers, he vigorously critiques white racism.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Yau grew up in the Boston area. Except for a British grandmother, his ancestors are Chinese. Along with numerous books of poetry, he has written a novel, a short story collection, and many volumes of art criticism. His first book of poems was Crossing Canal Street (1976). Ash-bery selected Corpse and Mirror (1983) for the National Poetry Series contest. Radiant Silhouette: New and Selected Work 1974-1988 appeared in 1989. Yau has gone on to receive many other awards and honors.
In his early work Yau's evocative descriptions stress the dignity of Chinese people in New York's Chinatown. Turning to surrealism as a way of complicating imagism (see the imagist school) and narration (see narrative poetry) and deepening their imaginative impact, he seeks, as Priscilla Wald states, "to interro gate the rituals that foster social cohesion and position subjects within a culture" and to indicate how "the world" is "less predictable" (142). As one of the "Postcards from Trakl" (1992) declares, "You are a billiard ball / falling out of a newspaper." Part of the unpredictably conveyed in Yau's writing involves what Timothy Yu calls a "nagging" inability to "know what it means to be 'Chinese' anymore, even as we are constantly reminded of its centrality" (448). This is evident in Yau's sequence, "Genghis Chan: Private Eye" (1989, 1992, 1996), spanning three books, which exemplifies his dizzyingly parodic recycling of antiChinese racist tropes.
Yau's poems often trace the perplexities and delights of sexual love. Disjunctive narratives speed from comedies of miscommunication and indignation to seduction lines, apologies courtly praise, and recognition of the another person's inaccessible mental inwardness to rapprochement and language's inability to achieve it. In "Conversation at Midnight" (1996), a speaker, "sorry about the lump I left in your throat," goes on to snarl, "Don't talk to me like I am some style of perishable food." A passage from "Angel Atrapado" (1992), a prose-poem sequence, views love as a crossroads that the speaker-negotiates: "I was a moniker machine working the alley between the 'you' and 'I' we constructed in the garage." Yau's poetic "moniker machine" offers fascinating wordplay, demystifying parody, and trenchant probings of identity in flux.
Fink, Thomas. "A Different Sense of Power": Problems of Community in Late-Twentieth-Century U.S. Poetry. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001, pp. 55-74.
Wald, Priscilla. "'Chaos Goes Uncourted': John Yau's Dis(-)Ori-enting Poetics." In Cohesion and Dissent in American Literature, edited by Carol Colatrella and Joseph Alkana. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, pp. 133-158.
Yu, Timothy. "Form and Identity in Language Poetry and Asian American Poetry." Contemporary Literature (fall 2000): 422-461.
Thomas Fink c Z D
Was this article helpful?