A Review of Anna Yin’s The Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac
by Lynn Tait
Immigrating to Canada in 1999, China-born poet Anna Yin has made her poetic presence known, since publishing numerous chapbooks, translating the work of other poets, and publishing her first book, Wings Toward Sunlight in 2011. Yin’s newest poetry book “The Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac” is divided into four sections, though she has managed to compile these works in a way that weaves similar elements through poems from earlier parts; for example “Which Plant Are We” from the third section makes numerous references to lines and imagery from previous poems in the book.
She has re-used titles from her book Inhaling the Silence (2013), but the poems from both are entirely different in scope, stand on their own, yet are fine companion pieces. The poem “Why do we not despair?” from 2013, is written deeply concerned with the environment and the demise of nature based on humankind’s disregard for both, due to industry and war. The same-titled piece showcased in this new collection addresses humankind, and how we are ultimately losing sight of what is important as we “race for mirages of the gold finger.” It is a more personal piece, and she is concerned over our rush to destroy ourselves and everything around us. Our greed, our violence – she is an oracle in this poem, she has been disregarded and she worries. . . In the 2013 “Dear Reader” Yin writes of fashioning another human with Adam’s rib. A sense of loneliness prevails; while in the 2015 poem the human has been formed, and she wants to connect. This more romantic version desires a relationship, a growth: “We are the tree; roots grow together.” This tree image, we will welcome again in each section.
In the superb poem “Life Jars”
“When I inhaled the silence,
I could hear quiet voices from living creatures,
each making music of its own life.”
Knowing when to use repetition for effect, she “can find the silence, silence and silence” and repeats “I inhale the silence.” at the poem’s end.
As usual, with Yin’s poetics East meets West. Poems, beautifully crafted, lyrical, tight, include haiku, the mention of seasons and nature, both for their own sakes, and as skillfully executed metaphor. She has always been able to use dream images to her advantage in all her books, and this one is no exception. I must admit, I would have preferred to see the poem from which the book is titled, switch places with “7 Dreams,” but this is purely a matter of taste.
Juxtaposing beauty, nature, spring and summer, love, art, with the commonplace, the western world and technology, autumn and winter, begins right from the first page with two haikus. In the first, her moves are shadowed by the winter landscape; the second narrows the focus (her street perhaps, the blue box a symbol of recycling), a predatory insect’s remains and rain.
The opening haiku for the last section titled ” The Self-Completing Tree” talks of laundry and whirling days, a bloody moon and the Easter Bunny. These interesting combinations are present throughout her collection, as in the poems “Valentine Day” “The Odyssey” and “Goodnight” where she thinks of onions while biting a golden apple – an element prevalent in numerous myths, usually (but not always) a symbol of discord. She refers to messages from iphones that come and go “yet all are ethereal tales” She wants “to tell a few jokes and weep inside.” There is darkness and light: “the solitary Still Life up high/is lonelier than a fruit plate.” The sound and spondee stresses of the monosyllables ‘Still Life’ and ‘fruit plate,’ and the abrupt end of the line carries with it the dull ache of solitude.
She uses the same colours, symbols, animals, objects, yet comes up with totally different metaphors and imagery in creative ways. All through her poetry, there are frequent references to the moon, snow, ice, winter, fire. A menagerie of animals includes, snakes, lions, tigers, various birds and my personal favorite, the fish; colours: blue, white, pink; various fruits: apples, pears, plums and objects: dandelions, vases, trees, roses, clocks. Her poem “Apples and Pears” shows her gift for humour using alliteration, assonance, puns, word and letter play.
Anna Yin’s poems always seem to transcend me into a peace, a quiet state of mind. Even in her most disturbing verses I find a sense of calm, if not solemn contemplation. I did notice tiny errors not caught before printing, “oxes” instead of oxen for instance, but this is minor and in lieu of the fact that English is Yin’s second language, rather endearing.
Sometimes, her last parting images and lines are the most arresting as in “Caught” “Death” “Bread” “Absence” “Fatality” “(MH730)”. The last poem of this precious book ends as it began, but with hope; the poet and perhaps the reader are no longer alone. “Moving with me” – is no longer a shadow and cold landscape. The book ends with what is perhaps the tree in “Dear Reader” moving, but the “me” is now “we”.
We are moved.
Anna Yin: The Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac (Windsor: Black Moss Press, 2015)
Editor’s Note on Anna Yin
Writer of The Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac, Anna Yin has had a variety of her own poetry previously published by Eastlit: