The Hermit Poet

December 15, 2005

Shin Yu Pai at the Boiler Room in Redlands (12/14)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 7:22 pm

With the first sounds of her er-hu filling the Boiler Room Bar, Marie Char the guest musician, opened the reading by playing a long plaintive classical Chinese piece called “The Flowing River.” I found myself thinking, if longing has a voice, it must be the er-hu. So much melancholy lives in the sound of these two strings and a bow. Sometime, listen to the soundtrack of any film directed by Zhang Yi-Mou’s films, especially “To Live” — you’ll hear it and fall in love with the sound.

Shin Yu Pai was the featured poet and gave what is arguably the most educational and captivating reading I’ve attended yet. Aided by modern technology in the form of a digital projector and numerous art and location images, Shin Yu took us on a journey both through her poetry and the world of modern art. She moved through various stages. First, she brought us in with poems and discussion centered around her first book, Equivalence, which draws its title from Stieglitz’s series of cloud images. Just as Stieglitiz tried to establish a correllary between human emotional states and the light and shadow of the sky, Shin Yu was working with the correllation between the poem and the art object, as well as whatever and whoever appeared in the scene at the time. Thus, in her opening poem, she presented a b&w image of an exhibit of classical Japanese art scrolls behind glass, the scene cut by several dark shadowy pillars, and read about a father and daughter she had observed there. “Where does the story start?” the father asks. “Here,” says the daughter with her hand on the glass pane. I can’t do it justice, but it is a great poem.

Soon we were all over the map of modern and contemporary art. Visual poetry crept in. There were poems inspired by Mondrian’s approach, who in turn was influenced by the color theories of Seurrat. Another avenue we toured was the theory of Jumpology, that is that people only shed their false mask when caught in the act of leaping. And so, we observed a remarkable still of the painter Dali mid leap, with buckets of water and several black cats thrown across the stage. Other avenues we went down: the installation work Gonzalez-Torres, both the stacks and the candy piles. We encountered artists who collect fresh pollen every spring to create minimalist architectures on the floor. Why am I only speaking about art and images, because in so many cases the auditory experience of the poems became inseparable from the visual experience of the image. One collage of senses.

In later poems and images, Shin Yu took us into the strangely surreal world of Japanese love hotels — the empty themed rooms, the oddly-stocked vending machines, and disturbing intersection between high school girl materialism and deep pockets of unscrupulous salarymen.

All in all, it was journey. Something about what we see and what we think we see. Language becomes material. Another layer upon the layers of art and the world it evolves from. I came away from the reading with a head full of ideas — things I wanted to see and know in a similar way. What better response can one hope from a reading — to leave an audience haunted by a desire for more.

As one of the audience pointed out to me afterward, she really does have a fantastic presenting voice — completely comfortable with the work and seamless in its integration with the entire presentation.

2 Responses to “Shin Yu Pai at the Boiler Room in Redlands (12/14)”

  1. Pearl Says:

    Interesting performance art/word.

    Have you heard Shen Qi play the erhu? She is a Montreal lady with a few CDs out now.

  2. site admin Says:

    I haven’t but I’ll look for her work — it sounds promising. Thanks!

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