Monday, March 12, 2007

Books In Canada Review — Steven Heighton’s Paper Lanterns

My first Books in Canada review of a Palimpsest title was not for a trade poetry collection, but for a slim chapbook. Paper Lanterns, by Steven Heighton, is the second chapbook I have produced and I am very proud of it. I am fortunate that an influential paper like BIC was willing to review a chapbook at all. I’m sure the regard for Steven’s work within the literary community weighed heavily in his favour. The short review, written by Matthew J. Trafford is a rave, and I am thrilled that this little chapbook has been so well received. I am confident this will be my first sell-out.

Pan-Asian Fare, as published in BIC Vol. 36.1 (Jan/ Feb 2007)
by Matthew J. Trafford

If this chapbook were a restaurant, it would serve “pan-Asian fare”; China, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Indonesia provide the inspirational backdrop for poems, postcards and journal entries. This is dangerous territory: the threat of appropriation lurking around every corner, whole minefields of cliché to avoid, insidiously exotic renderings of the “Other” to guard against.

Fortunately, in this case, the reader is in the hands of a capable guide. Steven Heighton has the sharpness of mind to ask: “Why do Westerners love to write about Asia?” Even if he never comes up with an answer, the question is enough, especially if it means that he ends up with sentences as memorable as this: “ . . . even now what we want is not to see into the textured density of Asia or to understand its people or learn its tongues, but to carry home a complete box of slides, a fastidious journal, silk jackets emblazoned with dragons, a Sherpa’s wool-hat, a yukata patterned with Japanese blossoms.”

Despite familiar adages about books and their covers, when it comes to chapbooks a description of the physicality of a book is germane. Paper Lanterns is an 100-copy edition, with Lokta end papers in red, St. Armand handmade paper in brown turtle, and attached Japanese Yuzen paper in brown blossoms. It is stunningly beautiful. The book also features six vivid colour photographs by Mary Huggard, four of which have literal “postcards” on the back—a date, a place, a blurry stamp, and prose which starts out grounded in the specifics of a place and wanders into the philosophical: “Disturbing to consider how much of the human brain stands empty, a disused laboratory or studio, a room with a view of mountains: locked.”

This slender chapbook from Palimpsest Press (which adapts material from Heighton’s 1989 collection Foreign Ghosts) is a foreign delicacy to be savoured, the perfect souvenir to be treasured.