The Ruined Elegance

The Ruined Elegance : Poems

3.38 (16 ratings by Goodreads)
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In her new collection, Fiona Sze-Lorrain offers a nuanced yet dynamic vision of humanity marked by perils, surprises, and the transcendence of a "ruined elegance." Through an intercultural journey that traces lives, encounters, exiles, and memories from France, America, and Asia, the poet explores a rich array of historical and literary allusions to European masters, Asian sources, and American influences. With candor and humor, each lyrical foray is sensitive to silence and experience: "I want to honor / the invisible. I'll use the fog to see white peaches." There are haunting narratives from a World War II concentration camp, the Stalinist Terror, and a persecuted Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. There are also poems that take as their point of departure writings, paintings, sketches, photographs, and music by Gu Cheng, Giorgio Caproni, Bonnard, Hiroshige, Gao Xingjian, Kertesz, and Debussy, among others. Grounded in the sensual, these poems probe existential questionings through inspirations from nature and the impermanent earth.
Described by the Los Angeles Review of Books as "a high lyricist who refuses to resort to mere lyricism in order to articulate her experience," Sze-Lorrain renews her faith in music and poetic language by addressing the opposing aesthetics of "ruins" and "elegance," and how the experience of both defies judgment.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 72 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 5.08mm | 113g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 0691167699
  • 9780691167695
  • 1,504,202

Back cover copy

"In the beginning was silence: Fiona Sze-Lorrain's poems honor this, 'trying to measure / a quiet too pure / and transparent for humans.' These are poems of delicate ferocity; they seem to emerge from a profound yet whiplashed attentiveness. Sze-Lorrain registers the subtlest vibrations of the most difficult as well as the tenderest things--twentieth-century atrocities make themselves felt in a gesture in a prison, a buried book, 'a revolution in the draft' of a feather. Also: poems, paintings, the eddies of sociable chat, 'the last / Manchurian sky, ' the color of rain. Shards of elegy, lament, intermittent flashes of wit, a philosophical sensuality throughout: this is subtle, sophisticated, gorgeous, and unsettling work by a poet open to being 'torn by the lyric' as well as history. Sze-Lorrain aims 'to honor / the invisible, ' 'to get silence right': she does."--Maureen N. McLane, author of My Poets

"The luminous art of Sze-Lorrain reveals how imaginative vision requires the veil. Hers is a contemporary, polycultural poetry, a language of distance and silence, rich with suggestion. The disparate, brilliant images of her Ruined Elegance fend off narrative, 'torn by the lyric, ' whose instrument is more enduring than its players: its 'strings stayed taut. None / broke. Her fingernails did.'"--Eleanor Wilner, author of Tourist in Hell
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Table of contents

I WRONG EPIC Given Silence 3 Towering 4 I Wait for the Ruined Elegance 5 Back from the Aegean Sea 6 In the Thick of It 7 Ionian Supper 9 Partita, but Nothing to Do with Bach 10 Few Days before Christmas 13 II IN A GODLESS TIME Beginning 17 Spring Massacre 18 Mausoleum 19 Backstage 20 Day Seven 21 Center of a Journey 22 Am I What the Lake Gave Me 23 Meditation 24 Dusty Citadel 25 III THE BOOK, A SIMPLER GRAVE To Whom It May Concern 29 Granted Asylum 31 Against Prologue 32 To Survive When It Must 33 Midnight Almanac 34 Yield, Please 36 Anna Akhmatova, or the Thoughts She Didn't Write 37 An Uprising Committed to Longhand 38 Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz took more than fifty years before writing Ravensbruck down in La Traversee de la nuit 39 Chosen by the Narrator 40 Cantabile (ma stonato) 41 IV CAUGHT IN DEFIANCE Transparent 45 Ink Painting from the Joseon Dynasty 46 What's Left of a Sijo 47 Chiaroscuro, 2 a.m. 48 Bonnard's Naked Wife Leaving the Bathtub 49 La Chambre d'ecoute 51 Three Moves, Clockwise 52 Om dhrung svaha 54 My Hiroshige 55 Peintre 56 Jardins sous la pluie 57 Notes 59 Acknowledgments 61
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Review quote

Finalist for the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry One of Library Journal's Best Books 2015: Poetry "The poems in Fiona Sze-Lorrain's The Ruined Elegance resonate with a voice that is both fragile and strong, physical and metaphysical, ancient and contemporary. As such, the collection serves as a sounding board for the powerful silence that echoes through language over the ages and across the continents. A master of musicality and enlightening allusions, Sze-Lorrain has written an English-language collection that is both accessible to a wide audience and rewarding to the closest of readers."--Christina Cook, The Rumpus "Highly crafted and interesting... Sze-Lorrain does a compelling job of touching on new topics on each page. There is a lot of variation in style and the poems are relatively short with concise language, which makes this a fluid, informative, albeit sometimes difficult, read."--Brenna Marcuccilli, Pamplemousse "[Fiona Sze-Lorrain], who has lived in Europe, America and Asia, draws from every aspect of her broad perspective in this poetry collection. Lyricism and wisdom intertwine as she urges acute observation rather than an impossible search for exact truth: 'Believe me, / answers are small.'"--Aiyanna K. White, Columbia College Today "Sze-Lorrain's new book, a sharp requiem of buried emotionalism, fuses her serious imagination with an especially musically charged mind."--David Biespiel, American Poetry Review "Sze-Lorrain's new book of poems marks a fresh refinement in her art."--Michael Oliver, Antigonish Review
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About Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist. The author of two previous books of poetry in English, My Funeral Gondola and Water the Moon, she also writes and translates in French and Chinese. She lives in Paris.
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Rating details

16 ratings
3.38 out of 5 stars
5 12% (2)
4 31% (5)
3 44% (7)
2 6% (1)
1 6% (1)
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