A Chinaman’s Chance
by Alex Kuo :: Wordcraft of Oregon :: Reviewed by Angela Sams '11
WSU English professor Alex Kuo’s newest collection of poetry, A Chinaman’s Chance: New and Selected Poems 1960-2010, will sadden, fascinate, and unexpectedly jar its readers into a fresh perspective of the sometimes terrifying world that we live in. This collection of Kuo’s poems provides a nice poetic balance, as readers are able to experience lyrical, narrative, and prose poetry all in the same book. Kuo’s writing conveys ideas about space and place and how the meaning of place changes along with the people who inhabit it.
Spanning continents and decades, his portrayal of “fierce geography” demonstrates a vast knowledge of landscapes worldwide. His geographical commentary not only tells the story of his life as a child in China and later as a forest firefighter in the Pacific Northwest, but also the stories of those involved in violent and catastrophic wars and occurrences throughout the past century. The powerful words of Kuo’s writing will evoke complex emotion for familial ties as well as historical events and wrongs done to humans and the environment alike. He is not afraid to let his words serve as a subtly crafted but hauntingly brutal criticism of world issues and injustices. A Chinaman’s Chance is a challenging and intense read, yet well worth the refreshing history lesson that it provides. These poems condemn those who need to be condemned and illustrates nothing but the necessary truth—something that is crucial if we are to consider ourselves informed human beings.
Kuo is the former teacher of accomplished poet Chris Forhan, author of Black Leapt In (reviewed in Washington State Magazine, Spring 2011). In addition to publishing more than 350 poems, essays, and photographs, Kuo has received three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and was also given a Senior Fulbright lectureship, among many other honors.