Lee Ann Roripaugh has been hailed by Ishmael Reed as "one of the brightest talents" writing poetry today. In this collection, she gives voice to the Japanese immigrants of the American West. In an unforgiving land of dirt and sagebrush, mothers labor to teach their children of the ocean, old men are displaced by geography and language, and the ghosts of Hiroshima clamor for peace. Lee Ann Roripaugh's exquisitely crafted poems rise from the pages of Beyond Heart Mountain burdened with memory and pain, yet converting these to powerful art--art that is like "the pattern of kimono found burned into a woman after Hiroshima . . . almost too beautiful, too horrible . . . to bear."
Remember to raise
bright orbs of rice-paper lanterns
by the goldfish pond,
so they can watch for me
with the yellow, unblinking gaze
of nocturnal things . . .
--from "Peony Lantern"
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Lee Ann Roripaugh was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming. Selected by Ishmael Reed for the 1998 National Poetry Series, her previous honors include the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize in 1995 and the Academy of American Poets Prize in 1993.From Publishers Weekly:
Many poets have sought to reconcile war's irreversible alteration of the normal course of human lives and memories. In this debut narrative triptych, selected by Ishmael Reed for the National Poetry Series, Roripaugh manages to bring a history she never experienced through her own past, to her present self. The first section is written from the perspective of a young Vietnam-era girl trying to piece together a multiple identity from within a small Wyoming town. The icons of her Japanese heritageAdolls, bells, music, and foodAare a source of pride and confusion: "I'm half-and-half, and I hide/ in the house, listen to my parents'/ music. Outside on the pavement/ a tsuzumi drum, accompanied by suzu,/ temple bells, coming from their/ bedroomAthe chime on my father's/ typewriter." The second section, "Heart Mountain, 1943," tells the stories of 10 Japanese prisoners held at the Heart Mountain internment camp, weaving together polyvocal narrative fragments that talk to the reader (and each other) across the stark walls of the cell blocks. Part three of the book includes poems told from the perspective of an older and self-assured woman who has embraced the cultural contrasts of her complicated ancestry, and can now separate the shadow of war from her own psychic and personal growth: "...leaf prints etched in black mold, like/ the pattern of/ a kimono found burned into/ a woman after/ Hiroshima, and it is almost/ too beautiful, / too horrible for me to bear." Such images may not, finally, reconcile war and grief with aesthetics, but the book's drive toward clarity and strength is often moving. (June)
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