Available now at Nightwood Editions
5.5 x 8 - 96 pages
Paperback - $18.95
She gives me a present—
a marble mortar and pestle
but she’s the one who loves to cook
her recipes have endless permutations
Is it all about being a mirror?
I say, You have little hands He says, You have a little face
—from “Mirror Mirror”
Cycling with the Dragon is a personal investigation of family,love, culture, self, and the helpless feeling of "smallness" by virtue of age or status. Elaine Woo opens a childhood journal to reveal secrets and emotions, ignoring the risk of judgment and the fear that “The air sprouts lips / screams, 'Ha ha ha'". Her poems take the form of the words that they speak: she forms an "o" for the buoy that is a child's safety-raft (found in the solitude of a notebook and Harriet the Spy), and weaves a poem about fearing snakes and dreams into a descending slither.
Later, her poems unfold the difficulties in communication among relatives close and far, and divulge the building stress of everyday housework and family life ("Your work is stress-free and serene. / Childcare? House care? / Easy, peasy....no dog eat dog"). Escape is found in writing, despite the words of others who tout that "writing
is just your hobby / not your real work".
Woo’s poems weave meaning with form. She presents contrasting ideas and expresses doubts through the design of her words, and ends with the thought: "I live in the mist / of whether love / is derailed / for me." Woo writes in a pastiche of diverse poetic voices who are small by virtue of age or status (be they women, children, ethnic minorities, the creatures of nature, or Gaia). Like tenacious seeds breaking through to reach the sun, to face an abusive parent, bullies, the pain of shyness, envy, or racists. But the plant growth hormones of a loving father, treasured authors and their words, the wilderness, and sometimes dreams and imagination, ultimately lead to survival.