Thomas Fink

A Review of Timothy Liu's Hard Evidence

Timothy Liu, Hard Evidence. Talisman House Publishers, PO Box 3157, Jersey City, NJ 07303-3157. $14.95. 112 pp.

     Timothy Liu has the courage to fit his stylistic diversity within the covers of a single collection of poems. Hard Evidence, Liu’s fourth and strongest book, is intriguingly divided between narrative/lyric poems that ably use conventional resources and disjunctive, collagistic experiments, both brief and extended, that often resemble work published by The Figures, Sun & Moon, and his current press, Talisman House.

     In his prior collection, Say Goodnight (1998), Liu achieves some of his most salient effects by accumulating diverse tropes and images that culminate in the buildup of a reasonably coherent narrative (sometimes satirical), elegiac plaint, or lyric rumination. Hard Evidence also features numerous notable examples of poetry in this vein, including “To Zion” (65), a wildly satirical exposure of Mormon Elders’ pederastic exploits, the cyber-age-inflected “Next Day” (80), “Consolation” (97), a moving elegy to the poet’s mother, “Many Mansions” (109), a critique of Yuppie bricolage, and “Middle-Class Realia as Iconographic Vanitas” (110), a traipse through the labyrinths of current commodity fetishism. The implications of AIDS for gay males is rendered poignantly in “Coup de Grace,” which begins by presenting the irony of how a single sexual encounter may cancel years of athletic training: “Bodies made solid by weights succumb/ to illness. Years of focussed practice// lost in that afternoon of neglect” (13). Multiple meaning is an important aspect of all of Liu’s poetry; here, considering that the poem was probably written in the late nineties, “focussed practice” is not only readable as weightlifting, but “safe sex.” The careful, restrained articulation of a catalog in the couplets of “Coup de Grace” embodies Liu’s ability to produce elegies tinged with both sincerity and social irony:

What we are felt after the fact--

walls with his name graffitied on them,
late night actors who could’ve been

his double. Dolls left in a drawer
unopened for years like those boxes

of books in the attic that became
our inheritance. The things loved least

loved at last. Weather vanes renewed
by wind. But the former tenants are gone.

Our words a bridge. Just as my kiss
once sealed the tomb of his empty mouth. (13)

      When Liu pursues such themes as the relations of eros and transience in more experimental poems, such as “Nostalgia” (6), “Noli Me Tangere” (81), and “Hard Evidence” (49), referential force and emotional intensity are maintained. In the book’s title-poem, while the setting of a single room in one sense unifies the disparate tropes and images in the different sentences/ one-line stanzas, ambiguities of reference and of what is inside and outside an individual subjectivity enrich the push/pull between and among lines:

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