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 BOOK REVIEWS


"Like Endou, Josey Foo’s first book, Tomie’s Chair, is an indefinable work. More choreography than inscription as though air were the page." -- Poet/Professor C.D. Wright

 

From The Asian Reporter, V13, #9 (February 25-March 3, 2003), page 13.

Where journeys end and begin

Tomie’s Chair

By Josey Foo

Kaya Press, 2003

Paperback, 56 pages, $13.95

By Polo

Chinese Malaysian poet Josey Foo slipped into the U.S. as a college student almost 20 years ago. She stayed on in New York City as an undocumented woodworker, restaurant worker — you know the story. She earned her Master of Fine Arts from Brown University in 1990, the same year she got legal. Josey Foo is now a lawyer/advocate in Shiprock, capitol of the Navajo Indian nation. It makes you want to ask her why our government makes it so hard to do America good.

Ms. Foo’s second book, Tomie’s Chair, is inspired by artist Tomie Arai’s 1996 mixed-media installation "Arrival." In that exhibit, as well as in her other visual arts, Ms. Arai engages viewers in issues of cultural identity, particularly the living history of Asian America. The "Chair" in Ms. Foo’s book title Tomie’s Chair is an allegory of an immigrant’s outward and inward movements. We come to a chair from somewhere else, we go from a chair to another place, another life, another self. Ms. Foo’s chair is where each day’s work begins, it is also a place of rest and reflection. Tomie’s Chair provides the infinite space around which the author makes her poetic wanderings.

"I am raising my hands, clasped together, to my forehead," Ms. Foo says in her book’s foreword, "as I sit in the chair pretending to already have lost belief in order to move from over here, to there."

In her poem "Threshold," Ms. Foo seems stalled and troubled between an Old World and her new one, between rest and tension:

I have been finding the means to end my father’s

journey. To lie while soothed by dreams. To wish

to sit (while a place resembles otherwise).

To be able to say: "I am in the book. The book is my

world, my country, my roof, and my riddle. The book

is my breath and my rest."

The moment my father becomes a cardboard of an

ocean, to imagine: every emotion I feel is a finely

woven cloth. (maybe this is why we tell stories that

have no middles).

Ouch. What does it mean to be "in the (phone) book," if being there amounts to the totality of your world, your country, your roof, your riddle? And you have to wonder, even worry, about that fateful moment when your Old World father becomes a cardboard replica of an ocean. Tomie’s Chair is all about this kind of ambivalence and airiness. Ms. Foo is tender and terrifying. So much movement, silent, and not at all deliberate.

 

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