The Ninjas – Reviewed by John Field
Yes, The Ninjas presents an entertaining range of voices and experiences. The collection’s first poem, ‘After the Attack of the Crystalline Entity’ references Star Trek: The Next Generation but, overleaf, we’re in a sequence exploring John Singer Sargent’s group portrait, The Daughters of Edward D. Boit.
However, in ‘After the Attack of the Crystalline Entity,’ once humanity’s been annihilated, it doesn’t take the android long to stop sweeping the lab and to devise a troubling experiment: ‘Fireball and rat in a glass tube.’ Sargent’s models are no different – they’re static and civilised in his portrait but dream of transgression. In ‘One Sister,’ the youngest girl says, ‘If I were a lady cat // I could use my claws to unhook the pink strings / Of my sister’s stays.’ No matter when, where, or how – we tend towards anarchy.
Even Yeh’s presentation of landscape is deceptive. In Paradise Lost, Book I, Satan’s described as Leviathan, mistaken for an anchorage by desperate mariners (or, to give its pop cultural equivalent – Han Solo lands the Millennium Falcon on an asteroid, mistaking the gaping mouth of a space slug for safe harbour). In ‘Deception Island,’ Yeh presents a place where ‘The climb seems like nothing until your legs / Give way, as weak as milk’ and, in ‘Deception Island III,’ we’re tricked by ‘The brittle surface of snow / Through which someone plunges and falls.’
Tackling both pop and high culture, Yeh asserts the universality of human experience and revels in life’s disconcerting, wonderful surprises.