Loop of Jade – Some structural surprises (3)


sarah-howe-loop-of-jade-coverThis is my third post about the poetry collection Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe. I first wrote about her choice of epigraph and then the themes and motifs I felt connected to in the collection.

These blog posts not a typical critical review. I am writing in an attempt to understand some of the craft in how she wrote such an amazing collection and why I so admire it.

This post examines the different ways Howe enhances end enriches the scope of the collection with a few surprises.


There is a great diversity in the voices or narrators of the poems. It starts with the first person I of the daughter and we have the I of the bride-to-be and the I of a painter. The daughter gives a third person account of her mother, we hear the mothers first person reminisces (Islands) and there are traditional tales the mother learned as a child (all these of these narrations appear together in Loop of Jade). There are imagist poems, is it fair to say they have no narrator? The first Emperor’s scholars narrate a poem and there is the omniscient narrator of fairy tales.

Historical range

The broad historical range reaches as far back as the time of the first Emperor and his early death. In Tame (one of my favourite poems) we have a timeless Chinese fairytale.

There are also more recent events such as Tienanmen square (Innumerable), the 3 gorges dam (Yantze) and the inventiveness of Chinese bloggers ((m) Having just broken the water pitcher).


In some of the poems, their structure enhances and emphasises the words and sometimes adds humour. In Mother’s Jewellery Box the shape of the stanzas ‘unfurl in tiers’ exactly as she describes the lacquer box. In Embalmed, a poem about the first emperors burial place, where scholars and horses were buried alive and also the site of the terracotta army (although this is not mentioned) the stanzas are set out in perfect repetitive rectangles like the battalions of an army. (g) Stray dogs (0ne of the titles borrows from Borges) is a poem about Ezra Pound being incarcerated in 6x6ft cage and the structure is cell-like with its straight sides or perhaps it represents the ‘shiny latrine roll’ he wrote on.

(k) Drawn with a fine camel hair ends with a delightfully funny structural pun. To reflect the story about an ancient scholar’s skiff becoming loosened from its moorings while he slept,


the last 3 words of the poem, long and thin like a skiff, are separated and set adrift from the rest of the poem. Banderole about a scroll unfurling looks like…well need I say more.

In Loop of Jade, just after a traditional Chinese tale where a ‘tomb is cracked open , yawned into a ravine’, is a stanza where the mother, a child just before communist China took hold and such things were banned, remembers hearing the old stories. Just as the grave and China fractures, the stanza has a fracture lines of empty space running through it.

There is also a sonnet about a midge splatted in a book (‘stilled mid word’) of Shakespeare and fathers and daughters!

Although I could write many more blogs about this collection (there are poems which I have yet to find a way into) I think maybe I will do just one more post about 3 of my favourite poems and the puzzling poem that ends the collection and the significance of its position.



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