The poems in Anthropy fuse the scope of classical traditions to the disturbing agility of the moderns. Hsu artfully presents the fierce rigour of the philosophical mind engaged with the survival of histories.
Anthropy, Ray Hsu's first book-length collection, is a work of extraordinary range and precision. Excavating sites of human cruelty and endurance, intimacy and experience, Hsu puts forth the language to lead us into the inferno of our time.
He brings us to a place where the living, the dead, and the imaginary cross paths. Odysseus meets Fernando Pessoa, James Dean meets Walter Benjamin. All struggle with the same problem: their pasts, visceral and desperate, continue to burn with the intensity of the present.
Ray Hsu's first book demonstrates that this young writer knows exactly what he's doing. Anthropy covers a lot of ground, containing poetic sequences, lyrics and anti-lyrics, (mis)translations, and, in the title piece, a (de)constructed autobiography. Hsu has a smart sense of the dramatic comment, the witty aside, the slightly offbeat observation, the fragmented but direct perception, all of which make strange sense. His is a vision mature beyond his years...
Hsu finds a new and different way to see old stories, pieces of history, even the few personal and homey events he slips into a couple of pieces. His scholarly background (he is a PhD student) shows up in many pieces, as in the comment in the supposedly autobiographical "Anthropy" that even if "Joyce was on to something," an "autobiography is a Kunstlerroman in reverse, working downward to a simple root." But he plays such ideas against each other with verve and subtlety. The sequence on Walter Benjamin manages to invent his last days while remaining true to the spirit of this fiercely investigative philosopher.
Anthropy would be a strong collection under any circumstances; as a first book, it announces Ray Hsu as a writer whose potential is already manifest. Readers will be watching to see what he does next.
--Douglas Barbour, Canadian Book Review
Ray Hsu's Anthropy reminds me of Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, with its disjunctive narrative style and figurative language. Just as Ondaatje writes a poetic historiography of Buddy Bolden, Hsu recasts the life story of Walter Benjamin. He integrates references to Benjamin as well as James Dean, Dante, Daedalus, Odysseus, Dostoyevsky, Virgil, James Joyce, Diomedes, Menelaus, Helen, Kenzaburo, Midas, Chet Baker, and Fernando Pessoa. This crowd of historical figures is brought to life: the famous interact with each other, other characters, real or imagined, and the poet himself. The result is a surreal commingling of times, people and places, a dream of apparitions ... This is not garden-variety Canadian lyric narrative. It's a hard book, but the poetry is simple at times and the lyrics beautiful.
--Gillian Jerome, Canadian Literature
Good poetry intrigues the reader with the promise of a challenge ... Hsu is anything but one-dimensional ... a gifted young writer.
--Andrew Vaisius, Books In Canada (Toronto)
Ray Hsu is a poet of perspective ... Anthropy is, roughly translated, about being human ... [E]motionally satisfying and formally accomplished ... Some of the poems, like "Pneuma," are marvels.
--Chris Jennings, Arc
When Hsu hits a more playful note ... the conventional syntax is appropriate for capturing the nostalgia, the remembrance of times past ... such is his talent for illusory dialogue, for setting a historical scene.
--Jacqueline Turner, The Georgia Straight (Vancouver)
It's anthropology remade in the freewheeling, crisply detached style of postmodernism ... Hsu's work resembles that of Anne Carson, the celebrated Montreal writer and classics scholar who combines cultural references to the ancient world with a cool (in both senses of the word) contemporary voice. Brainy and eclectic ... The pleasures of Anthropy lie in watching an inventive mind excavate public history and private life for lessons about memory, identity and progress ... Tantalizing and thought-provoking.
--Barbara Carey, Toronto Star
At its best ... Hsu's verse, like that of Seamus Heaney, achieves a balance between intense diction and efficient, understated prosody. But his most impressive achievements are his prose poems, which give free rein to Hsu's meditative voice, offering an intelligence that gently and almost imperceptibly disabuses its readers of every certainty.
--Timothy Yu, idea&s
Toronto writer Ray Hsu's first book, Anthropy ... is genuinely interesting. This text is marked by intellectual engagement. Unlike most first books, which rely on the confessional lyric as their dominant genre, Hsu's writings more resemble dramatic monologues, where a variety of characters, historical and contemporary, speak their minds. Many of the poems treat human isolation and the attempt to overcome it through words or music ... [o]ther poems, like "Concordance" and "Meantime," focus on words and the difficulties of transmitting meaning.
--Alison Calder, Winnipeg Free Press