Cosmopolitanism

In Inside Idaho (2008), Charles Potts describes growing up in a western state where, at first glance, life was still close to the frontier: a ranch house, a small town nearby, few rules, a lot of space. But Potts traces the development of the area into something less idyllic: the coming of economic depression, farm sales, poverty in the small towns. The poet’s own life takes on the character of alienation, and it requires personal struggle to arrive at anything resembling a sense of balance again.

In Insides She Swallowed (2010), a young Filipina American, Sasha Pimentel Chacon, devours life hungrily and comes into possession of both her native culture and its bittersweet stories. The passionate eagerness in the child gives way to the ripening of knowledge in the woman, as in the long poem “Blood, Sister,” covering her journey of recovery from California to Manila.

Despite their different appearances, both these books invoke cosmopolitanism, the recognition that despite differences of location, time, and ethnicity, there are overwhelming human ties that bind us together. Travel may unlock doors of awareness for individuals, even to the point of changing one’s conception of life as a whole. Adjustment to new realities, however difficult in the beginning, may broaden and deepen human understanding. Empathy, a term never completely separate from its opposite, alienation, may yet promote the possibility of growth in awareness. In the new century, West End Press has begun exploring the possibilities of a more cosmopolitan view of humanity, always striving to reproduce itself despite formidable political and social obstacles.

Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s second volume for West End Press, Walking Backwards (2010), takes her back from California to her origins across the Pacific and around the world. Not only has the world changed in the latter half of the 20th century: so has the traveler. Way stations—Australia, Hong Kong, mainland China, her native Malaysia, Europe and home again—open up insights, some bitter and some revealing—until finally “the flower Me is the only story/ I can tell.” The book invokes a whole lifetime as a kind of circle: thus the reader is drawn into the action.

West End Press was privileged to publish America the Beautiful, the last poems of our dear friend Paula Gunn Allen. Paula sent us the manuscript the week before her death; we finished the editing a short time before our own Patricia Clark Smith died in July 2010. These poems cast America not as it is, but as it might have been or might still be. Like some of our earlier writers, such as the Filipino exile Carlos Bulosan, Allen is a complex figure, with roots not only in her birthplace, Laguna Pueblo, but also Lebanon and Scotland. Again this book is a recollection, delivered not in tranquility as Wordsworth said, but in turmoil.

Robert Bohm’s Closing the Hotel Kitchen (2011) is a life’s journey, from that of a tough New York street kid to a member of a medical unit during the Viet Nam War to a resident of India, finally returned to the United States. This body of poems journeys through PTSD to personal recovery, from danger and violence to a kind of guarded tolerance of the world. Bohm again is a traveler, in a metaphor of a life’s journey—to a kind of reconciliation between himself and the brutal world he has known.

Lisa Gill, a highly regarded poet and cultural organizer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, published Caput Nili (“the mouth of the Nile,” a metaphor for discovery) in 2011 with us after a five-year delay in seeing the work into print. It chronicles her own difficult life, from early childhood abuse to a series of medical misdiagnoses to the final discovery of multiple sclerosis, in a form that is a clinical account, a memoir, and strangely enough a kind of liberation, all by itself. Gill’s narrative with interlocking poems finally provides the reader with insight. The horrors of the disease remain, but there is also a sense of resolution, of coming home.