In a new collection of poems about her experiences in China, Liz Niven seems the perfect traveller. She’s adventurous in confronting the culture she’s exploring, but crucially self-reflexive enough to question her own attitudes too. Highlights include two boisterous monologues in the garrulous Scots of the Dragon, a low-key hotel-room reflection about the Chinese English-language TV channel aptly called CCTV and a charming riff on the cliché ‘all the tea in China’ called ‘aw the Ts in China’: “Tian’anmen, Tibet, Taiwan”. Running alongside these political poems are the suggestions of a more personal, family narrative about a mother visiting her adult son and daughter who have emigrated to work in China. Charming, quickly drawn doodles in the corner of each page highlight an appealing unguardedness and humour. In a post-script to the book, Niven includes an edited gmail-chat with her daughter discussing the title of the collection, which comes from the decorative box-lids made from fragments of porcelain destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, stating it’s about combining damaged elements to make a beautiful whole. Alternately tinkling and refracting like fragments of fine porcelain and clattering percussively like Olympics construction works, The Shard Box is a vivid portrait of modern China. [Colin Herd]
Out now. Publiched by Luath. Cover price £7.99.