Trading in Mermaids by Alfred Yuson
(Anvil Publishing, Manila, 1993)
[First published in Scarp 24 (Australia), 1994]
I'm not sure when or how I first heard of Alfred Yuson, bu tit was probably while browsing amongst Filipino anthologies of the fifties and sixties plus a few scattered journals from the seventies that found their way into Australia. Much of the writing looked back with sentimentality to village childhoods or with nostalgia to a lost exotic age of Spanish nobility writhing passionately in the embrace of the pagan tropics. Some of it was the equally impassioned but mechanical-sounding rhetoric of "Third World" leftists asserting their identity in the face of imperialism, and there was a lot of "apprentice work" from classrooms in which pre-war American writers were the models, mixed with breathily florid devotional verse.
Yuson was clearly a younger writer--one who had no problems with identity, who lived in the present, dared to be inventive with his imagery and irreverent in his attitudes, and one who had used the modernists to develop his own elegant line and distinctive voice. The world of poetry was his playground and he was adept at playing its games. Pound's terse imagism and wit could undercut the sonorous Eliotian symbol and be in turn mocked by Yeats' cold eye. Yuson appeared to delight in taking nothing seriously save the well-turned phrase, but would then wryly point out how serious such a response to life actually is.
... (S)everal things in his work have remained constant. As the titles suggest, he has an affinity with water, a love of the fabulous ... and an eye for the striking image such as we encounter in dreams.
... (I)t is consistent with his self-deflating strategy and flippant tone that the poet avoids consolidating the portentousness or cleverness he otherwise trades in. Part of his vision is oft he contemporary individual piecing together temporary meanings from the fragmentation of a postmodern multinational network apprehended through fleeting impressions.
... If the vision is of postmodernity, the sensibility is modernist. To counter the trade of whirling simulacra, the poet trades in myths and stories, constructing his personal world of coherence in his mind and art. ... Yuson's third collection seems to have moved to looser lines and more varied forms, with a prosier voice throughout, but it holds mostly to a Yeatsian regularity of tidily crafted stanzas.
This makes for easy reading, and there are some delightful moments of apt expression and sensory impact. Yuson has a facility with elegantly turned phrases and witty conceits....He can also demonstrate excellent judgment in line breaks that balance flippancy, double entendre and seriously compounded meaning.
... There is a definite love of moments of sensuous intensity permeating the collection.
Paul Sharrad is now retired but still keeps busy with much writing and editing.