A review of

Mad Science in Imperial City

by Shanxing Wang

Central question: What can language offer in the wake of personal loss?
Format: 132 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 8"; Price: $14; Publisher: Futurepoem Books; Editor: Dan Machlin; Book designer: Anthony Monahan; Typefaces: Scala and Computer Modern; Author’s native language: Mandarin; Author wrote the novel using only: Library computers in the Public Library of Flushing, Queens; Content of author’s poem “Probes of Near-Field Optical Microscopy”: 83 questions; Representative line: “Thick smoke of burnt birds and fury of falling leaves in the capital had migrated by natural convention or abnormal solar wind of the sextet sun.”

Shanxing Wang’s debut collection, Mad Science in Imperial City, is an exploration of how bearing witness is “burdened by the solidification and densification of its own memory and the difficulty of telling it faithfully.” An extraordinary work of collapsed geography and conflated event, it argues that only through engaging with tradition can we understand our experience of the world as it changes around us.

Four linked sections of poetic prose that draw both from the lyric and the novelistic, Mad Science resists classification. It utilizes scientific diagrams, mathematical equations, lists, and even a menu from an imagined Poetry Auction (“poetry of fresh masquerade, $6.75”). Broadly, it relates the experience of someone who left China after the Tiananmen Square massacre to settle in the U.S., carrying the fourth edition of the American Heritage dictionary “wherever I go.” The book uses this emigration to investigate what constitutes the individual and where narration resides.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Lytton Smith

Lytton Smith was born in Galleywood, England, and lives in New York City. His manuscript, The Lost Tin Myth, is a finalist for the 2005 Dorset Prize, and poems are forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary and Ninth Letter.

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