Neil Aitken’s the Lost Country of Sight

“The road hums like a tired monk / at the end of a Buddhist wake / long after the body has drifted / into the river of stars.”

-Neil Aitken, “Four Hours to Taipei”

The Lost Country of SightThe Lost Country of Sight by Neil Aitken is a magnificent synthesis of the lineage of Asian poetry and the inheritance of the modern Western world.

Memory–its beauty and fragility–recur as a theme throughout this collection, especially in relation to the figure of the father. In this way these poems, at times, resemble the meditative grace of Li-Young Lee. But with its eye for ruined beauty, Aitken’s poems pierce through us roughly, like the starlight in a Larry Levis poem.

As the speaker observes in “Kite Flying,” “what an old song this is”–for indeed, as Robert Hass tells us, “all the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking.” Aitken’s poetic “thinking” about loss is at once timeless and fresh, a lost country re-observed and re-imagined, in place of memory, in these gorgeous, lyrical poems.