Across the North Pacific



Charles Potts

Across the North Pacific

Slough Press
3009 Normand
College Station, TX 77845
192 pages, $15

Charles Potts has seen the future and it’s eating humbow.

Potts is a one-man thinktank dedicated to blowing the lid off a couple hundred years (at least) of dubious political and economic shenanigans by English speakers on the Asian-Pacific scene, and poetry is the dynamite he uses to do it.

Across the North Pacific is an impassioned polemic on the danger of letting the American empire continue on its merry way roughshod across the world. It expands poetically on terrain Potts mapped out in a prose work, How the South Finally Won the Civil War: And Controls the Political Future of the United States. I found it alternately brilliant, cryptic, hilarious, and perplexing, but never, ever dull.

The book is structured in four sections: "Warmups," "The Open Range," "The Closed Sea," and "The Middle Kingdom." "Warmups" is prose-heavy with essays laying out Potts’ "history of the future," a prophetic leap into economic-military ebb and flow across the North Pacific. His concerns include the notion that language is key to understanding how our world works— or doesn’t. Potts posits that English, through sentences of Subject/Verb/Object construction, locks its speakers into a future orientation, whereas Japanese and Chinese Mandarin speakers operate with minds more accepting of each moment’s possibilities.

In "Open Range" Potts lays out his analysis of the history of "… the ongoing war between/the speakers of English and the speakers of Mandarin," as he puts it in "English Think." Another example, from the same poem, demonstrates Potts’ skill at compressing history into brief, vivid flashes:

The first English oar dipped in water,

Bred into their hands by their Viking past,

Wound up off Kowloon and Hong Kong

Peddling Indian Opium to ordinary Chinese

For an immense and traditionally drugged product and profit.

"The Closed Sea" lays out how Potts believes that the structure of Japanese, with verbs closing each sentence, has given the Japanese a mind set that enables them to flexibly adapt to changing conditions. The poem "The Closing Sea" condenses 300 years of Japanese history with a linguistic explanation of how the Japanese can be such shits at Nanking, Bataan and Camp 731 and yet still cry victim tears over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And with "The Middle Kingdom," Potts fleshes out his vision of how the U.S. will lose its grip on the Pacific Basin in this century as China grows economically and absorbs Japan into its sphere of influence. As he puts it in "Flight from Hong Kong":

The empty tin cup of Texas rattling around the Middle East

Is bringing not the end of history, as one enlightened

Japanese historian imagined it, but rather more of the same.

This is a meaty book, deeply felt and widely researched. Potts is a multilingual coyote pissing on the campfires of Chinese, Japanese and American cattle herders.

—David Thornbrugh


Copyright © 2003 David Thornbrugh.  All Rights Reserved.

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