Across the North Pacific
College Station, TX 77845
192 pages, $15
Charles Potts has seen the future and it’s eating
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
Bred into their hands by
their Viking past,
Wound up off Kowloon and Hong
Peddling Indian Opium to
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.