At first glance, the poems and sketches in Chath pierSath’s latest collection, “On Earth Beneath Sky,” betray an old-fashioned reverence for literary figures whose critical cachet may be on the wane. This is most noticeable in the references to Lowell’s own Jack Kerouac but, in terms of kinship, Walt Whitman is the key figure. Traces of that great poet’s melding of incantation, the erotic and the patriotic can be found throughout.
Patriotism? Among contemporary poets? Hold on, you might say. But pierSath seems enamored of the possible America, the alternative America, and he elevates American ideals of freedom and prosperity to spiritual heights, even writing of it in celestial terms. This is refreshing during our period of harsh social divisiveness. However, it isn’t simple. It’s a patriotism of aspiration — a longing for the America of books and bards — an idealized vision free from the torments of cruelty, loneliness and rootlessness. pierSath knows this. As he says in one poem: “Doubts pencil-mark my American landscape.”
For those unfamiliar with the author, it’s worth noting that he is, aside from a poet, a visual artist whose work has been shown internationally, and also a fruit and vegetable farmer now living in Bolton, Mass. He came to the United States at the age of 11, a refugee fleeing the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide. He first lived in Boulder, Colorado, eventually arriving, via Cambodian return, in Lowell, where he lived for seven years and discovered the works of the aforementioned Kerouac and the “Song of the Open Road.”
So when I refer to this volume as being “old-fashioned,” I mean that as high praise, and in recognition of its author’s position as a self-taught artist, caught between two cultures, a witness to horrible violence (his father, a solider, died when pierSath was 2) who finds solace in his outsider status and, despite personal trauma, through books and the imagination. pierSath, whose name means “temple of the nation,” uses poetry as a means to raise Big Questions and to wrangle truth with a capital T. Like Whitman and Kerouac, he is magnetized by travel, and the poems veer from Phnom Penh to Lowell to Paris, although this takes on added meaning when considered in the light of his childhood. He is also, unlike Kerouac but much like Whitman, a nature poet, although here he has a wider range of subjects: Settings include the purple mountains and Iowa cornfields of the American drifter, but also the monsoons, rice fields and waterfalls of a writer attuned to the subtle operations of the earth, no matter where the political borders are drawn.
On Earth Beneath Sky
By Chath pierSath
pierSath was recently the guest on The 495 Podcast.
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