Linh Din

This review was published in The Poetry Project Newsletter.

The role of the real at the heart of the surreal; the sacred emerging from the profane; the logic of a large intestine: to write All Around What Empties Out, Linh Dinh must have ingested the holy waters flowing through the meat-packer’s gutter and survived. This is a book where the heart of wisdom is a mentality occupied by a pack of K-9 dogs…it bites absolute truths and revels in the pieces left behind.
Somewhere in this book is the i-ching, the astrologer’s chart, the farmer’s almanac, the Book of Questions. There are traces of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the chronicles of the Buddha.  Linh Dinh doesn’t reveal his sources, but his language is familiar. Din passes along crazy wisdom in a tone that seems familiar, even though what is actually being said will be jarring to truth-seekers:
A woman is folded then stuffed into an envelope only to wake up the next day inside a cardboard suitcase.
Why does the blinking man throw screaming knives at a confiding woman?
A hundred maidens are equal to one peacock all teetering on two disappointed wheels.
All things clever or difficult are intended to amuse, specifically a rapid movement of the hand or the mind to generate a sequence of brief illusions.
His logic is an anti-logic in which the art of sacrilege presents its own system of belief. This is not to say that there are any supreme or unsupreme beings in this praxis; this is certainly not to say that there are any discernible, essential, truths. Dinh assumes an assured tone and writes through the allegorical/parable tradition. In seeming to import words of wisdom, his poems build and build, creating X-treme mind movies (“Once I saw a young mother blow hot air rhythmically into her infant son’s asshole hoping to cure him of something”); evoking profundity in the juxtaposition of beer and sacred teachers:
I drank two beers and ate a pretzel.
Two Mozarts flank me on both sides.
Across the room is the Dalai Lama.
His immaculate head has been spit-shined.
How many more times must I say this.
Nowhere but   here can it matter.
Stuart Henley has done a wonderfully unique design for this book (polka dots on every page, a graph to mark the page numbers, a horseshoe pattern that is on the cover and replicates itself throughout the book). One can actually do a reading through the form of the design — an amazing feat of the yin/yang balance between form and content. The horseshoe pattern on the cover is actually cut out of a photograph of what appears to be the corner of a white tile bathroom.
The title of the book, All Around What Empties Out, might be a spinoff of the Tao te Ching (“It is not the clay the potter throws, which gives the pot its usefulness, but the space within the shape, from which the pot is made.”) So what is the space within that empties out of a bathroom? What’s been cut out of the photograph? The toilet pot? Some gross towels heaped in the corner? Or nothing at all?  So the poems in the book, like the horseshoe, are themselves forms that exist in the space around what has been emptied out: the space left by the commodification of spirituality; the erasure of singular truths from postmodernity; by the disconnect between productivity and a worker’s health. Whatever it is that is left out, something is definitely left behind: “an intermittent drunken sort of laughter swirling around even when there’s no one around.”

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