An introduction to Celadon, winner of the 2016 Unicorn Press First Book Prize for Poetry.
Publication Date: November, 2017
Publisher: Unicorn Press
The book’s title, Celadon, is partly inspired by two simple lines from “As if this were Celadon,” a poem from the book:
Celadon potters live beyond the range,
as artisans always have.
I was walking the former palace grounds of the King of Kaya—an ancient kingdom in Korea—when I looked towards a range of mountains on the horizon and realized on the other side were valleys where celadon potters had lived for over 1,500 years. The valleys are an enclave for artists of all kinds, many of them ceramicists creating their works of art according to practices and traditions hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. How they make their works of art has changed, but the fact of their dedication to creation in that valley region, has not.
The continued existence of these artists in that specific place suggests, in some respects, a removal from the pressures of time. Financial and practical daily concerns aside, the community is a place where people have come together
to live, ultimately, for art, and it has endured, regardless of the exertions of war, political gamesmanship, and power, for at least eighteen centuries. As a writer, there is something validating to me about a community of artists that has managed to exist for so long. Devoting a life to the pursuit and creation of art is an aesthetic gesture towards what matters in this world, and what one should be attached to, purposefully.
What specifically does the word “celadon” have to do with this sort of aesthetic gesture?
Celadon is an artistic surface, a glaze on something that is substantially of greater proportion in reality. Celadon is involved in imitating other surface coverings, and is created by being heated at high and low temperatures. According to the somewhat commonly used Random House Dictionary, the glaze fuses with “the body” in the firing process. Celadon is, therefore, an aesthetic coating that lives on the surface of reality by means of the body.
The collection mixes poems about working in factories and nightclubs in the Midwest of the United States, moving beyond the sometimes cliché ridden themes of American working class marginalization by including poems about Korean farmers, Chinese migrant and mining laborers, and the exploitation of women and children in Asia. One of the themes of Celadon is an exploration of globalization, both its privileges and its perils, attempting to locate a place where one can live with quiet dignity. Celadon’s final section synthesizes the contrasts and connections of an expatriate life through observed details, insisting on the importance of honoring what links the living and the dead, and what matters most about being human.
National Poetry Series winner Juliana Spahr describes Celadon this way:
“The large amount of geographical territory that is covered in this collection is
distinctive and one of its great strengths. Ian’s work in these poems shows an
attentive kindness…and the poems do not risk appropriation or indulge in