In this extremely instructive and witty collection she has based her poems on her lecture tours in China where she taught English Literature and Composition at Suzhou University in Jiangsu province. In All the Tea in China she presents anecdotes and obversations from those years. The poems contain vivid images of a Foreign Expert’s life and work in the Republic of China, with its daily puzzles and pleasures. While China has changed in many ways in the last decade, the experience of teaching Beowulf to Chinese undergraduates or the decision not to fry and egg on one’s balcony, exist in a timeless world; as does her musing in the title poem about fellow tea-drinkers in the vastness of China.
Foreign Expert I’m an expert – it’s written in the contract – And classes sit at my feet four days a week. Outside the classroom I revert to ignorance. The lady selling roasted melon seeds Has to hold up fingers for the price. Even the obvious abacus is no good, Although all over town everyone plays That rectilinear rosary, Noisy as ping pong On all the city’s counter tops.
Michael Rosen, the Independent
I thoroughly recommend Sarah Lawson’s translation of Prévert