ORACLE BONES

Keith Holyoak

Oracle Bones is a new form of political satire—the state of current American politics reimagined as a sequence of poetic warnings to a foolish and dissolute king who ruled back at the dawn of Chinese civilization. Thousands of years ago, a shaman would query the gods by carving a question on a bone and applying heat until cracks formed. The answer was then recorded on the “oracle bone”. Keith Holyoak—poet, psychologist, and translator of classical Chinese poetry—has created oracle bones for modern America, “translated” into short English poems. Using symbols dating back to the Shang dynasty, these messages allude to the tyrannical regime of a long-forgotten king. The common people are exploited and divided against one another; impoverished migrants are brutalized; greed and nepotism go unchecked. Meanwhile the king leads a life of joyless debauchery. Warnings of loyal advisors are ignored even as rebellion begins to stir. Of course, the primitive form of government that can be glimpsed in these oracle bones vanished long ago. Nothing like this could happen in the modern democracy of America.

 
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