Ghost Country.


112 pages
ISBN 978-1-894078-49-7
DDC C811'.54






Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


In Ghost Country, Steve Noyes constructs a series of narratives about an outsider’s visit to China, falling in love with both the culture and a young woman there. In some ways, it’s more like a collection of very short stories than of lyric poetry, yet there are intense lyric moments, some sharply etched images of this foreign place in which the observer is the real foreigner. My sense, by the end, was of a rather prosaic collection all the compound/complex sentences, long lines, a concentration on narrative above everything else yet this was unfair, for in many poems, Noyes demonstrates a fine sense of lineation, using line breaks for sudden turns of meaning.


In several poems, the narrator is this visiting outsider, fitfully discerning and offering his observations of this alien culture and its history. Others, however, feature the lover, as in the title poem of the first section, “Lovers,” or even historical figures. As the collection moves through its three sections, “Lovers,” “Outsider,” and “Ghosts,” it provides a complex vision of a country and a culture force-marched into a modernity its whole history resists. This is an interesting view of China in the late 20th century, albeit a self-confessed partial one.


In poems such as “Lovers,” where the young woman reflects on what she has now that her foreign lover has gone back to his own country, or “The Master Comments on the Century,” where Confucius seems to be both then and now looking back on the changes his world has undergone, Noyes achieves a critical distance that allows large cultural ironies free play. Such poems achieve an authority not always present in the more apparently “confessional” lyrics.


On the whole, Ghost Country is an engaging collection of narratives about a country and culture everyone is getting more interested in; with its notes on pronunciation and many Chinese words scattered throughout, it provides something of the experience of alienation its protagonist experienced as he attempted to come to grips with this country he loves.


Noyes, Steve., “Ghost Country.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,