Book Review: The Bone Setter (Travis Chi Wing Lau)

Reviewed by Michael Northen

For his first foray into putting forth poetry into holdable print form, Travis Chi Wing Lau has made an interesting – and wise – choice. He is not offering a full-throttled poetry collection, and not even a pared down (or beefed up) chapbook. The Bone Setter is chaplet containing just six poems. One could, with little imaginative effort, even consider it all one poem.

Each of the poems – "Diagnosis," "Prognosis," "Treatment," "Cure," "Aftercare," and "Second Opinion" – takes us along one step of a linear, lockstep medical continuum that disabled people know all too well. At the same time each poem takes on a completely new shape, illustrating Lau's skill in working with a variety of forms. It is not shouting, but quiet observation – his mother's advice to him in "Diagnosis":

    close attention
        to their eyes
           Their gaze

So from the first, the role of the doctor as the compassionate servant is subverted to reveal the true nature of the relationship:

you think you will know me
    though me

It is about knowledge as power in which the patient plays the role of object. Each poem adds a bit to reshaping the readers view of the medical process through the eyes of one who has sees it from the experiential inside, moving through suggestions of the links between medical practice and eugenics in "Aftercare" to quiet resistance in "Second Opinion."

A nod should be given to Damaged Goods Press for making work like The Bone Setter available through their chaplet book series. With a focus on 6-8 page booklets of poetry by queer and trans poets, they make it possible for readers to sample the work of 8 emerging writers for $10. Not a bad deal.

Title: The Bone Setter
Author: Travis Chi Wing Lau
Publisher: Damaged Goods Press
Publication Date: 2019


Michael Northen is the editor of Wordgathering and an editor with Jennifer Bartlett and Sheila Black of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: the New Poetry of Disability. He is also an editor of the recent anthology of disabiity short fiction, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked (Cinco Puntos Press).