Book Review: Ride Backwards on Dragon

Ride Backwards on Dragon is a gift of words from a time of silence. Ride Backwards on Dragon is what happened when professional non-fiction author, Kim Goldberg, fell from voice and view, and into liuhebafa: an ancient martial art similar to tai chi, which focuses on transforming the energies of the body.

In the end, it was Goldberg’s writing that was transformed. Her pre-liuhebafa trademark was gritty, investigative journalism. Ride Backwards on Dragon is poetry (pure poetry that is). There are 66-poems in the book, one corresponding to each liuhebafa move. Taken as a group, the 66 poems tell the story of a journey. On one level, it is Goldberg’s journey, from fact-filled, to voice-less, to poet. On another level, it is the story of the endless struggle between balance and discord, male and female, being and not being.

The journey is exotic, and the scenery is great. In some of the more intense poems, images crowd nose to tail to nose across the page: a word-cornucopia treat for the poetry lover or visual thinker. Churning seas, birds and bees, a gun carrying cow-girl, and a released prisoner can all be seen along the way, sharing the poet road: Metaphor. And flitting, flirting, around, throughout them all, are the mythological tigers and dragons that inspire much of liuhebafa, engaged in a high stakes game of tag.

Despite the exuberance and range of imagery used in the poems, the liuhebafa metaphor keeps the group cohesive. Each poem is named for a liuhebafa move. Goldberg also includes an explanation of the purpose of each move in the back of the book. Reading about the move, and then reading the poem named for it, adds an interesting level to the narrative. However, Goldberg’s liuhebafa explanations don’t set parameters for a poem; instead, they serve as a spring board from which to launch a mini-story, or a question.

Ride Backwards on Dragon isn’t escape literature, and it isn’t a quick read. Its slick, yielding, fleshy language, offers only small pleasures to the skim reader.

But the quality of the writing, makes it worth the time that it takes linger over the language, to get a feeling for the cycles and rhythms of the poems, and the journey they describe.

"The Angel of Literature came to me/ on a moonless night cloaked/ in spider nets/ offered me the Dipper/ I drank”, writes Goldberg in, "Supreme Star points to North Star”. Maybe it’s the Angel of Literature that makes this poem collection pop. More likely, it’s the distillation of eight years creativity, combined with an author’s dedication to getting it right. Either way, Ride Backwards on Dragon is a good companion for a week or afternoon, or for the evenings that are spent at home, with teacups, contemplation, and books, for company.

Lia Light is a freelance writer in Nanaimo and student of Malaspina University-College.