Poems of International Limbo by Keith Jon Nipper (2020) – A Review

This is the first review from King River Press’ Island to Island Initiative. It comes from the island of Taiwan, which is a little more than half the size of Tasmania but with a much larger population; around 23.5 million compared to around 570,000. The poet is Keith Jon Nipper, an American resident of the island who lives in the southern city of Kaohsiung. This is his second collection of poems. Keith is a translator, scuba dive instructor and teacher. He has a degree in English and Philosophy from Valparaiso University, USA and studied Chinese and calligraphy at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Kaohsiung.

Source: Kaohsiung City – Google Maps

I was lucky enough to pick up this self-published gem collection of poetry and meet the poet, Keith, at a casual launch during a meeting of the Kaohsiung Writing Workshop held at the Touch of Zen Guesthouse. This gorgeous guesthouse, which doubles as home and business to very knowledgeable and friendly hosts, Wendy and Carl Thelin, is the former residence of a high-ranking Japanese naval officer located in an old military village in Zuoying District. This lovingly restored/renovated fusion guesthouse was really quite the perfect setting for the launch of Keith’s Poems of International Limbo.

Cover artwork, Morning on Jingguo Lane by Eben Eldridge. Cover calligraphy – Wang Wei, Chung-nan Mountain Estate and images both by the author, Keith Jon Nipper.

There are more than 50 poems in Keith’s 70 page book, including 9 haiku. It’s a compact A5 size, a little more than half a centimetre in thickness and perfect bound at the spine. The collection would firmly and equally fit into both the poetry and travel genres. The contents are divided into four parts; How It Is Now, Translations From The Tang, The Silent World and Taiwan. There are four pages of handy and very interesting notes in the back that reference parts of the text. I have chosen a favourite poem from the first three section and two haiku to give readers a sample of Keith’s poetry prowess.

From Part I: How It Is Now: I have chosen Hesitancy. There is little ego in this man’s love and wonder for this un-named woman. He explores and ponders her cues but he can never be quite sure where he stands. His uncertainty and hesitancy seemingly deepen his love for her. Does he only know her as much as she lets him? Can we ever really totally know or understand another person?


I draw my finger
along the edge of her cheeks
like I would a calligraphy brush
across a sheet of rice paper.

I take her in
from the corner of my eye,
her arms folded.

she wraps herself
around me, sudden
in a dark print dress,
an unsparing beam
offered to my eyes.

Inside an onion of joy
There is a membrane or two
Of sadness, caution.

How has this woman
been molded, and shaped?
Does she fear her
heart will combust
like a valley of conifers
in western Canada,
licked dry
by a rainless summer?

From Part II: Translations from the Tang, I have chosen a lovely little poem by 李白 Li Bo aka Li Bai or 太白 Da Bai. Li Bo was a very popular Tang Dynasty poet who lived during the relatively successful and peaceful reign of Emperor Xuan Zong, followed by the General An Lu Shan Rebellion, which was fraught with uprisings and shifts in power between waring states. Could it be due to this turmoil that many of Li Bai’s poems see him escaping into nature, like this one, which sees him making simple yet poingnant observations of his deep connection to it – in this case, where he practices 坐禪 zazen (seated meditation) with Ching Ting Mountain?

A painting in Gu Lang Yu museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China, Author uknown.

Flights of birds have disappeared,
solitary clouds have blown away.
We consider each other at length, and do not grow tired.
Afterwards, there is only Ching Ting Mountain.

Li Bo (701-762)

In Part III: The Silent World, we find Keith escaping into nature as well, this time down into the ocean’s depth where he explores an otherworld of sea creatures. There are 12 mesmerising underwater escapes in this section, ranging from phytoplanton to some fat fish but I’m going to share the first two stanzas of a poem titled, Pistol Shrimp & Watchman Gobies. It’s a fun poem and the descriptive language makes one feel as if the sea creatures take on a human quality.


Once during a dive
I swam upon
a bitty, curious scene:
a pair of adroit,
perciform sentries
deployed outside
a bunker in the sand.
I almost laughed
at the seriousness 
of the affair.

It's a seafloor symbiosis:
inside this foxhole
is a pistol shrimp,
sightless killer.
It creates this
homely construction
for itself
and the fishy friends
outside -
a refuge in
the shifting sands.


From Part IV: The final chapter in Keith Jon Nipper’s Poems of International Limbo is aplty titled, Taiwan. The single word subtitle itself is loaded with political conotations and assumptions but safely, Keith pretty much sticks to the local folk culture. Firstly, by taking the reader on a journey through a seedy and grotty side of Taipei night life and the Ningxia night market and then on to an intriguing interaction with a pu-er tea merchant and some monks.

I’m going to stop here and share some of Keith’s haiku before signing off. But finally, and I don’t want to spoil it, but I need to tell you that he also takes us on pilgrimage and visits the dead big noses of Takaw Foreigners Cemetery. Well done, Keith, on this diverse collection of Taiwanese folk culture infused poetry. I would recommend Poems of International Limbo to expats living in Taiwan or considering it, travellers, ocean lovers and divers and fans of folk poetry and travel writing. There are still a few copies available and a reprint on the horizon. To purchase, you can contact Keith here: Keith’s Adventure Diving.


early high rise sit
instead of Amitoufo
deep mind sings bird song

procession of robes
summer twilight diligence
calligraphy joy