On Poetry

It’s the end of April, and National Poetry Month. I’ve been reading from a number of books on Chinese poetry in translation– have to pick some up for Taiwanese poetry, too.

Here’s an opening excerpt from “Poetry Itself Is a Kind of Sunlight” by Yan Yi:

Believe me, poetry itself is a kind of sunlight
No substance has been found anywhere in the cosmos
That can break the wings of poetry.

The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution, p. 36

My paternal grandfather and great-grandfather would write poetry with their friends. My mother took out a scroll for me once, and showed me the brushed character for moon. I think there was moonlight through a window in the poem. I wish I could read their work.

Here’s a rough unfinished excerpt from mine:

I am the rice paddy, green with life,
shoots tender and sharp through the water.

I am the white crane flying
through a row’s reflection on a quest
for the fish slipping through muddy lines.

And on that note, though there is more to say, I’m going to sleep.


6 Responses to “On Poetry”

  1. 1 Doug
    April 29, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    That’s interesting to poetically “be” different things. As now I am the ink on this digital rice paper, though I’d rather eat rice with the crane if he’ll share his fish with me. I did a “I am” metaphor poem although about a woman on a bus:
    I imagine you drifting
    in thoughts on the bus
    by the window with
    a mystery package

    Hear me honk
    see me as the bird
    that flaps a clap
    applauding your reverie

    On your way, squealing
    with the wheeling of the bus
    I am the squeaky brakes
    squawking to see you; I am
    the roar of the engine

    Wake up. Don’t
    miss your stop
    don’t drop your
    precious package

    Arrive soon, because
    I can’t wait to
    open you up
    to ride with me
    — Douglas Gilbert
    Free-verse Poetry

  2. May 1, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Interesting poem– thanks for sharing it!

    I generally keep my poetry shut up, unfinished and unseen. You’re so brave!

    Mine is vaguely formed out of remembrance where the prompt was “I am from”– the “I” in my poems flits about from mythological characters to flowers and other people and sometimes me. I remember reading something about the ecstatic Sufi poets and how their beloveds were generally God. Personification is fun.

    In the little snippet I posted, well, “I” looks like Taiwan.

  3. 3 Doug
    May 1, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Ut, oh. If I’m “brave” it must mean that I should know that I’m probably embarrassing myself with ineptitude. But anyway, I don’t think that the Sufi’s were always so esoteric. I’ve tried to write a few poems based on the Sufi tales contained in “The Subtleties Of Mulla Nasrudin”. The Mulla is a comic figure:
    Sky Truth
    To end ignorance
    the chef
    a religious fellow,
    renounced all desires,
    but for the wine of truth
    in great writings

    A note from heaven
    not a feather
    he tried to get
    on a beach. With a

    bottle of Vermouth
    he stood in search of truth,
    a raw chicken cutlet in hand
    looking for a chef’s promised land
    that perfect recipe to make ends meet,
    to make his cooking nirvana be
    the ultimate stew,
    but he had only torn pages
    missing those spicy truths
    just known to a sage,
    and only a grappling hook
    on a blanket to cook.

    When a movie star came by to say
    the truth is up there in the sky
    he threw the hook up in the air
    repeatedly despite the stares. My recipe

    must be part of truth he said
    the root of flavored
    cotton candy skies. Although

    before the truth he could hook
    a bird of hunger just swooped
    down on the cutlet
    tearing it loose. Foolish

    bird he shouted
    how can you really make out
    with recipe not in your snout?
    — Douglas Gilbert
    Free Verse
    Oh, and about “I generally keep my poetry shut up, unfinished and unseen.” It might be Ok and salvageable, and if it’s false modesty, you’re denying the world an experience.(Although, it could be really bad, but what do I know?– The elites don’t like my stuff.)Well, I only have one other “Sufi” like or “Sufi” based thing(it’s hard for me to pretend like I’m an intellectual with the one or two old books I can allude too. When someone calls my bluff, I’m in trouble, because I know little about literature, only try to know a few buzz words to bluff my way around{but I’m actually a pretty uneducated ignorant crude person.Oh well.}:
    If I knew
    where nowhere is,
    I’d wander
    to hear what’s there
    listen anywhere music charms
    be lost
    be found out

    She lives to arrive
    at places that matter
    to see a scene
    be a decoration
    place a mark
    on a souvenir

    For hours we wandered lost
    seeking Carnegie Hall

    As her anger trumpeted
    I heard an echo of ah’s
    voices savoring delights
    taxis arriving with honks like geese
    that made me chase a mirage
    see a sign: Carnegie

    I dragged us in to hear
    the singers calling for chicken livers

    When I saw no oboes
    I knew we
    had arrived
    at the Carnegie Deli

    I ordered hot pastrami. She
    told me I was in a pickle, while
    the bells of doom
    pealed in my head, and
    I looked for a native New Yorker
    to calm her rage
    tell her the address for
    Carnegie Hall

    While I wandered away
    through chicken liver
    trying to peel the onion
    of my tears, to
    find an appropriate tongue,
    she opened her purse
    reached into her anger
    pulled out a jar of ultra-hot
    jalapeño peppers
    stuffed it in my sandwich

    She waited to sting me, but
    I was lost in gourmet ecstasy
    awry in rye
    like a cole slaw
    waiting for slaughter

    She waited to flatten my dignity
    as flat as a potato pancake

    By the time I returned
    her hunger overwhelmed her
    and she bit into my sandwich
    tears streaming down her cheeks

    I inquired
    why she cried

    Her poor deceased Mother
    would have loved New York

    She pushed the sandwich in my face. I ate.

    She asked about my tears.

    I cried too that
    her Mother in heaven
    left her daughter behind
    with the character of
    a hot pepper

    The pain focussed my attention
    on a ragged stranger. In payment
    I offered him my sandwich, a plea:
    please tell my dear wife
    how to get to Carnegie Hall

    Breathing like a dragon
    he gasped, the address
    has two 7’s and a 5

    Swallowing a gallon of water
    he pointed to a street musician
    on the corner

    I threw a sandwich
    in the musician’s case
    asked how I get to
    Carnegie Hall

    With a Knish and ambition, he said– she
    ran off with him
    I stayed to order a corned beef
    and kept my tongue on
    the best day of my life

    Today she plays the violin.
    I stand outside with a sax.

    I’m not chopped liver though
    ’cause the chicks dig me

  4. May 6, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Ahh… The Carnegie Deli. I had a really good Roshashanah dinner there with a friend once.

    You’re not embarrassing yourself as far as my non-elite readership is concerned. (I’m fond of the “awry in rye”).

    If any of my work ever makes it to the public eye, I’ll let you know, and then we can debate its merits.

  5. November 9, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Hi there. Thought you might enjoy this: http://jkfowler.com/2009/11/09/sense/. Cheers, JK.

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Free Rice

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