Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two Poems by Wang Ping

from The River in Our Blood 
A Sonnet Crown


The geese are painting the sky with a V, my lord
The Mississippi laughs with its white teeth
How fast winter flees from the lowland, my lord
And how’s the highland where songs forever seethe?

At the confluence, I sing of the prairie, my lord
My joy and sorrow soar with rolling spring
Its thunder half bird, half mermaid, my lord
No poppies on hills, only ghost warriors’ calling

Today is chunfeng—share of spring, my lord
Two spirits, one on phoenix wings, one on lion’s seat
Across the sea, kindred spirits, my lord
Prayer through breaths, laughing children on the street

Let’s open our gift, acorn of small things
Let river move us without wants or needs  


Moon on river’s bend, long day of mayfly
No sound or word from Damascus’ desert
Limestone ridge along Silk Route—face of Dubai
Crumbles—wind in hyssop, thyme, wild mustard

This flayed land, so raw, parched, only seeds fly
To take roots in the conquerors’ footprints
Dusk weeps like sand through hands, pulling first cry
From Azan’s throat, a black slave as god’s imprints

Home under the ash cloud, darting swallows
From hospitals, roses on broken walls
Tanks at the border. Shadows at ghettos
Remorse in maze—the last muezzin calls

The Dervish whirls, palm to earth, palm to sky
Who gave us the hand to feel your sublime?

In Wang Ping’s poems, we experience two cultures dancing -- between widely different languages and traditions, between history and the present, tradition and iconoclasm, toughness and tenderness, the politica
l and the intimate. 
Ping Wang
Born in Shanghai, Wang Ping moved to the U.S. in 1986. And in the midst of life's shifts and turns, one thing remained constant: a river flowing through the landscape, whether it be in her homeland, or here in the U.S. -- a river that also flows through her recent work on a crown of sonnets, titled “The River In Our Blood”, from which I have chosen the two poems above. 

Though it focuses on the Mississippi, the first poem (I) is driven by image and symbol, to celebrate chunfeng, the Spring Equinox, connecting the scene and the speaker back to China in happy ritual.

The second poem (IV) explores the brevity of life along the Silk Route, past Damascus and Dubai, pulling the reader along to witness scenes of war and destruction. Yet despite this, the call to prayer survives, the Dervish continues to whirl, the belief in God’s goodness is palpable. Clearly, the great sense of unity in these poems is the result of Wang Ping’s deep involvement in the "Kinship of Rivers" project.

Her two earlier books, Of Flesh & Spirit and The Magic Whip, focus more intently on what divides the bi-cultural self, how language and family heritage shape the psyche, what it means to be a Chinese-American woman bearing up under the weight of generations of brutal treatment. In the poem "The Splintered Eye", she tells us, "There's a sleeping wolf in everyone's head." She deconstructs this assertion in poems that move from image to narrative and back, poems about foot binding, about the drowning of newborn girls, about girls being given names that reflect disappointment.

She also writes of her American experiences with Chinatown, with stereotyping, with love, sex, and motherhood, about war, consumerism, and the victims of September 11th. The world is a brutal place.  
In the first book, even the river is suspect. A haiku titled "A FLASH OF THOUGHT FROM THE RIVER" tells us "I really think I have nothing to do with humans / though I occasionally drown a few / to remind them of their origin." In this fierce and muscular work, one can see the poet risking all to face down and tell of her origins, and to then be able to turn, as the sonnet does, and say, "Let's open our gift, acorn of small things."  

Wang Ping has many publications, and has been the recipient of many awards in the U.S. She is on the faculty of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can visit her website at  www.wangping.com and the Kinship of Rivers project at www.kinshipofrivers.org


This week's editor is Eileen Moeller, who is from the U.S. Eileen currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband Charles, who is a practicing psychologist. Her poems have appeared in Ars Medica, Philadelphia Stories, Paterson Poetry Review, Melusine, and SugarMule. You also can access her poetry blog at http://eileenmoeller.blogspot.com

Once you've read the hub poem try the riches in our sidebar. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Someone forgot to tell the fish by Hal Judge

Someone forgot courtesy and politeness. Someone forgot to rinse off the weed killer. Someone forgot to turn off the billing software. Someone forgot to rent the crowd. Someone forgot to tell the owners of the 4 million cars sold in China. Someone forgot to bring the Zombie-Killing Manual. Someone forgot to tighten the sidestay shackle. Someone forgot to tell Rocky. Someone forgot to strap down the ammo case. Someone forgot to install it. Someone forgot to tell the Arabs it’s our oil under their sand.  Someone forgot to use lube. Someone forgot to tell me about labour pain. Someone forgot to declare 60 share transactions. Someone forgot to plug my biohazard suit. Someone forgot to shut the door. Someone forgot to tell the one million little snot-faced kids. Someone forgot to wax. Someone forgot to chlorinate the gene pool. Someone forgot the rivets. Someone forgot to tell her he was gay. Someone forgot to bring the griddle. Someone forgot to flush. Someone forgot to separate their whites. Someone forgot to socialise the dog. Someone forgot to lash the damn thing down. Someone forgot to invite the wind. Someone forgot to read him his rights. Someone forgot to do the Voight-Kampff test. Someone forgot Sun Tzu’s little maxim. Someone forgot the roots of liberalism in liberty. Someone forgot to invite him to some lawn party. Someone forgot their humble beginnings.  Someone forgot to use her diaphragm. Someone forgot that “pastor” means shepherd not wolf. Someone forgot to de-magnetize my purchase. Someone forgot to plan after the invasion. Someone forgot to put in the thingy. Someone forgot to take her meds. Someone forgot to check the “looping” feature. Someone forgot to remove a piece marked “Remove before launch”. Someone forgot that capitalism is a system riddled with contradictions. Someone at NASA forgot to convert meters to feet. Someone forgot that meth-heads can buy the stuff in bulk online. Someone forgot to disarm the killer dolphins.

                           Editor: P.S. Cottier

I love this poem: a slippery little thing that evades easy categorisation.  There is an ecological awareness here, but it does not drape itself in simple robes of green.  There is a gender awareness, that refuses to simply shout about anything.  There are drugs and sex ... and dolphins.  And peculiarly badly-informed fish.  Perhaps they, like all of us, are subject to killer sharks, in one form or another? But killer dolphins that need disarming?  Flipper of a last line that seems to refer back to the title of the poem.

Australian poet Hal Judge cannot be described as a fixture in the Canberra poetry community, as he is far too mobile for that.  He writes (obviously) suggestive and ambiguous poetry.  He performs such poetry very well.  He organises so many things for other poets, and is very generous with his time.  For instance, he agreed to launch a book of poems I had written, without really knowing me.

Here is how he describes himself (when asked to do so for this blog entry): 
Hal Judge is a versatile writer—poet, spoken word performer, playwright, screenwriter and librettist.  Having lived and worked in Canberra most of his life, Hal is imbued with the city’s culture, politics and literature. Six of his plays have been staged. His poems have been published in over 30 literary journals.   
His award-winning poetry collection Someone Forgot to Tell the Fish is available on Amazon’s Kindle. He has featured as a guest writer at many writers’ festivals in Australia and Indonesia. He has run writing workshops for students, soldiers, prisoners and homeless people. 

Hal is a person, it seems to me, who is willing to take risks.  Apart from daring to write the line, 'Someone forgot to put in the thingy', I have heard him read a poem in Bahasa Indonesian, for example, and he is not a native speaker of that language.  He is willing to cross over between art forms; a recent reading at Manning Clark House here in Canberra, for example, featured music and a live dancer to a poem about a snail...

As a poet, it is a real joy to meet other poets who are experimental, generous and just plain good at what they do.

Chase up his work if you can.  It's well worth the price of a can of worms. And make like an educated fish, and gorge yourself on poems.  World Poetry Day occurs this week, you know. 

This week's editor, P.S. Cottier aka Penelope Cottier, is also from Canberra. She has worked as a lawyer, university tutor, union organiser and a tea lady. She wrote a PhD on animals in the works of Charles Dickens. Her most recent book is a suite of poems called Selection Criteria for Death. She blogs on pscottier.com

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

He Has Superpowers by Daren Kamali

(for Munro te Whata)

He’s an unsung superhero
in the village

He can fly
breathe underwater
walk on hot lovo stones

No one knows his secret
except his soulmate
Grandmother Eel
who lives on the reef

He visits Duna on moonlit nights
when everyone is sound asleep
he swims out to sea

They talanoa about ancestors
and Vū
good and evil
ancient times

He wished he lived in those days
he would use his superpowers
to save his people from intruders
he’d fly over their islands
and drop hot lovo rocks like bombs
from the heavens
and cause tsunamis to drown their villages

It’s too late now
those times are long gone
he has no use for these powers nowadays

Bored with life
doesn’t even need food or water
eats and drinks anyway
hasn’t been sick in 20 years
still acts sick sometimes
so people think he’s human

15 years pass
still no one knows his secret
Duna is growing old
he’s getting younger
Soon people will question
how come he has no wrinkles?
No grey hairs after decades

His mother says:
“We going overseas next year son”
for a better future
more opportunities
all that jazz

What about Duna
he thinks to himself

That full moon night
he visits Grandmother Eel
with a heavy heart
he starts to explain what lies ahead

Mama says:
“We going overseas next year son”
He says:
“I wanna be with you, nana”
In a bubbly voice, Duna says:
“You must go my child
Do not worry about me, my time is drawing near”

Grandmother Eel is dying
Must help her
Needs to transfer his superpowers soon
but doesn’t know how?
Wishes someone could help him
Someone could show him how
he just might
swim into the deep blue
with Grandmother Eel
find a safe place
where they can dwell
far from everything
far from humans
who don’t respect her dying body
Just Duna and him
till he figures out how to save her from dying
Who knows?
It may be
for eternity
he needs to decide

                                       Editor: Robert Sullivan 

This oceanic poem comes from Daren Kamali’s first book Tales Poems and Songs from the Underwater World (Anahera Press). It is reproduced here with the poet’s permission.

I admire Kamali’s oceanic poetic relationships, reminding us of the many connections we have with all creation. His next book will be published by Honolulu-based Ala Press. Daren Kamali was the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer in Residence last year at the University of Hawaii. He is also one of the co-founders of the South Auckland Poets’ Collective.

This week's editor, Robert Sullivan, is of Nga Puhi, Kai Tahu and Irish descent, and is a poet and academic. He has lived and worked in Hawai'i but is back in NZ teaching at the School of Creative Writing MIT, Auckland. His latest book is Cassino: City of Martyrs (Huia 2010). He blogs at Manu Korero: Talking Birds. 

Once you've read the hub poem, please look to the sidebar and find another Tuesday Poem to read by or chosen by one of our thirty poets. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"At Melville's Tomb" by Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge 
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath 
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched, 
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured. 

And wrecks passed without sound of bells, 
The calyx of death's bounty giving back 
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph, 
The portent wound in corridors of shells. 

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil, 
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled, 
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars; 
And silent answers crept across the stars. 

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive 
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps 
Monody shall not wake the mariner. 
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Editor: Zireaux

At Melville's Tomb by Hart Crane
Zireaux's diagram of "At Melville's Tomb" (click to expand).
Special thanks to Lynda Farrington Wilson for her help with the drawing.

A risk, I know, to post this poem by Crane. I can already hear the twitter-twatter of distracted brains, like bird feet on a tin roof. The furrow of brows(ers). The clicks of the mice -- back-button, window closed. What a strain this cranial Crane! Too hard, too dense!

But stay, my reader. Let us creep across the stars. A little voyage for us to make. A little ship for us to sink in.

It's in our biology, programmed in our souls, to feel attraction to water. Crane, who found his dirty pleasure (dirty to him, that is) in sailors and their scepters, leapt off a steamship into the Gulf of Mexico. A suicide, apparently, after a male crew member responded violently to his physical advances.

"Harold Hart Crane 1899–1932 lost at sea," reads the inscription on his father's tombstone.

I'm no Cranophile, not by a longboat, and only recently -- budded by Bloom (Harold) and carried by a Griffin (John) -- has my interest come anywhere near the poet. But here's Crane now, floating beside us, his debris on the page, in water writ, forever inscribed in "Melville's Tomb."

And it's not every day a dead man speaks. Poets know death. They betroth themselves to death and learn how to "charm its lashings," so to speak (see my notes on "Of Mere Being"). One measure of a great poet: The degree to which she mingles amongst the living and the dead.

In the history of great poetic voyages, Melville -- who was foremost a poet (a fact I've stated before and which so often astonishes my readers, as if there was any question about it) -- was death's first mate and closest companion. Our Harold Crane, by comparison, was a mere able seaman, and his poem "At Melville's Tomb" is a little wooden rower compared to Herman's mighty Pequod. A single swipe of Moby's tail would dash this poem into a 110 pieces.

But it holds water. It's seaworthy. Can survive a humpback, maybe. Keep us from the sharks.

Observe my diagram. Most importantly, observe the position of the drowned Melville "beneath the waves" (he died and was buried on land, in fact, but Crane is speaking of his spirit here). Observe the living poet, standing on shore, beer bottle in hand, contemplating the ocean from his "ledge." Ledge, of course, being a thing from which people, especially edgy, ledgy poets, often fall...or leap.

We start with the "embassy" -- a Shakespearean locution for a message (see "Sonnet XLV," Twelfth Night, King Henry V, etc) -- which is "bequeathed" from sea to land, from washed-up bones to (dust-to) dusty sand. Speaking of messages, are those Crane's fingerprints on chapter 104 of Moby Dick from where he stole the word "bequeath" -- indeed stole the whole idea of messages coming from the mysterious underwater dead?

They are. The word "bequeath" appears once is that leviathan novel, in the chapter titled, suitably, "The Fossile Whale." Ishmael describes how whales "bequeath [their] ancient bust" in limestone and marl. Messages from bones. And interestingly, in the very next sentence, Ishmael describes how whales also appeared in Egyptian hieroglyphics -- writing, forsooth! -- represented by the print of a whale's fluke.

You can see, in my diagram, this cycle from bones to messages to chapters and hieroglyphs -- and this is very important, because Crane is about to deliver his most astonishing and brilliant couplet:

Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Crane himself offered clues about these lines in a letter to the perplexed editor of Poetry magazine, Harriet Monroe, who initially rejected the poem. But Crane assumes -- incorrectly -- his readers can at least understand the basic layout of his vision.

I've read at least a dozen other commentators of these lines. Bloom, Buckingham, Franks, Irwin, Leibowitz, Lewis, Penn Warren, Quinn, Tate, Woods, others. Crane's metaphors are so tightly packed (the calyx, for example, possesses both the whirlpool-like cavity created by a sinking ship and the flowers one puts on a grave) that none of these admirers seem to completely grasp the clear visual precision, the exactitude, which Crane has achieved.

Looking up from below: Hart Crane would have appreciated
this camera angle in the movie
Life of Pi.
Monroe couldn't understand how eyes could "lift altars." But in chapter 119 of Moby Dick, titled "The Candles," Melville writes of the corpusants (also known as St. Elmos Fire) that ignite the Pequods masts: "Each of the three tall masts was silently burning in that sulphurous air, like three gigantic wax tapers before an altar." The sky, the horizon in Moby Dick, is a kind of altar, the masts are like candles. To Crane's drowning sailors then, their frosted eyes looking upward as they sink into the ocean depths, it really would appear as if the alter were being lifted.

And what about the answers creeping across the stars? "As soon as the water has closed over a ship," Crane writes in his polite exegesis to Monroe, "this whirlpool sends up broken spars, wreckage, etc., which can be alluded to as livid hieroglyphs, making a scattered chapter..."

In other words, the "embassy," or message, has gone out to the shore; its "answer" then -- following the allure of the sea -- has come back by ship, which (like Ahab's Pequod) founders and sinks, leaving its wreckage, as scattered chapters, or livid (sea-smeared) hieroglyphs, to float across the ocean's surface.

Observe again my diagram and see my point: From Melville's perspective, from his position at the cruel bottom of the ocean looking upward from his tomb, the "answers," the replies to the "embassy," the scattered bits of wreckage, really would appear to silently creep across the stars.

The silence here is crucial, too. We can hear so little when we're underwater. Especially at the bottom of the sea. Wrecks pass "without sound of bells" -- the same bells which Crane borrows from chapter nine of Moby Dick: "The continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog".

Similarly the floating wreckage above us is absolutely silent. This will hurt Crane-lovers, but Disney -- a la Pirates of the Caribbean -- has given this perspective an almost camp quality; camera looking up from below at the floating bodies and debris above. And, too, the dead silence.

So naturally the "monody" -- the song of poets, of this poet, this poem, coming as it does above the boundaries of Melville's tomb, "high in the azure steeps" (the word "steeps" packed not just with height and loftiness, but with eyes, jewels, stars) -- is silent as well. With this understanding, with this sense of being deep underwater, amidst the absolute silence, the final line of the poem presents itself as -- ironically, given Crane's craving to leap from the ledge -- a celebration of being alive.

Because to the sea-entombed Melville, to "the mariner" looking up from below, the water's surface is the limit of his world. There are "no farther tides." Life, music, poetry, beauty, the sheer power of Crane's language, this fabulous world in which we live above the surface of the sea -- it's but a shadow to those who lie beneath.

Zireaux, who can't help but break a word-limit for Herman and Hart, is the author of four novels, including Kamal, which is currently being serialized on the web. His first novel, written in 1990s, will be available in paperback soon (with a free copy going to whoever solves this puzzle poem).

Please be sure to visit the poets listed in the sidebar. Surely there's a Hart amongst them -- Crane and Melville both sharing periods in their careers of extreme, debilitating under-appreciation. It's a good reader's responsibility, therefore, to locate and cherish the treasures in the tolling fog.