5 Poets from Cha

5 Poets from Cha

Cha represents Asian voices writing in English, or commonly poets of mixed  backgrounds who see the traditional Asian cultures through contemporary and  often western eyes. Most of the poems are impressionist, simple and alert to the  fine social nuances characteristic of east Asian poetry. Many, I should also  add, are not perhaps wholly successful, seeming to state matters rather than  evoke situations, but among the more successful are these:

Surpanakha to Sita is by Anu Elizabeth Roche, who born and brought up in Dubai,  and has been studying literature in Bangalore and then Chennai for the last  eight years. Her poem can be read at:  http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1478/403/

Shurpanakha is the sister of Ravana, King of Lanka in Valmiki’s Ramayana, who  attempted to seduce Rama and then his brother Lakshmana. When rejected, she  attacked Sita, and is often blamed by Hindus for causing the Battle of Lanka. As  the opening lines declare, she is here presented as the shadow archetype of  Sita, as the dark, vengeful aspects of femininity:

They call you goddess
They call me whore.

Which is repeated or emphasised throughout the poem:

Beloved sister, most loathed sister,
I am your best-kept secret.

My screams are for you,
to those who killed the woman you were,
to fashion the goddess you’ve become.

A knowledge of the Ramayana obviously helps to understand the references, but  details can be looked up on the Internet. The poem ends in a similar,  uncompromising way:

Simmering beneath your
enraged pregnant silences,
my cries
my daughters’ cries
will be heard.

No doubt the poem could be rather further developed, but Indian literature is  certainly open to exploration and development from western sources, i.e. to  happy cross-fertilisation.

Por Por by Chris Tse is a more ambitious piece. Its author is not only a poet  but occasional actor, musician and filmmaker – which shows in Po Por, to be read  here: http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1454/403/

It’s probably best to simple quote the first stanza: all three follow the same  pattern and present the dilemna of staying or not staying with a dying  grandfather to the end – since either ‘would ultimately wreck our hearts.’ The  first verse:

First of all the colour can be traced back to you
especially in those final hours when the light appeared clearer
and ready to explode from every surface if only to prepare us
for the monochrome to come. If only
darkness took its cue from us stepping in only when our eyes
are ready to withdraw from sight.

The Ballad of Great-Uncle Chi by Jenna Le commemorates Buu Chi (1948-2002), the  author’s great uncle. Jenna Le has published widely, and the poem can be read  at: http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1470/403/

The opening verse sets the scene:

Mom’s uncle Chi, an artist jailed
for protesting the war,
made many ink-on-paper drawings
while living behind bars.

The stanzas are somewhat mixed, some hard-hitting:

They show starved men whose biceps shrank
to the size of turkey wattles.
They show men doubled over, faces
blank as empty bottles.

And some needing more work:

His drawings show sopping-hearted men
with cacti where their hands
should be. They show vermin wielding scepters
above a melted land.

But the poem ends well:

“Remember how Chi used to paint
nudes in the old French style?
What ample flesh those beauties had!
What pink cheeks! What moon-white smiles!”

The most accomplished work I came across was A Sketch of Macao as Land of The  Lotos-eaters by Christopher Kelen, which can be read at:  http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/47/110/

Perhaps we should expect that, as the author has published eight volumes of  poetry and is an Associate Professor at the University of Macau in south China.  The opening section shows just the precise, fluid and evocative nature of  Chinese poetry that most renderings or equivalents, alas, do not have:

far hills gather
grow into the grey

few now the days
mountains lean over

the town
gone walking

at words
with itself

But there is more than deft strokes: the images are his own and not to be found  in traditional Chinese verse:

river of set suns
come to the boil

this is a city of smoke

the rain learnt its trade
on these streets

Finally the poem dwindles away into the distance like a child’s paper kite:

sunset will outlast the bridges
a child’s kite passes beyond

Lastly, in what can only be a small selection of a wide variety of poems offered  by the site, there is Chinese Box by Kathlene Postma, which can be read at:  http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1052/110/ Kathlene Postma is a widely- published writer, who has taught in Sichuan and Turkey, and now teaches creative  writing at Pacific University in Oregon. The poem has some of the haunting  connections of the previous piece, but now lonelier and more personal. It starts  innocently enough with:

I have folded and refolded until the seams are intimate
with me. I cannot make a frog that leaps or a crane
that flies when I pull its tail.

But this was only to introduce the theme of communication, which is not words:

For now I lay aside
the labyrinth, maze and code.

But what is inherent in writing to each other:

I know so few
of the words you build like small cities across the page,
straight streets waiting for me to follow them to their very end

Across distances:

It is night here, the ocean between us. You are ahead
of me always,

And perhaps it is childish to do so:
the letters a child could write, one vowel set after the other,
But the words echo the kite introducing the poem:
beads upon a string I drape across your screen.
And you are always listening:
You reading me reading you.

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