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Some Comments on Chao's Poetry

Popularity 2Viewed 1769 times 2013-11-28 09:41 |Personal category:Comments|System category:Life| poetry

Chao's great strength as a poet lies in the simplicity of his chosen words, his truths and his imagery. The reader is repeatedly invited to take part in timeless and memorable expressions of deeply felt experience.
-------Elizabeth Jolley, The Fate of a Grasshopper

Chao writes deeply imaged poetry with an eye for what is happening below the surface. It is moral poetry that engages with a liviely and inviting intimacy. A Chinese poet writing in English, he has managed to combine the meditative and reflective tones of Chinese verse with the vitality of contempoary English speech.
-------John Kinsella, Paper Boat

Chao's poetry brings a Chinese sense of extension in time, down the generations and through history, into the Australian context.
-------Nicholas Jose, Australian Book Review

In Chao's impressive short poems, I experience the pleasure of reading ancient Chinese poetry noted for its sharp clarity of images, economy of, and meanings beyond, the words.
------Ouyang Yu,
Australian Book Review

Chao is a fine poet with the delicate and sharp sensibilities exhibited by the Chinese culture over the centuries, and an imagistic skill that is as naturalas swimming is to ducks.
------Andrew Burke, Westerly

Reading Chao can become addictive.
------J.S. Harry, Ulitarra

Paper Boat is a fascinating book of poems, possessed of the intensity of trauma and spiritual struggle, it is a significant achievement.
------Mike Heald, Western Review

Chao's poems show how aware he is of the fragilityof our hopes and aspirations, yet he is also aware, precisely because of their fragility, of how precious they are.
------Andrew Tayor, Book Launch Speech

In Chao's poetry there is a strong crisp voice at work and the presence is clear and compelling.

---------George Wallace

Chao is equally at home writing about China and Australia. His poems are simple, a little shy, disarmingly frank, with unexpectedly sharp and wise observations.
-------Jane Sullivan, The Age

Chao's two books contain brief poems of fresh insights from keenly felt poetic sensitivity. Chao tells how burdensome his sensitive nature was, until finding Christ, he used his painful experiences and observations in writings.
-------Irene Playford, On Being

Chao's fourth collection of poems Paper Boat displays the same unexpectedness of imagery and immediacy of observed moments as his third, Out of Chaos. Alert to his role as a poet and surreal re-visioner. Chao's brief poems, while distinctly Chinese in manner, are sharp-edged, often beginning from small, everyday acts or events then ending like surprsied encounters with the self and body. His use of irony and reversal is assured, sometimes haunting and sometimes wonderfully idyosyncratic. Some current poems have been during his stay in Australia but with lines such as

a bang of the door
I turned back
nobody was there

my shadow started up
shrouded
then with a flop fell
face down
onto the floor

they reveal the somewhat dissociated observer of his earlier work, and likewise hint at the attendant trepidation, if not the anxietyand sense of violence just off-stage. The best poems do, however, achieve the sense of urgency.
Generally though, he is in more celebratory voice throughout and employs a gentler key for his observations of nature and customs in Australia.
---------Philip Salom, Paper Boat


...My initial delight in reading Chao's poetry had been heightened by the discovery that he worte directly in his second language English (as well as in Chinese and French). The poems in Paper Boat, his latest book, provide extraordinary evidence of his ability to perform this feat. Only a select group of writers has such a powerful poetic impulse that it shines as an unquenchable flame in their poetry no matter in which language they choose to write. Chao is such a poet...
In his newest poems, especially those responding to Australia, the first overseas country Chao has visited, we find the imagery equally apposite, especially intense, equally controlled.

Australian Night

an enormously long granite table just placed
under the moon-flower decked veranda splendorued
with contemporary limelight and ancient torches

an enormously long granite table just mattressed
seats them like an audience watching
fits of wind crossing over time ephemeral and time eternal
with their shirts and blouses bulging
appetite alighting

an enormously long granite table just centred
with gigantic plates of fresh seafood and bricky bread
bottles of wine white yellow brown and red
dotted like a blessed game of chess

an enormously long granite table just gleaming
with forks knives plates glasses clicking
into frail echoes of sparkling tingling lights

an enormously long granite table
like the Swan River carrying them far to the tales of night
the new moon rocking a canoe of cleansed light
over the billowing Indian Ocean

What living poet would not envy here the quicksilver of ideas, the deftness of word placements, the inventiveness of imagery?
The three "parts" into which this volume has been divided show us many sides of the poet's life, as well as scenes of contemporary China.  And also we have incisive views of our own country in Australia, through a mirror which is at the same time riddling and revealing. The final poem in this book, "For Sale", is an uncompromising but not undeserved satire directed not just at Perth, but perhaps at all the world's modern cities. Always there is a keen intelligence perceving, responding, observing, often with a needle sharpness of wit, often self-effacing shyness. These poems are endearing. We come back to them again and again, like treasured objects...
I sincerely hope the reader is deeply satisfied with the rewards for the pleasant task of having sailed in this 'paper boat'.
--------Glen Phillips, Paper Boat



Now, Chao's two books have appeared on the website of Australian Literature for on-line reading and research:

Paper Boat: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/C186753
Fate of a Grasshopper: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/C38047

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (3 comments)

Reply Report snowipine 2013-11-28 12:18
Excellent article !
Reply Report PoetChao 2013-12-8 17:15
Yes, indeed.
Reply Report theleast 2013-12-8 19:34
Your work deserves these comments.

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  • On Chao's Book Out of Chaos 2015-3-27 13:48

    Thanks for sharing your opinion here. We have highlighted your blog.

  • Moon Poems 2014-9-7 15:44

    by   Ge Tian   

        Chinese poets show special preference for the theme of the moon all the time. In both classical Chinese poetry and modern Chinese poetry, there are numerous lines about the moon. In these lines, the image of the moon or the moonlight always plays a role of the environmental setting, which brings a sense of clearness or chill to readers. However, Chao, who is also a Chinese poet, breaks the routine. In his poems, the moon or the moonlight becomes the main part, instead of just being the background. He endows the moon with some special meanings, which make it an active participant in his poems.

        As a Chinese poet who writes a lot of poems in English, he attracts attentions from many well-known writers and critics. One of them, Nicholas Jose, a famous Australian in this field, has made such comment on Chao’s works in Australian Book Review. “Chao's poetry brings a Chinese sense of extension in time, down the generations and through history, into the Australian context.”This commentary exactly tells the feeling which is brought by Chao’s poems about the moon. The image of the moon and its cultural values related are just the“Chinese sense of extension in time, down the generations and through history”. And this sense is brought to foreign contexts through the use of English language, the creative arrangement of the moon’s role and the combination of Chinese cultural and Christian elements.

        The Moon Festival is one of Chao’s poems that impresses me deeply:

    The stone rejected by builders
    shines fully in the heavens,
    bringing a nation into unity
    in the form of a family.

    It goes without any doubt that the moon here is not simply a part of a set but the one who makes the movement “bring”. It helps make family reunion on the Mid-autumn festival. And the poet also tells us the reason that the moon has this magic power, that is, it is the “stone rejected by builders”. This definition of the stone is from Acts4:11: This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which has become the head of the corner. According to Acts4:10-12, the stone rejected by builders was Jesus Christ by whose name we are saved, because no other name under Heaven was given among men. In the poem, the moon is compared to the stone rejected by builders, which can save others. Therefore, it has the power to reunite families. In these four lines, combining Chinese culture values of family reunion with an allusion to the Bible, the poet Chao shapes the moon as a kind helper. His creative work makes an object which was far away from us before enter into our lives, just like transforming an intangible dream into something that can be touched and felt.

        There is another poem with the same title The Moon Festival  in Chao’s poetry. I do not know if it is a compilation error but I guess that it is a poem written by the poet in another festival:

    The Moon Festival

    A desolate planet
    is a longing land for tonight
    in the possession of light.

    Diasporas of the earth
    gaze upwards--
    when shall we meet up there
    to repose our heads?

    In this poem, the moon is a longing land, instead of a helper. It is desired by the people, the diasporas on the earth. In Christianity,the diasporas are the Jewish people scattered away from Jerusalem. They are punished by God because they abandoned the words of the covenant of the LORD. Like this, the moon in this poem stands for the hometown of people on earth and the birthplace of Christian faith. It also presents the homesick psychology of Chinese people who cannot return home onthe festival for reunion. In two poems with the same title under the same theme, the poet gives the two moons different meanings and shows different feelings—happiness of reunion and homesickness, respectively.

        In the poems about the moon written in Chinese by Chao, there also exist the cultural elements of his Biblical knowledge. For example, the poem《月亮像一位先知》(The Moon is Like a Prophet) is one of them. The poet uses a simile this time. The poem suggests that the moon is like a prophet, who supervises mortals and nurtures them with the food and the water mentioned in Exodus. On the other hand, humans in this poem are like Saul. There is not a special Chinese cultural image in this poem. However, the contents expressed in Chinese are also a kind of combination of the two cultures. Anyway, the Biblical allusions, such as Noah’s Ark, the Lamb and mount Zion, have often appeared in his poems like 《月圆之梦》 (The Dream of a Full-moon Night) and 《中秋之梦》(The Dream of the Mid-autumn).

        To conclude, different from other Chinese poets, Chao does not use the image of the moon as mere scenery for poems. He endows the moon with special cultural meanings, especially Christian meanings, to make the moon possess real implications. At the same time, these poems somehow show and form certain Chinese cultural values. Therefore, Chao’s poems are representatives of culture fusion. They interpret Chinese culture through Christian conceptions and introduce these religious ideas to Chinese literary world.

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