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Review of Chao’s Poems

Popularity 5Viewed 3819 times 2015-2-4 10:37 |System category:Others

by Yizhi Chen

Disclaimer: Poetry is said to be the pebble thrown to the lake, ripples trembling,
passionately or gently—— the response is up to the lake. This does happen when I’m
reading the poems, and I believe what I feel is—— only myself.

When reading Chao’s brief poems, I always have a feeling that I was suddenly
thrown to another planet, vacant and ethereal, and I can stare at the earth,
observing, hearing the sighs of people on earth, clearly.

And the earth, indeed, is blue. The poet’s lines flow melancholy and reflectively,
portraying love, hate, death and birth in an alien, penetrating way. In the poem
Love, conflicts appear straightforward, in a plain and simple way:

When he thought of her
he smashed into the door
When he thought of her
he smashed up the floor

Whenever he thought of her that day
he smashed her or something
until the next morning he woke up
the house was found so ruined
without her

After all the smashes, what left lingering in the air seems to be a sense of
emptiness and regret. A similar theme can be found in Rings Interpreted. The
metaphors for Ex-rings on the fingers of ex-partners are impressive. The ex-rings
are described as “ a kind of memory of historical record”:

like youngsters
of some tribes
preserving the skulls
of people they have killed
to mark their manhood

From which, I sense the cruelty and a kind of primitive instinct contained in our
modern relationships. These lines also inspired me with a thought: Maybe human’s
various ceremonies are actually no more than an indication of our vulnerability, as
we need symbols and marks( like a ring, or a necklace, etc.) to hold together
fragments of memory. Trying to explain the lady “whose hand swinging with three
rings” in a lighter way, the poet give us another metaphor:

the lady's rings
are like the Aussies
leaving their radios or TVs on
when nobody is in
to keep burglars away

The unusual figurative expression allows me to dart a look at the hollowness of
people’s faded relationships. And again, I think the lines reveal how we defend our
vulnerable spiritual selfs with the shield of ceremonial materials.

Love is one of the most poetic emotions we have, and it’s poetic mostly because of
the indispensable dramatic elements a relationship entails. “ These violent delights
have violent end, and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss,
consume.” (Romeo and Juliet) Many poets focus on the violent elements of a
relationship, as those elements are powerful and provocative, and so are good
writing materials. But these poems dug into human’s weakness, meditating on the
emotional aftermath and the memorial ceremony of the fire-powder-consumption,
the post-consumption period, and offered readers a new perspective to observe
love&hate relationship.

And birth is also something more than a symbol of hope. The poem of Birth is quite

The moment I was born
I smelt blood
So did not cry
The silence
Startled my exhausted Mama
Who thought
I must have been born
Mute or dead

The silence is still here
Well preserved
I never dared to tell Mama
The moment I was born
I thought
She was dead

I thought it was unbearable to force a kind of awareness of blood and death upon
an infant, unbearable even in an imaginative poem, but this kind of enforcement of
distorted images, the images that are so different from what we know as correct,
also, in the other hand, set me thinking, pondering on the macro meaning of birth in
human society. Is birth the beginning point of later generation’s encroachment on
the vitals of their ancestors? Were we born to claim the territory of our
predecessors, regardless of the fact that they are still breathing? And if it’s true, it
doesn’t happen because of any evil purpose or immoral pursuit. It’s simply natural
cycle, ever-repeating. This inborn destructiveness of everyone gets me, especially
when I think of my current aggressiveness and the senility I am not able to
circumvent. SHE was not dead, but will, and is dying.

No matter what, the stress of this poem still lies on birth when all the climaxes start.
Another poem is there for us to talk about dying and fading, A Game of Life:

Every day I went into my dream
To dig a bit of a pit
Till one day I could recline within
Then every day
I began to cover myself a bit
With soil and sand
Till one day
I could only see a small hole of sky
And still a pair of hands was watched
To come every day
And cover a bit
No more
No less

It’s not a real physical death, but the burying of one’s spiritual self. A pit in the
dream can be solitude, but safe, and sometimes it’s the only place one’s soul can
rest assured. Bit by bit, a self in reality may cease to exist, while another self
consciously getting caught in a web of one’s own spinning. The dream is a cocoon,
it may give birth to a butterfly, or suffocate one. Dylan Thomas once wrote: “ Do not
go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage
against the dying of the light.” Although A Game of Life literarily depicts a very tame
way to cringe into the darkness, it somehow arouses my awareness of “ do not go
gentle into that good night”. By illustrating the subservience of “I” to the fading of
vigour, these lines are flashing like a warning to me, telling me: “ Do not go gentle…”
One thing I like about poetry is that it has far more margin for readers, than novels
and other literature forms. And these brief poems I have been talking about gave
me a chance to dig out my own thoughts and beliefs, to which, I may owe a salute.

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




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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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