*****The Fragrant Harbor

Hong Kong, city at night

(photo: c2.staticflickr.com)

By Vida Chu – I don’t usually review poetry, it being strictly a case of “I know what I like,” but my friend Vida Chu has published a lovely, evocative collection of 43 poems, The Fragrant Harbor (Hong Kong), and I like it a great deal.

Her poems recall the legends of ancient China and the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, the dislocation of being far from one’s roots and finding home, and the attenuation of family relationships across generations. In beautifully quiet images, she indelibly describes Hong Kong, writing (“Fragrant Harbor”):

The city’s colored lights and stars
Embroider the velvet water.

I especially liked the poems that recall the days of scholars and monks, Emperors and concubines (from “Things I Never Told You About Chinese Painting”):

That Wu Daozi once brushed a huge landscape
onto the palace wall. When he pointed to the grotto
and clapped his hands, the entrance opened.

He stepped inside the painting
and disappeared
in front of the Emperor’s eyes.

The family dynamics Chu describes in many of the poems are universal. What people leave unsaid, the haunting family ghosts, moments of joy (from “Wedding Rain”):

With rings on their fingers
The couple sobbed in each other’s arms
The heavens applauded with a downpour

Like all émigrés, always a bit out of time and place, and in a way that for her has sharpened her perceptions, Chu also describes her roots in America (from “Foreign Students”):

Our lives no longer can be packed in suitcases.
We return to visit as tourists.

We have grown complacent in the rich feeding ground.
We have lost the passion to swim upstream.

This is a collection to read time and again. A special gift for a special person. Yourself? Enjoy!

Ravel-Edged Storytelling

forest poetry

(photo: as0.geograph.org.uk)

A walk in the woods of poetry and prose and pleasantly lost in thickets of words.

The current (subscription only) newsletter from AGNI—Boston University’s well-regarded literary magazine—includes an interview with prize-winning poet and nonfiction writer Rosalie Moffett about “Ravel-Edged Storytelling.”

A Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, Moffett says she mostly considers herself a poet, but believes that the two genres—poetry and nonfiction—“share a border, and sometimes I look up to find I’ve crossed it.” A work that started out to be one thing takes an unexpected and serendipitous turn to become the other. In reading this month’s submissions to the writer’s workshop I attend, I encountered one 1200-word short story excerpt that seemed to want to become a poem and might have become one, by just changing the line lengths.

Answering Questions

Moffett says she writes prose and poetry for the same reason: to answer questions and, most of the time, poems “end up being the best arena for my mind to answer them.” This suggests a mind that ranges freely through a forest of possible answers, where the ambiguity of words can be pulled into service of meaning and intent. Strung together in a particular way, they can be the perfect example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. That phenomenon is is one function of subtext.

dinner table, family

(photo: creative commons generic license)

AGNI online offers Moffett’s essay Sidney, whose story she says absolutely required “the ravel-edged” kind of telling offered by prose. Prose also provided a more valid recreation of how she originally heard—or overheard—the family stories, and the stories about Sidney himself, with all their half-bits of information, inferences, and unanswered questions like loose threads in a bag of knitting ravaged by moths or kittens. Prose “puts our stories together in a way they never had the chance to be before people died, got bitter, or went off their rockers.” I urge you to link to it and start reading; you won’t be able to stop!

And Telling Stories

In the essay about Sidney, she talks about how as a child younger than six visiting her grandparents, she got up late in the evening feigning hunger, so she could camp out in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal and overhearing the adults’ conversation in the next room: “I remember the music of the stories more than their substance. I sensed their pull and power. I wanted, suddenly, nothing more than to have stories to tell, and to sit at that table and tell them.” “Sidney” shows she absolutely got her wish.

I think I resonated with her responses in the interview largely because of the process in the last two weeks, of writing my blog posts, The Rouge Shadow and Coming to Amerika, based on a longer essay about my father’s immigrant parents. So different from Moffett, who can draw on a deep well of family detail—conversations, rooms she’s spent time in—I know next-to-nothing about my father’s parents. Yet, even from the few stray threads I have, many stories could be woven. To write these essays, I pieced together the backdrop for a plausible narrative from minute clues. Moffett says writing an essay “feels like the hunt for an answer.” And sometimes the answer is that there is none.

Further Reading

Rosalie Moffett’s website includes links to some of her poems, including this one, “Gifts from the 7-11.”

Agni is the ancient Vedic god of fire and guardian of humankind, a messenger to the other gods. You can find out more about this aptly named literary magazine here. And about the god of fire here.

The Art of Subtext, by Charles Baxter– The most eloquent and approachable group of essays on subtext that I’ve found. For only $3.88 used to $10.28 new, you can awaken to new possibilities. Reading it was like seeing, after not seeing.

Let It Snow (Not)!

snow, writing, writer, author, mystery, suspense, readerOur snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled . . .” – Dylan Thomas

The Central and Northeast U.S. isn’t the only country hit by snowstorm after snowstorm this winter. Take a look at how Tokyo residents responded after a 10-inch blizzard—its biggest blizzard in decades. Snow sculptures from the land of “Hello Kitty.”

Photo gallery from the 24th Annual International Snow Sculpture  Championships – Breckenridge, Colorado. Tokyo amateurs, be in awe!

Have a cup of hot chocolate and let Frank sing to you. Let it Snow!

Hot chocolate not warming enough? Here’s a hot toddy recipe that calls for brandy, whiskey, or rum (whatever you have, basically) and tea. The recipe says you can skip the tea. Just so it’s hot!

Your Cryosphere Glossary from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  Perfect for teachers, dads, and moms who get asked those tricky snow questions. Find out where it’s snowing right now with the NSIDC “near-real-time” data map.

Simon Beck’s Snow Art—made by stomping around in the snow, very precisely. Not just your everyday snow angel.

A collection of Snow Poems. I like this one by Frederick Seidel. Good to remember when you’re stuck in the snow. Six-sided, too.

Snow is what it does.

It falls and it stays and it goes.

It melts and it is here somewhere.

We all will get there.

 A recent op-ed about the incomparable snow leopard, and how the big cats are saving people. She has her eye on YOU.

snow leopard, writing, mystery, author, reader, suspense