4 Reviews on Chao’s Poems

2014-12-05 08:50:14  巢圣Chao  所属诗集  阅读1388 】


On Chao's Book Out of Chaos

by Minyin He

Chao's poetry collection Out of Chaos mainly describes nature and the poet’s ordinary life. Some of them talk about childhood, student life and family life with various feelings of the poet like love, nostalgia and reminiscence. Some of them are written to depict the social phenomenon and criticize its dark side in an ironic and melancholy way. And a large part of the collection shows the beautiful nature, like sceneries, weathers, seasons and also plants and animals.

This paper is divided into three parts: the first part is about the analysis of rhetoric methods employed in the book; the second part about love, nostalgia and reminiscence ; the third part about nature.

What impressed me most is his use of metaphor and simile. The comparisons in the collection are quite unique, which distinguish the poet from other poets. Here are some examples and analysis. In the poem THE GREAT WALL, the poet uses a metaphor —— “the enormous corpse of dragon”——to describe the Great Wall in an implicit way. This poem implies that the Great Wall was constructed at the cost of millions of ancient people’s lives. Words like “corpse” and “abandoned” suggest the attitude. In another poem THE FIRST TWO PERIODS IN THE MORING, the comparison between the attention and “a patch of plaster from a dingy wall” is quite interesting and appropriate, which indicates the poet’s languidness towards the lesson and his wants of free and boundless thinking and imagination.

Now come some examples showing the uses of simile and the combination of similes and metaphors. The poem QUESTION MARKS, “question marks /now like parachutes/so light/in flight” makes use of parachutes to describe question marks which hook and hang nothing and therefore they are light. It shows the poet’s reveries. In the poem EXCLAMATION MARKS, exclamation marks are compared as “a dagger stabs you heart”(simile), suggesting that “exclamation marks are getting rare in recent years”. In NO FULL STOP, there are a mixture of metaphors and similes. “commas/ swimming in the weeds of words/(metaphor) as tadpoles/ (simile) I squat like a frog/(simile)” The poet uses a metaphor to compare words as weeds, and uses tadpoles to compare commas and frog to himself. The whole poem has well created an atmosphere of limitless and free association of poetry. In fact, it is also quite rare to see poems talking about punctuation marks like commas, full stops and exclamation marks. Themes themselves are actually very unique and special, which is also one of the features of the poet’s poems.

Apart from the rhetoric methods used in the poems, I also admire the love, nostalgia and reminiscence among the poems, especially those which relates childhood. The poem CHILDREN talks about the poet saving a bird which was shot down by a catapult. “my puppy love/the girl in the neighborhood/decides to date the bird ” To date a bird is a little bit strange and also thought provoking. The poet may want to stay with his puppy love, the girl, by making use of the company with the bird. However, the girl finally focuses more on the bird, which somehow makes the poet a little bit upset. This poem vividly demonstrates children’s life in the past time, especially the word “catapult”. At that time, children were closer to nature and animals, which is also one of the features of the past era. Besides, the puppy love in this poem is also rather natural and pure, making people recall their innocent love in the past. In the meanwhile, love is also a common theme in the selection. In the poem LOVE, “heat” is frequently mentioned surging from different parts of the body——the belly, the palm and then the whole body. The final simile is quite unique. It uses “mummy case” to hint his “burnt awake and naked” body. Actually The Mummy Case is a book talking about excavating pyramids and finding a missing mummy case. It is possible that the poet hopes his lover can discover his passionate love which is like fire and fierce flames. Or rather, the poet just wants to say that his love is not only hot and fierce, but also still and permanent. By this contradictory comparison and simile, the poet leaves plenty of room for imagination to his readers.

Poems describing natural sceneries take up a large part of this anthology. Most of these poems are keen on rhetoric methods like metaphors, similes, personifications, hyperbole, rhymes, metonymy and so on. In the poem EARLY SPRING IN SOUTH CHINA, personification is frequently used. “the rain fog/melts the horizon—the sun is drowsy/its lids fail to open”. The word“melt” is very vivid and accurate, revealing the blurry scenery of the rain fog characteristic in the early spring in south China. “Drowsy” is another personification: the sun is sheltered by the rain fog, referring to the poet’s wants of sunshine. Metaphor is also used in “its lids fail to open” which means that the sunshine fails to pierce through the rain fog. Another poem A BREEZELESS MAY AFTERNOON shows the suffocating heat of a May afternoon by saying “the green glow/is subdued/ stifled into a bluish mist/below the grove”. Here, the “green glow” refers to plants and the “bluish mist” to blue sky and sunny day. Both use a rhetoric method of metonymy which can enlarge readers’ imagination.

In conclusion, the poet distinguishes himself from others by using his unique metaphors and similes, along with other creative utilization of rhetoric methods, and also his unique thinking and observation of the nature and the society and his unique experience of life. To be a good poet, distinct and unique imagination is a prerequisite and the creative utilization of rhetoric methods is another essential requirement

A Solitary Stroll: A Metaphor in Chao’s Poems

by Shuting Chen

A lonely stroll, I deem it a metaphor of Chao’s poems but not the poet himself, because he is never thoroughly presented in his works. It seems that he has multiple personalities. Sometimes he is a delicate “wife”, likening marriage to the rosebush. Sometimes, he is a loving father, withholding his tears at his childhood retrospection because he is holding his son sound asleep in his arms. Sometimes, he is just one of those keen observers, watching an ant bore a hole in his book. But above all the dramatic or natural parts he acts, I am exceedingly attracted to his character as a lonely stroller in the woods, a term derived from his Strolling through the Woods:

Two student girls, one in white
the other in orange
I saw in my stroll
through the woods
sitting in a sunny stubbled clearing
bent over their books

Vigilance shown on the two girls as the narrator unintentionally approaches leads to his embarrassment and sadness. It is as if he is the source of disturbance, the “source of nightmare in this seemingly quiet world”. I remember the same uneasiness when I stepped into an elevator and saw a kid in an attempt to hide his snacks at the sight of me, apparently considering me a villain. But my reaction turned out to be keeping a distance from him as a testimony of my innocence, just like the narrator’s – lowering his head. The use of “seemingly quiet” instead of simply “quiet” is indicative of disdain for the hypocritical, desire-driven world, peaceful on the surface, clamorous in effect. In this world, adults are hypocrites. Only kids can be a reliable witnesses and accusers. The narrator blushes either because he is one of those pseudo or because he is helplessly ashamed of his deceptive counterparts.

It seems that from this turbulent world Chao craves for an escape, as can be inferred from his poem dedicated to Emily Dickinson. He addresses this prolific poetess as “a lonely woman in a beautiful prison” and this prison is presumably Dickinson’s house which she dwelled in and seldom left. Yet I am so familiar with her life after a comprehensive research for a presentation this semester that I am confident to say that this house is not a prison but a palace of inspiration, a prairie where imagination can run riot, for it is in this house that Dickinson conceived most of her masterpieces that withdrew themselves from the public along with her before her death. Chao, as a keen observer and thinker, is fully aware of that for he describes this “prison” as “beautiful”. Despite that, he emphasizes its confinement by comparing the “hyphens” that constantly appear in Dickinson’s poems to bones that line up like fences. It seems that, on one hand, he appreciates the delicacy of her mind palace, and on the other hand, he feels sorry about this genius dolefully struck in her own fortress that bars the entire world from her brilliant ideas.

There is too a part of Chao that yearns to be a “hermit”. In Dream of a Hermit, he portrays a hermit on the rack in the limelight:

at my turning
I saw numerous faces
a ghostly tree
I sped up

Finally, the narrators discovers in utter horror that the spotlight overhead is indeed a butchering knife. By virtue of actually “putting” the figure onto a stage, this thrilling poem dramatizes how the sadistic public attention afflicts the secluded. Analogous to such a play, I visualize a hermit, ready to free the letters from his pen so that they can dance on the paper, terrified by sudden flashlights from outside the window or scoops about him on the newspaper.

Amid crowds of utilitarians, rather than a feeling of suffocation, poets form the loneliest group. Unlike novelists, who are always allowed to state frankly what he intend to get across, poets do that in circuitous ways. Metaphors, imageries and symbols are among the various elements used by poets to convey their sentiments. Therefore, as Chao has pointed out in one of his lectures, poems are open to free interpretation. Yet from my perspective, it would be rather disappointing for a poet to see that, among thousands of readers, none is able to penetrate his true intention of creating such poems. On the other hand, because as to some special matters, it is better not to spell everything out, poems have to be vague. Thus Chao writes:


Therefore, Chao’s words are but the tip of an iceberg that defies a single interpretation. It is loaded with lively imageries: a stone that drops down and perches on a tree branch like a bird, a rainbow that can whistle like a whistle and the wrinkles of time in the life of a Chinese immigrant. In Chao’s mind, everything can be anything else, just like himself, frequently straddling personalities. This seamless shift of characters, together with his mastery of short and fragmented lines, enables him to replace a congenial atmosphere with a gloomy one in the blink of an eye. He is a bold experimenter of new poems, not just in the language of Chinese, but also in English, which is extraordinarily difficult and impressive. Glen Phillips, a renowned poet and critic, lavishes praise on such a Chinese poet, “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”. Such a part he chooses to act made him a lonely stroller in this utilitarian world as well as the world of poetry as a Chinese poet writing English poems.

However, currently as an associate professor in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies and formerly writer-in-residence or visiting scholar in various universities including Cambridge and the University of Sydney, Chao is constantly in the academic spotlight and close contact with students. Such a stark contrast makes me wonder which personality presents the real Chao: a lone stroller in the woods of poetry, or an amiable teacher enthusiastically inspiring his students to analyze the “ecology” of human beings via literary works?

Surely Chao is not a hermit in real sense. The lonely stroll in the woods is but a metaphor, a metaphor of his complicated character demonstrated in his poems. The poet himself is a unity of contradictories, delicate in his use of imageries yet powerful in his economic use of words. His loneliness is reflected not just in his indifference towards the materialistic side of the world but also in his successful experiment in literary creation beyond his mother tongue. It is in fact a rosy road, teeming with marvelous tales of letters. Rambling through this path is a lone stroller, whose poems are the spring that nurtures the blossoms.

Seeing Through Chaos

By Yue Cui

Chao’s poems inEnglish may rival the wit and insight of John Donne.
--D. B. Axelrod
Chaos,in Greek mythology, is the primeval void from which the universe was born. On seeing the book name Out of Chaos,I thought it was a very ambitious one. Did Chao mean to build a new world in his poems? However, after reading the poem I must say whether or not that conforms to his original intention is no longer important. After all, he has successfully finished the challenging job. Or to be more exact, his wit and insight have penetrated the buzzing worldly life and reached the depth of humannature, which allows me to see the world from a completely new perspective.Among the dozens of exquisite poems inOut of Chaos, those about life are the most enlightening ones for me.
The poem Birth has drawn a quiet and evena little bloody picture of childbirth which under the pen of most poets is noisy and lively.

the moment I was born
I smelt blood
so dared not cry
the silence
startled my exhausted Mama
who thought I must have been born
mute or dead

the silence is still here
andI never dared tell Mama
that the moment I was born
I thought she was dead

In the poem, birth and death are so closely linked with each other. The new bornbaby smelt blood and associated it with the death of its Mama. This ideafrightened it, so it dared not cry. Its silence, in return, startled his Mama whothought her baby mute or dead. Dangerous as childbirth is, in most people’smind including mothers’, the keynote of the process is still hope andliveliness, because much more attention is paid to the arriving of the new babyor the continuation of a family.The potential risks of childbirth are thoughtworth, if not ignored. Here the insight of Chao becomes obvious. Observingchildbirth through the untainted eyes of a baby, he strips the traditionalvalues from the process and gives us an opportunity to see the true nature ofit, which is in fact a mess of life and death, a combination of hope andhorror.
Chao’sinsight also leads to a better understanding of life:

a transparent glass
placed on the table
bythe morning window
at the sight of it
I am thirsty

The power of the poem Life lies in the metaphor of the transparent glass, which has accurately captured the essence ofdaily life. Life, for most people, is not made of gold nor decorated with dazzling jewels. It is just a plain transparent glass. But there is uniquebeauty in the waterless glass. Every time the speaker in the poem sees theglass, he will feel thirsty and want to use it to drink water. Similarly, most people who complain from time to time about the boredom of daily life are stillwilling to go on to find out what is ahead of them. In the poem, Chao has seen through the illusive coat and arrived at the core of life, which is gentle,plain but still powerful enough to drive people to move forward. Here we shouldappreciate Chao’s concise choosing of metaphor. Instead of other objects, heuses a transparent glass to symbolize our daily life. Ordinary as a glass might be, placed by the morning window against sunlight, it could be so beautiful.
Apart from birth and life, Chao has his own attitude towards the flying time. Two poems in Out of Chaos have exclusively discussed the topic. In A Hunter, he writes:

a hunter says
come and go
are they all the same
who cares to know?

I shoot
they fall
I come
they go
or they die
we can never
watch each other
living long

This is a melancholy poem which has reflected the speaker’s lack of control over thepassing time. Although the hunter insists that no one cares about the passingtime just like none attention will be paid to the flying birds, we can stilldetect his bitterness from lines “ we can never/watch each other/ livingalong”. A similar idea can also be found in the poem Time:
sometimes seeing the watch
suddenly stops my breath
as if the hour hand
was a fish bone
stuck in my throat

sometimes seeing the watch
suddenly pulsates my heart
as if the second hand
was a needle
pricked my dream

It can be discovered that seeing the watch or seeing the passing of time is verypainful for the speaker, which can not only stop his breath but also pulsatehis heart. The two poems here share the same theme of pitying the passing oftime. However, the sorts of emotion loaded in them are quite different. In A Hunter, the pity is expressed throughthe monologue of a hunter. People are compared to hunters who persist in followingthe step of time just like hunters chase after birds. The emotion cannot beperceived directly in the poems. In fact, we may even be misled by lines like“are they all the same/who cares to know”, which shows the seeminglyindifferent attitude of the speaker towards time. The true feeling of thehunter is hidden between lines. Lines like “I come/ they go/or they die” and“we can never/ watch each other/living along” are not just simple factualstatement. On the contrary, they have indicated the sentimental mood of thespeaker towards time or “days”. Different from A Hunter, the feeling of Timeis much stronger and demonstrated more directly. What is presented in thepoem is no longer sentiment but the great pain over the loss of time, which has“stuck the speaker’s throat” and “pricked his dream”. The passing time is oneof the common topics of poetry. But Chao has gone farther than the universalsorrow and brought us to a more diversified world: the universal sorrow maydifferentiate itself when it comes to different people. Some people might feelsentimental and some other people might be deeply painful.

“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them into shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”

Just like William Shakespeare said, the eyes of a poet are his most important toolwhich will help him see a different world. For me, Chao’s eyes are keener thanmost his contemporaries. His insight enables me to see through the chaoticworld and gradually approach human nature.

Appreciating Chao’s Poems about the Moon

by Ge Tian

Chinese poets show special preference for the theme of the moon all the time. In both classical 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, as a bilingual 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 Biblical elements.

One of Chao’s poems that impresses me deeply isThe Moon Festival :

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 entering 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, which prove himsel to be a real Bible scholar as well as a marvellous poet. 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 his poems. He gives the moon special cultural meanings, especially Biblical ones, to make the moon possess various 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 Biblical conceptions and introduce these ideas to Chinese literary world.


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