Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Saturday, December 3, 2016

New Intern Tanka

midnight moon
in the motel window ...
I hold my breath
and the door
for the new intern

NeverEnding Story, November 17, 2016

Making Love Tanka

the silence
after making love
cigarette smoke
slowly drifts
to the motel ceiling

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rapid-Fire Angry Words Tanka

spittle gathers
in the corners of his mouth . . .
a rapid-fire
angry words about his ex
who died three years ago

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Night Guard’s Shadow Tanka

at the night guard’s
the cliff inside his head
crumbles more each day

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Foreclosure Sign Tanka

foreclosure sign
staked into the lawn . . .
under the eaves
a spider web laced
with morning raindrops

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

First Real Interview Tanka

my first real
interview since I graduated
three years ago
one sparrow zigzagging
between office towers

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Go Back to Where You Came from Tanka

a white man
yelling at me, go back
to where you came from

another summer
hotter than the last

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Drunk Tanka

a drunk cursing
at the midnight moon
my tired face
in the mirror
of a slot-machine

Neon Graffiti:Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Stony Silence Tanka

crawl across the sky
stony silence
between young black men
and rows of police officers

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Make America Great Again Tanka

at sunset
a street dog cocks its leg
under the sign
reading, Vote for Donald Trump,
Make America Great Again!

Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Selected Haibun: Our Dreams

For my father and his generation who gave up their dreams to pursue the National Dream for the Chinese people

Six decades ago, there was a civil war in China. The ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, was defeated by the Chinese Communists. Chairman Chiang Kai-shek retreated with his troops to Taiwan, where he hoped to regroup quickly and retake mainland China. My father was a first lieutenant in Chiang’s military troops, and, like the majority of mainland Chinese in Taiwan, shared with him this same illusion.

When I started grade four, my father decided I was old enough to learn the good soldier's essential lesson: obey orders and don’t ask questions. But I didn’t want to be a soldier. They looked dumb to me.

One day, my father tried several times to teach me how to salute, but I couldn’t get my hand straight enough. He ordered me to stand in front of the portrait of our ancestors. He shouted at me, “Stand straight and still until our ancestors are satisfied and smile; or else you must apologize to them for failing to follow through on my words: to salute properly. Then you can go.”

I stood for hours, but they wouldn't smile at or for me. Finally, I couldn’t bear it any longer and fainted. Later, when I woke up, I saw my father's eyes brimming with tears.

into the Taiwan Strait
Father rides on my shoulders
midsummer dream

Contemporary Haibun Online, 7:3, October 2011

Friday, November 25, 2016

Selected Haibun: Another Pnin

I hate hearing myself speaking English. My voice sounds inhuman... mechanical. In the strain of translating a Chinese word into its English equivalent, the spontaneity and natural quality of my speech are lost. I feel that I'm falling out of the tightly knit fabric of emotional vocabulary into a hole-filled net of linguistic signifiers.

April snow...
not a word passes over
my tongue

Contemporary Haibun Online, 7:3, October 2011
Contemporary Haibun, 13, 2012
World Haibun Anthology
(Editor's Note: Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pnin is about a Russian-born professor living in the United States whose life is full of various tragicomic mishaps and difficulties adjusting to American life and language)


Below is an excerpt from Owen Bullock's review essay, entitled On Contemporary Haibun 13 and published in Haibun Today, 6:3, September 2012 (note: the essay is an in-depth (and lengthy) review written in the historical perspective on haibun writing, worthy of multiple readings)

...and I will quote Chen-ou Liu’s in full:

Another Pnin
I hate hearing myself speaking English. My voice sounds inhuman . . . mechanical. In the strain of translating a Chinese word into its English equivalent, the spontaneity and natural quality of my speech are lost. I feel that I’m falling out of the tightly-knit fabric of emotional vocabulary into a hole-filled net of linguistic signifiers.
April snow . . .
not a word passes over
my tongue

I find such massive honesty deeply moving. It’s easy for the reader to get over any slight reaction to implied criticism of English, because we know he’s grappling with some big issues. The juxtaposing haiku suggests a sensate snowmelt. I am also in awe of someone who can write so well in a second language, and I would have been extremely proud to have written that last sentence of prose alone.

This haibun leads to me to reflect that if form is not the main original component of a piece then some new revelation or way of conveying ideas might fit the bill. To read any form of poetry in which the writer says something you’ve never read before gives it a huge plus in my eyes.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Dinner Haiku

Thanksgiving dinner
Trump hats and Clinton stickers
left on the doormat

NeverEnding Story, November 24, 2016

Selected Tanka: Leda and the Swan Tanka

tourists crowd
around Leda and the Swan
I wonder
if our first kiss
was a real one

Atlas Poetica, 10, Fall 2011

Note: Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology.  In the form of a swan, the god Zeus, seduces Leda.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Departing Words Tanka

the sharp edge
of her departing words ...
my head hangs
on the crescent moon's tip
in our childhood river

Ripples in the Sand, 2016 Tanka Society of America Members’ Anthology

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wild Horse Skateboard Tanka

no lights on
in his mother's new house ...
the clip-clop
of his Wild Horse skateboard
fading into the night

Ripples in the Sand, 2016 Tanka Society of America  Members’ Anthology

Monday, November 21, 2016

Accent Tanka

my young friend
now speaks English
without an accent ...
the wulong tea I drink
tasting so bitter

Ribbons, 12:3, Fall 2016

(Note: Chinese-American award-winning writer Ha Jin emphasized in the Powells interview with Dave Weich, “[dealing] with the question of language is at the core of the immigrant experience: how to learn the language–or give up learning the language!–but without the absolute mastery of the language, which is impossible for an immigrant. Your life is always affected by the insufficiency.”)

Long Way Home Tanka

first snowfall
on our long way home
any words would be
less cold than this silence
between us

Ribbons, 12:3, Fall 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Selected Haibun: To Liv(e)

My Dear:

Upon reading your ground-floor comment regarding my decision to emigrate to Canada, “you're a dreamer with your head in the clouds, paying little attention to the reality on the ground,” I laugh… to tears.

It reminds me that Ingmar Bergman once commented on Elliot Gould, “It was the impatience of a soul to find out things about reality and himself, and that is one thing that always makes me touched almost to tears, that impatience of the soul.”

I miss you, miss the conversations we used to have inside and outside the theater, and miss your favorite actress Liv Ullmann and our dream.

autumn twilight
a butterfly darts in and out
of my shadow

It’s true that my immigrant life here is much tougher than I thought. It can easily thrust me into troubling circumstances that threaten to undo my “mastery” over those things that matter most.

Thanks for your advice: “don't let life make your heart hard; sometimes, you need to keep one of your eyes open and the other closed.” You told me that you've long found yourself mesmerized by Pablo Picasso’s painting, “The Head of a Medical Student,” a face in the form of an African mask with one eye open, and the other closed. I can generalize about the provocative poignancy of this painting: most people live their lives with one of their eyes keenly open to the dangers of the world and the uncertainty of the human condition; their other eye is closed so they do not see or feel too many of these things, so they can get on with their lives.

fight after fight
against loneliness --
waning moon

I don’t want to drag you into our decade-old debate again. But, is this the kind of life we’re going to pursue after spending years together reading, seeing, and discussing so many artistic works on life and death?

Your Ullmann once quoted Bergman as saying, “Perhaps there’s no reality; reality exists only as a longing.” For me, my longing is reality.

falling off a dream I become a butterfly



Oct. 22, 2003

Frogpond, 34:3, Fall 2011