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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Believe You Can Write Verse in English?, A Tanka Prose

I paint
a daisy on the wall
and sign it
with my Romanized name ...
morning mist rising

To write verse in English is not like growing ideograms inside your heart, reaping the sentences matured by the muse of desire, taking your clothes off with words, exposing yourself in the rhythm of the stanzas so that you can hold your passport and cross the borders of linguistic solitudes, emigrating from the ideographic to the alphabetic.

English still remains an unmastered means of deciphering the musings of your heart and mind, it is constantly intruded upon and twisted by inflections from the old language. Often, you are not able to connect emotions to words, to feel the weight of their syllables. Without emotional vocabulary, everything becomes elusion, confusion. The fear of things you needn’t be afraid of.

Even when you can find the right words to reflect your feelings, you are not skilled at weaving these into sentences. They simply become isolated cries clinging desperately to your heart. Even when you can find a way to weave words together into an artistic whole, the poem often fails to conform to the texture mandated by poetry editors. Why believe you can write verse in English, whose music is not natural to you? 1

I skip
a stone of words
across the lake
of another time
another place

Note: The concluding sentence is taken from the last two lines of “An Exchange,” a poem written by Nan Wu, the poet who is the protagonist of A Free Life, Ha Jin’s fifth novel.