As the first grain of millet bursts out in the field
I hear Ina*’s voice on the phone from my tribal village in the South
The air is rich with the scent of shell ginger flowers
At the next full moon
I’ll go back for Masalu**.
*Ina means “mother” in the Paiwan language
**Masalu means “thanksgiving” in the Paiwan language, here it refers to the harvest festival
Liglav A-wu is from the Paiwan tribe and was born in the tribal village of Pucunug in 1969. She is best known for her essays and reportage on issues concerning aboriginal women and published her first collection in 1996, Who Will Wear The Beautiful Clothes I Wove 《誰來穿我織的美麗衣裳》She was also worked with Walis Nokan on Hunters’ Culture (獵人文化)magazine. She is currently working as a professor at the Taiwanese literature department of Providence University.
都可以 It can be both
有時候是阻擋 Sometimes it obstructs
有時候是歡迎 Sometimes it welcomes
進，或者出 Entry, or exit
都可以 It can be both
它真正的意思 It’s real meaning
只是通過 Is just passing through
This is a nice little poem from author and poet Chiang Hsun (蔣勳). He was born in Xi’an in 1947, and moved to Taiwan with his family in the wake of the Chinese Civil War. He had some involvement with the anarchist movement in France while studying abroad there and supported the democracy movement in Taiwan while working as a professor on his return to Taiwan.
下雨的晚上 On a rainy night
看不見星星和月亮 The stars and the moon can’t be seen
他們也跟我們一樣 Just like us
被媽媽關在屋子裡 They’ve been shut up in their rooms by their mother
要等雨停了 And have to wait for the rain to stop
才可以出來玩 Until they can come out to play
Although this poem is from a children’s poet, which may explain its simplistic language, I have to admit I’m not a fan of talking down to kids and it’s not my favourite.
Hsieh Wu-chang (1950-) is a children’s author and poet. He previously worked in advertising and as an editor.
The paddy field is a mirror
Reflecting the blue sky
Reflecting the white clouds
Reflecting the black mountains
Reflecting the green trees
The farmer plants seedlings
Plants them on the green trees
Plants them on the black mountains
Plants them on the white clouds
Plants them on the blue sky
I liked the simplicity of this poem’s words and the reliance on the concept to get its message across. The childlike tone of the poem suggested something like a nursery rhyme, but I also liked the idea of the unreality of the world as seen through an agricultural viewpoint (through the reflection on the paddy field’s surface) and that though humanity might think they exert control over the natural world, this is illusory as a reflection in a mirror. One could read this another way also, as an admiration for the unending toil of a peasant-farmer’s work and the single-minded urge to survive.
Chan Ping (詹冰) was a Hakka poet born in the township of Zhuolan in Miaoli, Taiwan, in 1921 and was a student of Taichung County Taichung Middle School, set up by local elites such as Lin Hsien-tang and Koo Hsien-jung – the only middle school reserved for Taiwanese students during the period of Japanese colonial rule. He went to study pharmacology in Japan in 1942 at the Meiji Pharmaceutical School in Tokyo. He returned to Taiwan after qualifying as a pharmacist. He opened a pharmacy in Zhuolan before being invited to become a science teacher. He wrote poetry in Japanese during his years as a student at the Taichung Middle School and formed a poetry society called the Silver Bell (銀鈴會） with other students, including poet Lin Heng-tai. The society issued a poetry magazine called Green Grass (綠草). After Taiwan was ceded to the Republic of China in 1945 and the Nationalist Retreat to Taiwan in 1949 use of the Japanese language was heavily suppressed and the Silver Bell was forced to dissolve. After a transitional period of around 10 years, Chan started to write in Chinese and in 1964 he formed the Bamboo Rain Hat Poetry Society (笠詩社) along with Lin Heng-tai and other poets and they published a poetry collection called Green Blood Cells in 1965. As well as being a poet, Chan was a novelist, an essayist, a lyricist and a playwright. He died in 2004.
As well as Buddhism and Christianity
Some gods dig water channels like Allah
Some are the Holy Marys pushing wheelchairs in the park
Where ghosts thrive, gods thrive too
As shadow follows the light
Where light shines strongest you feel secure warmth
But don’t fear the places where ghosts roam
Sometimes the city’s depths are lighter than its surface
This is the advance of civlization
This time it’s a reader contribution. My former co-worker snapped this poem on the MRT and sent it to me. The poem was written by Chuang Tsu-huang (莊祖煌 pinyin: Zhuang Zuhuang) who goes under the pen-name Bai Ling (白靈). He was born in Taipei’s Wanhua District in 1951 to a family from Fujian in China. After studying chemistry in Taiwan and teaching for a while, he went to the US to study a master’s at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is currently a professor at National Taipei University of Technology and at one time took part in a grassroots poetry collective, including a period as the editor of a grassroots poetry publication. He has won a plethora of prizes for his poetry.
不如歌 Better a Song
Better a manic something over a tranquil nothing
Better a tear bubbled up in heat over a dewdrop awaiting the warmth
Better to land the bullseye than to loose an arrow in haste
Better a single eagle than to raise three thousand doves
Better to be pecked, than to be kissed
Another day, another opportunity to lean over someone to take a photo of the poem on the MRT behind them. This one’s by Chen Ke-hua and I thought it was pretty appropriate for this humid summer night.
沸騰之夜， The Simmering Night,
將她最燙的一塊皮膚 Lays the most scalding piece of its skin
貼在我頰上。 Against my cheek.
我疼出淚來，說：不， I cry tears of pain and say, “No”,
這不是我最需要溫暖的位置。 This isn’t where I’m most in need of warmth.
Chen was born in 1961 and was born in Hualien in Taiwan, although his family were originally from Wenshang in Shandong. After graduating from Taipei Medical University he started his career in medicine. In 1997 he studied at the Harvard Medical School, returning to Taiwan in 2000. He now works at the Department of Ophthalmology of Taipei Veterans General Hospital and as an assistant professor at the medical school of National Yang Ming University. As well as his medical career, he’s also a poet, an author, a painter and a photographer.
I found this poem entitled Flower (花) by Taiwanese poet Bi Guo (碧果) on the MRT:
Just one more step
One can leave after shedding one’s garb
I also liked the stylized way the author’s name was written on the poster.
Bi Guo was born in 1932 and is the author of several poetry collections, including A Heartbeat Afternoon, A Changing and Unchanging Canary, Corporeal Awareness and Poetry Belongs to Eve. He has also published a collection of essays, a novel and a play. You can hear him reading some of his poems in Chinese below in a video by the Culture Bureau of the Taipei City Government: