That Burning Field

Spent Monday's Modern Poetry class meeting discussing Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" and the dramatic monologue and image. We then used that discussion as a lens through which we could look at two of Charles Wright's poems that are also in response to the Chinese poet Li Po: "Portrait of the Artist with Li Po" and "Looking Outside the Cabin Window, I Remember A Line by Li Po." Here's a Google Books rendition of the latter:

Love these: "Jack snipe poised on the scarred fence post," "Sunlight reloads and ricochets off the window glass," "the blue aorta of the sky," "The River of Heaven flows / With its barge of stars." Amazing diction, musicality, imagery. Quintessential Father Wright.

During discussion, one student wondered where he could find more work by Li Po and I couldn't remember the title at the time, but here it is: Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (Counterpoint, 2002), selected and translated by David Hinton. Excellent collection. One worth owning.

Also worth owning: Wu Wei by Tom Crawford. Here are two poems from the collection. "Wu Wei," roughly translated, means "action without action," or "non-doing"--something I know I could certainly be more mindful of in both my writing and my daily life.


This morning
aren't we just a little bit famous
in the world, all of us,
putting our feet down
on the cold floor one more time,
trying it out—
Oh, and the wold,
if it is turning to the right
then we, aren't we all leaning to the left,
our tee shirts, hats flying,
on this long train to Chengdu.

Riding soft-sleeper with a window seat,
I'm the resident poet—
my English curving into your Chinese
is simply love of the sounds
I'm trying so hard to make,
the rough roadbed
throwing us every which way,
the tea spilling over.

Einstein had a similar experience
and used the train, the whistle
blowing through the night,
to advance his own theory of poetry—
dark smoke
trailing for miles, the voice
swelling out of a tunnel,
morning again, its heavy engine
pulling the curve
and first light we shape our words with.

"Chengdu," the conductor says,
tipping his blue hat,
"Chengdu, ten minutes."


Rain in Chongqing is pretty much
like rain in Portland—
it comes down wet from Heaven
and when it’s sudden,
without warning,
in both cities people shriek
and scatter. Newspapers double
for umbrellas,
dirty sidewalks glisten,
a mother runs out
to pull in her little boy.
Flags go up everywhere
in excitement—“We surrender,
we surrender.”

Tom Crawford
from Wu Wei
Milkweed Editions, 2006

Support a poet and poetry. Click here for more information about Tom Crawford's collection Wu Wei and Milkweed Editions.