Results of the 2017 Blodwyn Memorial Prize have been released! I am not a winner. I am mentioned, though, honorably, for my poem Standing in the Courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein. The poem was written mid 2011 while I was teaching in Tianjin, China. While I eventually taught for a private institution, I began in the public schools. Tanggu Yi Zhong, mentioned in the title of the poem, was a high school around the corner from my apartment, and the poem focuses on that location and the surrounding area. Also in the title, two figures are mentioned. Einstein, of course, needs no introduction, while Lu Xun is likely almost completely unknown to Western readers. Excerpted from a brief biography of Lu Xun on Columbia University’s Asia for Educators website,
Lu Xun (or Lu Hsun, pronounced “Lu Shun”; 1881-1936) has been considered China’s greatest modern writer for most of the 20th century. Many of the other authors of fictional works of social criticism popular during the 1920s and 1930s have been at least partially discredited or criticized during the various political movements in China since 1949, but Lu Xun’s reputation has remained consistently distinguished. Mao Zedong (1893-1976) called him “commander of China’s cultural revolution.”
Perhaps it was because Lu Xun died relatively early in the Communist movement that he has not been criticized for making the kinds of political “errors” for which his colleagues have suffered. But the sophisticated complexity of his writing style, which lends itself to various interpretations, is also an important factor in his achievement of a position of preeminence.
I encourage you to read some of Lu Xun’s work. Here is a link to his famous story Diary of a Madman.
And here is my poem:
Standing in the courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein
There is Einstein.
A bending of the neck allows me to look up into the eyes of a statue of Einstein. Asking, Who is Einstein? whose answer would be Albert? And who would believe it sufficient to posit the equation E=mc2? Or just to say he was Jewish? German? Genius?
Does the scanning of a biography result in acquaintance? Does a lackadaisical spin of a globe make one worldly? Is a statue flesh? But is it presence? It is living memory where it is more than mineral and chisel. Just a rock: outside the conversation with the persistence of impression, could this sketch be said to be indebted to it:
- Though he is technically dead, the water, which nourishes the earth, is not alive.
- That there was ample room for God is evidence that science, far from trump (closer to trumpet,) is a brilliant facet of the imagination:
- Systems and equations depending on laughter and the playful rolling of the colour wheel, behind speculation, with a stick.
- A perceived thing will not be still—and so the field of physics is swept by the wind that carries the inaudible distortions of prayers—and a statue converses with a man.
Lu Xun stands opposite Einstein. Pursuing medicine, Lu Xun was horrified while watching a beheading caught on a red reel, and turned to the medicinal word. The Diary of a Madman revisits fragmentary entries written in a delirium in which the writer is convinced that all the villagers down to his very own brother are cannibals. We follow the progression of his growing delusion that villagers and family alike are conspiring to eat him. Did they, or did they not? What is it to be eaten?
A sociological vertigo deterritorializes the subject… causing rapidly increasing panic, cold sweats, nausea, and in some cases the urge to violently retaliate against the “over-curious.” Due to racial isolation in much of the expansive country, foreigners do in fact meet with a population both xenophobic and xenophile in turn. Extended exposure to the unyielding scrutiny of the general population can result in the development of depression, alcoholism, paranoia, and chronic isolation to name but a few possible symptoms.
Forty actions/spectacles executed by a Caucasian living in Tanggu. The audience consists of the public who chance to be in close proximity to the events. Unlike traditional audiences the spectators come and go as they please. This is akin to a happening, the major difference being it was never intended as performance.
- buying water
- smoking cigarette
- turning head right
- turning head left
- crossing street
- stumbling on uneven pavement
- scratching arm
- wiping sweat from forehead
- talking on phone
- sitting on bench
- drinking water
- biting thumbnail
- watching being watched
- reading book
- adjusting hat
- throwing empty bottle in trash
- looking at watch
- picking wax from ear
- patting stray dog
- talking to stray dog
- dropping piece of paper
- bending down/ picking up piece of paper
- entering restaurant
- looking at menu
- pointing at menu
- saying xie xie
- picking up chopsticks
- watching TV
- leaving restaurant
Locked within the gates of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein, teachers and students, janitors and groundskeepers, guards. Locked out: any semblance of stranger, outsider, alien. Family needs be familiar, trusted, part.
But, it is family, as the closest communities will attest.
It is something very intimate, from a distance,
to grow a family in a year,
living in classrooms negotiating the amorphous
state of education. First attempt:
connection. Severed, standing behind a computer
partition as if afraid of being seen
naked against a landscape of blackboard –
forget a language, the foundational
smile might just manage a binary
transfer, reduced to information.
Beyond the idea of teacher and student,
human and human, invariably put together
with air, tissue and imagination
could never survive term or season
without the addition of friend, compassion,
and the million millisecond attributes
which, lasting, defy job description, salary and curriculum,
for a circuitous notion of we.
There is Einstein.
Happy there is, once and a while, light on this earth. One only ever hears of brilliance. Rolling the toxins of public transportation and congestion in my mouth, the students of Tanggu Yi Zhong in their ticking leisure volley birdies in a numberless badminton making use of no nets. Others run to run and others chase to chase, some laugh to laugh, and all breathe to breathe. Some dance to win, some cry to gain, some just walk it off – and passing me where I stand next to Einstein (flashes of blinding Nagasaki, Hiroshima) or tearing past, they call out Hello!
These are my children?
It dawns on me, belatedly: the sun is up, an aspirational direction, and the idea of family doesn’t want blood (anymore).