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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

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

staring
at the night guard’s
shadow
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

thunderheads
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)


Note: 

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.