Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Poetic Musings: Plum Blossoms Haiku by Chen-ou Liu

in memory of my friend and teacher, Paul Crudden (in the note a backstory was added)

a deceased friend
taps me on the shoulder --
plum blossoms falling

Heron’s Nest Award, 13:2, June 2011
Grand Prize: Poem of the Year, The Heron's Nest, 2011

Some haiku please us from the first reading. Some beckon us to move beyond limits we’ve assigned to what constitutes “proper” English-language haiku. Some explode into our consciousness with all the stunning beauty of the first blooms of spring. And some do all these things and more. Chen-ou Liu’s is one of those.

At first reading, I loved it. Then I questioned my response, asking, “Doesn’t this break a whole bunch of Haiku Rules? Isn’t this metaphor? Is it gendai? Am I supposed to like this as much as I do?” It seemed daringly outside my comfort zone. Then I simply let it take me into a world that was at once surreal — and so real.

Whether a moment such as this triggers the memory of a loved one (a metaphorical tap) — or, for just a split second, we forget and turn, expecting to see them there — I trust many of us have experienced this. It is a moment as filled with poignancy as this poem. We are literally touched at the deepest level — with inexpressible longing — and with a jolt of such joy mixed into our sorrow we can only feel blessed.

In Chinese and Japanese literature, the butterfly was long used as a symbol of a departed soul. Chen-ou has taken the idea that the departed are still among us and found a very new and touching way of expressing this idea that we can only manifest by feeling. If you have ever stood under a tree as the petals drift down you will know how very light this touch is. And yet you can feel it and it seems a blessing.

To make the leap to thinking it is the touch of a departed friend is genius. This is why we need poets - to discover such truths, ideas, concepts. If we could remember that the touch of every blossom, the wetness of a raindrop, every glint of light was a reminder of the departed who surround us, how much more meaningful our lives would be. How much more reverence we would have for the simplest thing. This is why we have haiku - to remind us of profound ideas in simple things.

The association between the sadness of a friend who passed away, and the blossoms which are also passing is clear. Yet out of this sadness Chen-ou has found a ray of pleasure. He is not alone. His friend is close enough to touch him as are all our beloved departed. This is a very beautiful haiku and well-deserving of all of its honours.

Note:  In 2004, I volunteered at a long-term care center as a friendly visitor for one of its residents, Paul Crudden. His illness made him speak with difficulty, but it didn’t stop him from conversing. Once a week I would show him how to use the Internet and we'd discuss Chinese language and culture about which he was insatiably interested.

We sometimes met  at my home where we’d watch and discuss films. Paul had worked in Hollywood and I had been a film critic in Taiwan. There seemed to be a karmic link between us.

One day I visited him, and he sensed that I was upset. Guessing the issue, he said, “Chen-ou, don’t worry about your English. Both of us have speaking problems, but many people around us have listening problems.”

Paul's acceptance and encouragement made the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms relevant to me. He passed away on Oct., 30, 2005. Two years later, I received my Canadian citizenship.

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