Friday, February 6, 2015

Poetic Musings: Mid-Autumn Moon Tanka by Chen-ou Liu

mid-autumn night…
the wind whispers to me
Chinese words
that offer me a home
in the shape of a moon

Tanka First Place, 2011 San Francisco International Competition Haiku, Senryu, Tanka, and Rengay

Commentary by Tanka Judge,  Roberta Beary

The originality of the images coupled with the evocative sense of ‘stranger in a strange land’ merited a 1st Place award.  The first two lines appear to lead to a traditional path.  The third line is the turning point that brings this tanka to the next level. The fourth and fifth lines complete the journey.  After reading this tanka I found myself looking at the moon with new eyes and listening to the language of the wind. 

-- excerpted from "2011 Contest results with judges' comments," Haiku Poets of Northern California

Combined with the opening line, "mid-autumn night," the closing lines, "a home/ in the shape of a moon," allude to the Chinese Moon Festival, and L3, "Chinese words," refers to Li Po's poem, “Quiet Night Thoughts" (Chinese: 靜夜思).

The Chinese Moon Festival is on the 15th of the 8th lunar month. Now it is celebrated sometime between the second week of September and the first week of October. It's also known as the Mid-autumn Festival.Different regions or groups of people have different ways to celebrate the festival. Generally speaking, it is mainly a night for family sharing time. During moon viewing, people are constantly moved to share their knowledge about the moon, especially about the moon in Chinese poetry. School-age children or young adults are encouraged to recite moon poems, of which the most famous is Li Po’s “Quit Night Thoughts.” It is believed that this poem is the best known of all Chinese poems, especially among Chinese living overseas.

Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
and thinking it's frost on the ground,

I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
then back, dreaming of my old home.

-- translated by David Hinton

Li’s poem successfully conveys the nostalgic longing for family through the moon imagery – a symbol of distance and family reunion in the Chinese poetic tradition – portrayed in simple and evocative language. Every time when the Chinese think of their families or hometowns, they recite “Quiet Night Thoughts.”

Note: My another tanka below was the third place winner in the same contest:

her toothbrush
in my medicine chest
declares residency…
gazing at the mirror
a face hard to recognize

Tanka Third Place, 2011 San Francisco International Competition Haiku, Senryu, Tanka,  and Rengay

Commentary by  Tanka Judge,  Roberta Beary

The apparently effortless humor of the poet adds lightness to this tanka and makes it stand out from other submissions.  But there is something more: a conflict present in the last two lines.  This tanka led me toward another reading of Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara. For this I thank the poet.

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