Monday, February 27, 2006
Brit. /mln/, U.S. /mrlin/, /mrljn/
A representation of a bird with either no feet or neither feet nor beak. Cf. MARTLET n.2 2, MERLETTE n.
Perh.: a hood or other attachment for a clerical robe.
3. A mythical creature with the head and trunk of a lion and the tail of a fish, regarded as the protector of Singapore.
Monday, February 20, 2006
What, exactly, is rojak? I’d call it the impossible salad. A muddle of unlikely ingredients: tofu, mango, turnip, dried shrimp paste, cucumber, pineapple, peanuts and tamarind. You eat it with skewers, or forks, or chopsticks. It’s sweet and salty, spicy and strange. You have another taste, another helping, and with every bite, it’s different.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
I'vebeen reading “Women Poets of China”, compiled and translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. It’s mostly classical, alternately dull, stirring and piquant stuff, but now and then you get the most unsettling work. And I’m not talking about Wu Zhao’s Qing dynasty lesbian poems to courtesans, which was why I borrowed the damn thing in the first place. I’m talking about odd unclassifiables like this:
*To the tune “Washing Silk in the Stream”*
-He Shuangqing, 18th century
Like scattered silk threads.
The farm boy puts a flower behind his ear
As he carries the new grain
From his field to the threshing floor.
I got up early to water the field
But he was angry with me
For being too early.
I cooked millet for him
Over a smoky fire
But he was angry because it was too late.
My tender bottom is sore all day long.
*10 Things you didn’t know about women’s poetry in
- The official Complete Collection of Tang Shi lists out of 2200 authors, 190 women poets.
- During the Tang dynasty and later, a lot of the best women’s poetry was composed by the courtesans, to be performed for men. The great Tang courtesan-poets include Xue Tao, Kuan Panpan and Su Xiaoxiao (yah, very ah-huay names right?)
- Most decent women were thus rather cautious about their ability to write poetry, for fear they would be seen as morally loose – or for rumours that they were writing them to lovers.
- Consequently, upon their deaths, they or their surviving relatives tended to burn all the manuscripts in the their possession. Only those given to friends and sympathizers would survive.
- Nevertheless, Huang Er, daughter of a Ming court minister and happily married to another great poet, was quite blithe to inscribe verse about catfights e.g. “That insufferable little bitch with her coy tricks!” (To the tune of “The Fall of a Little Wild Goose”) and the “Ten thousand beautiful sensual ways we will make love.” (A Farewell to A Southern Melody).
- Women’s poesy only became fashionable, i.e. a plus in matchmaking negotiations, in the Qing dynasty, possibly because of influence from the tough nomadic Manchu women.
- Li Qingzhao, the most famous of classical women poets in
, really doesn’t translate so well. I’ll have to look at her originals. But she has written the only women’s mystic-visionary poem on record: China
*To the tune “The Honour of a Fisherman”*
-Li Qingzhao, 1084-1151
The heavens join with the clouds.
The great waves merge with the fog.
The Milky Way appears
A thousand sails dance.
I am rapt away to the place of the Supreme,
And hear the words of Heaven,
Asking me where I am going.
I answer, “It is a long road, alas,
Far beyond the sunset.”
I try to put it in verse
But my words amaze me.
The huge roc bird is flying
On a ninety thousand mile wind.
O wind, do not stop
Until my little boat has been blown
In the Eastern Sea.
- Empress Wu Zetian, the ruthless concubine who slept and murdered her way into being the only female sovereign in Chinese history, wrote love poetry.
- And guess what, the anti-Imperial revolutionary Qiu Jin also wrote poems. In fact, they were used as evidence against her in the Manchu court that executed her by beheading. “Scholars, throw away your brushes!/Secluded women, take up arms!”(A Call to Action)
- Cai Wenji, one of the four great beauties of
China, is actually acknowledged as ’s first great woman poet. Her “18 Verses Sung to a Tatar Reed Flute” chronicle her pitiful life, from her penurious birth to her sale to a chief of the Huns, a harsh nomadic lifestyle replacing the glory of Han China. At least, that’s up to the first twelve stanzas. By the end, having earned the mercy of her husband and the compassion of the court, granted safe return, as she’s actually entering the gates of Chang-an, she weeps because she misses barbarism. China
Drafty winds and fine rain
Make a chilly spring.
I drink wine, remembering bygone happiness,
Under the pear blossoms,
Weeping with misery.
Through the scented grasses
And broken mists, we walked
Along the southern bank of the river,
Tears of farewell
Blurring the distant mountains.
Last night I was fulfilled in a dream.
Speechless, we made love
In mist and clouds.
Alas, when I awoke
An old agony returned.
I tossed in my quilt
Angry at my own helplessness.
It is easier to see heaven
Than to see you.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Crud. Guess what my major was at Columbia.
Actually, I double-majored in Comp Lit and Creative Writing.
Since I've trumpeted one webcomic, I might as well holler for the others I adore:
The last one is of especially curious note, because it's written by a character in the comic of www.goats.com. Recursive webcomics. Woot.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Speaking of statistics, did any of you guys know that Florence Nightingale made significant contributions to the science of statistics? It seems that she was the first person to widely use graphical representations of stats. Seriously. She was the first woman admitted to the Royal Statistical Society. She's the Mother of the Pie Chart. She called it a coxcomb.
I'm envisioning a mystic play entitled "Nightingale", about this woman. Hypochondriacally consigned to her bedroom for over 50 years, through the veil of her four-poster bed she receives dignitaries: ministers, mathematicians and militia, as well as her passionate friend Mai Smith, with whom she wrote she shared a relationship "like two lovers". She has visions of God, and through numbers believes she has seen the face of God revealed (yes, she said this); a white light of digital information shining on the bedroom walls, and slow, ecstatic, Einstein-on-the-Beach-like chanting.
And counterweighting the pure whiteness of her world, she dreams of her work in Crimea, of the shitholes, the dysentery and diarrhoea and battle wounds, the beggars in India for whom plans universal healthcare, the society parties in London which her mother and sister try to drag her to, the messiness of the politics which she refuses to participate in directly.
She plays the ghost behind the machine. How does it end? I don't know.
Obviously I'm delaying the production of real monuments to the human spirit. Urg, I wish my publishing grant would come through.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Anyway, just to get back into the habit today, a poem from the great W.H. Auden retrospective anthology I bought myself by returning my sister's Christmas present to Kinokuniya with an 8-day-old receipt.
Postscript to "Birth of Architecture"
Some thirty inches from my nose
The frontier of my Person goes,
And all the untilled air between
Is private pagus or demesne.
Stranger, unless with bedroom eyes
I beckon you to fraternise,
Beware of rudely crossing it:
I have no gun, but I can spit.
Delightful English reserve with just a skipping step of naughtiness in the way it suggests cruising. Dammit, I want to be so much better a writer than I am now.