Sunday 23 September 2012

Cha "The Past" Poetry Contest - finalists

Thank you to all the poets who sent work to Cha's "The Past" Poetry contest. In just one month, we received 440 highly accomplished submissions. Judges Marc Vincenz and Tammy Ho have selected the following seven poems as the finalists. Please scroll down to read the poets' biographies and their commentaries on the poems. All seven poems will be published in Issue #18 of the journal, due out in late September 2012. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our patron from London, UK who generously donated the cash prizes.

Also see our previous poetry contest, "Encountering".


"The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes (1987) running commentary on the pulp Huang Yong Ping was making from Wang Bomin and Herbert Read’s respective tomes" by Joshua Burns

Joshua Burns on "The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes (1987) running commentary on the pulp Huang Yong Ping was making from Wang Bomin and Herbert Read’s respective tomes": Huang Yong Ping's work has been on my mind since last Spring. His washing machine may have been my first. It certainly seems to me to be one of his more mainstream works and, if not, I would, at least, argue it comes from his most provocative time, a time when he appeared to be doing the work of a Chinese Duchamp. fter selecting the artwork, the first five lines came easy. I had been listening to my roommate's now slumbering noise project, Mega Diss, a pass the mic around kind of experiment, that had the energy, verve, nerve, and perhaps hatred, definitely hatred, that Huang Yong Ping’s statement required. One of Mega Diss’s lines, coming at the center of a track that is already too long and hate-ridden (how appropriate for an album entitled “We Hate”) goes “Zachary Eller’s losing his mind” followed by a swish of screeches, growls, and grunts that cannot be replicated here but carry the song on far after it has long expired. Mega Diss’s work is, after all, one that expires from the moment you put it on. This noise-ridden listening experience reminded me of my own washing machine. It barrels through long nights and blares to tell me when it’s done, long after I already know it is done and just do not want to get up and answer it. The last thirty or so lines came in a rush when I realized, in a grocery store which I hurried back from, that I could make the piece three even four dimensional, by including, first the artist, then Duchamp, then me, then my roommate and fold them over each other. Contractions here are tremendously important as they get the nice mushiness and urgency that comes from a piece that goes “Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes”.

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Joshua Burns continues to tinker with the rich tradition of Chinese art and specifically the outgrowth which is Huang Yong Ping. Chinese art has understandably been back-seated until Huang Yong Ping is completely washed, dried, and worn out.

"Letter to Queen Victoria from the People of Hong Kong, 2012" by Michael Gray

Michael Gray on "Letter to Queen Victoria from Hong Kong, 2012": I spent most of Summer 2012 continuing to study Mandarin. I learned some Cantonese as well. My trip began with a five-week program in Chengdu. After it ended, I visited Guiyang, Anshun, Guangzhou, Foshan, Shanghai, Yuyao, Jinan, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing, Dunhuang, and Xi'an. I was working on versions of this poem during the summer and recently figured what to do with ideas floating inside my head.

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Michael Gray is a MFA candidate at California State University-Fresno and an editorial assistant for The Normal School.

"The Old Cemetery" by Richard Luftig

Richard Luftig on "The Old Cemetery"Old cemeteries are filled both with mystery and poems. Reading the tombstones gives you bits of information about people who fought and died in wars, people who lived through historical times and the short lives of children who died early on in infancy. In addition, the unseem people who visit the graves are a mystery. Who leaves the fresh follows every day? Why is there a coffee can filled with dead flowers. In one funny story that actually happened, someone was stealing miniature flags left at grave sites. It turned out that it was moles taking the flags back to their burrows! Perhaps there is a poem there someday!

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Richard Luftig lives in California. His poetry has appeared in North America, Europe and Asia and has been translated into many languages.

 "The Seamstress' Goodbye to Liu" by Andrew Barker

Andrew Barker on "The Seamstress' Goodbye to Liu": There is probably no better way to really appreciate a work than to have to tutor on it for five years to intelligent teenagers expecting you to be able to explain parts of the work their school teachers have not. Believe me, if you still appreciate the work after that time, it’s a fine piece of writing. Not wishing to waste what I had imbibed from the book, I wrote sonnets on, in fact as, all three of the main characters in Da Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress; the Narrator to Liu, Liu to the Narrator and this, the Seamstress to Liu. These were constructed and performed as the characters in the novel looking back on the events of the novel. The Narrator, now we must presume escaped from the mountain, he has just written the book we have just read, reflects on how he has been able to transform their experiences into the art that have kept him sane. Liu, now broken after the Seamstress’ departure reflects that what he most feared happening to him has occurred. And the Seamstress herself? It’s plain that she has been underestimated by the boys from the start, and we have to assume, as soon as she comes down from that mountain, the only way is up. I have faith in her. And I should know. I’ve read her book over twenty times.

So, here’s the complication with this poem, these poems, poems like this . . . Every line in them derives from something in a novel that the reader has probably not read and has almost certainly not read with the same line by line attention that the poet has. How far can the poet expect the reader to connect or care? Do works like this not derive from too limited or esoteric a frame of reference to be appreciated by anyone but the poet himself?

And I submit that the poet can only acknowledge this and shrug. Of the numerous reasons for not writing something, this one shouldn’t worry us for too long. We can only hope, as we must with many poems, that the work itself contains enough to hold the implication of a fuller story. Here, that fuller story actually exists.

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Andrew Barker lives in Hong Kong. He collects books and he reads and writes every day.


|| "Iron Arthritis" by Reid Mitchell ||

Reid Mitchell on "Iron Arthritis": My mother really did suffer from this disease, for at least half her life, and I really did think of this when I had some muscle problems. And I wrote it at the time. So the poem is uncharacteristically immediate for me. (Not to say that most of my work isn't personal but usually I mull over things.) It is quite painful for me to "see" my mother standing in our yellow kitchen, reaching to open a cabinet door so she could take out some baking powder or a casserole or a package of cookies. All of us children loved my mother very much but this sight became such a normal part of our lives that I at least took it too much for granted. At least I learned how to make biscuits to help her get dinner on the table.

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Reid Mitchell, a poet and novelist, has contributed to Cha several times since its inception. He has also published in Asia Literary Review, Pedestal, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Beijing.

|| " Sapphics for Hue" by Ken Turner ||

Ken Turner on "Sapphics for Hue": Sapphics, named for their use by the ancient Greek poet Sappho, are four-line stanzas with a strict syllable count and metrical pattern. The strictly controlled form, with its falling trochees and dactyls, evokes a powerful but contained emotion in a haunting way. Such a form seemed perfectly suited to my reactions to Hue. The city is steeped in layers of history, full of poignant reminders of the past—especially the Citadel of the Nguyen emperors, parts restored to their imperial glory and parts still in ruins from the battles that raged there during Tet 1968. My first visit to the Citadel was during a steady drizzle, rendering the scene all the more wistful and melancholy. Imagine my surprise in turning down a deserted lane and encountering a tethered elephant, mustered on sunnier days for pictures with paying tourists, now drenched and pacing forlornly in front of a decaying palace.

Read the poem here.

30-word bio: Ken Turner currently teaches in China and travels Asia, writing poetry whenever he can; recent work is in Waccamaw and Switched-On Gutenberg.

|| "Old Shikumen Gate" by Adam Radford || 

Adam Radford on "Old Shikumen Gate": Few expatriates who have lived in China over the past decade will have failed to observe the rampant construction. At the time of writing this poem, I was living on Fuxing Lu and Huang Pu Lu near the site of the new metro station. This poem describes the Shikumen houses which I watched get pulled down. I was struck by the scale of the demolition and the people who were displaced by it. For the most part their lives went on, seen through the smashed in front room walls. Until one day, they were gone for good.

Read the poem here.

30-word Bio: Adam Radford lives and works in Hong Kong. He currently lectures part-time on Lifewriting at Lingnan University. His poetry collection Man on the Pavement will be available early 2013.

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