Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts

Inspired by Palindrome Poems

On the bottom right corner of every Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden page, find a quote from composer John Cage. I modeled the score to feel similar to Chinese landscape paintings that include calligraphy inscriptions. There are 17 Cage quotes + one Occupy Wall Street quote.
Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden, a page from the score
Additionally, the score draws inspiration from huiwen shi (回文诗) palindrome poems. Su Hui (苏蕙), a poet from the 4th century, innovated this type of poetry. Characters can be read vertically, horizontally, forwards, backwards & diagonally. Especially significant is her Xuanji Tu (璇玑图) armillary-sphere map. Using five colors of silk thread, she embroidered 841 Chinese characters into a 29 x 29 grid to create lines of poetry that can be read in any direction for a total of 2,848 poems!

Su Hui's Xuanji Tu
The Cage quotes on the score follow this idea adapted to English. The text is scattered to allow the eye to read non-linearly and savor the puzzle-like relationship between individual words. Cage opens up the space between words in some of his text such as Lecture on Nothing. I decided to open up all the text for the score.

Below are the inscriptions included in Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden. See the score for the scattered text version.
what is it that
is not just beautiful but also
ugly, not just good, but also
evil, not just true, but also
an illusion ?

John Cage, Lecture on Something (1959)

Composition
arises
out
of
asking
questions .

John Cage, David Cope interview (1980)

Every
something
is
an
echo
of
nothing .

John Cage, Lecture on Something (1959)

Not one sound fears
the silence
that ex-tinguishes it.
And no silence exists
that is not pregnant
with sound.

John Cage, Lecture on Something (1959)

Wherever we are,
what we hear is mostly noise.
When we ignore it,
it disturbs us,
when we listen to it,
we find it fascinating.

John Cage, The Future of Music: Credo (1937)

Sounds
should
be honored
rather than
enslaved .

John Cage, Joseph Mazo interview (1983)

Being involved
in the complexities of a nation
at war
and a city in business-as-usual
led me to know
that there is a
difference between
large things
and small things,
between
big organizations
and two people alone
in a room together.

John Cage, A Composer's Confessions (1948)

It is not irritating to be where one is .
It is only irritating
to think one would like
to be somewhere else.

John Cage, Lecture on Nothing (1959)

As I
get
older I
get
interested in
almost anything
that comes to my attention.

John Cage, Charles Atlas documentary (1983)

I deduced that we were in a
Tower of Babel situation
because no one was understanding
anybody else ;
for instance, I wrote
a sad piece
and people hearing it
laughed.

John Cage, Paul Cummings interview (1974)

True discipline is
not learned
in order
to give it up ,
but rather in order
to give oneself up .

John Cage, Richard Kostelanetz interview (1970)

My feeling was that beauty
yet remains in intimate situations;
that it is quite hopeless
to think and act
impressively in
public terms.

John Cage, A Composer's Confessions (1948)

All you need is to be intelligent...
to know how to distinguish those
aspects of existence in which there is,
in an obvious way, good and evil,
and to go in the direction of the good.

John Cage, Daniel Charles interview (1968-1978)

produce a movement
upwards into the air -- the
space, the silence,
the nothing that supports us .

John Cage, Lecture on Something (1959)

affirm this life,
not to bring
order out of chaos
nor to suggest improvements
in creation,
but simply to wake up
to the very life we're living .

John Cage, Four Statements on the Dance (1956)

At every point society acts
to keep you from doing
what you have to do.

John Cage, Moira & William Roth interview (1973)

Everybody has a song
which is no song at all :
it is a process of singing ,
and when you sing ,
you are where you are .

John Cage, Lecture on Nothing (1959)

To the people of the world...
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble;
occupy public space; create a process to address
the problems we face, and generate solutions
accessible to everyone.

Occupy Wall Street (2011)

Thoughts from Xi'an

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to be a delegate for the Dragon 100 in Hong Kong and China. It was amazing to be with so many Chinese leaders from around the world. Thanks to the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Dragon Foundation, and Washington State Arts Commission for their support.

Dragon 100

In the photo above, you can see half my face fifth from the left in the top row to the right of the really tall guy. Below are some of my informal impressions from the experience.
What I eat in a day
could feed 100 people.

What I see in one hour
could inspire 100 lives.

How did I become so lucky
to be descended from a dragon,
to be fed and clothed
with a wooden comb for my black hair?

How can I lift this fork and feel blessed
when children come to my hotel window
hungry ghosts all waiting to be fed?

When my bones are brittle and my breath is cold
acid raindrops from the dark grey sky
beat the drum tower down to red splinters.

I crawl towards a tiny bird
to warm the blood in my veins
with fire from her flapping wings.
market
11th photo op
of an old man with cigarette
who stares at the camera
while the tea pot bleeds.

His ashes surround two cups --
cracked blue and white porcelain.

Above a Mao jacket
his eyes declaim:
Good morning, Young Dragons.
Zhao an, Xiao Long.
[photo of boy]
Black mat floors
puddle from the water of
pipes hidden above the ceiling
in the archaeology exhibition.

Unable to see
the boy paws
the Plexiglas.

His fumbling prints leave
an indecipherable hieroglyphic.
[photo of luggage]
In the Xi'an airport at midnight
unattended baggage waits
in the empty load/unload zone.

A body becomes the testing ground
for paperwork between countries.
[photo of museum]
Pigs stare quietly
from the holding pen
of the truck.

On the bus
tourists chatter noisily
until one passes out
from the air-con mixed with
the stale taste of pork fat
from breakfast.
[photo of museum pool]
Concrete encased flowers
learn not to cry out.

Just bloom
a pretty purple
fed by sugar water.
[photo of polluted China]
An anthem of love
echoes throughout
the hollow auditorium.

Hands raise a salute
of the mimed cigarette lighters
with sputtering flames.
[photo of terra cotta warriors]
He had one of those faces
I'd only seen in clay.

The clay from 2,000 years ago
dug up from the tomb
of a decomposed emperor.

I reach to touch this face
three seats away
indented to the bone.

Moving closer
I notice that
the smoothness
is pockmarked.

I close my eyes
to decipher this coded braille
pockets of space and time
in the pores of past and present.

Confused like the clay
dug up from a grave.

Confused like the face
struggling to stay alive.

Confused like this boy
with many futures to choose.

Fingers trace the topography of being Chinese
the outer shell of a soul where
eyebrows catch the perspiration,
the flooded field before the flood,
rivulets through the hills
of oil and dust.
[photo of bride]
Red flower
I go towards you
and see curled leaves
above rotted roots.
[photo of cardboard by bride]

I hope you've enjoyed the photos and poetry. The final photos are from the Xi'an Drum Tower. This was my favorite place despite the pollution hovering outside and the odd context of the drums.

[photo of drum and pollution]

[photo of drums]
The "No Smoking" sign tacked to the drum stand is my favorite touch
Here's a close-up

My first trip to China

This July, I visited Xiamen, Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. This was my first time in mainland China. The first week, I traveled with my grandmother, dad, first uncle and aunt, third uncle, and fourth aunt.

We explored the island city of Xiamen where my grandmother went to boarding school beginning at age 13. Throughout our time there, my 97-year-old grandmother asked, "What are we doing in Hong Kong today?"
[photo of grandmother in Xiamen]

Xiamen had changed since she was young. It was now full of high rises and she was surprised. I was also surprised by China's modernization.

[photo of Wal*Mart]


Here are impressions from Xiamen...
At the seafood restaurant
the rollerskating waitress falls
porcelin shatters surprising the cicadas.
[photo of Xiamen U]
Xiamen University has
music practice rooms
that face the ocean.

A tenor sings Puccini
to the container ships.
[photo of Xiamen]
Luxury accomodations
23 stories high
with an elevator that traps
my screaming grandmother.
Here are photos from Gulangyu, an island that used to bear the sign "no Chinese, no dogs." it was inhabited by foreigners from 13 different countries and had mansions and pianos to rival Europe.

[photo from Gulangyu]
view slideshow in a new window

After Xiamen, my dad returned to Seattle, my other relatives went to Manila. I went on my own to Shanghai. I stayed with two teachers, age 70 and 64.

In this metropolis of 20 million, I'm surprised to see old men wear pajamas on the main tourist drag Nanjing Lu. Children run around naked enjoying the People's Square fountain in the summer heat. Storeowners say "man zou" or walk slowly as the good-bye phrase, so I feel relaxed, even though my feet hurt from walking all day.
Sitting in the history museum
I watch a silent film
projected onto the side of a model T
driven by a wax Englishman.
a Shanghai orphan from the 1920s
looks for work pushing rickshaws.

I watch quietly
until a startled girl jumps
realizing I'm not wax.
[photo of Shanghai]
Isetan near the Ritz
Karen Carpenter sings
every sha na na na
while a violin plays
the Tonight melody
from West Side Story.
This is what the white marble floors echo
footsteps of Shanghai shoppers buying
clothes the price of an airline ticket to Beijing.

[photo of Forbidden City]
view slideshow in a new window

After Shanghai, I went to Beijing. I visited all the main attractions: Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City, Tian Tan, and the Great Wall.

I was very lucky to have Suli, Jessie, and Chen as hosts. They brought me to a retro Mao military bar, a tea house, the conservatory of music, and other places. Still, I was saddened by Beijing, especially the pollution.
Haze of smog
over the capital
the cicadas muffled
from lack of oxygen
accompanied by hand phone gulps
brown water
blurry sky
blossoms taunt pink
as I search for the buddha.

[photo of Starbucks]
Speaking in shapes
the poet uses his hands
clearing the air
flattening a plane
curling upwards
falling diagonally
circles upon circles
tightening the heart.

[photo of boy on the Great Wall]
Smoking a cigarette
past the "no smoking, no scratching" sign,
an old man with heaving breaths
passes me up the Great Wall.

A boy in a red hat
picks through the garbage
searching for plastic bottles.

He finds a battery
and studies the shape
as if it were a snuff bottle
from the Qin dynasty.

He has no pockets
for his treasure
only bags
of flattened bottles.

What is it like
to face a wall
day after day
mortar from the blood
of our ancestors lost
crushed from stones
now carved with the scratches
of signatures from those who pay
the $45 RMB entrance fee?

The boy's half-nylon sock
tan and see-through
covers a bony ankle above
orange-black tennis shoes.

He studies his scraped knee
the mountains shaped by the wall
a dragon sloping up and down
the angle of his elbow
as it rests against handrail.

I imagine him accusing me
10 years from now
"you are lucky to travel"
not realizing that I just want
to lay my head on my own pillow.

Aunt with the flowery shirt
faded from the sun
wears a straw hat
that matches her straw broom.

She sweeps in the crevices
of past laborers
their ashes from no incense
passing the red hat boy with blue veins
"get back to work," she says.

On the Great Wall
I catch his smile
and offer him a peach
thinking that maybe
like Monkey
he can escape, but knowing
as the wall is long
and broken at parts
that the juice of fruit
is only temporary.
I have many more thoughts about China that I will continue to write. The exciting news is that I will be going back to China in August as a delegate for the Dragon 100.

Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

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