Short poems for contemporary world

Reading new short poems by Yan Li, now, and thinking that they are indeed an excellent (won’t say “best”) literary medium for a visually-oriented, multi-media barraged contemporary mind-space.

And with that thought, the recollection that short poems are anything but contemporary. There are of course the “short poems” 短歌 , a genre of Japanese poetry even more condensed than the globally well known haiku. And even in the modern period, the last century, during the ebbs and flows of modernism. Yagi Juichi’s 八木重吉 (1898-1927) poem from early in the twentieth century:

If you lay a plain koto
in this brightness
it will begin playing quietly,
unable to endure autumn’s beauty.
(from ‘A Plain Koto’)

Regardless of when or where, the condensation increases the pressure of attention, so that every syllable (even material of the words themselves) come into focus. The experimental of these have been frequent occurrence as well. Taiwan poet Xia Yu’s 夏宇 “Reading” 閱讀, for example:

On the tongue’s tip
A crab

Yan Li has been composing what he calls ‘poetry gum’ since the early 1990s, and has by this time amassed literally thousands of such short poems. They serve multiple purposes, but for the most part I would say they are occasions to change perspective. As the poetry gum series is alternatively titled: ‘polyhedral mirror’ (otherwise known as a ‘disco ball’) refracting images in ways that we don’t expect, can’t see coming, but are lucid in certain light. Here I offer a few with one of my favorite Yan Li paintings, “Mother and Child”

No matter what kind of explosive you are
Language can serve as the fuse
A city of wooden blocks is erected by our ideals\
Through give and take they tumble into a certain shape
And this is the metropolis we live in
Humanity is capable of touching itself deeply
Humanity cannot do any worse than humanity
Humanity is just a tool for manufacturing science
Humanity can’t help making sounds
As it walks on past humanity

2 thoughts on “Short poems for contemporary world

  1. Jeun says:

    What is imprisonment? Most of us would decsribe a prison as a place with high walls, barbed wire, heavy metal doors, cages and bars, concrete and steal, lights and sirens, tools for detention and intimidation, serious strong aggressive guards, constant order and structure, and attention to every detail so that there is No Way Out. I’m a bit different. I don’t believe that a prison is a place. Take this incredible structure that I failed miserably to vividly decsribe, and remove the people. You have now removed the detention center’s ability to detain. Without the people, all you are left with is a structure. So how was it a prison? A collective effort and mindset made a structure into a prison. It is that same collective effort and mindset that makes industrial civilization a prison as well. People have always been embraced by a community of life and given the freedom to live abundantly on this earth, but at some point man decided to live only one specific way, and attempted to eliminate all evidence that any human ever lived differently. In doing so by murder and pillage, man has been sentenced to an indefinite term of perceptual imprisonment, and the system has perpetuated the idea of repeatedly strangling and shackling the growth of the human mind and spirit for almost 10,000 years.It is my belief that the absolute basic foundation of imprisonment is the obstruction of perception, and since the beginning of our now very distinct culture we have been building protective prisons, and we have called them technology. Whenever modern humans have been faced with a challenge to their safety and prosperity, they collectively build a protective metaphorical prison as a solution. Often times we box in things that are threatening and dangerous to us like animals, enemies, criminals, forests, rivers, poisons, weapons, garbage, waste, bio-hazards, speech, feelings, thoughts, insights, knowledge, ambition, desire, and much more. Sometimes we hide our culture inside a protective box to protect us from whatever danger or problem is present outside. Some key examples are the creation of property lines, borders, countries, states, nationalities, creeds, religions, socio-economic status, schools, companies, professions, homes, valuables etc. It is these psychological prisons, which have been built one on top of another that have smothered our relationship with and our ability to sense the natural world. The purest example of prison to me is a zoo, and it is the perfect place to draw comparison to the imprisoned human spirit. When we go to a zoo, we see shells of wild animals. These animals eat and drink, move, perhaps make sounds, they see and smell, and they still think. By all scientific accounts, they are alive. But look at their eyes or their expressions, try to sense their feelings. If they have been in captivity long enough, any zoo keeper will tell you that you can open their cage doors and get no reaction. The idea of freedom doesn’t even exist to them anymore. If they were born in the zoo, it is even more obvious that there is nothing left that is wild! These animals have been robbed of their essence, their purpose. They have been enclosed in a box and removed from their home. After some time, there is no more suffering, or recollection of the tragic day of their imprisonment. Yet interestingly enough, there is no sense that life cannot continue. There is simply life plus imprisonment and minus purpose. Life can most certainly continue without a soul, and if you have ever watched a tiger or a bear awake at a zoo you will see a soulless being in a zombielike state. Most have gone completely insane, and they will perform random tasks in strangely methodical order such as repeatedly walking the same path forward then backward. It is no surprise that they lose reason for they are natural born killers who are now fed daily in a tiny enclosure. They have no purpose for their genetically developed skills or instincts, and they cannot possibly fully realize their new purpose of amusing people. They are not genetically wired to entertain, and are not capable of adapting to such a drastic shift of spirit.Civilized man is only mildly different from the tiger in the zoo. Civilized man is most assuredly imprisoned into several artificially constructed cages. Civilized man is most assuredly lost his desire to return to the wild, and he most certainly no longer understands or desires to live truly free. Civilized man has been imprisoned for so many generations that he no longer perceives the cages and most definitely could not locate any open doors. What ultimately separates civilized man from the zoo tiger is adaption. Civilized man has gone so insane that rather then finding his way out of the cages, he has found a way to defy genetics. While the zoo tiger forgets his soul and lives as a zombie tiger, civilized man creates an artificial soul in order to continue to exist as imprisoned. He also finds a way to continue use of his genetically given skills while imprisoned by adapting a way to displace the genetically inherent accountability for his actions. Man’s adaption to imprisonment came only through the acquisition of a new and dominant trait called entitlement, and by developing the ability to believe that the only world to exist is the one within his cage. What type of physical, mental or psychological trauma could cause the level of insanity necessary to believe that everything belongs to them? The only other difference between civilized man and the zoo tiger is that no one imprisoned civilized man. He imprisoned himself.The timeline plays like this: Man imprisons himself for amusement, man loses key, man’s soul goes mute, man goes insane, man creates plastic (technology), man creates a plastic soul (religion and advancement), plastic man destroys the natural world. My writing is challenging because I sit and write from within so many of my own boxes (my computer, my office, my home and all that is inside it, my career aspirations, my obligation to friends and relatives, my phony possessions, my constant confusion, my street, my town, my teams, my attention span, etc.). Also my writing must be an expression of my soul which was lost long ago amidst a plethora of personal and cultural boxes. It has only been due to an intensely driven 13 year spiritual quest that I can now begin to hear only a whisper of my spirit, lost still far away and very muffled by the endless boxes.Yesterday I went for a bike ride near some of Illinois’ pathetic excuse for protected wild forest. I felt awful, depressed, frustrated again, and lonely after a tough day in the boxes. I rode along a tiny stretch of free growing wilderness, and we have had lots of rain, so some of the ground was flooded. The sunlight glistened off of the water and onto the trunks of submerged trees and brush. The smell was clean and natural, and all of my senses of this place that I was flying by at 15 mph (so that I may hurry back to my boxes) came to awareness. Life was speaking to me on my ride. The message doesn’t come to you strictly as a sound. It isn’t translated through sight. It comes through multiple senses and using words to depict it, life was saying to COME HOME. Life asked me to tell others, and that we would all be forgiven. It was overwhelming again, as it has been so many times before. It was an amazing reminder of the vastly expansive true meaning of love, and a painful reminder of just how little I am capable of perceiving. It was also a reminder that love isn’t just a human to human experience. For some strange reason, the earth still holds a place for us! When I am patronized by the ignorant civilized who ask me “Do you really think that we should go back into the woods and throw spears”, I really wish they could experience that moment, to see and feel purpose past technology! I know now that they cannot, because they cannot deconstruct their culturally built boxes that imprison their perceptions. While it is hard to constantly stand strong, I am confident that the correct feeling for the civilized is pity, followed closely by a conservative rage and hatred, for most know not what they do! Thank you to the forest, water, rocks and breeze for their generous offering of strength and forgiveness. Please stop recycling boxes. Please stop creating plastic. Please awaken your senses, and seek to eliminate all boxes which separate you from your long lost souls.Most people who give some semblance of credence to what I am saying pity me for the overwhelming burden that I must carry. They see a solution to my suffering in their own renditions of soul searching, which they find on Sundays being preached and inspired by pastors and priests. Most Christians believe that just like we are entitled to own land, we are also entitled to own a soul which we can see to it ascends into heaven when we die. This in turn gives us the artificial purpose that we lacked when we mistakenly self entitled ourselves owners over the planet. Power and greed fueled the initial transition period until we were able to create and enhance our artificial replacement for the organic purpose granted to us by our living home on this living planet. It is now clear to me that our genuine purpose here is to ride the clean and rushing waters of life and allow it to perpetuate itself. Civilized man has become a broken chard clogging up a perfect and miraculous system. We must remove this jam before it damages the system beyond repair. There is absolutely no place or need for artificial purpose once one has tracked down their organic soul.

  2. I love the image of the koto playing itself…and the idea that haumanity is a tool for creating science!

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