Saturday, March 28, 2009

Love of Ci'an (Poem with Poet's Comments)

"Love of Ci'an"
by Tim Kavi

gentle breezes

flew from
frozen lake

I walked it

with my love

near Cixi's place

Then I heard

her gentle sighs

in the full light

of winter's surprise


in the hall of

the Buddhas

near a

Temple of Incense

your heart

was fully seen

in the ghostly sheen

mist of

winter morn

I heard

your whispers

to a future unborn

for in the

plans of Cixi
you were


love was but a dream

in the smoke

and carried



yet it

my cold hands
with the gloves

you bought


the Great Wall


to the Deserts

of Dunhuang

as beautiful

as Guan Yin

the wind

that blew between

us and brought

me to your wings

to your lips

two countries
two hearts

that had
now evolved
to mix together
yet now lived
so far apart


each other

in that first

destiny's kiss

but was

too soon departed.

Poet's Comments: After publishing this poem it raised some reader interest, and I was contacted with some questions about it. The consensus among readers was that there is something Chinese and Buddhist about the poem and that it is also a personal poem. Yes, this poem does have several levels of meaning to it and there are aspects of it that are written in a very personal way.

First of all, the poem has both Buddhist and Chinese themes. It is Buddhist because it mentions the Caves of Dunhuang (where some sacred Buddhist cave drawings are near where the Goddess Guan Yin encountered the Monkey King). Guan Yin the Bodhisattva or Buddhist Goddess of Compassion is mentioned in the poem as well. The poem has Chinese influences as well because the setting of the poem is in China at The Summer Palace in Beijing. Kunming Lake is there, and I did walk on the frozen lake in the Winter of 2005. Later that day, I also had the pleasure of touring the grounds of the Summer Palace, including the Long Corridor and at the very highest point, the Buddhist Temple of Incense. This was in part, a building with a very large Buddha in it and many other Buddhas lined the walls of that place.

The Summer Palace was one of the residences of the Emperor and Empress, indeed the last of them, as the Qing Dynasty ended in 1908. The last major empress to live there was Cixi who supplanted Ci'an. Cixi was a powerful empress, some would consider a despot and villain, others see her as very intelligent and highly political. Ci'an was the main consort of the Emperor until Cixi became the predominant one and bore the Emperor his only son. Where Ci'an was quiet, loyal, and an Empress known for meekness, Cixi was very much her opposite, skillful and manipulative, and ruling whatever she could with a conniving and mighty fist. Although an Empress was never allowed to make political suggestions, Cixi often did so from behind a curtain. Cixi became the main Empress especially after the sudden death of Ci'an. Some believe that Ci'an was poisoned by Cixi because Ci'an had always been in excellent health until the day of her untimely death.

In this poem there is some encounter with a presence or ghostlike figure, such as Ci'an. Ci'an, who feels overlooked, is longing for love. Her spirit is felt by the foreigner who even comes from a distant land. Like incense, her symbolic nature as part of history spreads out over the Great Wall and then all the way to the Dunhuang caves (which is out along the Silk Road and near Mongolia) where she is like the goddess. As a counterpoint there is a dramatic outplaying of this tension between two cross cultural lovers as they are finding each other in love --shown in other verses of this poem. This mirrors China's encounters with the West in general. Obviously, some of the verses in the poem are between the two lovers themselves as they find themselves in this historical place, or perhaps, there is an encounter of a man with the ghost of Ci'an! ---- T.K.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

#1 in Poetry Handbook by a Learned Poet

1 If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles.

Mark Strand is a wonderful poet. he has compiled a list of items that are full of wisdom for all poets (young or old, new and aspiring, or old and perspiring, just before expiring) to keep in mind.

I should be especially mindful of this, his very first item on the list, and especially as I write here.

It is especially truthful and ought to be etched in stone as A Great Commandment for readers of this blog and for this poet, to keep in mind.--T.K.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Reader Asks: Are Your Poems Personal?

A Reader Asks: Are Your Poems Personal?
by Tim Kavi

My answer:

I am not sure how to answer this question. Poetry is both personal and impersonal, I hope it is always "personal" to my readers. You asked me though: "If I meant to do this?", meaning perhaps something that you saw in my poem. In terms of a response, I both meant what I wrote, and as it unfolded didn't knowingly intend what I wrote, as there is both a conscious craft and an unconscious one...for, as in any art, one thought, one line, flows to another, just as one brush stroke leads to another, some of them are not seen until they are crafted together in the moment. That is perhaps the way it is when there is a flowing poem that seems to generate itself.

You know, readers often read into poems or writings their own meanings...this is what I have said earlier in this blog--that the reader's response is most important and not what the poet thought she intended. Still, in some media, in order to tell the story like in film or novelizations, you want there to be enough of an identification of what is meant so that a common meaning can be seen by the audience. In that sense, the best artistic expression is meant for the public realm and not a private one.

To me it is most important that a poet or other artist have their work appeal to the widest audience possible so that their work can be enjoyed and meaningful. However, sometimes the flow of a work lends itself to an expression that seems steeped in specificity and symbolism that is obscure. In that case, there is a sense that the work is done and speaks for itself, even if not clearly understood.

Do poets or writers ever have symbolism or write about things that are moving them personally? There is no doubt of that in terms of a lot of conscious symbolism that I place in my poems --but for what purpose? Am I trying to make a personal message to a private audience or to make some broader philosophical point? I hope the latter. I hope whatever it is, that my writings are based out of the tragedies of existence that although partly fueled by personal events -- allows for cathartic release (as Aristotle taught) or to inspire art in general. I also think I often speak in a voice that attempts to address many levels.

I am led to ask in return:
Is all writing necessarily fictional? Can it ever be entirely fictional? Can it be too personal?

In some of my poetry, there are also intentional plays on dialectics and double entendres. You can get more hints about meanings of these symbols in other blog entries here in my Writer's blog that discusses my work.

Are written works always fictions? I cannot even as a philosopher answer that with any purity.
Obviously some writing attempts to point to established fact, and any writing may be influenced by the personal. Writing may also describe the personal in a way that enhances identification with readers, but doesn't mean the author is experiencing that event or has ever personally experienced it. For example, I can describe a sky diver and if I study about it it is more real, but if I am writing it as a sky diver then we have a first hand account o f the event. That's pretty personal.

There is little doubt that poetry is sometimes a capturing of emotional expression...that is based partly on a projection and description of personal events.

If my poems are personal it is because of my emphasis on the dialogical encounter and mystical union of a transcendent other...with the expression of a nativistic speaker.

This poem that you asked about is no doubt about a poet or artist who is experiencing a come uppance through hubris...perhaps it is about me, especially if I use language owning it as personal, such as 'my wings' or 'this Icarus' etc. There is little doubt that this kind of language infers subjectivity. It is hoped then, that if one moves into subjective descriptions one is describing an event as lived out so that others can get a sense what it is like to experience what one is describing. There is sometimes a great lesson if we think too much like Icarus! --Tim Kavi

"Death of Icarus"

by Tim Kavi


has burned my

poet wings

and this


will crash into the sea

where his flaming


of passion

are put out as sure

as the eyes of