It is not with the lyre of someone in love that I go seducing people. The rattle of the leper is what sings in my hands. Jane Kenyon

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Second Mad Pencils Club Poetry Writing Contest


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Second MPC Poetry Writing Contest
A month back I was invited to be a judge (one of three, there were two others, one of whom was Lawrence Cheong aka dsnake1 of Urban Poetry) in a poetry competition organized by Mad Pencils Club, Singapore (http://poetry.sgforums.com) . The moderator of this competition was Alson Teo ( Age of Insanity, http://jungleinablog.blogspot.com ). 15 poems were short listed. I was to pick what I thought was the best and that would count as the Judge’s Choice. Here is my choice, No.11, entitled “Serpent In Disgust.” The original poem is reproduced here, what follows is my critique( oops, this is one word I dislike, it is not just the sound but the letter q that makes it so unsightly, perhaps comment is the better word) and after that is the edited version. When the results were announced, the author of this poem was declared the winner! (I am glad I was correct!!!) Your comments will be appreciated!! (Aurora, Russell, Christine, Paula………I will appreciate your feedback!!)

Serpent in Disgust

the smell of
freshly steamed buns
was too alluring
a bite into it
my stomach turned
my taste buds protest
in an uproar
what lousy
meat bun is this
tasting like cardboard?

i must rinse my mouth
to rid of its foulness
the smell of fresh mint
fills my toothbrush
and mouth
the television in the room
is broadcasting
about a certain toothpaste
i stared at the tube
and vomited

flopped onto the bed
stared at the ceiling
a few fine cracks
stared back at me
then a few dust of cement fell
onto my started face
as the cracks enlarged
and started to crumble
i ran out of the room
and the hotel

the awakening dragon
turns out to be
a serpent
in disgust.







I picked poem no.11, “Serpent in Disgust.” Of the other 14, some are twice-told tales. Others give me a sense of déjà vu, the poems are places I have been to, the images are not digital photographs but dog-eared black and white prints.

Poem 11 is a new country. But the setting for the story was the old country. The trigger for the poem was a “da bao” event. A journalist, with the aid of a very graphic video clip, had reported that a bun maker had added pieces of discarded cardboard to the meat in his buns. Everybody swallowed the story, bun, meat, and cardboard and it was a culinary first in recycling until someone broke the news and revealed that it was a hoax.

The public reaction was “an uproar.” It was a cheap imitation of an Ern Malley. The indignation of being hoaxed and hoaxed exceedingly was something most people could not stomach, “my stomach turned/ my taste buds protest.” (Paragraph 1.) Indignation ran like a great wall across 8 kingdoms.

It was not just a single indignation. The initial indignation was against the bun maker who cheated. The second was directed at the journalist, it was a greater indignation, the indignation of being fooled by someone who, instead of dishing out the truth, cooked up a tale taller than the highest “long mountains,” “the television in the room/ is broadcasting/about a certain toothpaste/ I stared at the tube/ and vomited.” (Paragraph 2.)

In paragraph 3, the poet moved from judging others to self examination, “stared at the ceiling/ a few fine cracks/ stared back at me.” The poet suddenly realized that only those without cracks can cast the first stone. The hotel room is perhaps a metaphor for one’s own self and the self is not so perfect after all. It can collapse as hotels have been known to collapse. Self examination can be so frightening that the poet “ran out of the room/ and the hotel.”

The last paragraph is the revelation; we who pretend to be “awakening dragons” are but “serpents in disgust.” (Paragraph 4.) The dragon is always associated with all things auspicious; the serpent is the scaly, slimy, slithering architect of the Fall.

I picked poem 11 because of a number of reasons. The weightiness of the theme. The clever use of images. The vitality of expression. The economy of words. It is a poem you want to visit again. And you probably want to postcard it to a friend.

But I would have worked harder at the title, Serpent in Disgust are not mellifluous words. And I would have preferred a title that is more redemptive. An epigraph about the “da bao” story, if included would have made the poem easier to access. And easier for the reader to own. The third paragraph was too hastily written. In lines 5 to 8, there was a lapse in the careful crafting and control of lines that was so evident in the first two paragraphs. The end result was a cracked mirror image. I would also have worked harder at the concluding paragraph, it was too abrupt and I would have preferred the poet to show and not to tell.

And here my revision of the poem:


Awakening Dragon

“Bun Hoax reporter jailed and fined.” Zi Beijia, a reporter who fabricated a TV news report saying that a Beijing dumpling maker used cardboard as a filling, was sentenced on Sunday to one year behind bars with a fine of 1,000 yuan for the crime of “infringing commodity reputation.” From Star, 14 August 2007

the smell of
freshly steamed buns
was too alluring
a bite into it
my stomach turned
my taste buds protest
in an uproar
what meat bun is this
tasting like cardboard?

i must rinse my mouth
to rid of its foulness
the smell of fresh mint
fills my toothbrush
and mouth
the television in the room
is broadcasting
about a certain toothpaste
i stared at the tube
and vomited

flopped onto the bed
stared at the ceiling
a few fine cracks
stared back at me
then dust fell onto my white
washed face, as the cracks widened
and lengthened, the crumble started
i ran out of the room
and the hotel

i’m no awakening dragon
but a serpent, who, when tempted
by eve, fell from the card-
board tree.

7 comments:

J. Andrew Lockhart said...

I like the revision. I'm going to go brush my teath now... :)

Plus Ultra said...

Thanks Andrew

"Angeldust" said...

Dear Kianseng

Thank you for your thorough explanation, definitely a most enlightening post/visit!!!

My distaste for the word “critique” does not come form a grammatical standpoint… but rather for the frequent misuse of the opportunity – I rather like q’s J

Humbly, if I may (since you have definitely not asked for my rudimentary skilled opinion…)

As a reader I had my own “metaphorical” interpretations of the poem… the cultural difference made also for a different understanding of the dragon.

Your explanation definitely added clarification to the meaning and it changed somewhat my interpretation.

Your version J …?
Well, it makes it “delightfully and distinctively yours”…

Love and blessings

Borut said...

This one makes me think about The Naked Lunch – the notories novel of William S. Burroughs - the guru of the American Beat Generation… »The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED Lunch — a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.« (Jack Kerouac)
It makes me think about 'the serpent power' – the coiled power of life, which, after the fall, makes us go about life as it SEEMS to be, but which can also be refined and raised … according to tantric and similar sources…
It makes me think about the Judeo-Christian view of the serpent…

What else to say?

Here's my haiku:

Except for his own,
God will never tolerate
Any prejudgement

Don Iannone said...

Thought provoking on many levels. Hoping you are well, Dr.

Don

Reflekshins said...

tainted
by the views of others . . .
maiden china

cheers
Shane

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