Backstory and Highlights of the New Year's Celebration Poetry Slam
29th of January, 2022
Submitted by Ellen Souliere
When planning for the first Helen T. Lin Legacy Chinese New Year Party welcoming the Year of the Tiger, event organizers Pricilla Hoffman-Stowe and Rachel Wang approached me to coordinate a Chinese poetry activity for the party.
Typically, a Poetry Slam is an event where several poets recite their work and the members of the audience vote to select the best performance. For the purposes of the party, since most of us would be able to recite well-known Chinese poems as opposed to composing our own, this was the basis of our event. Catherine Lin, Kristine Harris, Diane Young, Steve Markscheid, Edith Terry, and I all volunteered to recite.
The Slam opened with Catherine Lin sharing that her grandfather, Mrs Lin’s father, Professor Dai Junren 戴君仁, was an expert on Chinese poetry who had a particular interest in the scholarly recreation of the sounds of ancient poetry. The Lin family hads[ES1] a video clip of Professor Dai chanting a group of Tang poems. Our first poetry recital was of Li Bo’s Jing yesi 靜夜思, one of the poems that Professor Dai had chanted on the video clip. Diane and Steve recited two of the best known poems from the collection Tangshi sanbai shou 唐詩三百首 : Chun Xiao 春曉 by Meng Haoran 孟浩然 and Feng qiao ye bo 楓橋夜泊 by Zhang Ji 張繼。
I sang a Tang dynasty poem, Wang Wei’s famous poem, Yang guan san die 陽關三疊, which Lin Taitai had taught me back in 1969. Catherine chose a poem by the Song dynasty poet Li Qingzhao 李清照. Li Qingzhao wrote two poems with the same poetic structure but different content. They were both originally sung to the tune of Ru Meng ling 如夢令 (As if in a dream). Kristine volunteered to recite the second poem in the pair. These poems from a woman’s hand were later in date and struck a different note from the Tang poems.
Edith chose a beautiful poem by Li Bo from a book of poetry that she had long kept in her library and her recitation closed the circle of poems that had also begun with Li Bo.
The Powerpoint for the Poetry Slam, contains three slides for each poem: one with the Chinese characters, one with the Hanyu pinyin and one with an English translation. The poems were arranged this way to encourage those who read the poems to engage with the vocabulary and the grammar of the poems and to work on perfecting their understanding of the sounds and the meanings of the Chinese texts.
A future Tiger Talk focusing on the challenges of translating Chinese poetry into English is in the works for later this year. Keep an eye on the Upcoming Event section on the website, as well as for an invitation for the actual event.