Here's the exciting news: My poem will be broadcast on The Story program probably sometime next week. I emailed it to them, and a producer wanted to record me reading it over the phone. She asked me to talk about what inspired me to write the poem.
The following is based on some notes I wrote as prep.
I heard the promo for the episode either during my morning or evening work drive. The story of dissident poet Liu Xiaobo caught my ear, and I thought it could prove a worthwhile listen.
I woke early Tue - sometime between 2:30 & 3 - unable to get back to sleep, I listened to the podcast through the PRX Radio Ap on my iPod Touch. The discipline of an elegy a year impressed me; the story of how the book came to Jeffrey Yang also impressed me.
Jeffrey Yang used the phrase 'In the middle of the desert', and it caught my ear. The phrase brought up associations - how the desert seems a barren & forbidding place, but it also can be a retreat (e.g., for the Desert Monastics), a way to enter deeply into your self, or to connect with the universe or the divine. I had an intuition that Jeffrey Yang used it as a way to connect with Liu Xiabo.
I think of this type of poem as an "emotional photograph". I'm thinking of Ezra Pound's imagist poetry, or Jack Kerouac's American Haiku - where the goal is to inspire an emotion with as few words as possible.
As I now reread my poem, I wonder whether there's enough there to speak to someone who has not heard the story. I hope so. One advantage of the internet is one can link to a source, so I linked to the appropriate page on The Story's website when I posted the poem here. With any luck, my poem will stir enough curiousity to encourage the reader to research the inspiration.
After I listened to the podcast, I already had the first three lines in mind. I kept repeating "In the middle of the desert" over and over, like a mantra or breath prayer. When I got to the keyboard, all I knew for certain were the first three lines, and the fact that I wanted it to end in Tianamon Square. I hope that abrupt transition from the fires in West Texas to the smoke from China is haunting as well.
I think the lack of detail can be powerful in these emotional photographs. It can engage the reader, cause her to fill the spaces you've left open. S/he can bring her own desert associations with her/him.