Happy Lunar New Year! Poem for the Year of the Goat

No matter how you say it, no matter what language you use, Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐!! 新年快樂, 洋洋得意! Wishing you luck in the upcoming Year of the Goat! Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese).

I have been asked again this year by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to write a poem for their Lunar New Year Luncheon, sponsored by the Asian American Business Council. Information on the February 26th event is here. You may recall that last year I attended the luncheon and read a poem, honoring the Year of the Horse. This year’s poem, honoring the Year of the Goat, will be read by my friend and former Cupertino Library Commissioner, Adrian Kolb (as I will be out of town).

In honor of the day, and the year, here is my poem, “Cupertino, What is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina.”

Cupertino, What Is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina

Once a year, the year begins again.
The sun has made his one cycle, the moon
her twelve. The time has come to count your luck,
to launch anew – sure-footed as a goat –
your way, your goals and all your many dreams.
A city – like a woman or a man –

shakes off the dust. Each woman, child, man,
each teenager, each grandmother, again,
each grandfather compares today with dreams
long dreamed, imagined once under the moon
of youth. But truth is stubborn, like a goat,
and dreams as unreliable as luck.

And cities, built of stone, if they have luck,
are only as lucky as their citizens – men
and women – strong-hearted as symbolic goats
(or sheep) will be in the year to come. Again,
we will make plans and love under the moon;
nothing can keep the dreamers from their dreams.

So, Cupertino, what will be your dream?
How hard will you work to make your luck
as certain to come true as the full moon
surely shines in the night for anyone
who waits for clouds to float away again?
And what are we to think of the green goat,

with humble heart, who patiently waits, a goat
after all dreams only goat dreams,
and we are human. Will we try again
our hands at the same games of luck
and chance? Or aim higher, like the man
sent into space, sent to the moon?

Cupertino, what will be your moon?
Will you climb your mountains, like the goat,
will you, every woman, every man,
rededicate your life to those old dreams,
or strike out somewhere new and test your luck?
Now’s the time; the year begins again.

May both the sun and moon shine on your dreams.
May you feel strong and peaceful as the goat, and may your luck
be human, and like the New Year, start again.

(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown

Comments on this poem

The first challenge was to decide on the image of goat or sheep for my poem. I polled my Chinese and Filipino friends. I investigated on the internet. I decided on the goat, since that’s what the Cupertino Chamber is using, and because of some of the internal rhymes available to me (like Cupertin-O) and alliterations (green goat, grandfather, grandmother) seemed right.

(Fortunately, today, NPR has run a lovely story on the radio that the choice of animal in Chinese is not fixed and so either will do.)

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I chose the sestina as the technical form for my poem because of its cyclical nature. The repetition of six end-line words in a sestina allows the poet to return again and again to several central images, an apt technique for a poem describing the cyclical nature of the moon and the years of our lives.

400px-Sestina_system_alt.svg

Read more about this sestina form here (history from the American Academy of Poets) and information about how to construct a poem of this type, here (Wikipedia).

Found Poetry. Try It and Share!

Sometimes all you need is a little kick in the pencil. This list of prompts from The Found Poetry Review is compiled from a list of phrases used by a literacy specialist at a middle school.

instant-phrase

Here’s what I got from the exercise. I used a few of the phrases.

Many Thanks

If we were older
the first word
every morning might be
Thanks.
Thanks for another chance at day.

How many words
do you have left?
How many words do I,
how many, many, many?

Let’s start practicing
tomorrow.  Or, we could
start this minute.
Thanks. Many, many, many.

Why don’t you write a poem using a prompt from this phrase list. If you do, please share.

The image for this post is from a teacher’s classroom site, where she taught found poetry. It’s amazing. I always feel so good to find others teaching poetry. Ms. Morris looks like she’s doing a bang up job.

Bay Area Generations Reading in Berkeley

Read here a post about my experiences with Bay Area Generations (poetry readings) last Monday in Berkeley.

Jennifer Swanton Brown - A Twirly Life

Last Monday, at the beginning of the Christmas week, when it was almost as dark and cold and lonely as possible, I drove to Berkeley in the worst imaginable traffic to participate in a poetry reading. Of all things. My back hurt afterwards, but I’m so glad I went.The venue was the inspired, glamorous, intimate Berkeley City Club, famously designed by California architect Julia Morgan.

Bay Area Generations is “an intergenerational literary series featuring readers of different generations performing their work in tandem.” Poets submit in pairs, and accepted poems are curated into a single evening-long reading, with musical interludes, but without commentary or banter by the poets. It’s a remarkably freeing enterprise.

The whole evening was wonderful, and I hope you can take the time to listen to the entire video. But if you want to jump to the section where I was reading, paired…

View original post 78 more words

Some Poems for December

I have been feeling absent from poetry for a few weeks. It’s winter, dark, that time of year, busy, noisy, full. Today a poem came to me fully formed, literally jumping out of the bushes as I was walking to my office from the parking garage. How fortunate I am. Maybe it’s the habit of being grateful that happens over Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe it’s just time for the little voice to make itself known a little more vehemently. I’ll be listening in December and posting some poem drafts here, for you to enjoy. For me, too.

Monday December First

Walking past the hummingbird sage
after rain.
Smells like a workday.

salvia pozo

Jennifer Swanton Brown (c) 2014

A Gate In Cupertino

There was so much going on yesterday at the Cupertino Library’s 10th Anniversary Fair! I will post a separate post with all my photos, observations, and special superhero sightings. Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion, slightly altered from the way I read it during the ceremony for the Teen Advisory Board’s time capsule internment. I was honored to be asked to read during that special event.

A Gate in Cupertino

In Cupertino, there is a rickety gate in a redwood fence.
It hides recycle bins and drying laundry.
Cats sit on the gate in the morning
waiting to be fed.

For dreamers in Ancient Greece,
there was a gate of ‘sawn ivory,’
and a gate of ‘polished horn.’
Penelope asked the old stranger
if her dreams of her wandering husband
were false or true.

High in the mountains of Hunan province,
there is a gate on the Yellow River
where a strong carp, who perseveres,
who swims with courage and leaps up,
becomes a dragon.

We live in a modern city
without stone walls, without iron fortifications.
The gates to our city are freeways and wide boulevards.
Here, there is a gateway to learning—
shining with glass and flanked by
trees of fire, the library gates are made of fountains.

Enter these gates today.
You don’t need a magic key.
Enter these gates today to dream,
enter to be transformed.
(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown
for the Cupertino Library 10th Anniversary
October 18, 2014

Notes on the poem

The theme for the Cupertino Library’s Anniversary was “Gateway to Learning.”  I spent some time researching famous gates in literature, and the symbology of gates in different cultures and dreams. I found gates mentioned prominently in Milton’s poem “L’Allegro” (1645) and in Book 19 of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. I also discovered a lovely Chinese legend of the Dragon’s Gate, about carp that leap up through waterfalls high in Hunan province, on the Yellow River, and become dragons. There is a proverb that goes like this: 鲤鱼跳龙门. Learning all of this history and culture was great, but I needed an image to start the poem. I’d promised to write one for the anniversary and I was getting nervous. Sitting at my kitchen table Saturday morning, I spotted my cat, perched on the gate outside the kitchen door. Some gates are grand, some are humble. I had my poem.

Right against the Eastern gate,
Wher the great Sun begins his state,
Rob’d in flames, and Amber light,
The clouds in thousand Liveries dight.

Milton, L’Allegro (1645)

“Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams,
one is made of ivory, the other made or horn.
Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved
are will-o’-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit.
The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn
are fraught with trugh, for the dreamer who can see them.”

Homer, The Odyssey (19:630-640) Fagles trans.

“Listen, Steel” an Ekphrastic Poem about a Bridge

The San Jose Museum of Art has posted my poem, “Listen, Steel,” to their Tumblr site. I wrote this earlier in the year, and read it on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at their poetry and art invitational, based on works in the exhibit “Initial Public Offering.” I was invited to participate by David Perez, the Santa Clara County PL. It was a really great event, and I’ve been waiting for the photos and video (promised!) to appear.

Each poet was challenged to choose a piece of art and write an ekphrastic poem. I chose Stephanie Syjuco’s International Orange. The poem was inspired in part by research I did on the art piece.

Below are a few photos taken of the event by my husband and me. I particularly loved the rack of postcards. All international orange.

April 17 museum 1 international orange 1 international orange 6 international orange 7

And here is the poem, with the correct line breaks.

“Listen, Steel”

“Listen, steel,”
“listen,” said the engineers to the towers:

“Listen to the voices of the ferries,
and of the nearby hills,
even the ocean and the sky
speak in voices that count and measure.”

“Steel, you will have to stand
through the changing seasons.
Your name will be taken into the mouths
and onto the wings. Your song
will be highly pleasing
and unusual in the realm.”

“The black water, the grey sky,
the aluminum sea gulls
will look to you for a returned music.
One vermillion bird,
one terra cotta grain of sand.”

“Listen, steel, to the voices,
and with your molecular symphonies,
carry our message of admiration.”

“Our message,” said the engineers,
“will be in your voice for anyone
who wants the news.”

“The bridge news, steel, is you.”

 

Flash Fiction Forum

Tania Martin and L.A. Kurth are “Flash Fiction Forum” and I’m honored to have been chosen to read with them and among the following local talent on October 8, 2014.

  • Dallas Woodburn
  • Liz Nguyen
  • Carol Park
  • Trent Dozier
  • Noorulain Noor
  • Kevin Sharp
  • Nils Petersen, first Santa Clara County Poet Laureate,
  • Allison Landa
  • Renée M. Schell
  • Kirstin Chen

Join us at 7 pm, WORKS Gallery, 365 South Market Street, San José CA (Market St. at the edge of San José Convention Center).