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.

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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).

Photos from Cupertino Library Anniversary Celebration

I posted an album of these photos on Facebook, but for those of you who don’t “do” Facebook, here’s the best of the bunch. It was a great afternoon and I’m thankful to have been invited by the Cupertino Library Foundation and Library Commission.

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I decorated my booth with poems written by me and by winners of the Silicon Valley Reads contest (March 2014). I had magnetic poetry for folks to play with and my trusty golden poet laureate cup.

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I had some very special guests. Meeting the Cat in the Hat has always been a life long dream! Batman and I discussed poetry about bats. Former Cupertino Poet Laureate, David Denny, chatted up Darth Vader, who commented, that, although the Empire was not much of a poetical place, “I’ll have to think up some Imperial Haiku.”

I also had many community members drop by, play with the magnetic poetry, and create the own poems. Here is a sampling.

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I’m not sure why some of the poem photos are coming out sideways, but I guess that’s okay with poetry.  I also provided a game of “Exsquisite Corpse” and many people wrote lines. You can see the Imperial Storm Trooper above adding his. I’m working them all into a single poem, and will get that up here one of these days.

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It was a great day for the library and for poetry. I’m grateful (as always) to my supporters from the Library Foundation, the Library Commission and from the community. This time, especially to Bev Lenihan, Gayathri Kanth, and Adrian Kolb.

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One final shout out to my neighbor, Barbara Pollek, for making my fantastic Poet Laureate apron. It was the perfect gear for the day.

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.

April Fool’s Day Reading

It was my great pleasure to read with Stephanie Pressman and Amanda Williamsen last night at the first of this year’s “Unsung Holiday” poetry readings. Stephanie took the theme of foolin’ around very seriously with her jester-ly costume and thought provoking philosophically tricky poems. Amanda made us all laugh with memories of our unfortunate teenage years and bad kitchen smells. There were four open-mic readers, which was pretty good considering the miserably rainy night. Thanks again to Peet’s for their generosity and warm space, and to my poetry “posse” (Roz, Kathy and Adrian) from the Cupertino Library Foundation, the Friends of the Cupertino Library, and the Cupertino Library Commission. Special thanks to Dave Denny — without whom I’m sure I would still be standing there fussing with the audio equipment — for the photos.

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Mango Pudding at Chamber of Commerce Lunch

Mango Pudding at Chamber of Commerce Lunch

This was dessert, mango pudding, at last Friday’s Lunar New Year Luncheon, sponsored by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Business Council (AABC). This event, the AABC’s 16th annual luncheon, was full of happy noise, good food courtesy of the Dynasty Seafood Restaurant, and many vibrant Cupertino businessmen and women. I wrote a special poem for them to honor the Year of the Horse, and read it together with another poem celebrating horses. It was a “tough crowd” but many listened respectfully and seemed to appreciate the opportunity to hear from the CupPL. I had a blast.

Thanks to Anne Stevenson of the Cupertino Library Commission and the AABC for inviting me. Poems to follow, soon.