"Chansons of a Chinaman" by Changming Yuan

Chansons of a Chinaman
by Changming Yuan
Print Copies: $9.00 + S/H
Download: $2.00
Available through Lulu.com: Here

"Chansons of A Chinaman is beyond a collection of poems, which are necessarily personal and sensorial. It is, more notably, classic in the modern, metaphysical in the witty and aesthetic, China’s wisdom and tradition in the English language, for the world; it is a Chinaman (note the tone) singing his own chansons, rather than a forever-silent Other being spoken about, uttering his own voice rather than being uttered for, representing himself rather than being represented. As such, it is nothing less than a great contribution to a great cross-cultural dialogue."

--Dr. Zhijian Tao,
author of Drawing the Dragon: Western European Reinvention of China

"At his best, Changming Yuan's writing both thinks and feels poetically. Add to this his subtle and bold incorporation of wisdom (a very rare commodity in western literary circles today), and we have someone and something interesting on our hands."

--Sebastian Barker
former Editor of the London Magazine
Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Middlesex

"I want to see the world through Changming Yuan's eyes. Where I am reminded that Guinea Pigs are not from Guinea, or pigs. This is the place that the spectacular is lifted out of the mundane. It's where my poetry wants to live."

--Rick Lupert
editor of PoetrySuperHighway.com

"Changming’s language is artful in its simplicity: his conceits are charming. Balanced, writerly phrases marble his poems. His senses are always new and his loyalty to them, and to the sense they make, always pleasure."

--Maggie Morley
editor of POETALK magazine

"Sensual, excessive and sometimes surreal, Chansons of a Chinaman is a rare find in contemporary poetry written on the North American continent; Changming Yuan's work is sincere, without a trace of posturing. The bonus: he’s smart enough to deftly undercut his sincerity with quirk, swerve, and wit."

--Alan May
editor of Apocryphaltext

Unlike those authors of Asian origin who were either born or raised in an English-speaking country, Changming Yuan grew up in an impoverished village in central southern China and did not start to learn the English alphabet until he became an ESL student at Shanghai Jiaotong University at the age of nineteen. After getting his first master’s degree from Tianjin Teachers’ University, he worked as a lecturer and administrator at Tianjin Institute of Foreign Trade (now part of Nankai University), and authored three books as well as a dozen journal articles on translation and the English language. While studying at the University of Saskatchewan, where he received his MA and PhD in English, Yuan founded the Saskatchewan Chinese Times and was its editor for two years. Yuan began to write poetry in English during a family trip to Banff in 2004 and currently teaches writing in Vancouver, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

Email: yuans@shaw.ca

A sampling from "Chansons of a Chinaman"

South China Cicada

no human ear has ever heard of you
           cloistering yourself deep in the soil
           silently sucking all sounds from roots
     for more than thirteen years in a row
     until high up on a summer painted twig
you slough off your earthly self
           pouring all your being in a single song
           before the sun sets for the yellow leaf

Secret Spirit

for years I sought light in darkness
with my eyes open wide as my mouth
I called, I sang, I prayed, I pleaded
for rays that might come down from above

now I seek darkness in light instead
with my ears closed tight as my eyes
yet I cannot find a shred of my soul's

shadow, even in a midnight dream

The Calm Clam

with a bow-wow mouth
  as big as my bald body
   both lips thin and hard
     carved in full eloquence
with my tongue grown right
 out of my heart and soul
i am surely meant
  to be a voice empowered
  for all around me
    either silt or sediments
  shining dull and dark
    with soiled secrets

i often imagine myself
 like a free seagull
   singing at the top tip
    of a tall coral tree
as myriads of grains
   of yellowish sand
 are panned or sifted out
    from the wild waves
      galloping ahead

yet color-blind and tone-deaf
 i am deeply oppressed
   under the heavy water
where sharks and squids
 keep yelling towards the sky
   above my blue musings
as i withhold my tongue
 waiting for a sunny spell
   to translate my loud pain
       into a muted pearl


To escape from the tyrannical logic
    Of your mother tongue
You wandered, wandering
        Through earth’s length and breadth
    Subjecting your old self to another syntax
A whole set of grammatical rules
         Strangely new to your lips and tips
    To expand the map of your mind
        Far beyond your home and haven
Yet in the meantime it becomes colonized
        By all the puzzling paradoxes
    Of this chosen language, for example:
        Quicksand can be very slow
        Boxing rings are in fact square
        And a guinea pig is neither a pig
        Nor is it from Guinea
                Like you or me

Day & Night

If each night rises
Outside each day
There lies a mighty mountain
Where darkness runs wild

You want to climb
Along this trail of light
And hunt for the rising darkness
Even without an arrow

At Sunrise in Summer

You leap from the valley
Like an infant newly delivered
Your umbilical cord just cut off
From mother universe
To establish your own
Circulation of bloody light

Why not get up and open
Every skylight on the roof
Turning on the sun’s big tap
To take a morning shower
And cleanse all the darkness
Accumulated on our skins
tattooed by the night?

Tree and Flower

tender and charming
peach blossoms fallen
into a transparent dream
on the unmowed lawn
whose snoring disturbs
the wakening leaves

i would like to give them
a melodious kiss
but I cannot—
i am the peach tree
still still

Stream Moonset in Autumn

Close your eyes
Stay still
And you can feel
The moon’s silver needles
Softly pointed
Penetrating tranquility
Into your head, hand and heart
Like Chinese acupuncture
Flying balmy filaments
At you and me alike
Although ten thousand miles apart

Open your eyes
The light is streamwater
Spattering down from heaven
Upon your shaded shoulders
Whirling up and splashing about
Into stars, if you can
Catch just one droplet
Hurling it into the backyard
Out of the broken window
Of your fenced mind
The symphony of night

Human Culture

when i wake up
and open my eyes
i see all my dreams
bounced back from the frames

when i take a shower
and start to sing
i taste my song tart
behind the blurring curtain

when i strive to step
out of my humble house
i feel fences quarreling hard
in the whole neighborhood

when i visit around and
do some blind sightseeing
i smell blood stained
along the castle foot

finally i flee from this world
and hide myself far away
i still seem to hear
the glaring cries from the great wall

delicately hung is this earth
a bluish cage in the universe

In the Bog

As he tries to pull up
His left foot
His right foot gets
Bogged down deeper

Then he has to pull up
His right foot
As his left foot gets
Bogged down in turn

So he wades along
As his twisted figure
Signs its shadow
On the swamp of time

The Statue at the Square

In a powerful whirlwind of whims
All shapes and shadows are swept away

Together with blood-veined autumn leaves
Erasing each human foot print
Mirthfully as if in a childish game
You are the only one left here and now
Still upholding your marble-based ism

Ancestry Worshipping

No, we never planned it that way
But it so happened this seventh summer
I took my twelve-year-young son
To my father’s native village among hairless hills
In the far east end, the other side of the world
Which he had left as a starving orphan
And returned with me in the Mao suit
Like a magic-toyed boomerang
When we were both at Allen’s age
For the first times in our lives

Last time, my father forced the Little Red Guard in me
To kowtow, burn joss sticks and paper money secretly
For his parents, whose dialect had survived
Though I understood it only half-heartedly

This time, I cajoled my boy to grasp a handful of earth
From the grave of my grandma worshipped by villagers
(Her humaneness has supposedly made her a local deity)
And smuggle it to the backyard of our home in Vancouver
Like some foreign seeds prohibited at the customs

As we departed, again, our clan elder chanted:
Under the shade of a new highway
This old grave will soon be erased…

China Charms: at Zhangjiajie
(a UNESCO designated nature park)

Slim, tall and sedate
In the fluffiest garments
Of no human design
Each hill stands like a female model
Trying to display her charm and dignity
As if in a grand fashion show or
Like a fairy maiden at a casual party
Lost in a game unknown to passers-by

Amidst the morning mists
Flirtatious expressions of summer hills
I indulge myself in fits of a lover’s impulses
To give every protruding rock a dry kiss
And every slender tree a huge hug

I cannot help feeling deeply embarrassed
When my allen asks: who are they, dad?

The White Goose

My grandfather was younger than my son
When he died of an undiagnosed disease
Somewhere in the Mid-South China
So we have been told since childhood
He did nothing memorable or forgettable
Left no picture of his or any handwriting
Not even one impression on my father’s senses
(since he was born after he passed away)
But he had bought a big white goose
To protect his infant son in his place
And a single-syllabled family name
Copywriting every little poem
I have composed
In a foreign tongue

The Clay Tripod

Close to the bank of the Yangtze River
Sits an unearthed tripod
That has embraced
Spring water
Burning incense
Sesame oil
Rice wine
Persian perfume
And British opium
The tripod is none other than you
But what is the tripod?

Drawing the Dragon

There was a contest
For the most faithful representation
Of loong
(Or the Chinese dragon)

In England

An inflated Satan
Or was it Sua proper
Came to squat among
The letters

Then stroke by stroke, again
It rose right
Each slate of white


The Peril of Watching Too Much TV News

If you watch too much tv about what is going on beyond your living room
You go quite mad
That’s what marco polo used to say every time he saw someone
Watching the big well-washed mouth yabaaing in front of a bigger camera
All their reporters and editors, none of them a true fly on the wall
With their freaky bias and nancy ways of looking at others
Selecting and shuffling words and pictures about evil soviets
Demon chinese, civilized lamas, angel-like looters
Humans biting dogs, johns’ caps on jills’ heads, and the deer called a horned horse
All of em juggled and tripping over one another in your little fragile brain box
Well, it’s a bit like unleashing a whole century’s illusions out of the corral
To stampede right over your ears and eyes
All those colored or uncolored lies
Whirling around inside your poor skull
Beating up storms of yellow dust
So overwhelming you cannot see or hear with your own senses
The real other world which is just the real other world
They claim to be the bars helping cage the most ferocious among us
Yet they are more ferocious than the crowned lion preying around in the jungle
Listen – what I say is
If you believe everything CBB or NCC reports about their edited worlds
You go quite mad

Chinese Chimes: the Unpatented Quadrants

we chinamen, half and quarter chinamen
children of eight or sixteenth chinamen
constantly pounded with a peculiar pride
over our ancestry's four great inventions:

the first was paper to transcribe ancient ballads
but later often used to give ultimata to your emperors
also the printing technique to transmit sages' teachings
but later often used to exhibit your ugliest scars
a third the compass to help find the golden dragon
but later often used to guide your foreign creditors
the last gunpowder to launch fireworks at spring festival
but later often used to bombard your long walls

they chinese, half and quarter chinese
children of eight or sixteenth chinese
baffled with belief, brief belief
that their unknown ancestors happened to invent
the wrong stuffs in the right times
or the right stuffs in the wrong places

Chinese Chimes: Science or Superstition:
The Ancient Theory of the Five Elements Accounts for Us All

1 Metal (born in a year ending in 0 or 1)
-helps water but hinders wood; helped by earth but hindered by fire
he used to be totally dull-colored
because he came from the earth’s inside
now he has become a super-conductor
for cold words, hot pictures and light itself
all being transmitted through his throat

2 Water (born in a year ending in 2 or 3)
-helps wood but hinders fire; helped by metal but hindered by earth
with her transparent tenderness
coded with colorless violence
she is always ready to support
or sink the powerful boat
sailing south

3 Wood (born in a year ending 4 or 5)
-helps fire but hinders earth; helped by water but hindered by metal
rings in rings have been opened or broken
like echoes that roll from home to home
each containing fragments of green
trying to tell their tales
from the forest’s depths

4 Fire (born in a year ending 6 or 7)
-helps earth but hinders metal; helped by wood but hindered by water
your soft power bursting from your ribcage
as enthusiastic as a phoenix is supposed to be
when you fly your lipless kisses
you reach out your hearts
until they are all broken

5 Earth (born in a year ending in 8 or 9)
-helps metal but hinders water; helped by fire but hindered by wood
i think not; therefore, I am not
what I am, but I have a color
the skin my heart wears inside out
tattooed intricately
with footprints of history

Chinese Chimes: The Confession of A Calendar
it all began with an animal race Emperor Jade called to amuse himself and his earthly subjects...

yes, i admit betraying the cat as my only close friend
but i won the race, with my head rather than my legs

to honor my contract with the yellow sun
i eat green grass, yet give red meat to man

as the only feared king of the thick jungle
i am afraid and tired of my own timidness

with my cagey ears held so high
i will not miss a sound of peace

although my portraits hung lively above the clouds
no human eyes have ever seen my authentic being

the moment i sloughed off my old slim self
i forgot ever seducing any manhood in heaven

my body looks more masculine than a strong man
and my heart feels more feminine than a tender girl

when i bleat towards the passers-by
i never mean to speak in an other voice

each time i try to find any lice in the corner of my mind
i act like the humans outside the fence with barbed wire

with my wings plumed with the feathers of night
i can not fly but to crow loudly towards dawn

given my canine camaraderie and pack mentality
i feel at home before, among or behind soldiers

i spend all my lifetime wisely
to guard this single moment

Changming Yuan's works, including those sampled here, have appeared in the following publications:

[Austria]: Poetry Salzburg Review; [Australia]: Snorkel, Stylus Poetry Journal; [Canada]: 3 Morning Cup, Ascent Aspiration Magazine, Autumn Leaves, Birth (Anthology), Bywords, Canadian Literature, CV2, the Dalhousie Review, dANDelion, Descant, Earls Court, English 113 F1 (Courseware, Univ. of Alberta), Egregious, Feathertale Review, filling Station, Freefall, Grain, Literary Review of Canada, Marriage (Anthology), Maynard, the Nashwaak Review, the New Chief Tongue, the New Quarterly, One Cool Word, Other C/lutter, Other Voices, Ottawa Arts Review, Poetry Canada, the Prairie Journal, Queen’s Quarterly, Quills Canada Poetry Magazine, Qwerty, Rampike, Spirituality (Anthology), Wascana Review, Windsor Review, Vallum, Vancouver Review; [Cyprus]: Sons of Camus Writers International Journal;[Finland]: Nokturno; [India]: Taj Mahal Review, Kritya, Thanal; [Italy]: Private: International Review of Black and White Photographs and Texts; [New Zealand]: Numinous, Southern Ocean Review; [Singapore]: Quarterly Literary Review Singapore; [Turkey]: Istanbul Literary Review; [UK]: Argotist, Animal Antics(Anthology), Brittle Star, Cadenza, Cannon’s Mouth, Current Accounts, First Time, Greatworks, Interpoetry, the Journal, the London Magazine, Nthposition, Orbis, Parameter, Pennine Ink, Poetic Hours, Pulsar, Winamop, World Strand (Anthology); [US]: Alba, the Ampersand Review, Apocryphal Text, Aroostook Review, Barnwood, Barrow Street, Blue Fifth Review, Burst, Byline, the Chaffin Journal, Chrysanthemum, Concelebratory shoehorn Review, Drunken Boat, Exquisite Corpse, Freefall, Gloom Cupboard, Great American Poetry Show, Hamilton Stone Review, Hidden Oak, Hoboeye, IF Poetry Journal, In Our Own Words (Anthology), Intercapillary Space, Iodine Poetry Journal, Joyful!, Kill Poet, King Log, Leaf Garden, Listenlight, Mad Bunkers, Mad Swirl, Milk, Miranda Literary Magazine, Offcourse, Oranges &Sardines, Other Voices International Project, Past Simple, Pawnshop, Peregrine Muse, Poetalk, Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, Potomac: A Journal of Poetics and Politics, Press 1, Raving Dove, Remark, Right Hand Pointing, Rock Heals, Saint Elizabeth Street, Saranac Review, Sawbuck, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, Siren, Snow Monkey, SNReview, Soul to Soul, SPQuill, SutbleTea, Tipton Poetry Journal, Unlikely 2.0, Wild Violet, Willard & Maple, Write On.

No comments: