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Posts Tagged ‘Ko Un’

What We’re Loving: Stèles, Cellpoems, Converse

November 30, 2012 | by

I’ve been nosing around in Robert Hass’s recent collection of essays, What Light Can Do, which itself noses around in such subjects as writing from California, Korean poetry, landscape photography, and Immanuel Kant. There are some pleasurable moments in essays on the poet Ko Un and on Laura McPhee’s photographs of the Salmon River, which winds through the Rockies and into Washington. But I found bliss in Hass’s mediation on Robert Adams’s photographs of the Los Angeles Basin in the late seventies and early eighties. Just before the end, Haas includes a haiku—so appropriate to the city’s spare, industrial haze—whose author he has forgotten: “Cut flowers / in the drainage ditch— / they’re still blooming.” —Nicole Rudick

What does classical Chinese sound like when imagined by a French modernist poet and translated into English? Victor Segalen, a medical doctor and theorist of exoticism, published the first edition of Stèles in 1912, in Beijing. (A stele is an upright slab with an inscription; a stèle is a genre invented by Segalen.) Each poem in the book is surrounded by a black border and reads—spookily—like a lyric carved into stone: “To fuse everything, from the east of love to the heroic west, from the south facing the Prince to the too-friendly north—to reach the other, fifth, center & Middle // Which is me.” —Robyn Creswell

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