Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 4)

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Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 4)

Post by JJWilliamson » Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:54 pm

Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the tiny nod of respect.

Keep up, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object.
My smile unsettles her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes.

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both hand-brushed with Chinese hanzi.

What do they mean?
She bows and whispers,
The small frame embodies 'love' the large one 'truth'.

They rest on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.

REVISON 3

Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the tiny nod of respect.

Keep up, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
I walk with her to the Great Hall
as we giggle at the milling gowns,
the riot of colour and frenzied waving
from friends. The marquees were prepped.

Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
and presents me with two plaques,
both hand-brushed with Mandarin Hanzi.

What do they mean?
She bows.
The small frame embodies 'truth' the large one 'love'.

They live on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.

REVISION 2

Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the silken nod of respect.

Keep up, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
I guide her; she doesn't object.
My smile unsettles her culture
as her forefathers threaten my eyes.

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both hand-brushed with Mandarin Hanzi.

What do they mean?
She bows.
The small frame embodies 'truth' the large one 'love'.

They live on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.

REVISION 1

Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the silken nod of respect.

Keep up, you're in the UK now;
it's presentation day.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
I guide her; she doesn't object.
My smile embarrasses her culture
as her forefathers threaten my eyes.

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both hand-brushed with Mandarin Hanzi.

What do they mean?
She bows.
The small frame embodies 'truth' the large one 'love'.

They live on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.

ORIGINAL

Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the tiny nod of respect.

Keep up, I say, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object.
My smile embarrasses her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes.

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both carefully brushed with Chinese calligraphy.

What do they mean? I ask. She bows and whispers,
The small frame embodies 'love' the large one represents 'truth'.

They rest on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.
Last edited by JJWilliamson on Tue Jun 23, 2015 8:34 pm, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by ray miller » Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:59 am

I like the first half, but the last 3 stanzas are leaving me cold. Only realised that you were the tutor on 2nd reading.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship. - nice couple of lines.
I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object.
My smile embarrasses her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes. - not sure about this line, whether reach is the best word.
I'm out of faith and in my cups
I contemplate such bitter stuff.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:40 pm

Thanks, ray

This was a tricky one to pen because of the nuances of Chinese writing. The thousands of Chinese characters often represent physical objects or abstract concepts and shouldn't be confused with the western system/alphabet. So, 'love' and 'truth' would have connotations beyond the expected definitions. Consequently they are not particularly mushy. I'm positive she wasn't declaring her undying love for me (you never know your luck in a typhoon). I genuinely do still have them on my mantle piece and when I brought them home my wife said, "What's all this about". They still sit there, idling the hours, as a silent witness to our conversation.

Yes, I was her tutor.

Thanks again, ray

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by David » Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:54 pm

You successfully wrong-footed me with your title, JJ. I was debating whether there is such a language as Taiwanese - maybe there is, I don't know, but I thought Taiwan was just a political offshoot of China - and then it became clear that it wasn't about your taking language lessons at all.
JJWilliamson wrote:She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
That just sounds a bit odd to me.
JJWilliamson wrote:I gently lift her chin.
Actually, that sounds positively dodgy, but I'm sure it isn't.

Overall, iIt's very touching, and I like the ending.

Cheers

David

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by brianedwards » Wed Jun 17, 2015 9:07 pm

I find the whole thing quite sinister. There's an unpleasant air of cultural superiority, a whiff of misogyny and a dash of lecherousness. Reading those last three words I feel as though I should be stroking a white cat, or raising one eyebrow with a pinky finger at my lips. If that's all intended, then rock on.

In terms of the actual poetics, it does veer towards prose, especially towards the end. The use of say, ask and whisper seem unnecessary.

Wasn't keen on the description of the calligraphy. "carefully brushed" makes me think "no shit". I'd go for something like "hand-brushed kanji".

Ditto David regards the friendship line, and I also struggled with the last 2 lines of the same stanza.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for posting.

B.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by Mic » Thu Jun 18, 2015 11:35 am

Hi JJ,

Before reading other responses to this, my first thoughts:


Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf, ----------nice opening line
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the tiny nod of respect.

Keep up, I say, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship. ----------------- I like the feeling of the poem very much up until this point
I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object. --------------- somehow, not sure what it is or why, this isn't working. The tone has changed, I find the gesture itself a bit.... cliched? And I feel just a bit uncomfortable at this point...
My smile embarrasses her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes. -------------------------- I don't understand these two lines

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both carefully brushed with Chinese calligraphy.

What do they mean? I ask. She bows and whispers,
The small frame embodies 'love' the large one represents 'truth'.

They rest on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know.[/quote]


I like the first seven lines. The rest of the poem fails to interest me... it lacks the atmosphere of the first part, and is more 'telling' than showing.

Mic
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 12:29 pm

Thanks, David

I appreciate the critique.
David wrote:You successfully wrong-footed me with your title, JJ. I was debating whether there is such a language as Taiwanese - maybe there is, I don't know, but I thought Taiwan was just a political offshoot of China - and then it became clear that it wasn't about your taking language lessons at all.
Sorry I wrong footed you, it was never my intention to lead you up the garden path and no, I was very much on a learning curve.

JJWilliamson wrote:She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship.
That just sounds a bit odd to me.

She would drop her head, moving it slowly from side to side as if she was searching for something.
I like the sound ground rhyme. It was an accident. :)
JJWilliamson wrote:I gently lift her chin.
Actually, that sounds positively dodgy, but I'm sure it isn't.

I never thought of it that way. It was an act of friendship and more of a gesture than a physical demand. We're not allowed to touch don't you know.

Overall, iIt's very touching, and I like the ending.

Thanks again, David

Cheers

David
All the best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 2:30 pm

And very good thoughts they are, Brian. I appreciate the extremely interesting critique and will try to do justice to your observations. Sinister!! Nom de Dieu. :?

Where do I begin? (apologies to Francis Lai and Carl Sigman)

CULTURAL SUPERIORITY:

I admired Yi Chin very much because I'd never witnessed this level of commitment before. She taught me many things over the years but occasionally struggled with western culture, not terribly so. On more than one occasion , as we walked down the central corridor, I would look to see if she was following our conversation only to find she'd dropped behind again. She'd sweep the ground, refusing eye contact, as if she was searching for something. Interestingly, these traits disappeared (more or less) in lecture rooms and during one to one tutorials. She had a great respect for teachers in general often giving a short nod, now and again, as conversations progressed.

At our last meeting, on the same day in fact, she approached me camera in hand and asked for a photograph of us together, to show her family and friends (selfie). She then thanked me for the three year experience, I had the pleasure of teaching her in every year, then re-joined her class. It was a lovely sunny day with wine and refreshments being served in a number of open sided marquees.

MISOGYNY:

This is laughable. In the unlikely event that we ever meet I hope you will change your mind. If you knew me you would never have labelled me as a misogynist. My extended family is large and I have no memories of misogyny from anybody at any time; not even a whiff.

LECHERY:

This is verging on the absurd. The poem is neither lecherous nor provocative; it represents an example of mutual respect and an arm's length friendship. We are not allowed to touch, you must know that. It was a body language gesture not a physical attempt at seduction. Lord help me! Still, we all read things in different ways and if that's how you read it who am I to complain. The smile, for example, was one of reassurance as I blundered roughshod over her culture. The spirit world is less than impressed and they also misinterpret the intent.

If I didn't know better I'd view your crit' as an ad hominem attack. Perhaps your own experiences in the Orient have influenced your thinking. I really couldn't say and will therefore resist the temptation to make any crass judgements or impetuous references.

Good call on "carefully brushed". I think "hand-brushed" is spot on, thanks for that. I was looking earlier at the Chinese name for calligraphy and wasn't sure how to tag it because of the many variations. Yi Chin's parents were Chinese so I'll check the Mandarin name soon. Thanks also for the nudge on say, ask and whisper. I agree.

Well, thanks for your candour and thoughts. I didn't see this interp' coming, not at all.

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by Moth » Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:23 pm

I like this and find it in no way misogynistic or sinister, however I can see how some of what Brian said may have come about. " I lift her chin" may in fact be almost wholly to blame as it does hint at a certain prelude to intimacy (although here it really shouldn't!) It also wasn't clear that N is a tutor. I understood him to be a fellow student, particularly due to the way the father's watching was described. "You're in the UK now" I felt could be replaced by 'remember' as obviously the subject of the poem had been studying for some time in order to graduate. The two plaques are a lovely touch and make the meaning of the poem clear, so I find the final three words superfluous.
to be totally honest... whenever you feel you really shouldn't write that, that's exactly what you should write.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by Ros » Thu Jun 18, 2015 6:23 pm

I don't think there's a problem with describing her reaction to the relationship - that is what it is.

'I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object.' in an unknown context could, I feel, be read as an older man taking advantage of a younger innocent - it has that air about it. It's an action only used by one with authority over another. And if, as you say, you had no intention of actually touching her anyway, then it would make sense to adjust it.

My smile embarrasses her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes.

not sure what you mean by that - but my initial thought was that her fathers would threaten you if they saw the event. I'm pretty sure I'm wrong here! but thought it worth mentioning.

Ros
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by brianedwards » Thu Jun 18, 2015 6:58 pm

Oh dear. The author doth protest too much!

JJ my comments were about a poem, not a person. And I stand by all of them. I've read it several times and I'm still coming away with the same reaction to the narrator in this piece. If you identify closely with the speaker in the poem then that is for you to consider, but I cannot comment on that. To describe my responses as absurd and laughable is to miss the point of this board. I have no reason to attack you, merely responding honestly to the work as presented. I've been absent from this site for a while and am unfamiliar with you either as a person or a writer. I hope to become more familiar, as you do seem a sincere and serious contributor. We can always do with more of those! I hope you'll come to think the same of me in time, and I'm glad you have been wise enough not to make "crass judgements and impetuous references" regarding my own experiences of "the Orient", which by the way is a very interesting choice of word.

B.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 7:58 pm

Thanks, mic

I appreciate the critique and would direct you to the replies I left for David and Brian; they cover most of your concerns.

I'm a great supporter of the "show don't tell school" and find myself agreeing with you. However, I have reservations.
When we 'show' in any narrative a scene becomes vivid due to the imagery and detail. When we 'tell' the narrative tends to be more concise
to move the story along. There's more but that's the general idea. There is definitely some telling to draw the poem to its conclusion and
I can see how that could be irksome.

Anyway, thanks a lot for offering your thoughts.

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 8:26 pm

Thanks, Moth

I'm pleased you liked this poem and especially pleased you couldn't detect any misogynistic or sinister overtones.
I'm looking at 'I lift her chin' and will offer a revision soon. Yes, I was her tutor and the 'fathers' refers to her ancestors;
you know, her forefathers. The close suggests my wife, Diane, doesn't mind, when secretly she's having a wee think.
The plaques are still there and just to be neighbourly I'll post a photo of them AND a self portrait in the Visual Art forum
some time tomorrow.

Best

JJ
Moth wrote:I like this and find it in no way misogynistic or sinister, however I can see how some of what Brian said may have come about. " I lift her chin" may in fact be almost wholly to blame as it does hint at a certain prelude to intimacy (although here it really shouldn't!) It also wasn't clear that N is a tutor. I understood him to be a fellow student, particularly due to the way the father's watching was described. "You're in the UK now" I felt could be replaced by 'remember' as obviously the subject of the poem had been studying for some time in order to graduate. The two plaques are a lovely touch and make the meaning of the poem clear, so I find the final three words superfluous.
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 8:45 pm

Thanks, Ros
Ros wrote:I don't think there's a problem with describing her reaction to the relationship - that is what it is.

I tend to agree. It's difficult to satisfy the sensitivities of any group.

'I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object.' in an unknown context could, I feel, be read as an older man taking advantage of a younger innocent - it has that air about it. It's an action only used by one with authority over another. And if, as you say, you had no intention of actually touching her anyway, then it would make sense to adjust it.

Yip, adjustment on its way. I'll have all crit's close to hand during revision.

My smile embarrasses her culture
as her fathers reach for my eyes.

not sure what you mean by that - but my initial thought was that her fathers would threaten you if they saw the event. I'm pretty sure I'm wrong here! but thought it worth mentioning.

Ah, you're not the only one and the fault is with the writer, not the reader. Her 'fathers' are her forefathers or ancestors and they react to my ineptitude as I run roughshod over their culture. I'm thinking on it. Thanks again.

Ros
Much appreciated

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 9:58 pm

Hello again, Brian

The reader doesn't protest too much he just protests. This is a first person narrative and you know it. The notion that you were merely targeting the poem doesn't wash, perhaps because you've alluded to my cultural bigotry, misogynistic position and lecherous tendencies. Why would I protest?

I don't believe I've missed the point of this board, Brian, and God only knows how you arrived at that conclusion. If you want to make veiled denunciations then please go ahead but afford me, and others, the right to reply. Thanks for the welcome, it's appreciated. I must concur and given time I'm sure we'll find steadier ground. The Wise possess good judgement, restraint is a more tolerant version. Perhaps my wisdom and tolerance are insufficiently developed but I can say, with some sincerity, I rarely, if ever, bare a grudge; not even when on the receiving end of a punch during a rugby match. The problems never left the pitch.

Sorry about the use of "Orient" no offense intended. I'd assumed you'd visited other countries in this region of the globe but had no way of knowing which ones otherwise I'd have specified the countries. (unless the list was/is extensive). To quote My Spock "I proceeded from a false assumption." So, for "Orient" read 'Japan'.

Ok, I hope that's cleared the waters.

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons

Post by brianedwards » Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:20 pm

JJ, there's a difference between 1st person narrative and autobiography.

My point about the word "Orient" was regarding the connotations it carries. I thought it was considered a little old fashioned these days. I hadn't come across it for some time.

B.

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Taiwanese Lessons

Post by JJWilliamson » Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:48 pm

That was quick.

JJ, there's a difference between 1st person narrative and autobiography. Yes, there is, fair point. Were you aware that it's autobiographical? We seem to be going round in circles.

My point about the word "Orient" was regarding the connotations it carries. I thought it was considered a little old fashioned these days. I hadn't come across it for some time. It is old fashioned and is rarely used by political or financial commentators these days. However, it is still used by some individuals/groups mainly due to habit and received wisdom.



Best

JJ

PS

I see that 'kanji' is Japanese for 'hanzi' which is the Mandarin version. Point of interest I thought.

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by JJWilliamson » Fri Jun 19, 2015 6:38 pm

OK, I've revised Taiwan Lessons.

Thanks to all concerned for a very fruitful debate.

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by HenryBones » Fri Jun 19, 2015 9:21 pm

Hi JJ,

I'm going to peek my head over the parapet on this one...

Along with Brian and some others I did think there was a cultural superiority/borderline misogyny component to the poem, not as something actively courted by the speaker of the poem, but as fundamental to the dramatic scene you are describing. So whilst lines like 'I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object' from the original version do imply a degree of misogyny, they also imply a degree of self-awareness about that misogyny. Although I understand from your comments that you want to express your admiration for your student your poem is animating the possible darker currents that shadow the teacher-student relationship, especially when it takes in extensive differences of gender, culture, age and language. I think those currents can be very compelling, though often morally problematic, and that you should pursue them even if they lead you away from an accurate representation of the personal events from which the poem derives and which you want to honour.

Here's the thing - it seems to me that some of the most exciting, if also potentially disturbing, poems are those where the poet lets the poem operate according to its own agency, rather than his or her own, and it's entirely possible for a poem to meditate on misogyny without the poet being in anyway a misogynist, and whilst the wider reading public predictably and tediously does not make that distinction (witness the twitterstorm over Craig Raine's recent 'Gatwick' piece) more engaged and committed readers, like most on this board, will do. In that vein, then, I would say that on the whole I prefer the original version of your poem to the revision, and that you should sharpen its morally ambiguous dimension: I'd cut 'Keep up, I say, you're in the UK now', 'As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony' and ' What do they mean? I ask. She bows and whispers', and I though I get the general drift think that 'My smile embarrasses her culture / as her fathers reach for my eyes' could do with a rewrite, especially 'embarrasses'.

Anyway, I'll vacate the soapbox, and I hope I've not stepped on any toes. Thanks, as ever, for the read,

Best,

HB

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by JJWilliamson » Sat Jun 20, 2015 11:06 pm

Thanks, Henry, for the extensive critique and highly relevant comments. I've made some in line comments:
HenryBones wrote:Hi JJ,

I'm going to peek my head over the parapet on this one... Oh, surely it's not that bad. :)

Along with Brian and some others I did think there was a cultural superiority/borderline misogyny component to the poem, not as something actively courted by the speaker of the poem, but as fundamental to the dramatic scene you are describing. Well, I must concede that you're not in the minority. Brian said roughly the same thing. So whilst lines like 'I gently lift her chin. She doesn't object' from the original version do imply a degree of misogyny, they also imply a degree of self-awareness about that misogyny. Never intended Although I understand from your comments that you want to express your admiration for your student your poem is animating the possible darker currents that shadow the teacher-student relationship, especially when it takes in extensive differences of gender, culture, age and language. I think those currents can be very compelling, though often morally problematic, and that you should pursue them even if they lead you away from an accurate representation of the personal events from which the poem derives and which you want to honour. Write a different poem? Possibly. Not sure I could do that to her.

Here's the thing - it seems to me that some of the most exciting, if also potentially disturbing, poems are those where the poet lets the poem operate according to its own agency, rather than his or her own, and it's entirely possible for a poem to meditate on misogyny without the poet being in anyway a misogynist, and whilst the wider reading public predictably and tediously does not make that distinction (witness the twitterstorm over Craig Raine's recent 'Gatwick' piece) more engaged and committed readers, like most on this board, will do. Ah, Brian was of the same opinion and he did indicate that the poem worked on that level. My intention was free from misogynistic, jingoistic, or lecherous language and I'm still a tad baffled by some the responses. However, I've accepted this interpretation exists, and have taken steps accordingly. In that vein, then, I would say that on the whole I prefer the original version of your poem to the revision, and that you should sharpen its morally ambiguous dimension: I'd cut 'Keep up, I say, you're in the UK now', 'As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony' and ' What do they mean? I ask. She bows and whispers', and I though I get the general drift think that 'My smile embarrasses her culture / as her fathers reach for my eyes' could do with a rewrite, especially 'embarrasses'. Good call on 'embarrasses'. I'll definitely give your suggestions some serious thought but The name 'Yi Chin' would have to be changed. Maybe Wu Zetian. Not really. :)

Anyway, I'll vacate the soapbox, and I hope I've not stepped on any toes. Thanks, as ever, for the read, ...Toes still intact.

Best,

HB
Thanks again, Henry

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by brianedwards » Sun Jun 21, 2015 12:25 am

I didn't mention it earlier, as I felt certain that others would: how does a famished wolf study?

B.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by Richard » Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:41 am

I quite like the studied awkwardness of this. I'm not sure about s2 and s3. They could be excised or developed a little a bit. I found the idea that the smile embarrassed her culture a bit strained. It embarrassed her because of her culture, is what I take it to mean, but it's a bit uncomfortably expressed. The end is nice.

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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by JJWilliamson » Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:52 am

Thanks, Brian

It's a metaphor for intense commitment. The wolf observes his/her place in the pack but studies potential prey.
I'm sure you know that a famished pack is unrelenting in its pursuit of all perceived prey animals, even domesticated species.
The opening phrase, 'Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf', might not be to everyone's taste but that's the way I was thinking.

Thanks again, Brian

Best

JJ
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 1)

Post by JJWilliamson » Sun Jun 21, 2015 10:25 am

Thanks, Richard

I've made a couple of changes. It's the 'culture' that's unsettled, not Yi Chin. Pleased the end was satisfying.

Best

JJ
Long time a child and still a child

David
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Re: Taiwanese Lessons (Revision 2)

Post by David » Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:24 pm

I've added a few notes, JJ. There are a lot of stills in there!
JJWilliamson wrote:Yi Chin studies like a famished wolf,
follows me a few steps behind
and when we speak she nods
the silken nod of respect. - I still prefer "tiny"

Keep up, you're in the UK now.

She sweeps the ground,
listening for the sound of friendship. - These lines still don't work for me
I guide her; she doesn't object. - Is it worth just dropping this troublesome line?
My smile unsettles her culture
as her forefathers threaten my eyes. - Still confusing!

As Yi Chin leaves the graduation ceremony
she presents me with two plaques,
both hand-brushed with Mandarin Hanzi.

What do they mean?
She bows.
The small frame embodies 'truth' the large one 'love'.

They live on the mantle piece in our front room
and I know Diane doesn't mind. Yes, I know. - I still like this ending - the whole last three stanzas
Cheers

David

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