How I enjoy a sunrise –
It does not really matter –
But – if given the choice –
Alone – or with a friend –
I would take the latter
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.
Notes to this poem…
This is a little poem, my friends, but in the development of my poetry writing, it has huge implications.
After first year university in mid-1992, I dove into reading a lot of poetry on my own choice without having English classes to answer to with dumb assignments about poetry interpretation conforming to the norm or getting mediocre marks for them. I was also writing poetry, doubling with the reading as some therapy for the less than happy life I was leading at the time, although that’s on my own terms and feelings of what was not happening at the time, mostly in terms of school, love and stuff previously explained, and not anything having to do with my Parents not providing well for me.
For my poetry reading, I read whatever I found in the library, almost randomly selecting poetry books available after the first few visits where I knew I wanted to know more on certain poets. On one of these visits, probably during the spring or summer of 1994 because I remember it being warm and being warm during the time I read it, I found The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, “edited” by Thomas H. Johnson (old version with beige cover rather than this one, with slightly fewer poems). “Compiled” would have been the better word because this man, for whom little exists on-line for reference, spent over 10 years hunting down the poetry, and some letters, of Emily Dickinson, ordering them chronologically mostly without dates on the poems for his PhD. Now that’s a PhD I would have loved to have done. As for editing, though, he pretty much left the poems as they were to be true to Emily’s “dashing” writing style with dashes to indicate pauses where she would have put them in reading her poems, rather than using conventional punctuation.
I had no idea what I was in for when I got The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, though. I had heard of Emily, but either her poems I was forced to read and comment on in English classes were not my favourite or the forcing wasn’t to my liking, but I was in for a shock when I read it. I had read poetry previously, but I had only read poetry via Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry when I read her poetry.
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know of.”
I dare say I haven’t read any new poetry since, at the risk of insulting every other poet out there on Earth, in hell or in heaven. There are some pretty cryptic stuff out there, but I can at least figure out how to figure them out and it would just be work to do so, not make my head feel as if my head were taken off. There are some pretty cold stuff out there, but I can figure out how to warm myself back up, meaning I know the kind of “fire” to do so. But Emily’s stuff, it fits that very definition for me. That book meant so much to me it is the only book I have ever read twice. I guess by some means, I’m a sucker for pain. I have two copies of it now, my original and a used one to lend out every rare now and then when I find someone who is interested.
I don’t know how long it took me to recover from reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, but I can assure you once I did, I committed to imitation, the sincerest form of flattery, to write poems in Emily’s dashing style, even if I knew I could never reproduce the quality of their content. I also resolved to keep these poems to one stanza, which is why I refer to them as one stanza poems, but just omitted that categorization in their titles and left a number as Thomas H. Johnson did with Emily Dickinson’s poems in compiling them.
Out of that commitment towards dashing one stanza poems came this poem as a first try. If memory serves, I was at the Youth for Social Justice (YSJ) group camp as a volunteer camp counsellor for a week when this poem would have been written. I was assigned the task of waking up the youths, among others, and that activity turned out to be a fun and chaotic affair each morning. However, on a few mornings, I was up with the sun and had some moments to myself before having to wake up the youths. On one of those mornings, I composed this poem. It was that simple, and it neither hurts your head nor leaves you cold, but as if to assert my own identity into these poems rather than trying unsuccessfully to imitate Emily, I didn’t mind one bit. I kind of liked the idea, actually.
I had no idea what was coming with this poem, having written so many classical form poems to this point, as can be seen by previous entries in this blog, and had so many others still in the works. I was planning on writing mostly the latter and throwing in a smattering of one stanza poems here and there. However, I currently have 135 of these one stanza poems, which you can expect to see ultimately via this blog. I also have 17 Haikus which are also punctuated in the same dashing manner, Emily Dickinson in modern Japanese style, if you will. While my poetry writing output has dropped off significantly compared to the mid-1990s output, it still is going and these dashing one stanza poems, haiku or otherwise, are almost exclusively all I write today, probably due to having lost the patience to sit and craft intricate form poems, but hopefully, I will get back to that via song lyrics because these little poems can’t be full song lyrics.
The O-series of poems are one stanza poems composed before I got onto writing haiku and tanka, and short poetry while in action or traveling by select means like plane or ferry. These poems are 3-9 lines long with at least one rhyming couplet, and not of the short forms just mentioned. For the sake of elegance, I just called the collection One.