When I tell someone
I am a poet –
Some regard me in awe –
Some frown at my flaw –
And some –
Well – they don’t know
What to make of me at all
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.
Notes to this poem…
In the summer of 1995, I was a little lost with where I was going in life. Just out of four years of a First Class Honours B.Sc. (A- GPA or better) with no intentions of going back because it was just too unhealthy for me with solvents and chemicals all around. Working as a student assistant at the Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) mostly doing graphic design, something artsy and in the communications field compared to the geeky scientific training I had just acquired from my Honours B.Sc. At the peak of my poetry writing output.
I wasn’t worried about what was to come, even though I probably should have been to be responsible. I was just in a constant daydream world composing poetry, to the point where sometimes when people asked me what I was, meaning what I did for a living, I just told them I was a poet. It was the most genuine answer I could give them. The answer I most believed in and was comfortable with. The answer I liked the most.
This poem, though, was specifically written to describe the Vietnamese reaction from some in the Vietnamese community here in Halifax, which was significantly larger at the time than now in 2008. Like many cultures, the Vietnamese deem a “career” or livelihood as a poet to be one of a starving artist. I don’t like it but I also know they could back it up with facts if they went and did the research. Ironically, much like most other societies, they also revered the successful poets, immortalizing them. It’s a bit of a bandwagon, all or nothing sort of relationship. You are either a bum or a god, but not much in between aside for a few people who can appreciate the arts, but still not practical or useful for much in life. Better to marry a regular man than even a successful poet with respect cause respect won’t cook your rice, wash your clothes or even serve your rice if he brought enough money home for you to have rice in the first place!
Anyway, the first few lines expressed my feelings on their reactions. The last few described the truth because they really did not know what to make of me. Here I had these school results, demonstrated practical computer and artistic skills with jobs in respectable organizations like MANS, on top of being the son of the President of the Vietnamese Association in Halifax and the son of a lady who was regarded as the matriarch at the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA), where most immigrants ending up in the Halifax-Dartmouth area owe a lot of gratitude for the assistance offered in their first years in Canada. They really just didn’t know what to make of such an answer!
But can you blame them? I didn’t know what to make of that answer, and I was giving it!
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.