by Romi Slowiak | Minnesota Chinese Friendship Garden Society | September 2022

 Witter Bynner, famed American poet and co-translator with Kiang Kang-Hu of the T'ang Dynasty poetry classic The Jade Mountain, tells us in the preface:

"Centuries ago, cultivated Chinese had reached the intellectual saturation which has tired the mind of modern Europeans. The Chinese gentleman knew the ancient folk songs, compiled by Confucius. He also knew, all around him, a profoundly rich civilization, a more poised and particular a sophistication than we Westerners have yet attained. Through the Asian centuries everyone has written verse. In fact, from the early imperial days down to these even worse days disordered days of the republic (this was written in 1929), the sense of poetry as a natural and solacing part of life has lasted among the Chinese people."

Those of you who have traveled to China will see evidence of this everywhere: inscriptions on rocks as you climb a mountain, the cries of street peddlers, tea house names, casual but reverent jottings on hilltops, lakesides and private homes, and in gardens.

The Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society is working to honor that tradition and poetry as a guiding principle of China garden design. We have explanations of the couplets on columns, adopted poems that inform the garden's design, are creating landscape that brings to life imagery from those poems, and are encouraging the creation of poetry itself.

Bynner continues in his preface,

"Whitman said: 'to have great poets there must be great audiences, too,' he must have had in the back of his mind rich generations like the Elizabethan in England or like almost any generation in China. In those great audiences each person, to the limit of their capacity and with a natural ease, was a poet."

To that end, we are encouraging writers on all levels through no-fee-for-entry contests, most recently "Longing for Full Moon," part of the Mid Autumn Festival. judges (Prof. Zhen Zou, Chinese; Diane Jarvenpa, English; Carol Charging Thunder, Dakota/Lakota/Nakota; and Nancy Xiong, Hmong), advisors (artist Ali Van and Professor Carol Brash) and $100 prizes in two age groups in 4 languages, were all made possible by a grant from the State Arts Board. Perhaps the most valuable prize, however, is a tour of the Asian art collection from a poet's point of view led by Liu Yang, chair of Asian Art and curator of Chinese Art and a poet himself! There were more than 65 entries and over 70 people attended the award ceremony at the Xiang Jiang Pavilion at noon on Sept 10. The themes of the contest were friendship and resilience.

The winners were:

Hmong

18 and over category:

Coob Vaj/Chong Vang, Borikhamsay, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lub Dej Teev Lub Lwg: Mist Gathered Into Morning Dew             read by Txianeeb Vaj, his nephew.

 

Under 18 category:

Tilly Kue                16              St. Michael, MN            When We Were Young       read by Cecielean Nkauj Zoo Lis, his Mother.

 

English

18 and over

Torey Erin, Minneapolis, Salix.

 

Under 18 category

Hypatia Hollins , East Side of St. Paul, Peace is My Friend,

 

Dakota

18 and over 

 

Lisa Yankton       Minneapolis, is a Dakota, whose mother is Chinese  Sacred Taboo Warning

 

Under 18  : no entries.

 

Chinese

18 and over category:

Sophia Geng               46     St. Joseph, MN     Friendship

 

Under 18 category:

Ryan Hocksletter   9   St. Anthony, MN 朋友.Friends

 

Liu Yang began the event reading his poem "The Eagle" in English and in Chinese. Romi Slowiak, contest curator,  introduced the judges who then welcomed winners to receive their awards. The judges set a gracious and relaxed tone that made the event feel like an intimate literati gathering that offered many unexpected connections and revelations

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The Chinese language adult winner, Sophia Deng,  professor at the College of St. Benedict/St. Johns University, discovered she had met the judge, Professor Zhen Zou, 15 years ago at school!

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The Dakota winner, Lisa Yankton, left, was only able to come because judge Carol Charging Thunder, to her right, got up at 6 a.m. to take over the winner's job of making fry bread for ceremony that day.  Also pictured farther right: contest curator, Romi Slowiak, and farthest right: English judge Diane Jarvenpa.

 

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The Chinese language youth winner arrived early and worriedly confessed that her schoolteacher had changed some characters and that she should perhaps be disqualified.  The characters were clerical errors in repeated paragraphs.  She was exonerated by Judge Zhen.

 

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Judge Nancy Xiong announced that the Hmong adult winner lives in Laos.  The winner's nephew, Txianeeb Vaj, started the reading with a traditional whistling song that meant a lot to him (Txianeeb Vaj).  The tune was America the Beautiful.  Then the poem was read and its tune whistled a bit.  Organizers later received a video of the uncle receiving the award, which appeared to be a fortune in Laotian bills.  US$1= 10,000 Kips.  So, he won one million Kips. 

 
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Hypatia Hollins, winner aged 9, English, read her poem, Peace is My Friend. Hypatia lives in the neighborhood of Lake Phalen and her mother is the president of the District 5 Planning Council, which was instrumental in holding a meeting in 2014 that led to legislative funding to hire the Changsha architects for the China garden. 

 

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