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BOOK REVIEW: DR. R. K.

SINGH, India

CHOI Lai Sheung. Whisper of the Star. A Collection of Poems(Chinese-


English Bilingual). Translated by Zhang Zhizhong. Published by The Earth
Culture Press (USA), August 2009, Pages 247, Price US $ 10.00. ISBN 978-0-
9637599-6-5/A.080

CHOI Lai Sheung, who writes brief personal lyrical poems, is a contemporary
Chinese poet, born in Shishi City in Fujian Province but now settled in Hong
Kong. An author of over 70 books and editor-in-chief of the multilingual The
World Poets Quarterly, she is also well-versed in calligraphy with an
established reputation in gymnastics and swordplay.

Reading her 100 poems in translation, I find Choi a romantic visionary poet,
with a matured aesthetic and poetic sense. Unlike many poets whose verses
are flat and stale, Choi’s poems have much of enduring value: Her verses are
not only brief and deep but also perfect and significant. She melds thoughts,
feelings and emotions, with high and low of spirit, and spectacles of inner
reality:

“How can I who


Is imperfect
Be tolerated by my love

I am all for beauty


But not beauty itself (p. 227)

Both Choi and Zhang Zhizhong reach a great height of spiritual richness in
creating and translating the last two lines of the poem ‘Imperfection’.

When the duo say: “Tenacity is kneaded in wordlessness/Silence is running


with tears of heart” (p. 225); “Dreaming to spread my wings of heart/To fly
into paradise/With fragrance of the mortal world” (p. 209); “The sea as
passion/The rainbow as brush/I dance and soar in the universe” (p. 189);
“Just a stretch of rainbow/In a self-less round/Between the sky and the earth”
(p. 185); “I am a net in searching and exploring/Cast round the unknown
ocean” (p. 183); “The dream is a pure land/Where all hearts are equal” (p.
175); “Rivers and lakes stretch to infinity/Water and the sky share the same
color” (p. 165); “The plight of existence shall be/Conquered under the feet”
(p. 137); “To grow a pot of smiles/Therefrom/Through winds and
rains/Concern and passion retain” (p. 131); and “Lift historical trauma
skyward/To wash bright aspiration of the time” (p. 105); I sense an overhead
awareness, or the mantric effect a la Sri Aurobindo, the famous Indian poet-
philosopher.
Zhang Zhizhong must have found CHOI a difficult poet to translate,
particularly for her spiritual consciousness that evades exact expression in
English. Yet he has completed the challenging task so well that I feel a sense
of satisfaction, reading Choi’s verses in English. Both the poets (the
translator too is a noted name in contemporary Chinese poetry with
considerable experience in bilingual literature, language and cinema)
succeed in drilling through “the fence of time and space/and transcend the
boundary of nations” (p. 177), thanks to their labor of love and commitment
to human unity, universal peace and happiness.

Reading Choi’s poery is like experiencing an ascent to loftiness of love, life,


nature, and simplicity. She reflects an inner culture, the quintessence of the
Chinese spirit, which is ever inspiring and ever renewing itself:

“No need to sing fair-sounding songs


No need to compose melodious music
Great passion and emotion
Bring brightness all the way” (p. 159)

She has a sense of purpose and mission: self-discovery and world-discovery.


With her heart- wings, she soars between heaven and earth (cf. p. 123) and
expresses her unity with nature: “As many wonders of the sea/As many
wonders of me” (p. 111). Elsewhere, she says that with a triumphant heart
she files and flutters “into heroism and righteousness/Between heaven and
earth” (p 149), and scales a new height in her consciousness: “I am going
to/Prove my position/With my craggy/Integrity” (p. 155). She sounds like Sri
Aurobindo’s Savitri when she asserts: “Straight and erect is the strength of
character” and “Climbing and rising is moral integrity” (p. 147). Evolution to
her means awakening to the self, or raising the life and existence to a higher
level of consciousness. Unity, harmony and love are her key notes.
Like a yogin, with perfect inner discipline, Choi “takes up pen as a hoe/To
plough fertile land in silence/For the seeds to break ground and sprout” (p.
145). It is with evolving soul-awareness, “with erect beauty” and “unyielding
floral spirit” that she seek to prove her own individual existence.

Choi Lai Sheung’s excellence lies in her freshness in each poem. She is not
imitative of the past, nor does she think and feel in any pre-established
ways. By her own admission, she is an “industrious tiller” who tries “to reach
perfection along with the inclination and seasons/To bring fruits upon fruits”
(p. 23). Her poetic genius achieves an excellent balance between what is
conventionally available in some of the best Chinese lyrical poetry and what
we have been reading in contemporary poetry in English elsewhere. With her
fresh insights into the nature of human experiences, the reality of “a colorful
life”, she appeals richly to our senses, imagination, emotion, and intellect.
Dr Zhang Zhizhong as translator appears to have really worked hard to prove
how well Choi’s diverse materials of the poem are integrated and how
successful she has been in proportion to its tight structure. Each word he
chooses appears the right word, if not the bet word, for expressing the total
meaning of the poet. The diction and images are not trite but fresh. It goes
to his credit that in his English rendering there is no clash between the sound
of the poem and its sense. Images and ideas are so effectively arranged that
any rearrangement would result in harming the poem or its form and
content. I whole-heartedly appreciate the positive excellence of both CHOI
and Zhang Zhi. They both deserve world recognition.

--Professor (Dr) R.K.Singh, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences,


Indian School of Mines, DHANBAD - 826004, India