Friday, February 03, 2006

Biscuit portfolios

Yesterday, while shelf reading at the institute library (part of my little student job), Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain fell into my hands. I opened up a page at random and this is what I got:


Here we languish, a bunch of poor scholars,
Battered by extremes of hunger and cold.
Out of work, our only joy is poetry:
Scribble, scribble, we wear out our brains.
Who will read the works of such men?
On that point you can save your sighs.
We could inscribe our poems on biscuits
And the homeless dogs wouldn’t deign to nibble.

Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-shan, translated by Burton Watson.

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Ha-ha-ha….pretty funny and synchronistic for me now while I am writing my portfolio. I'm having fun with my biscuit portfolio this time around, allowing other creative activities to help my process: drawing and painting, cycling, cooking and eating (is eating creative?, I think so….), taking long walks with Yuki, and lingering over little clay teapots of steaming tea. I know what needs to be done to finish and have my sight set on successful completion, while at the same time not attaching to the outcome.

Back at home, I opened my copy of The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Red Pine’s translation of Han Shan’s poetry, and searched for his rendering of the above poem (99 below).
Han-shan, aka Cold Mountain, is one of my favorite irreverent Taoist/Buddhist mountain hermit poets of the early or late 8th century (no one knows for sure). I like Burton Watson’s version (10) for the obvious humor in it, and Red Pine’s (99) for the subtle, yet equally humorous tone.

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Disappointed impoverished scholars
know the limits of hunger and cold
unemployed they like to write poems
scribbling away with the strength of their hearts
but who collects a nobody’s words
may as well save your sighs
write them down on rice-flour cakes
even mongrels won’t touch them

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