three poems in the style of Li Yu
by Christopher Kelen

first light is a love of mine
no two skies the same

over the strings the fingers
over the reed pipe breath

a moon blooms over attic
and palace

how dreary the shadows
the river casts in

music brings me
winter’s dream—
imagining of

the flower

let us not whisper
of withering

glance sidelong of the lovers parting

the house inside the rain
the banquet in the house

in spring a dream
and yearning lingers

—let’s drink to it
you beat the drum

I’ll bring the brush and ink


Christopher (Kit) Kelen is an Associate Professor at the University
of Macau in south China, where he has taught Literature and Creative
Writing for the last seven years.  He is an Australian poet/artist whose
literary works have been widely published and broadcast since the
mid-seventies, and he holds degrees in literature and linguistics from
the University of Sydney and a doctorate on poetics from The University
of Western Sydney, Nepean.  Kelen’s first volume of poetry,
Naming of the Harbour and the Trees
, won an Anne Elder Award in
1992.  He has won numerous other awards for his work, and in 1996
he was Writer-in-Residence for the Australia Council at the B.R.
Whiting Library in Rome.  The most recent of Kelen’s eight volumes of
Dredging the Delta, was published by Cinnamon Press in the
United Kingdom in June 2007.  

On “three poems in the style of Li Yu”:  
Li Yu (936-978) was last emperor of the Southern Tang, and by all
accounts a much better poet than emperor.  A bit of a lounge lizard,
the philosopher cum poet cum painter rarely got out of his slippers.  
Deposed, he died a prisoner in someone else’s kingdom but not
before penning quite a few complaints about cruel fate.

With my collaborator-in-translation, Petra Seak, I’ve been at work
over the last couple of years on the poetry of Li Yu (and also an
older and more famous poet, Tao Yuanming).  It’s been sometimes
difficult to decide which poems are responses to or variations on
the original and which poems are actually translations.  The three
poems here are from the response end of the continuum.  In fact
the work on Li Yu is one of a number of related poetry translation-
and-response projects underway over the last several years through
the 1958group at the University of Macau.  These collaborative
projects involve translation, variation, and response to classical
and contemporary Chinese poets, including Meng Jiao, Li He, Li Yu,
Xin Qiji, and Nalanxingde.  My purpose in teaching poetry writing
through classical Chinese models has been to honour our ancestors
in poetry by keeping the conversation with them going.  Keeping
the dialogue open—across time and languages/cultures—means
moving beyond translation, into territory which, while original, yet
acknowledges a clear debt.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 2, Number 2
(Fall 2007)

Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.