CLOUDS OVER FORTJADE
by Karl Young
Boxed set of screens begun in 1981 and not yet completed.
Throughout Clouds Over Fortjade the two poets hold an oblique debate, usually with one poet taking one side of each screen, though in a couple instances work by both poets appears on the same side of a screen. Occasionally, the two poets express similar ideas, and occasionally trade positions, with Tu appreciating nature and Wang expressing grief or anger.
Both poets wrote in the Shih form, sometimes called the Chinese sonnet. Poems in this form are eight lines long with either five or seven characters in each line. The poems include elaborate substructures including a breakdown into quatrains and couplets, often with careful development of parallelism and antithesis. Given the uneven number of characters per line, the obligatory caesuras can't fall precisely in the middle of a line. This and other features (including antithesis) provide a dynamic imbalance that keeps the form from becoming too static.
In my working of the texts, I have tried to pick up on as many of these characteristics as possible. I have also worked with more general characteristics of Chinese poetry, including the use of the narrow screen fold (often used in sending messages), imaging suggestive of calligraphy, use of various writing surfaces, printing from wood blocks and rubbings from stone. I have even taken cues from the nature of written Chinese, particularly ambiguities and terseness from the lack of inherent number and looseness of tense, the lack of articles and other grammatical forms of English and most other western languages. I have done these things not to make more "accurate" renderings (such accuracy is far beyond my ability), but just to see where this procedure would get me.
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