Below I have pasted the assignment instructions distributed in class on our first Poetry Day, Wed/Thu Aug 24/5.

Celebr8 Poetry Cycle #1: Du Fu, Rilke; imagery, metaphor


In ancient China, people believed that human beings had more than one soul. In a book called A Little Primer of TU FU, David Hawkes writes that “according to popular theory a person had not one but ten souls: three spiritual souls (hun) and seven animal souls (po)” (72).

Tu Fu is a Chinese poet who wrote in the 700s. He lived during the T’ang dynasty, which is known as a golden age of Chinese poetry. Two of this period’s most renowned poets are Tu Fu and Li Bai. A friend of mine, who has started Mandarin programs in several schools like HIES, recently traveled to China to explore possible exchanges between his school in Los Angeles and a Chinese partner-school. During his travels, he visited Tu Fu’s home. He brought back for me a set of small commemorative plates. On one is a painting of Tu Fu, and the two flanking plates show some of his poetry. I treasure this gift from a friend. Equally so, I treasure Tu Fu’s gifts. What I know about poetry—reading and writing it—has been enriched by Tu Fu’s dedicated artistry. For example, he has taught me the value of concrete imagery*.

Exercise (put a printed copy of your original poem in Poetry Folder before start of Poetry Day #2)

For this exercise, compose an original poem of at least ten lines. You may rhyme, if you like, but you don’t have to. Some people like to rhyme, while others don’t. You decide.

The basic idea behind this exercise is the idea that humans have ten souls—three spiritual and seven animal souls. You don’t have to cover all ten in this poem, though you may want to, or try to. You could consider repeating an opening to each line—something like “I know . . . “ or “I am . . . “ or some similar approach. Another possibility is to make the particular souls the subject of your lines, or sentences. For instance, the hawk sees tiny mice from the clouds above. Or, I live in the cracks of walls and only emerge in the shade.

Whatever strategy you use, explore some, or all, of the ten souls that are you. This exercise raises the question of how a “spiritual” soul differs from an animal soul. I have no easy answers to this question. I have several thoughts, but no easy answers. (I’m not always sure I like easy answers. I prefer challenging questions.)

So, see what this exercise brings to mind in the form of an original poem. Remember, the poem needs at least ten lines, which means you do not have to screech on the brakes at the end of line ten. If you’re on a roll, go with it, but leave time to read your poem aloud to yourself, so that you can work on it further before placing the printed copy in your Poetry Folder.



*language that appeals to any of the five physical senses