Claire Dyer’s poem, In Chinese, was one of the most extraordinary – and one of the most extraordinarily beautiful – poems we received. Perhaps by ‘extraordinary’ I really mean ‘courageous’ because Claire’s poem challenged so many of the expectations I had of the poems in our submission pile.
Claire offers the two halves of her poem, In Chinese, as two parallel experiences, neither one having incontrovertible priority. There might be a linear sequence (the second part begins with the word ‘later’) but at the same time the two column layout insists that there might not be, or at least not in the usual conventions of narrative. The layout of the poem is permitting us to move between the two parts as we please. In the same way, we are not required to decide exactly what is literal, what is metaphor, what is imagined, what is actuality. The part of the poem subtitled ‘Word’ might also belong under the other subtitle ‘Temple’ while the bureau, parchment and ink in ‘Temple’ might equally belong under the other subtitle ‘Word.’
This fluidity in the narrative is matched by a wonderful fluidity in the language and imagery of the poem, which move in and out of precise meaning in the way that light might glance from moving water. It would be reductive to say that the poem’s interweaving of different levels of awareness and register mirrors the idea of a Chinese character where ideas are intertwined rather than sequential. This delicate piece of writing with its reticence, its balance, its control has not been written to illustrate a point. It is its own meaning. It enacts itself on the page. What I liked most of all about In Chinese, I think, was that even after many readings, it remained so intriguing, so fresh and so full of mystery.
Claire Dyer will be coming from Reading to read In Chinese on the Competition Afternoon on Saturday 26th September 2015.
Claire introduces her poem in the programme notes like this: ‘‘In Chinese the character for poetry is made of two parts’ is a poem about love and the loss of it and, I hope, a discussion on how the notions of ‘word’ (name) and ‘temple’ (worship) can be interchangeable.’
Photograph of Claire Dyer by Dale Strickland-Clark