Bits of meditation

Updated: 2012-02-28 08:10

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

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 Bits of meditation

Poetry helps Anna Yin find inner peace. Provided to China Daily

Computer programmer Anna Yin is prepared to follow her dreams of being a full-time imagist poetess, despite the genre's relative unpopularity. Han Bingbin reports.

"An IT geek and poetess. Both weird, yet that's me," Anna Yin says in a brief summary of her writing career on her website. Since 2004, the award-winning poetess has published more than 80 poems. And her first poetry collection, Winds Toward Sunlight, enabled her to become a member of the League of Canadian Poets.

At the same time, she is a computer programmer at a major corporation in Toronto, Canada, who has managed to stave off being laid off during a time of significant economic turbulence.

Speaking of the beginning of her writing career, Yin, who is in her 40s, cites the Indian poet Rumi: "Not only the thirsty seek the water; the water as well seeks the thirsty", meaning poetry found her.

It was in 2004, after reading the bedtime story Emperor's New Clothes to her son, that she discovered she had a lot to say about the fairytale. Previously, Yin had kept a diary and written long articles in English, which she admits were longwinded. So, she wrote in short verse instead and the resulting poem was well received online.

She says she was surprised to find the poem was sad and full of complaints about having to wear masks, to the point where the subject didn't know who she was. The mask metaphor described her life at the time, laboring for her family and company, neither of whom knew who she really was.

"It's scary to think that before the poem, I didn't even realize that deep inside I was actually very unhappy all the time. Poems help me express my feelings and see the hidden side of myself," she says.

Now, whenever Yin senses something - mostly scenes from daily life, such as raindrops or a fading flower - they trigger feelings and thoughts, which she writes down in what Ontario Poetry Society's founder I.B. Iskov calls "sorrowful, melodic, sweet verses".

Her central themes are relationships and the conflict between reality and dreams. And she has the ability to use concrete images to imply profound and abstract concepts. For example, after seeing a puppet show that used dandelions for the hair of puppets, she was inspired to create a poem that asks why people's dreams don't "take shape" until their hair turns gray?

Richard Greene, an English professor at the University of Toronto, says Yin has "an affinity with the imagists" and "a knack for saying things simply and evocatively". Many other critics point to the inheritance of a traditional Chinese literary style.

"I often find bits of poetry in her writing that are like small Chinese miniatures, bits of meditation where the mind makes lovely images of the commonplace," poet Don Schaeffer writes in the preface to Yin's book.

All the positive feedback has encouraged Yin to write more poems, which she finds easy, as images and words keep popping up. Sometimes the inspiration comes at midnight and she immediately gets out of bed to write.

But that "unstoppable passion" soon led to a struggle. Yin loved writing poems so much that she didn't want to continue her job as a computer programmer but needed the money.

Local publishing houses generally refuse to take on poetry collections. A national policy that requires every publishing house to publish between two to four poetry books a year still doesn't help. Yin already considers herself lucky to have had her first poetry book published, and many of her poet friends have jobs, such as teaching, to make ends meet.

Eventually, Yin decided to put aside her writing hobby, but quickly felt "very, very sad" as if she "was crossed in love". One week later, she wrote a poem entitled Farewell to Sunflowers as her farewell to poems:

"In turning, I lose my way/and feel the lotus core in pieces. With arrows sifting through my hand, I see sunset in crimson."

But after finishing the poem, she became all of sudden very happy because "my writing seems to have improved, and the struggle I've had seems to have lifted my poetry to a new level", she says.

"But as long as I can't live on poems, I have to balance my job and writing. I have to slow down. If I have any inspiration at night, I won't get up. If the inspiration is meant to be mine, I believe it'll be back."

But in the long term, Yin still hopes that someday she can become a full-time poetess. In five years, her son will apply for college. His dream school is Harvard, so Yin is also planning to apply for a fellowship program at Harvard that sponsors qualified writers to write, study and also teach at the university.

Yin is preparing her second poetry collection, which a local publishing house has already agreed to take on. And her third book, which combines haiku poems and photography, is also under way. She hopes all these works will increase the chances of admission.

If she's not admitted, she will teach around Asia and seek new inspiration.

"That's what Emily Dickinson writes, the soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience," she says.

"After all, only poetry can help me find inner peace. Through writing, I can feel every moment of my life. That makes me feel that I am not a vagrant anymore."

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(China Daily 02/28/2012 page20)