Poetry Month: Thou Art More Lovely

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The room was filled with a cross-cultural mix of students, faculty and staff as poet Chun Yu read from her book, “Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution.”

Other writers joined Yu to celebrate National Poetry Month and National Library Week in the Pollak Library of Cal State Fullerton.

“She gives our students confidence as they attempt to master a foreign language,” said Chinese language program coordinator Jinghui Liu, who noticed 18 students from his program in attendance. “They are encouraged by her success to express themselves in their target language.”

Yu is a critically acclaimed and award-winning author of work published in English. She’s a recent immigrant who learned English as a second language.

Liu said this makes her a perfect model for his students to follow.

Librarian Jie Tian introduced the author and described her book.

“It is artful, touching, truthful, full of suffering and beauty,” she said.

She wrote the first book as a trilogy during her postdoctoral fellowship in biomedical engineering in a Harvard-MIT joint program.

Rather than glorify tragedy, she said she hoped to capture some of the will and spirit that allowed roughly 10 million Chinese people to survive during that time.

After what her parents had been through during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, they discouraged Yu and her brother from pursuing their dreams of being artists, she said.

“Being a writer or artist, I’m constantly giving myself a chance to say something wrong,” Yu said. “We had family and friends that had their lives ruined by saying just one sentence.”

Heping Zhao, CSUF associate professor of English was among those in attendance. While his experiences as a teacher in China during the Cultural Revolution weren’t as harsh as those recounted by Yu, he said he was moved by her lyrical memoir.

“This is the only poem written in English that I ever understood,” Zhao said.

Two poets were featured in a series sponsored by seven CSUF organizations during last week’s lectures and readings. The sponsors include the English, comparative literature and linguistics programs and the Pollak Library.

Maurya Simon lectured on “The Poetry of Witness” and read from a selection of her works on Monday.

She is the author of seven volumes of poetry, including “Speaking in Tongues,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Simon teaches creative writing at UC Riverside. She likes to make order out of the chaos of language.

“Stanzas provide poets with little airy building blocks,” Simon said in an e-mail interview.

“That, just like the rooms in a house, are self-contained, yet lead to other rooms and views.”

Though she uses an iPod and computer, she still writes out the first draft of her poems in long hand.

“The best poems clear our senses and minds; they provide us with flashes of wisdom and insight that slow down time for us and intensify our living,” Simon said.

On Wednesday, Alberto Rios presented a lecture titled “New, News, and Newest: Where Should We Be Looking?” He read from some of his nine books including “The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body,” a finalist for the National Book Award.

He is Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, where he has taught for 24 years. Rios was recently designated as an Arizona History Maker by the Arizona Historical League, a lifetime achievement award.

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