The Modernists writers like Ezra Pound loved literature and art from the Far East. Because Gertrude Stein employed a Chinese cook, admired Chinese poetry in translation, mentioned Chinese people and landscape in some of her work, the Steiny Road Poet wonders if this Modernist ever gave a passing glance at learning Chinese, a non-alphabetic language?
The Poet is careful not to call Chinese, Japanese, or Korean languages ideographic. A pure ideogram represents an idea or concept while a logogram represents a word or morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language). While some Chinese characters (Hanzi) may occasionally be listed as logograms, this classification doesn't apply throughout Chinese symbology. There are a complicated set of distinctions that include subcategories involving radicals (basic characters that nest inside other characters), improvised characters, and other linguistic markers. The Steiny Road Poet won't indulge in a highly technical explanation at this time, but will instead offer this poem that she wrote in the wee hours of one morning in a time-space that she believes Gertrude Stein often occupied.
Karren L. Alenier
Copyright © 2010 Karren L. Alenier
Why is the Steiny Road Poet studying Chinese? People keep asking her this question in the same way they asked her why she wanted to visit China. At first she joked about why she wanted to visit China by saying, "To visit your money and mine." But in China's big cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing (don't tell me, Dear Reader, you still know Chongqing as Chungking)—and on the Yangtze River (Cháng Jiāng), the Poet saw first hand the flood of money building skyscrapers, bullet and maglev trains, subway systems, roads, and the vehicles to run on their highways. Where did all that money come from? This time in China, the people have not sacrificed their cooking pots to a new Great Leap Forward.
The Poet asks for a show of hands: how many reading this column have opened up the book When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques? Notice how that title says 'when' not 'if'? As the Poet recently told her circle of poet colleagues, more and more Chinese words will be bleeding into our purview. The Chinese language is the new frontier for Americans who currently think English is and always will be the lingua franca.