Introduction for “Wings Toward Sunlight”

In writing of the evolution of language in his classic Poetic Diction (1928), Owen Barfield noted that “to the poet or critic, a language which has reached [the stage of development] in which word order is fixed and so essential to the expression of meaning that a slight change may actually reverse the sense [will present ]the appearance of crystallization.” Barfield further remarked that, “of known languages, Chinese is the farthest developed in this direction.”

James J.Y. Liu, in his The Art of Chinese Poetry (1962) suggests that “the Chinese mentality…is inclined to concentrate on the essence rather than the appearance, and is therefore ‘essentialist’” with regard to immediate experience, but paradoxically, “in its attitude towards life as a whole, it is more ‘existentialist’.” This structure of consciousness is productive of short, concrete, and rather eclectic poems, in which implications of grand epic, tragic or metaphysical themes are absent, or only hinted at. In these respects, this first collection of poems by the gifted Chinese-Canadian poet, Anna Yin, illustrates the Chinese spirit.

Ms. Yin has developed the ability in her writing to bridge the Chinese and Western sensibilities, an achievement which has not often occurred either in China, where traditional and Western-style poetic schools have been in competition since late Manchu times, or in Europe and North America, where oriental themes and prosody have been copied and often parodied since the Romantics.

Wings Toward Sunlight is a sequence of two movements of the consciousness named by the author as “There Must Be Something” and “We Grow Faces” which describe the poet’s discovery of meaning and joy in her poetic dialogue with Western poetry, and two rather different American poets in particular, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. Indeed, the epigraph for Ms. Yin’s collection is a line from Dickinson, “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” This, of course, describes the openness to the transcendent in the ordinary affairs of life, a quality that philosopher Eric Voeglin finds both in American Puritan mysticism and Common Sense philosophy.

Personal relationships and feelings are the focus of Ms. Yin’s book. Her writing sometimes approaches the self absorption and surrealism of much of contemporary Western poetry yet she never falls fully into those modes of expression. While the erotic life is often the subject of these poems, they never fall into eroticism or fixation with sexual eccentricity, themes which now appear to be somewhat prominent. This balance of consciousness is achieved, I believe, because Ms. Yin genuinely blends Chinese mystical naturalism with the rather stark cultural realities she experienced as an immigrant to Canada. Here, in Canada, she found a spiritual home among the followers of the “People’s Poetry” tradition. Indeed, in 2005, Ms. Yin received the Ted Plantos Memorial Award for People’s Poetry.

Wings Toward Sunlight leads the reader from the realm of mundane confusion to a place with a promise of clarity without abandoning ordinary experience for a ‘second reality’, as Eric Voegelin calls the ideological dreamworld. Ms. Yin describes this experience of the psyche at the con-clusion of the first half of the book:

It is the sowing season,
your finger points to the distant mountains
terrace farms spiral
like ladders to heaven.

Wings Toward Sunlight demonstrates that despite the dehumanizing technocracy in which the whole world now lives the Romantic imagination is still alive and well.

Terry Barker
Humber College
Toronto, 2010