The cover photo "A Sea of Steps Wells Cathedral's Stairs" is by Frederick H. Evans.
Virginia Jansen sent it (January 21 email) to Stanford Sarum Seminar Group
of Medieval Studies. Evans' 1903 photograph inspired me to write "A Sea of Steps"
also the title for this year's anthology. This poem was published in Sarum Spring 2010 Newsletter.
Winter semester was a wonderful learning experience in Kay Ryan's Stanford Poetry Workshops.
We were fortunate to have a
current U.S. Poet Laureate (2008-2010)
teaching us (January 5-March 9, 2010). Kay was overly generous telling the class her life story and
her writing methods. Kay passed her Waite Tarot deck and
"Ripley's Believe It or Not" book to the class, telling us how picking
a random card or page will trigger a poem. It inspired my first poem of the year when I chose
the random card "Three of Wands". Unlike other poets who asked
students to bring poems to class for critiques, Kay asked us to write
essays based on her assigned readings or class discussions.
Reading Italo Calvino's "Lightness" from
Six Memos for the New Millenniium (1988)
inspired four poems
"Tree of Lightness",
and "A Sea of Steps".
On February 3, 2010, at London Sotheby's auction, Giacometti's Walking Man I
sold for $104.3 million, new record for an artwork. It inspired two poems
Giacometti's Walking Man and
"Every Step You Make".
The Platonic Lambda Λ described in Timaeus 35b as "soul of the universe" seemed quite abstract.
When I noticed the man's legs walking by Giacometti's Walking Man at Sotheby's Auction, it suddenly
struck me that the soul's shape (upside "V" or Greek letter Λ ) is right before our eyes manifesting
itself whenever we are walking or alive! A similar epiphany occurred on August 20 when
a flock of Canadian Geese flew in V-formation to Stanford's Lake Lagunita (above photo).
Suddenly I realized that the geese were flying not in the V but the Λ-formation,
inspiring the poem "The Spring Geese Are Flying North".
was written in my head while walking around the Palo Alto Cal-Train Depot
waiting for the 12:37 am Bus #22 to take me home to Mountain View. It describes
the enlightened mind of Zen masters and sages who have experienced cosmic consciousness
and meeting them in my life. Christian Luczanits's talk "The Tibetan Buddhist Mandala
& Its Evolution" at Stanford on January 30, 2010 inspired
"Sculpting Uncarved Block"
when it dawned upon me that all our planets are deities. Kay's assignment on
"Nonsense Rhymes in Mother Goose"
made me stumble upon Mother Goose Rhyme #590
that all our rewards are golden. This triggered the poems
Three Epiphanies of Gold and
The Golden Bough.
It made me aware that Kay's Stanford's Poetry Workshops were indeed wonderful gifts of gold.
Stephen S. Hall's talk on his new book WISDOM: From Philosophy to Neuroscience (March 18, 2010),
inspired Wisdom Some Questions".
Writing Notes to this poem helped me understand more about wisdom in its multi-facet dimensions.
"Easter Bunny Hunt"
explores egg and hare symbolisms to ancient fertility goddesses as well as lunar rebirth
linked to Christ's resurrection. Seeing a Phalaenopsis orchid in my dentist's waiting
room at Gentle Dental triggered
that delved into the golden section and Fibonacci numbers.
While reading Harold Bayley's Lost Language of Symbolism, I learned that "Is" and "Ish"
originally meant "Light". No wonder we have so many gods with "is" and "ish" in their names.
This revelation inspired "This Is Bliss"
and "The Gods Need Our Light to Grant Our Wishes".
A friend's photo of stone-like Pac-Man gobbling up a triangular stone produced
made me recall "I am food... eater of food" from Taittiriya Upanishad.
"You Are the Universe"
was inspired by the bold declaration "The universe is my mind, and my mind is the universe."
by Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193), "Sage of the Elephant Mountain".
The recent news
"300 Sextillion Stars in Universe"
inspired "Sextillion Stars" that
links our Milky Way galaxy to Cow Goddesses in India, Egypt, and Greece. Finally,
"The Universe Is Made of Stories"
was inspired by my friend Steve Gould's photos of Muriel Rukeyser's sidewalk
near New York Public Library. As I pondered on Rukeyser's insight, it occurred to me that each
atom has a story to tell as well as sextillion stars of this universe, including each of us.
May readers find the poems and stories interesting and illuminating as the epiphanies
that came to me this year.
Peter Y. Chou
Mountain View, December 22, 2010