Chen-ou Liu (Masters of Wabi)

Masters of Wabi

snow light
in her hospice room

Chen-ou Liu


eviction notice…
roof icicles
dripping moonlight

Chen-ou Liu

Chen-ou Liu, born in Taipei, Taiwan, was a college teacher, essayist, editor, and two-time winner of the national Best Book Review Radio Program Award. In 2002, he emigrated to Canada and settled in Ajax, a suburb of Toronto. Featured in New Resonance 7: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, and listed as one of the top ten haiku poets for 2011(Simply Haiku, 9:3,4, Autumn/Winter 2011), Chen-ou Liu is the author of five books, including Following the Moon to the Maple Land (First Prize, 2011 Haiku Pix Chapbook Contest) and A Life in Transition and Translation (Honorable Mention, 2014 Turtle Light Press Biennial Haiku Chapbook Contest). His tanka and haiku have been honored with 147 awards, including First Prize Co-Winner, 7th and 8th International Tanka Festival Competition, 2012; Tanka First and Third Places, 2011 San Francisco International Competition; Grand Prix, 2010 Klostar Ivanic Haiku Contest and First Prize Co-Winner, 2010 Haiku International Association Haiku Contest.




Matsuo Bashō once noted that “with every pilgrimage one encounters the temporality of life.” Across a prolific and acclaimed publishing career Chen-ou Liu has displayed time and time again a phenomenal command of rhythm and motion in his stunning poetry, adopting stimulating indicators to signal landmarks and topography across that terrain, the tool of wabi being one vital resource toward conveying visceral aims. There is little to no movement in a vacuum, on a sickbed, across a desolate winter landscape or quiet night, save perhaps the slightest trickling, reminiscent of grains falling through an hourglass. These pieces spectacularly reveal the duo and tag-team this style can make paired with sabi to liken and contrast, implement setup and punchline, execute a boxing combination in a sense. The common theme of undesired departure, imposed hard deadlines, ties these pieces very fittingly together; while exploring different subjects and settings, in unison the reader almost gets the perception they form a sedōka discussion of sorts, on the topic of fate and determinism, acceptance and the human condition.  In both pieces, white illumination, whether lunar or reflecting from blankets of snow, akin to a blank page or liquid correction fluid (and also the weather pattern where snow renders visibility nil), magnifies the wabi, in resonance with the care facility’s character, foreshadowing the tenant’s projected vacating. The reader in both circumstances may be reminded of the familiar transitional marvels reported by many anecdotal sources, where persons who’ve undergone near death experiences described moving towards a light. The paucity angle of wabi is present in each stanza too, both with the sparse institutional setting and lifeless winter diorama – an unshaken snow globe settling – and also about the privation associated with persons in assisted living receiving end-of-life care – who, in my nation, need to spend down to next to nothing to qualify for tax-funded services, and anywhere presumably will be in unique stages enacting potlatches of sorts, winnowing down earthly possessions, distributing assets and property – and just as much those unfortunate victims of economic insecurity and tyrannous feudalism. Liu denotes the urgency and suspense of both these timers counting down, like basketball shot clocks, patient and icicles both incrementally attenuating, in the process crafting two of the most haunting short form poems in recent memory!

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