Problems in Poetry and Madam Chew.

That’s not the greatest of titles for this entry, but it does speak to something of late.

Last night I couldn’t sleep.  It happens a lot at my age and since I’m not very active because of the heat, I’m not exactly physically exhausted when I go to bed.  So, I toss and turn.

At least last night I was thinking of poetry and where has it gone?  For the past 3 years I have been writing a lot of it…posting it on different sites, in particular ERWA and getting mostly constructive criticism.

But for the past 4 months it’s been a poetic desert in my brain.  Perhaps the other writings, especially the rewritings right now are taking the limited energies, but this is strange for me.  And discomforting.

Gary Russell at ERWA, the Poetry Editor, introduced many forms of poetry to writers there.  We swelled and burst forth with sonnets, cinquains, chokas, haiku, freeverse and tanka.  There were other forms, but I forget now.  Tanka was something that flipped my switch and I wrote reams of it.  Tanka was a big part of the poetry section in “A Seasoning of Lust”.  A few months ago, I was asked to submit 5 tanka to an outfit in Japan for their annual anthology.  I wrote tanka while walking, bathing, in meetings, during fights with my sweet husband, with the kid, while shopping, while gardening, at just about every place where two synapses could rub together.

Then….nothing.  I just stopped. I stopped all forms of poetry and something felt different.  I felt a hole developing inside and it grew.  I pushed things into it, arguments with jackasses online, chocolate, books, anything that I thought would fill the hole.

Last night’s tossing and turning brought up a solution.

“Lady Nyo’s Poems”.

Ok, this sounds confusing.  I am Lady Nyo, at least on this blog.  So, who is this other Lady Nyo?

She’s a character I developed for “The Kimono”, a 16th century woman, married to a samurai, and therefore also considered samurai, or with the responsibities of that class.  She was also a poet, and sometimes annoyed her husband with her poems.  She was not the sweet, submissive woman that many us  Westeners think  a Japanese or Asian woman would be.  She was rather dominant as I have found in real Japanese and Asian woman.

Just now I realized where this character really came from.  The original Lady Nyo of my fond acquaintance, whose real name was Madam Chew, was my boss and the acquired godmother of our son.

Madam Chew (who changed her name from Chou) was one of the most indominable women I have ever met.  She was a tiny woman from Borneo and Singapore and ruled her family and empire with an iron fist.  We would eat together in her office every day for lunch, and she would tell me the stories of her youth.  We would laugh over ghosts, the convent where she was educated (strange, but apparently true.) and the issues of men.  On men, Madam Chew was very astute.  On money, even moreso.  She had amased millions of dollars of personal wealth, was the Minister of Health for a while in Singapore, and terrorized the men in the corporation.  She enjoyed that fact the most.

Madam Chew was caught between two worlds….the world of her birth culture where women were submissive to the demands of men, and this present world, where women could dominant all around them.

Madam Chew had a little act that was rather funny, at least to us women, but probably was a reflection of the internal angst, that push and pull she felt so strongly.  During lunch she would start to cry a little, and would talk in a disembodied voice about “women aren’t supposed to bully men, but they are so willing to be so.  Ah, little Madam Chew wasn’t born for this, but she does it so well.  Look at me, a little Asian woman  (here she would start to smile) and look what I can do.”

At first, I was confused, but later I understood her ‘message’.   I don’t think Madam Chew was at all confused about anything, she had her little hands wrapped securely around the throats of us all, including her husband and also the big Russian President of the Corporation.

I haven’t thought about her in a long time. But she definitely was the mold in  important ways for the character Lady Nyo.

Back to the poetry.  Or lack of it.  Finally last night I knew what I needed to do to jumpstart the flow again.  Lady Nyo went through four cycles of poetry.  Her declarations of love  to her husband in the original verses,  her “Bad Quarrel”,  “Lady Nyo Forgives Her Husband” and the “Temptations of Lady Nyo”.

I’ll kill him off and put her in mourning.  He’s samurai so that won’t be so unusual.  And so is she.

Perhaps we need the twistings of life (and the lives of characters) to unstopper what dams the flow of imagery and empathy.

Poetry is supposed to be a very personal observation and statement.   Who says we can’t steal from our character’s lives when ours are thankfully mired in still waters?

Lady Nyo

From “Lady Nyo Poems” (A Seasoning of Lust)


Clouds sweep the moon.
causing its light to dapple you.
My love! You waver before me
like a ghost under water.


When I get to the anger
you will know I am recovering.
Not nicely, there will always be scars
and jagged edges,
tokens of our slight time together.
Do you feel any of this pain?
No, perhaps not.


Stop tickling me!
Yes, I forgive you,
but  you take such liberties!
Your hands are not clean from
previous crimes.
Go wash them in the snow of
last year’s falling.
Then I will reconsider your request.


“The wind blows from the north
Chilling my heart.
Only the thought of a touch of your sleeve
Warms me.”
Very nice, but my sleeves are not interested.

The Lady Nyo and Lady Nyo.

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8 Responses to “Problems in Poetry and Madam Chew.”

  1. Berowne Says:

    Two words: air conditioning. Might prove more of a stimulant to your creativity than all the bards that ever were.

    But I wonder about:
    “I don’t think Madam Chew was at all confused about anything, she had her little hands wrapped securely around the throats of us all, including her husband”

    I never met her but I’ve met plenty of people like the one you describe. In my experience those folks are not confused, they’re just wrong. Perhaps from experience of ethnic or gender discrimination they view the world as consisting exclusively of those who push others around and those who let themselves be pushed. This might be a pleasant fantasy in erotic literature, but IMHO it’s a terrible way to live. What would this lady say to the ideas embodied in the Golden Rule, or The Sermon On The Mount? Could she even wrap her mind around them? Or a quote in (talk about odd places for inspiration) a crossword puzzle I was working on yesterday.

    Answer: James Dean.

    Question: Who said “Only the gentle are ever really strong”?


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Berowne,

    yes, air conditioning. But we don’t have it because this house is from the 1880’s and we have to do all the systems over…again. it’s getting cooler, so I just abide by things.

    Here in the South, it’s traditional to close the curtains, the doors, the shutters to keep in the ‘cool’ of the morning…and to stay out of the upper rooms during the afternoons.

    Works, except we don’t have curtains or drapes. We like the openness of the light and invite the outside in. Of course, though, that can present a problem with curious people from the street, but the big fence and all the greenery takes care of that.

    But a.c. is the answer ultimately.

    Madam Chew: Well, you are right. It’s a terrible way to live, and a friend (another writer) and I were talking about that: what is the measure of sanity? What is the measure of ‘healthy’ dominance and submission? I think this stuff we get from erotica is pure fantasy, and usually unhealthy stuff at that. No way to live your life or marriage.

    She said that the ultimate submission metered out from a sadist is death. I think she is right. That is why sane people wise up, and get to discern between reality and fantasy. Or they are found in a barrel somewhere, rotting.

    Madam was a bit sadistic in her behavior, I can vouch for that. More than a bit. Where did it come from? Probably culturally, ethic issues. I have seen this in ‘oppressed’ people before, Jews, Blacks, etc, any culture who has had some terrible history and can’t balance themselves. They live in constant hatred of the ‘other’, whether it be of Christians or Whites. Of course, I am only talking about individuals…because I have met Jews, Blacks, etc. who don’t fit this picture at all. Who are stellar in their balance and able to embrace the whole picture and be guiding lights to the rest of us.

    But Madam was also a narcissist, and I now understand, after a battle with a particular one recently, that narcissists can come in many stripes. She hid behind this tiny, very meek looking exterior, but she was a powerhouse of control and domination of other lives. Her husband was a good match for her as he also had the same tendencies, but she far outdid him.

    I doubt that (now dead) Madam Chew threw any thought towards either The Golden Rule or the Sermon on the Mount. She could be very kind, or very cruel. It just depended upon what side of the bed she got up on, or what she wanted that day.

    I found her a fascinating person, but I wouldn’t, for all her money and power, want to be her. But she could be very, very kind.

    I love your quote: Only the gentle are ever really strong. Lovely.

    Thank you, Berowne. Life brings such important lessons. Unfortunately we don’t see them as lessons until we suffer the burns.

    Lady Nyo


  3. R.K.SINGH Says:

    Hi, it seems we are undergoing the same phase: poetic desert in mind, no worthwhile thought, low mood, seasonal allergy, and a general ‘boring’ feel all around. Your poems 1 to 4, as quoted from A SEASONING OF LUST, also convey the same mood you describe in your Problems of Poetry essay.

    It’s disappointing that rains dont revive these days!

    R K


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi RK!

    As Berowne made mention, air conditioning should revive….but I don’t think that even a.c. would do much here!

    I think it’s just a waiting out period. Both of us, you and I, are prolific in poetry so we should know that this certain situation will break: we both put a lot of emphasis on the rains….to no good right now.

    I think, dear friend, it is just a period of fallow for both of us right now. Sometimes we look at emotional angst as the generator of our work, but that’s another ‘drug’. We should be confident that nothing has really changed with the creative impulse, and the internal impetus to create is there, it’s just hiding. I think that is a problem for a lot of writers/poets. We think we need to sit around for this elusive “Muse”. Reams have been written about this character. LOL~!

    I think it’s just an individual cycle. Sooner or later the stimuli that propels poetry will hit us, usually a change in seasons, or something more inward than outward, or perhaps we just wait. I have learned, (as I know you have, too!) that forcing it doesn’t exactly make for ‘good’ poetry….but perhaps this period is best served with intensive reading of other poets.

    Those poem, 1-4 were an attempt to illustrate the four cycles of Lady Nyo’s Poems. I think that was a bit obscure the way I posted them.

    I’m hitting up Shuichi Kato’s “A HISTORY OF JAPANESE LITERATURE” (THE FIRST THOUSAND YEARS)….That should at least give some new information for poetry and who knows??? Perhaps a poem or two will come from this effort.

    I hope the rains have been plenty for your neck of India. It is good to hear from you,
    dear friend.



  5. R.K.SINGH Says:

    I fully agree with you, dear Jane. A short break from writing, for whatever reasons, is also good for the muse. Let’s wait till it rises naturally again!
    R K


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi RK!
    What other options do we have? LOL!….We have pulled from the well of creativity with a steady tug, and right now the bucket isn’t moving…

    I think we need to ‘honor’ and succor ourselves more. That well of creativity isn’t empty, it’s the bucket that is presently the problem….lol!

    I wrote last night that I was deeply involved in reading…Japanese stuff. Different books. I go to the Japanese forms, renga, tanka, choka, etc. because they are short! I can get my head around them…..and they have such beauty in any case. They will, sooner or later, spark off those slow synapses.

    From Ukihashi in the 17th Century:

    “Whether I sit or lie
    My empty mosquito net
    Is too large.”

    LOL!…that can be taken…or is an entrance to so many possibilities. And in knowing that we have possibilities, we have creative options.

    My very best to you, dear friend.

    Jane….and it’s raining here finally! A good sign.


  7. R.K.SINGH Says:

    I have been busy with my various classes in the current Monsoon semester besides preparing notes for the new courses I have to teach.
    The boring evenings pass watching TV programs. The nights remain as uncomfortable as ever!
    Today i am missing my sweet little grandson. It is his birthday. My son has thrown a party in the Officers’ Mess at NDA, but my wife and I won’t be there. Feel sad about it.
    R K


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Oh RK!

    You have shared so much about your family and your precious little grandson. This doesn’t help, not being there, does it?

    Yes, I know about those boring evenings with TV…and there is NOTHING of interest on…maybe one or two programs, always from the BBC…lol! America is nothing but cops shows, and more cops shows. I never used to watch TV, but lately I have been with my husband who will generally watch anything.

    This season…August into September, seems to be a transitional season. We await the cool of the fall here, the decrease in humidity, those little almost intangible things that energize us, a cooling wind, a crispness to the mornings, but right now we wait in vain. I hear the katydids in full voice outside and that is nothing but summer!

    I have taken to reading OLD books….old text books or books I picked up at a library sale and haven’t cracked: “Ten Great Mysteries”, with “The Maltese Falcon” I have never read, “America’s Literature”, a text book from 1955 when literature was taught in high schools or early college…a great collection of Cotton Mather, William Byrd, Ben. Franklin, John Woolman, de Crevecoeur, (this is especially interesting because he’s a French man who took up residence in America before the Revolution and writes glowingly about what he found. Berowne, another writer and sometimes blog commentator, is also familiar with Crevecoeur.) Thomas Paine, and my personal favorite: Washington Irving.

    Dear Friend RK!….turn off that TV!! LOL!…There is so much to read in the world and we get stupider the more we watch TV. At least, I do…and older and with less ideas in my head for poetry and writing.

    You will see your grandson again, and I do know how you feel.



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