15 Chinese Silences

Timothy Yu is the author of the poetry collection Journey to the West, winner of the Vincent Chin Memorial Chapbook Prize from Kundiman, and of a scholarly book, Race and the Avant-Garde (Stanford UP). He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among his recent publications is an op-ed about Jeremy Lin's success for the New York Knicks at CNN.com.


15 Chinese Silences
By Timothy Yu • March 2012 • $3
Design by Eric Butler

Timothy Yu writes: “These poems are part of an ongoing project called 100 Chinese Silences. They were begun in response to Billy Collins’s poem ‘Grave.’ The speaker of the poem describes the ‘one hundred kinds of silence / according to the Chinese belief,’ but then admits at the end of the poem that these Chinese silences were something he had ‘just made up.’ I took it upon myself to write these 100 Chinese silences.” Yu inhabits Collins’s poems, reversing their fields, creating witty counter-poems to those of Collins, who frequently alludes very loosely (indeed) to Chinese culture. Here is wit as critique, satire as antidote to the mischief that is found in many contemporary poems (as in media responses to Jeremy Lin).

from “Chinese Silence No. 6, after Billy Collins, ‘Despair’“:

I wonder what my ancient Chinese predecessors
would make of all this,
these engineers and monkish masters?

Today, I hear your tinny voice blaring from the rooftops
in praise of my reticence, and my thoughts turn
to my honorable ancestors:

Fuk Yu, who gnashed Pacific rails
between his eloquent teeth,
and his great-grandson, glaring out from the Middle West,
Yu No-Hu.


Read Tinfish Editor Susan Schultz’s commentary on 15 Chinese Silences in Jacket2, where she also discusses Gizelle Gajelonia’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Bus.

Read a review of 15 Chinese Silences by Shantel Grace in the Honolulu Weekly.

Read Timothy Yu’s own writing prompt based on work represented in 15 Chinese Silences.

Read another review of 15 Chinese Silences.

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