Monday, November 7, 2016

Poem of the Week 11.7.16

Revolutionary Poetry & Dirty Laundry

As my News Brief this week implicitly suggests, I recently paid a visit to MOCA-- NYC's Museum of Chinese in America.

There are many poems covering the museum's walls. Though many of them are tales of theft and hardship, they are nonetheless beautifully constructed bits of art AND history.

Photo taken @ MOCA NYC (By Clinton C. Cole Yaaay! ... :D)

The picture above (taken by yours truly ;)) is part of an exhibit called With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America. An entire wall is dedicated to the laundry business-- one of the few enterprises in which Chinese immigrants could actually create businesses and/ or find work.

What I found most interesting about this particular wall was the poem I saw amongst the laundry paraphernalia...

(Also by Clinton! :D)

Words cannot express how I feel about this poem. It details the ins and outs of this particular brand of harsh labor. It captures the difficulties of trying to purge oneself of the hatred that necessarily comes with exploitation, oppression, and dehumanization. It tells the Tale-- The ongoing story of humanity.

However, the author(s) of this story, and the version(s) of this story are of some import...

As stated in the photo above, Chinaman, Laundryman (I must say that I find it EXTREMELY problematic that this computer [a Mac] recognizes "Chinaman" as an actual word. >_>) is a 1932 song by Ruth Crawford Seeger. 

Here it is...

(Call it a hunch, but something tells me that the highly Western, highly aristocratic opera-esque stylings of Seeger would NOT be the form that H.T. Tsiang would have chosen to have his work presented in >_>)

According to Wikipedia, Seeger composed this song, and another entitled Sacco, Vanzetti as part of a commission for The Society of Contemporary Music in Philadelphia. BOTH songs are based on poems written by Chinese immigrant H.T. Tsiang (Tsiang is not recognized as a word, but "Chinaman" is... >_>).

I find it quite interesting that Seeger's rendition of H.T. Tsiang's Chinaman, Laundryman is the one on display at MOCA... I also find it interesting that Seeger's version is SO MUCH easier to find online.

HOWEVER, after a bit of digging, I did manage to find the original, and it is decidedly different...

(The following images are from Tsiang's 1929 book Poems of the Chinese Revolution.)

(Credit-- Not me!-- Trinity College Library Moore Collection Relating to the Far East)

The most notable differences between Seeger's poem and the original appear near the ending...

Seeger omits "'The International Soviet/ Shall be his human race'!"
She also changes the 'brush made of Marxism' and the 'soap made of Leninism' to the 'brush made of study' and the 'soap made of action.'

First of all, I am upset by the fact that the plight of the minority must almost without exception be legitimized by a member of the majority.

Why must H.T. Tsiang's work/ words to the masses be mediated by Ruth Crawford Seeger???

Secondly, I am dissatisfied with Seeger's revision of Tsiang's work.

Tsiang's work was meant to be, and is largely reflective of his political affiliations. 
I don't think it is fair that his work has been forced to fit the mold of another's political mission-- Even if it is only manifest in the omission of a few words.

I highly doubt that Tsiang was credited or paid for his work.
I also doubt that he would have appreciated the watering down of his poem...

In fact, I would venture to say that Seeger's act is symptomatic of the very thing that Tsiang dedicated his art to fighting... The (capitalism-inspired) exploitation of the minority and working classes (both at home, and abroad).

(Thanks again, Trinity! :D)

Like I said...
Tsiang's poem tells an ongoing story.

~ Clinton

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