So my friends told me. They didn’t use the past tense, though they traced their hatred of poetry back to their school days. I understand. It’s like cryptic crosswords; you have to get on the right track. I don’t like cryptic crosswords.
I owe my love of poetry to a good ear, inherited along with less desirable traits. I hear it. Music was taught throughout my school years and I was always in a choir. To me, poetry is not just words on a page, it is music. I don’t like all music, but I can’t say I Hate Music.
I also owe a debt to an old lady with bound feet. She was the step mother of my father’s number one wife (we Chinese are precise about relationships). I called her Po Po; just as if she was my mother’s mother. When Po Po died I was told not to go to her funeral: she was not my real Po Po. My half sister was right but l mourned Po Po’s passing.
A widow with no sons, Po Po came to live with us for a few months every year. She had to live out of her suitcase, staying with her two other step-daughters the rest of the time.
Po Po smoked a tin of fifty Triple Fives a day. I think it helped ease the pain in her feet. She was an educated woman, rare in those days. Po Po spoke in classical Chinese, and quoted poetry constantly. She was showing off to my father’s mother who was illiterate but I was the beneficiary of her malice. Her bound feet were her status symbol despite the pain she suffered.
Po Po also tried to teach me embroidery. She said 一日功，千日看；one day’s work, a thousand days’ look and made me undo my embroidery every time I made a mistake until the white cloth the design was drawn on turned grey and I had to throw it away. From then on, Po Po admitted defeat and finished my craft homework for me.
When Po Po died in her eighties Grandma had the last laugh. She scoffed: no wonder she lived such a short life, with her bad habits. Grandma didn’t smoke or drink, ate fish everyday and only steamed food. She lived to 104.
However, it was Po Po’s voice that I hear when I read a familiar line of Chinese poetry. I spoke of her in my poem ‘An Exhibition’.