Hours before accepting her 2015 Anisfield-Wolf award, Marilyn Chin claimed “activist poet” as her mantle: “I’ve been writing poetry to right the wrongs of the world, to express my Chinese-American sensibility, to work for this utopian American future.”
Chin, a professor at San Diego State University teaching this year at Smith College, collected the prize for Hard Love Province, her fourth volume of poetry. Juror Rita Dove praised her work as “icy yet inflamed.”
Her new poem, “Peony,” is featured for some 350,000 subscribers to the American Academy of Poet’s digitally-delivered “Poem-A-Day.” This new work continues the elegiac notes found in Hard Love Province, lamenting on the passage of time.
Chin explained the origins of “Peony” to the staff at the academy: “In Beijing, a student named Lin gave me a vase of huge, gorgeous peonies for my birthday. “I went away for a few days and returned to a disaster! The peonies had wilted so terribly that they made me cry. Alas, the shock of recognition. Buddha warned us about ‘old age, sickness and death.’ All living beings, poets and peonies alike, must meet our eventual demise!”
by Marilyn Chin
Why must I tell you this story, O little one
You’re just a bud-of-a-girl, who knows nothing
Now you are full-faced, bright as sun
Now you open your skirts pink, layered, brazen
Suffering is alchemy, change is God
Now you droop your head, heavy with rust
Sit, contemplate, what did Buddha say?
Old age, sickness, death, no one owns eternity
Detach, detach, look away from the sun
Let your petals fall aimlessly
Don’t despair, little one, we are done