Man Sees Horse 人見馬 (Reprise)

In Ernest Fenollosa’s essay The Chinese Written Character as a Medium of Poetry, made famous by Ezra Pound, some quaint things are said about Chinese writing as a system of “shorthand depictions” of material things, “moving pictures” of objects and actions, and possibly the future language of the whole world. I’ve written about this primitivist paradox before, but never stopped to think what the Fenollosa/Pound piece would mean to people who really do experience language as a sequence of moving images. By that I don’t mean “the Chinese” (the only Chinese who qualify under this description would be scribes who have forgotten what languages they spoke) but, for example, Deaf people, and preeminently the poets who have wrestled ASL away from its status as an accessory language useful only for mediating English to non-hearing people. If you know Peter Cook’s work, you’ve seen ASL poetry in all its resourcefulness, grabbing, twisting and sculpting its signifiers and pointing toward meanings that it would take a long, patient gloss to make available to mere English-speakers like me. Here are a couple of short poems based on Chinese-character anecdotes taken from Fenollosa (Youtube, at 32:40; but you ought to watch the whole presentation).