Wing Tek Lum Essay - Critical Essays


Although he has only published one major collection of poetry, Wing Tek Lum’s immediate critical success and his omnipresence in anthologies of ethnic American literature undoubtedly make him one of the principal contemporary American poets. Lum’s style is simple and direct, and he favors clear exposition of thoughts and ideas rather than concealment under a cloud of obscure or arcane images. Intensely personal, Lum’s work shows the influence of his Chinese and Confucian background: love and respect for parents, attention to filial piety and duties, appreciation of and dedication to one’s ethnic background, and a sensitivity to the fragility and fleetingness of life. Lum’s poetry is earthy and often baldly erotic, yet also fluid and soft in its sounds. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of Lum’s poetry is its exposition of the movement from bittersweet times spent with elderly and ailing parents as a youth, to the joys and melancholy recollections of middle age. Lum demonstrates a clear appreciation of the march of time from generation to generation and seeks to document salient moments that are representative of different periods in one’s life: childhood, middle age, and old age.

Expounding the Doubtful Points

Expounding the Doubtful Points is dedicated to the Chinese poet Tao Qian and to the Chinese American author and critic Frank Chin. The collection is fairly short (107 pages) and is divided into four unnamed parts. Part 1, which contains four poems, is a brief meditation on the state of being a poet, as seen through the contemporary bard’s eyes as well as through the lens of the verse of the eighth century Chinese poet Li Bo (Li Po). The poetic voice reflects on the difficulties of writing poetry, as well as on some of what are, in his estimation, the requirements for writing, most notably free time and absolute lack of responsibility. It is this “wasting time,” this freedom, that allows the poet to be truly inspired. Lum’s poetic voice also makes it clear that the stuff of good poetry comes from the ordinary, everyday things in life. Perhaps the greatest gift for the poet is life itself, which Lum memorializes in his poem, “To a Classmate Just Dead.” The final poem in part 1, “To Li Po,” continues this theme, which is a reminder of the connection between life and poetry. As Lum recalls the great beauty of one of the poet’s finest works, he also observes that even the instruments of composition, “pen, brush, and...

(The entire section is 1017 words.)