March 2, 2008

The Temple of Eternal Joy

It was a pleasure to be a participant in the Poetry Workshop at Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College this past Thursday. It was a small milestone for me because it was my first public reading of my poetry and prose. It seemed to go well - but I still came across some need for editorial revisions. The workshop was sponsored by an Arts Participation Grant through the South Carolina State Arts Commission and directed by Professor Tamara Miles, who is also a member of the Orangeburg Writer’s Group. The theme of the poetry reading and performance was “Where I Was When...” Participants were asked to compose a poem about where they were during a significant or historic event. The results were moving, entertaining, powerful and just great fun to be a part of.
Some of the highlights of the event for me were Professor Tom Cassidy’s powerful and well-crafted poem on 9-11 - focusing on small yet salient details - a subtle approach to an enormous event. I also enjoyed not only Julia Garris’s poetry and music but her intense style of delivery as well. As a novice performer myself this was especially instructive for me. (Later, over lunch, we three poets had a lively conversation about the trends over the decades in poetry readings from deadpan deliveries to great histrionics.) Professor Miles produced a synthethis of visual art and poetry in her power point images of the paintings of Vincent VanGogh. Her own poem about VanGogh’s painting of a field with crows read with a rhythm implied by the heavy swirling impasto strokes of paint on VanGogh’s canvas.

My own readings were “The Purple Robe,” an excerpt from my book in progress Another Soul, and a light-hearted poem about where I was in China when the country first opened again to the west. The poem related how, during the early days of China’s reopening to the west, the government spent a lot of energy cleaning up and restoring neglected temples and historic sites for tourists. One of those temples in Beijing, the Yong He Gong, ( sometimes translated as the Temple of Eternal Joy or the Temple of Eternal Peace )was full of Tantric sculptures of gods and goddesses in various sexual positions, including some copulating with animals.

When the temple first opened, guests such as myself, were amazed that these beautifully carved gilded erotic sculptures were seeing the light of day under such an atmosphere of strict totalitarian and puritanical rule. Apparently this was not due, however, to a sudden opening of communist minds, but to a neglect to inspect and see just what these statues were actually doing. When word got back to the authorities in Beijing about the interior decoration of the temple, they ordered the Yong He Gong closed for further renovations. After several months the communist officials perhaps realized that they still needed the tourist revenue that an open Tibetan temple would bring. So after several months of what I imagine to be high-level political wrangling, they re-opened the Yong He Gong, but on their own terms and with a peculiar compromised solution. When I revisited the temple after its reopening I was surprised to find nearly barren corridors with the few remaining statues draped with silk cloth from their chins down to the floor with some suspicious-looking bulges underneath the cloth.

I never returned to the Yong He Gong after that but just recently looked at some web sites about the temple. No reference was made to the Tantric sculptures. Could it be that they are still hidden in the basement?

For a text of the poem, “Where I Was When the Yong He Gong Opened and Was Abruptly Closed,” go to Writersburg Orange.

No comments: