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Writing in place

December 31, 2013

I read this with great interest and sympathy, China of my Mind . I to0 have many aunts and uncles, in laws and outlaws, who were in China, one being the first Brit to transverse China from ocean to India, another starting a boarding school, some incarcerated during the war and so on. We too had Chinese vases and embroideries. We had students from different parts of China living with us for many years, as well as a Chinese penpal from an orphanage in Hong Kong.

I also have a sister who lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing for years, writing letters home to Mother every week. She has published her autobiography and is a celebrated Sinologist. I have even been to China. But could I write about it?? I don’t think so. But I haven’t read this book so perhaps it is well done. I can’t say.

When I write, all senses are engaged. Here are the Beechwoods, and you can compare this with Fully Adam or Last Christmas.  Could I write this if I hadn’t been there?

I had never walked in a Beech Wood before,

The bright emerald green in the sunlight

And the rustling sound of the wind,

the large simple shape of the leaves

and the majesty of solid trunks and solidarity among the trees.


In winter the skeletons all show against the sky

and the leaves on the ground have rotted into the earth

I walk not on Beech leaves, but on the rough leather of

intermingled undecayed alder and oak leaves, red, white, pin,

and the smell of pungent balsam and fir is absent,

like a live thing that I had thought would walk through

these woods with me. But it isn’t there. I didn’t realize.

No needled scent from the ground rises up to my nostrils

and beckons me down to that rich aroma of dirt and duff


I lift my eyes instead to the sky

and float among the dark interlaced and spindled branches

thrown into relief against the dying lemon yellow sky

of a fast approaching winter night.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2014 1:26 pm

    I love your poem, Suzanne! You and I share a love of the woods.

    As far as being able to write about a place you’ve never been, I agree that the immediacy and the feeling of every sense being engaged would be missing. I think the blog writer’s China would be a fairly subjective China– a “China of the Mind,” as she herself calls it. But I myself have read so much English literature that I feel I might be able to write an “England of the Mind” type of book. I’d rather spend some real time in England before attempting it, though. But I’ve always preferred their literature to American, generally speaking.


  1. Poems of nature, life and death, collected | BLT

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