by Dick Allen

Three years, Huang Gongwang
worked on his famous handscroll,
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.

As he put successive applications of ink to paper
over the “one burst of creation,” his original design,
it is said he often sang like a tree frog
and danced on his old bare feet.

One day, he adds one hemp fiber stroke,
the next a moss dot.

What patience he had,
like a cat who comes back season after season to a mole’s tunnel.

Honors may go to others.
Riches may go to others.
Huang Gongwang has one great job to do.

And he sings like a tree frog,
and he dances on old bare feet.

SOURCE: Poetry (December 2011)

IMAGE:  Portion of “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” by Huang Gongwang (1269 – 1354), Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), ink on paper hand scroll. The work is currently kept in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dick Allen received his BA from Syracuse University and his MA from Brown University. His numerous poetry collections include Present Vanishing: Poems (2008) and Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected (1997). He has won the Robert Frost Prize for Poetry, the Hart Crane Poetry Prize, the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Poetry Prize, the May Caroline Davis Poetry Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the San Jose Bicentennial Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poetry has been included in several Best American Poetry and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies, and he has co-edited several science fiction anthologies, including Science Fiction: The Future (1971) and Looking Ahead (1975). He was the Director of Creative Writing and Charles A. Dana Endowed Chair Professor at the University of Bridgeport until his retirement in September 2001. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, poet and fiction writer L.N. Allen. In 2010, he was named poet laureate of Connecticut and will serve in that position through 2015.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m particularly taken by how he [Huang Gongwang] did his best work in his seventies, and spent long years working on a given painting, only adding to it when it felt right to do so, which is very Zen. As a shan shui (mountain waters) painter, he was most interested in capturing emotion in his landscapes. His subjects were mainly nature and light. People may be present in his great landscapes, but you have to look hard. That doesn’t mean people are insignificant . . or maybe it does. From what we know of Huang Gongwang, he wasn’t prolific—some sixty paintings left, and most likely some attributed to him weren’t his. In my poem, I’m picking up on how he’s been described at work: like others in his school, he’d start with an original inspiration or design, and then over sometimes very long periods would let his brush elaborate—or on some days simply touch—the work here and there . . .I’d call this painter, who was also a poet, a good role model, at least for the kinds of poems I try to write. He’s both a figure of fun and a figure intent on having fun. Watching him paint, you feel both his delight and his intense purpose. When I think of him, I also think of the William Carlos Williams poem “Danse Russe,” with its much younger but still equally lonely and wild and proud poet dancing around the room.