Weyman Chan was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1963, to immigrant parents from China. Chan has published poems and short stories in a wide variety of literary journals and anthologies. He won the 2003 Alberta Book Award for his first book of poetry, Before a Blue Sky Moon and his second book, Noise From the Laundry, was a finalist for the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the 2009 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. Chan’s most recent collection Chinese Blue draws on more than two thousand years of ancient Chinese tradition that present diverse philosophical modes of being in contemporary times. Whether it be the spiritual teachings of Kong Zi or Lao Tzu, the military dicta of Sun Tzu or the complex sensibilities expressed by poets such as Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju, Li Bai, Du Fu and Wang Wei in the wake of a tumultuous imperial government, Chan restates these concerns of the past while addressing other “first world problems” in our own contemporary era.
Fred Wah, Canada’s Fifth Parliamentary Poet Laureate, has the following to say about Chinese Blue:
The poems in Weyman’s new collection belie an acute ear and tongue. Beyond the range of thinking “Chinese” and the facts of the biotext is his very incisive attention to the materiality of words – their sounds and where they touch the tongue.
Chinese Blue by Weyman Chan (Talonbooks, 2012, Page 63)
Well, it might be that bugs don’t see any gods but themselves, so nothing
would then distinguish them from me. I had to appeal to this one’s vanity—
claiming that instinct was a sad, poor widow of free will. It wasn’t easy.
These days, the wise are distrusted—even hermits. I had no choice but to
wrestle nature. Yarrow and earth grappled me to the mat. Freedom was in
every breath I took. Death lanced me like the sun’s radii. Its light was mine—
as if I’d invented the colour yellow. My wings were—
The WangWeifly zoomed away, then returned. His six legs clutched a
tatter of cloud. Embedded in the fluff was a corn seed. The corn seed
was built up of layers of names. These layers of names fell from its
cloud as rain.
Geomantic Riposte: Blow-fly
If you’re up in Banff don’t forget to humbly acknowledge me for the snow-
fall then keep in mind microscope revelations that we are pretty much the
same dude: a woman from Africa who invented language but Hoth action
playsets did not prepare us for everything - getting to the point where old
school Star Wars mom at Fan Expo gets the glad-eye tangled up in blue
vigil for blue blow-flies that for reasons unknown remind me of Edmonton
Eskimos in the Buddhist sense flicked away and rolling around on counter
in existential bemusement while some Idiot Wind told me your fortune
came to you by having a poetry reading at Pages on Kensington while my
life’s over for missing the Mistress of Cosplay who must have walked right
through my novel as old school Wonder Woman shilling at booth bran
new characters in molten kale numbers heaving quinoa and cornographic
phalluses for local publicity shots as I read grasshopper action in progress
and then like Stampeders in the last few seconds we would tumble into
gleaming Achillea on your slide gamecuddling you like Patroclus before
throwing my next wobbly because that blow-fly missing the catch on the
last complimentary scone is too much to bear it’s been that kind of day
March 31 - April 3, 1993
Kritin Prevallet’s and Gail Brisson’s video of Buffalo poets at the New Coast festival: Peter Gizzi, Juliana Spahr, Bill Tuttle, Pam Rehm, Ben Friedlander, Lew Daly, Mark Wallace and Jena Osman.
Erwin Schrödinger developed the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat—where a cat, sealed in a box, is both alive and dead at the same time in a quantum entanglement until an observer looks at the cat, at which point the cat is either alive or dead—to criticize quantum mechanics by showing how the theory breaks down at larger scales and cannot logically represent reality.
Whereas in Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, particles move by waves that guide them, in Werner Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics, particles move by quantum jump, and this movement can only be measured in probabilities. Schrödinger wrote that he was “repelled” by Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics because of its difficult, unfamiliar mathematics and lack of visualizability. He could not accept the paradoxical nature of the quantum jump and refutation of causality in matrix mechanics. Albert Einstein, like Schrödinger, was also unable to conceptually break free of Newtonian space and time. Heisenberg, on the other hand, working from ideas developed by his mentor Niels Bohr and others, allowed for the imagination to play a role in his physics and accepted the paradoxical, counter logicality and lack of causality in matrix mechanics. He subverted the axioms underlying the prevailing physics of his time so much that physics itself was radically reconceived.
One fascinating aspect of Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics is that he arrived at his principle of indeterminacy by developing a visual matrix of numbers and symbols depicted in rectangular arrays arranged in rows and columns that are “read” right to left, left to right, up and down, down and up, and more. Thus Heisenberg’s mathematics have a visual component but are not easily visualizable as concepts and are therefore theoretically abstract. While other mathematics were written in matrices, none were doing so while rejecting causality, certainty, and linearity in physical systems. I wonder about the relationship between the visual, formal composition of the mathematics in quantum mechanics and its innovative content. Was matrix mechanics the visual poetry of theoretical physics? Are current practitioners of visual poetry such as Kim Goldberg and Andrew Topel continuing to extend the definitions of poetry and visual art by using visual information at the scale of procedure or content in much the same way that Heisenberg extended theoretical physics by at least somewhat invoking the spacetime of the page to refute causality, certainty, and linearity?
Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, initially championed by the status quo in physics, was at odds with Heisenberg’s more obscure and complex matrix mechanics, so when he proposed wave mechanics, which offered visualizations and familiar mathematics, most physicists such as Einstein welcomed his interpretation over Heisenberg’s. Schrödinger claimed that his wave mechanics and Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics produced equivalent results but that his theory was superior to Heisenberg’s because, among other things, it rejected that particles move by quantum jump. After Schrödinger made this claim, Heisenberg, in a letter to Wolfgang Pauli that later became published as an article publically presenting the uncertainty principle, seemingly verified that particles move by quantum jump with his mathematics. At the time of his discovery in 1927, Heisenberg was a lecturer in Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In 1929, he went to the University of Chicago and gave a series of lectures, published in a book the next year, explaining quantum mechanics. The theory became the prevailing model of physics and remains so today.
Clearly there are parallels between uncertainty and the way particles move by quantum jump in subatomic systems with aesthetic ambiguity and a lack of causality in some forms of poetry and other artistic contexts. In my four-part speculative essay on quantum poetics in Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems and Poetics, essays that respond to and, perhaps, extend the work of other thinkers, I argue that aesthetic ambiguity and lack of causality in poetry do not just happen to coincide with how uncertainty and quantum jumps occur in subatomic systems, but that uncertainty operates as a fundamental force within artistic contexts and physical reality in much the same way that electromagnetism operates as a fundamental force in the known universe.
Theoretical physics, like poetry, is a language game, and some physics, like some poetry, extends what is meant by language. Whereas metapoetic forms of poetry ask what poetry is in the language of poetry and poetics, quantum mechanics asks what physics is in the language of matrix mechanics and semantics. Since, to my mind, poetry and physical reality are part of the same system, the multiverse, perhaps all poetry has a physics, all physics has a poetics, and by investigating the physics of our poetry and the poetics of our physics we can engage in more novel forms of both. Maybe:
Sandy Pool hails from Erin, Ontario and is a holder of the prestigious Killam scholarship in poetics at the University of Calgary. Her first book Exploding Into Night was short-listed for the 2010 Governor General’s Award for poetry and Undark: An Oratorio was short-listed for an Alberta Book Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Pool’s impressive background in many areas of theatre performance, creative writing, and libretto crafting lend a Euripidean sensibility and dramatic force to the latter marvel. Author Alessandro Porco gets at the core of Undark for Open Book Toronto:
The ostensible subject matter of Undark is the history of radium-dial painters in the United States and Canada during the first half of the twentieth century. In a prefatory note to her collection, Pool explains how Austrian-born Dr. Sabin Von Sochocky invented glow-in-the-dark paint to be used in “watch dials for soldiers and civilians.” In turn, an exclusively-female workforce, known as Radium Women (“between the ages of eleven and forty five”), used fine brushes to mass-produce the watch-dials.
Pool’s beguiling, beautiful, and chilling oratorio vividly animates personae who speak through the flame (or disturbing glow), further fascinating with the inclusion of the fragmentary voice of the “small dark one” Sappho, drawing a continuous parallel between the destruction of the poet’s words and the catastrophic decay of these Radium Women. Undark would leave me uncharacteristically textless, were it not for lovely Sappho thinking of us way back when.
Undark by Sandy Pool (Nightwood Editions, 2012)
The light falters all
[ ] surprise
[ ] about scandal
Geomantic Riposte: Harbour
] dear undark [ ] with some luck
hold [ the harbour ] dark [ soil ]
seafarers [ unsure ] magnificent gusts
on dry land sail burdensome
since [ in flux ] many [ shipments ]
[ deeds ] dry land [