Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

5-2011

Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis

Degree Title

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

Department

English

Major Advisor

Janet Holmes, MFA

Abstract

Golden Flower of Prosperity is a mixed genre work, incorporating letters, found material, lyric poetry, narrative poetry, and prose to explore the experience of two Chinese immigrants in Eastern Oregon at the turn of the twentieth century. By combining found documents with imagined narratives and creating folktales from a few facts, the poems provide an embellished interpretation of history, building the characters of Ing Hay and Lung On into archetypal legends, while still endeavoring to make them seem like real people.

The Objectivist poets Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky inspired some of the formal aspects of the project. Reznikoff’s found material poems in Testimony, and his New York poems motivated the letters and narratives wherein my characters speak for themselves without any sentimentality or authorial interpretation of emotion. In the herb poems, Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers is an obvious influence; I adapted the form from eight lines to five, but kept Zukofsky’s five-word lines, playing with hyphenated and compound words to tease out nuances of meaning.

The role of the folktale in my thesis is something that has not been fully realized yet. By playing with the archetypal figures of healer and trickster/gambler found in Chinese folklore, I intend for Ing Hay and Lung On to become almost legendary. Their story is ideally suited to the structure of a folktale, and by weaving the magical elements of folktale into more concrete poems, like the letters and testimonials, the thesis takes on a somewhat surreal quality – the line between fact and folktale becomes blurred. A prose folktale serves as the introduction to my thesis, and poems like “Embarkation” and “Road” include fairy tale elements.

The second section of the thesis, titled “John Day River Valley,” is a collection of poems about the landscapes and people of Eastern Oregon. These poems represent the change in my writing after coming to the MFA program at Boise State. Like the poems in the first section, they are inspired by an Objectivist poet; Lorine Niedecker’s poetry about place helped me decide the sort of poet I wanted to be. Writing about Eastern Oregon has helped me find my voice as a poet, and these poems in the final section of my thesis represent the emergence of that voice.

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