Oklahoma, UK Students Awarded 2021 Newman Prize for English Jueju
Three Oklahoman students and one British student have won the 2021 Newman Prize for English Jueju, a biennial poetry contest sponsored by the Institute for US-China Issues in OU College of International Studies. The winners were honored in a virtual ceremony on Friday, March 19, in tandem with the celebration of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, awarded this year to Chinese novelist Yan Lianke.
The Oklahoma winners include OU student Jacob Dayon, an Asian studies major from Westfield, New Jersey; Mustang High School student Dylan Chaoomchaisiri; and homeschooled middle school student Tobin Bosse from Norman. This year’s UK winner is Sofia Saronne from Saint Paul’s Girls School, London. Each winner will receive a $500 check and commemorative certificate. Student honorable mentions include Jenni Luong (Norman North High School), Wiley Zeigler (Whittier Middle School, Norman) and OU student Alison Ramsey, a biology major from Deer Creek, OK. Honorable mention for teacher submissions goes to Jian Ling Shen from St. Albans School, UK. (Watch video of the awards ceremony.)
Since 2013, the Newman Prize for English Jueju has been awarded biennially to the best classical Chinese poem written in English following all of the rules of classical poetry. The contest is open to K-12 students, college students and adults. K-12 teachers, who receive instructional support from Institute for US-China Issues director Jonathan Stalling, are encouraged to teach English jueju in the classroom and submit class poems.
About English Jueju
The goal of the competition is to introduce students and adults alike to jueju, a traditional form of Chinese poetry that is over 1,500 years old. The jueju has four lines of five or seven characters/monosyllabic words, and is widely considered the most beloved and representative form of classical Chinese poetry. This year’s winners included poems written in both the so-called old- and new-style jueju (known in Chinese as “guti” and “jinti” jueju), both of which date to fifth and sixth centuries C.E.
Old-style jueju must follow a significant set of rules including the use of only mono-syllabic words, grouped into units of two or three words ending in an AABA end-rhyme scheme, and follow a set thematic progression for each of the four lines (introduce, deepen/extend, turn, conclude). New-style jueju must follow all of these rules as well as an additional set that requires one to create parallel meaning between word groups in couplets as well as intricate vowel patterns that oscillate between what classical Chinese poets called “ping” and “ze” vowels. Words that end in the consonant sounds of “p, t, k, s, ch, f, or the unvoiced th” are called “ze” and the others word endings are called “ping.” (One can hear the difference between the vowel duration in the Ping word “sky” vs the “ze” word “skype” or the “ping word” “raw” or “rod” vs the ze words “rock” or “rot.” Once a Chinese or English poet can discern the difference between the ping/ze categories, one can bring monosyllabic words into perfect balance by alternating between ping and ze sounds both horizontally and vertically.
Read the prize-winning poems below, accompanied by explanations. Visit the English Jueju website to learn more about English Jueju poetry and the Newman Prize for English Jueju.
UK Winner Sofia Saronne with a “ze-start" new-style jueju
Cold mist, fresh buds, small chicks sing
Thin haze, sweet scent, wind chimes ring
Clear stream, lush grass, young child shifts
New birth, bright dawn, once more spring.
Read the prizewinning poems below, accompanied by explanations. Visit the e second line as pairs like “cold mist” and “thin haze” or “fresh buds” and “sweet scents” or “small chicks sign” with “wind chimes ring” all have an unmistakable sympathetic resonance. The meanings may be perfectly parallel, but their vowels are perfectly antithetical, where there is a unit ending in a “ze” sound above, it will have a unit ending in a “ping” sound both below it and coming after it.
In this way Sofia’s poem reveals the possibility to bring language itself into harmony by balancing the yin and yang of both meaning and sound. Meanwhile the poem’s message develops from nature to human emotion and the message of new beginnings.
Oklahoma Middle school winner Tobin Bosse with a “ze-start" new-style jueju
Soft mist warm air small brook flows
Light fog swift breeze quick stream goes
Rough hail bare ground cold hard night
Fresh hope brave dawn young grass grows
The poem begins with the two-word unit “Soft mist” which is parallel in meaning with the two-word unit beneath it “Light fog,” yet their vowels are opposite with the first two-word unit ending in a “ze” sound and the one beneath it a “ping” vowel sound. And yet as we look to the third line, which see “rough hail” which holds an opposite meaning (antithetical meaning) to the word units above it, but their sounds are perfectly parallel with the word group above it (as it also ends in a “ping” sound). As we read the rest of Tobin’s poem we can see that every other word unit is equally well balanced, with each word following the prescribed pattern of meanings and vowel sound. This poem not only announces the end of hard times and heralds rebirth, but does so by bringing language itself into harmony and balance with nature.
Oklahoma high school winner Dylan Chaoomchaisiri, student of Karen Bullen, with an old-style jueju
Scarce Clouds Vast sky Warm swift wind
Calm stream Bright bloom Oak birch blend
Faint voice Still Dock One last cast
Sun Fall Moon rise Sweet days end
Dylan’s poem captures an eternal moment familiar to many in Oklahoma, the last cast of a fishing line at dusk before calling it a night. The old-style jueju rules require a poet to write the first two lines introducing and deepening the description of a natural scene (oak birch blend), while the third line introduces a human element, and the fourth line reveal how the external scene resonates with ones internal feeling. And for master poets, like Dylan, we also receive an insight: in this case that sweet days, like all things, exist in cycles.
Oklahoma adult category winner Jacob Dayon a “ping-start" new-style jueju
The Last Day of Summer
Clear sky fresh grass cool breeze slows
Bright dusk earth trail calm creek flows
Blurred thoughts dead end torn heart sinks
Vast air new trek still bird crows
Clear sky is a “ping” word unit followed by a “ze” unit “fresh grass” and a three “ping” unit “cool breeze slows” while the next line is a perfect opposite: with “blurred thoghts” ending in a “ze” vowel, “earth trail” ending in a “ping vowel” and “calm creek flows” gives us a “ping, ze, ping” which follows the prescribed vowel pattern. Yet Jacob has also created a wonderful sense of parallelism in the meaning of these lines, where “clear sky” is parallel with “bright dusk” and also creates an antithetical resonance with the third line’s “blurred thoughts.” The same can be said for the remaining word units in the first three lines. His overall poem follows the underlying requirements of any jueju: to reveal the interconnectedness of human feeling and the natural world, ending in a single re-imagined natural image: “still bird crows.”
Oklahoma middle school category: Wiley Zeigler with an old-style jueju
Birds chirp sun comes day is here
Cats yawn stars go six grows near
We rise sun shines wind blows leaves
Free heart soft breeze sky so clear
Like all great old-style jueju, the poet shows the upmost care in revealing the deeper connections between the external world of nature and the internal world of human feeling and perception. Wiley’s charming jueju does this by building careful parallel and antithetical meanings within the first three lines of the poem, while establishing a sense of cyclical time, while the fourth line provides a key insight into the human condition: how and what we see is conditioned by how and what we are feeling. With a “free heart,” it is not just that the breeze is soft and the sky so clear, but the mind of the one who beholds them as such.
Oklahoma high school category: Jenni Luong with an old-style jueju
Cool jade soft silk wood flute blows
Warm tea high moon light breeze flows
Old vows lost youth one mourns love
Lone girl sad night harsh time slows
Jenni’s poem, like Dylan’s, follows the rules of old-style jueju and focused on establishing the external scene which springs from the pages of classical Chinese poetry with a strong emotion, again ending in a resonance and insight, one that reveals the subjective experience of loss.
Oklahoma adult category: Alison Ramsey with a “ping-start" new-style jueju.
Sun down Mild Gust Oak trees sway
Lake drifts Clear Sky Moon glints grey
Tense mind Bright Star Dim light Cast
Tired eyes Brief rest Bares new day
While Alison’s jueju doesn’t follow parallel meanings between lines, her poem follows the “ping-start" new-style vowel pattern with “Sun down,” a two-word unit that ends in a “ping” sound, and it is followed in the line by “mild gust,” a two-word unit that ends in a “ze” sound, while the corresponding word unit in line two below, “Lake drifts,” ends in a “ze” sound. Each word unit follows this rigorous pattern.
School teachers category: Jian Ling Shen with a “ping-start" new-style jueju.
Cold air warm light hawks soar high
Wet path dry hay calf bleat why
Old life new phase time let slip
Long days short months heart drums sigh
As in other “ping-start” new-style jueju, Jian Ling matches the ping and ze sounds horizontally “cold air” (ping) followed by “warm light” with its “ze” end sound, and vertically with the “ze” pair “wet path.” From these first word pairs to the final “ping” phrase “heart drums sigh,” Jian Ling’s poem delivers.
Jonathan Stalling is the director of the Newman Prize and co-director of the Institute for US-China Issues. To learn more about the Newman Prize for English Jueju, Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, and other programming related to cultural exchange between the United States and China, visit the webpage for the OU Institute for US-China Issues.