Wing Tek Lum: I have been doing this for 40+ years; so I persevere


Summit is asking presenters at the 2014 Hawaii Book & Music Festival to talk about the inspirations in their literary life. 

1) What’s the first line of your favorite book
The first two lines of one of my favorite poems is:

            I recall when I was in my prime

            I could be happy without cause for joy.

It is from “Untitled Poem V” from The Poetry of T’ao Ch’ien, translated and annotated by James Robert Hightower (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1970).  The poem also contains one of my favorite endings:

            The ancients grudged even an inch of time—

            When I think of this I am afraid.

2) Who’s your favorite character of your favorite book, and why?

T’ao Ch’ien (also known as Tao Qian or Tao Yuanming) is recognized as one of China’s most important poets; he lived around 1600 years ago.

            It was the plain spoken personality of this poet, his way of facing squarely a life bounded by death, that has made such a deep impression on me.  Here are some other lines he has written:

            Man’s life is hard enough in truth; and death is not to be avoided.


            Die old or die young, the death is the same,

            Wise or stupid, there is no difference.


            A good poem excites our admiration

            Together we expound the doubtful points.


            In these things is a fundamental truth

            I would like to tell, but lack the words.


            No need to shy at naked burial—

            A man should get beyond accepted views.

3) Who encouraged you to become a writer?

I started writing poems in college on my own; no one really encouraged me either as a child or while I was a student.  I was an Engineering major, and looked on poetry as a hobby.  In fact, I still do so.  I am a Honolulu businessman, but have been blessed with the opportunity to share my drafts with fellow writers, affiliated with Bamboo Ridge, who offer early criticism and support

4) What words of support do you have for aspiring writers?

When I was young I was not noted as having much talent as a writer.  Nor do I have formal training.  But occasionally when I have a thought, I try to write it down.  Sometimes I am lucky enough that it turns into a poem.  I have been doing this for 40+ years; so I persevere. 


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