Outstanding Awards

Senior Secondary

A visual representation of "The Calligrapher" by Mary Jean Chan

LAU Lok Yi
Maryknoll Convent School (Secondary Section)

The poem ‘The Calligrapher’ by Mary Jean Chan depicts the speaker writing Chinese calligraphy. She then reveals that she still writes calligraphy because her mother used to make her practise a lot when she was younger, and she has come to appreciate this form of art. In my painting, I portray the speaker practising Chinese calligraphy. She is writing the character ‘fortune’, as mentioned in the poem, on her desk accompanied by tea and sunflowers, with some blooming from her wrist. The sunflowers and the petals act as a metaphor to suggest the passage of time, showing that the speaker has spent a lot of time and energy practising calligraphy. This can be seen from the fallen petals and the blood trickling down her wrist as the flowers sprout up from her tired, aching arm. The sweat and tear stains on the shuan paper further emphasise the great deal of effort she has put into her work.

The Calligrapher

Try grasping a piece of wood
between your thumb, middle
& ring finger – as if the drip-
dripping of ink was a typhoon
you could play in. Loosen the
right wrist, scrape the weight
of too-much from brush/heart
across ink bowl; let its round
rim reassure. Sculpt the brush-
tip till shrill: sharp as papercut.
Let ink seep: a dot, a line, then
a mad dash to the last stroke till
interlocking arms form terraced
paddies bursting with meaning:
the character fortune made up of
the shirt on your back, the roof
over your head & the promise
of a stomach satisfied with rice.

When people ask why, reply:
my mother wished I would
write with the grace of those
ancient Chinese poets whose
tapestry now slips easily from
my ten-year-old tongue into a
diptych of shapes. Hour upon
hour, my wrist aches as the ink
dries to a crust. My eyes blink
back water, but this is precisely
the moment to continue. Once
more the fingers dip, slide, lift.
I am not a dancer, but this is a
dance. Hours spill into a pot of
tea leaves as my mother tells me:
See how Chinese characters are
sunflowers that seek out the eyes.
Seeds of ink unfurl suddenly from
your wrist, blooming into time –

Mary Jean Chan

“The Calligrapher” was published in Flèche by Mary Jean Chan, pp.28-29. Copyrights © 2019 by Faber & Faber Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd, Bloomsbury House.