Tea and poetry are no strangers to a classical Chinese garden, where, along with the Four Arts (calligraphy, painting, Chinese chess, and music), ancient scholars would cultivate their poetic self-expression, taking inspiration from the careful arrangement of natural and design elements around them. This year’s Mid-Autumn Moon festivities at the Garden included a Tea Poem Competition, inviting attendees to follow in these footsteps and create their own modern-day masterpieces. With the atmosphere full of the lilting strains of guzheng music, fragrant flavours of jasmine and oolong teas, and the glow of lanterns in the garden, there was clearly no shortage of muse in the air, as we received over 150 entries over the course of the evening’s festivities.
Winner Sidi Chen with Artist-in-Residence Lam Wong
In addition to the loftier goal of artistic achievement, participants were also vying for the prize of a limited edition Tea Zen One Flavour tea set designed by Lam Wong, the Garden’s current Artist-in-Residence. First, though, their piece would need to pass muster with an esteemed panel of judges, made up of Wong, historian Frank Abbott, and author and editor Yilin Wang. Consensus was not long in the making, with the entire panel particularly appreciating the pieces that expressed authentic feeling in their keen observations on the evening. Entries from Keefer Harder, Stephen Cheung, and Sarah Welton & Jennifer Yip were thus selected as worthy runners-up, with the winning poem coming from young artist and traveler Sidi Chen:
Wuwei, the path of the Tao
in solitude, sips of tea run deep
not knowing the water’s shade
the tea’s fragrance brings inner peace.
Poem by Sidi Chen. English translation by Yilin Wang.
Each winner shared their poem at the tea table
In appreciation of their poetic talents, we invited our winners to a special tea ceremony at the Garden for the first day of fall. And it was only fitting that such a gathering be held in the Scholar’s Study, the creative heart of a scholar’s garden-home. Over tastings of tea and the drip of rain on stones in the background, Chen, Harder, and Cheung each read aloud their own poem, sharing insight and influences. Whereas a rough day at work and rainy skies fueled the melancholic tone of Harder’s piece, it was the connection between tea and the changing mind from which Cheung drew inspiration. Chen revealed that his own writing process has become somewhat akin to that of preparing tea: pressing words into fewer lines, with time (water) needed to bring out flavour and savour the meanings embedded within. From poetry, the conversation wound through tea, cultural customs, and art, with Artist-in-Residence Lam Wong leading the group for a walk-through of his curated CHAJI / 茶寂 group exhibit.
So the next time you are at the Garden and enjoying some jasmine tea, take a moment to admire reflections in the jade pond or the wizened trunk of a century-old penjing; allow your thoughts to brew and colour your mind’s eye. Inspiration lurks everywhere—in the curious shape of a rock, the flashing scales of golden koi—and of course, at the bottom of a teacup.
Congratulations to our winner and runners-up, and thank you to everyone who participated in the 2019 Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Tea Poem Competition. Special thanks to Yilin Wang, Frank Abbott, and Lam Wong for their poetic expertise.