Dear Poet

Truman Zhang

2012 First Prize

Your entry to the People’s Daily
is not accepted. Generally
we like the simple language,
but struggle to picture a world where everyone
subjects to the powers
of the government by self-censoring. Try to

pick something we can relate to
next time. Know that we update daily
our Web site, featuring poems with powerful
imagery, such as The General,
which is likely to win the One
Book Award, the most respected prize in the English language.

This poem uses beautiful language
to tell the touching story of a general who died in the Civil War when
        trying to
protect Chairman Mao. The last line reads, “one
who only does the daily
chores is not loyal to the party; soldiers, live in the hearts of the general
public and devote yourselves to overthrowing the corrupt political
        power!”

The poem you sent us last year was even less powerful.
Let me explain this in simple language:
we shouldn’t have considered either of them as a general
rule, because you didn’t send the $5 entry fee to
us. Five dollars each. Also, since we check daily
whether the entries contain even only one

word from the Harmony Database, we found that one
character would especially offend the official in power
because of his name. If you read our newspaper daily,
you should know that language
like “Hu decided not to
wear red” puts social harmony at risk in general.

Changing the subject is our recommended general
practice in such cases. There must be one
other form (look at my clever sestina!) that you’d like to
try. Ballads sell the best with their powerful
emotions; pastoral poetry’s serene language
evokes in readers the internal peace they want in their daily

lives. Focus on things that happen around you: new roads built daily
        in a once remote village,
language teachers who have never taken a day off in years. These
        powerful details,
unlike what you have in your poems, are work of general interest
        that we publish.

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