Monday, 12 December 2016

Poetry: The Name Card

The Name Card

 A poem by Chengde Chen 

Attending a conference,
you receive some name cards.
Sorting through them, you care about
not the name, but the title,
which is the weight of the card.

From it, you assess the function,
estimating the time and place
for any possible uses.
If there is no direct application,
indirect values are explored.
For instance, to refer it to a friend –
there may be a potential return
of some kind in future…

To imagine a relationship from a card
is unlike fantasizing sex from pornography,
which is, more or less, poetic.
The most non-poetic essence
of imagination
is to have interests deduced
from symbols!

Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here


  1. “In sorting through [the name cards], you care about not the name, but the title.” Certainly true, as a general rule—where titles often carry more symbolic weight than otherwise-unrecognized personal names. (Especially in a world where, we have been told repeatedly, many people derive personal identity and worth from their jobs and associated ‘job titles’, whose symbolism often aims to imply value of one kind or another.) Might, though, the sample card shown here prove the exception to that otherwise valid rule? For this card, which trumpets the name Albert Einstein, might one care more about the name than the title? Is the name ‘Einstein’ the overwhelmingly most powerful ‘symbol’ from which, as the poem says, ‘interests [are] deduced’? Was that an intended sleight? There has been, after all, only one Einstein, but tens of thousands of ‘professors of physics’. (Ditto for a card that announces, say, the name ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ and the title ‘philosopher’.)

  2. Well spotted, Keith! No, it’s not an intended sleight, but the card (found by Dr Martin Cohen) is so striking that it makes one forget the poem all together!

    1. Oh no! I certainly hope not! For me, anyway, I found the image brought your always-perspicacious idea out

    2. By no means, Chengde, does the card take even a jot of attention away from your poem! There's no question that your poem remains at the center. The poem achieves what all your writing does, which is to succinctly yet descriptively weave an important thought.

  3. I wonder whether anyone still remembers another way. While it may seem superstitious to some, I rather like the religious tradition which considers that every meeting is for nothing, just see what God does.

    The metaphor in verse 3 seems rather overused today. One that comes to mind in the moment is the man who tried to hack out our Church's stained glass to obtain the lead. Metaphors of such a kind are legion today.

    1. Why is that a metaphor? Isn't it just a leteral case of someone with different values? Private profit versus community aspirations?

  4. To have interests deduced from symbols is what publicity has done, what is the relationship indeed? Maybe only a world where private property is so important could get to such aspirations?

    1. Exactly! Some would say that we have become our symbols and lost contact with our true interests too?

    2. Would a Taoist need a name-card?

    3. Interesting question, Tessa. Spirituality, humility, balance, naturalness, piety, grace, virtuosity, yin-yang complementarity, and all the rest notwithstanding, we’re still left with slightly mundane (and slightly tongue-in-cheek!) questions: Does the Taoist in question choose to attend professional conferences? Business meetings? Work socials? Formal events? If the answers are no, no, no, and no, then the answer to “Does a Taoist need a name card?” is perhaps no. Otherwise, the answer may well be yes—as, lamentably, even Lao Tzu, to whom the seminal Tao Te Ching is attributed, might need a name card, his not enjoying the recognition—in the West, anyway—of an Albert Einstein (or, for that matter, of the purported Taoist Bruce Lee). However, on pure principle—and perhaps even more to your point—a Taoist might spurn a name card, not caring about recognition and believing a name card sullies! In this vein, ‘needing’ and ‘wanting’ are, of course, very different.