Clara Hsu

Jack University

I have a mentor. His name is Jack Foley. He has an exceptionally large brain with all sorts of stuff in it. I listen and try to stuff everything he says into my little brain. Jack recites verses in English and French and German and Middle English and sings songs by George M Cohan, Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill. He also tap dances. Sometimes I get a headache when he sends me a poem and asks me to answer or comment on it. Jack gives me books to read, CDs to listen to and videos to watch. I can’t read and listen and watch fast enough. He asks me to listen to the voices that have been talking in my head since the day I was born. He asks me to listen to other people’s voices, the ones that are in other people’s heads that they have not bothered to listen to. When I’m confused Jack feeds me ice cream from Tucker’s in Alameda.

Jack will not spare anyone in conversation nor in his writing. He has a weakness for sweets but you can’t bribe him with it. Sometimes I’m mad at him. But for every criticism he has his reasons, and sooner or later he is proven right.

Once a month I take Jack out to lunch. We go to Nong Thon, a Vietnamese restaurant in El Cerrito. He likes everything that is on the menu, some dishes more than others. He won’t call his favorite beef pho the “best dish.” The idea of a winner defeats all others and limits the scope of things. Jack celebrates multiplicity.

Jack encourages me to write in Chaucer’s style, Joyce’s, create visual poetry, make collages with words, and experiment with multi-voices. A friend commented upon hearing my poem that contains repeated lines: “It sounds like Jack Foley without Jack Foley.” Jack laughed when I told him. “Repeating lines is only a technique. But since nobody uses it, people interpret the technique as my style.”

Sometimes Jack and I do readings together—my Chinese/British accent against his Irish/Italian/American accent. He teaches me how to roll “r”s and correct my pronunciations but so far hasn’t put any marbles in my mouth.

Little brain or not, my universe is expanding into the realms of Artaud, the ears of Ives, the mirrors of Gertrude Stein and others yet to be revealed. When one part of my mind dances into other parts of the mind that don’t know they exist, I invariably hear a laugh--hearty and mischievous. It is Jack, playing.

               —Clara Hsu