The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is an independent non-governmental organization which was founded in Beijing in 1997. It works in more than fifty countries across Asia, Africa, and South America to develop programs which promote bamboo as a means of combating climate change, achieving environmental stability, and alleviating poverty in the developing world.
As part of a series of events celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the organization, a launch party was held last Saturday in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, recognizing the publication of an anthology of poems inspired by bamboo. The book, titled The Charm of Bamboo, is available in both Chinese and English and features one hundred poems by different Chinese poets.
A preface written by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, who also contributed a poem to the anthology, explains that generations of Chinese poets have found bamboo to be a worthwhile theme, on account of its contribution to national identity and the livelihood of many people, as well as because of the metaphorical value of its intrinsic qualities.
And the strength, versatility, and vitality of bamboo are a source of poetic inspiration far beyond the borders of China. For one thing, the story of its cultivation and growth has been used time and again as a spiritual allegory. It has been mentioned in inspirational books and websites as a motivating tale, and I have even heard it told in the context of a church sermon. The parable usually involves a comparison of the struggles one faces in farming bamboo and in raising some other crop. Starting from seeds, the bamboo remains dormant underground even as it is carefully watered and tended for years. The other crops grow steadily, leaving the bamboo far behind, but then once the seemingly lagging crop breaks the surface, within mere weeks it is a hundred feet tall.
While that is the only English-language allegory or poem I’ve heard using bamboo as its focus, I know that the plant has enough inspirational qualities that there could be many more, and I wonder how much of it is touched upon by The Charm of Bamboo. Does it deal, for instance, with how much more valuable it is to spend years waiting patiently for bamboo to rise from the ground in light of how many different ways it can be utilized in the modern world?
It seems to me that bamboo is a great metaphor for human diversity and adaptability. And if a bamboo-themed poem is meant to celebrate the work of INBAR, there is no better metaphor to emphasize. Just as bamboo can grow in almost all conditions and then be used to create the frameworks of houses, or to provide food, or be turned into paper, or made into bamboo clothing, so too can local populations adapt the resource to their own needs and utilize the income it generates in order to help develop diverse economies and solve multiple problems.
I haven’t had the opportunity to read the just-published Charm of Bamboo, so I don’t know whether that’s a theme that any of its poems deal with. I’ll be interested to find out, and if it isn’t, then maybe I’ll write that poem myself. Or perhaps you, the reader, would like to try your hand at it.