My favorite letter is not in the Latin alphabet, and as much as I adore the Arabic painterly abjad, it is the roots of the Chinese calligraphy that won over my heart. That letter means sky, but also many other things, and perhaps it is that flexibility what fascinates me about the Chinese characters (called hanzi in China). I love that one symbol means so much, an entire universe. Timeless language transcends borders.

New Hampshire

Baroque ceiling in the sky

天 encompasses day dimmed at night

天 is God and heavens

天 wakes nature up and puts most to sleep

天 can be bright blue, cloudy or sparkling with stars like a night dress

天 is nature herself, moody as the weather

A letter that is a word and so mightily broad. Endless, universal. Only the spiritually blind cannot grasp the expansive meaning in its lines. Like a teepee spiking and centred high, the Chinese have captured the ideogram brilliantly from its ancient pictorial art from which their contemporary calligraphy evolved.

Free space is the sky

天 ( tiān )

A sky is a nest

Belonging to all

Connecting us from East to West

Deity and the universe

Elastic space

Far and near

Grounded bellow, yet

High above

Incandescent delight

Janus’s door

Keen on mystery

Limitless potential

Marvellous sight

Never ending

Open day and night

Peace and war

Quantum field

Roaming free

Sky stirs wonder

Tramping stars on

Unknown paths

Vast and wide

Wandering far

Xanadu of the kings

Yellow sash like suns

Zodiac’s belt of passing time


天 天

The poem above is tiān from my East-meets-West perspective. I lived in Asia for many years and annually revisit China and Japan, but my roots are European. Janus mentioned in my poem was a two-faced Roman gatekeeper of the door to heaven. At his temple in Rome these were symbolically left open in time of war and closed in peace.

My poetic expression will always balance with an integrity in the past that formed my present. All I write is a blend of experience, conversations, what I read and how I played creatively with meaning and words. There is often music in my mind and it chimes words as its guiding notes.

I took a Chinese calligraphy lesson with a master in Beijing, visited the Southern regions where its predecessor, a pictorial alphabet is still being sporadically used, and further learned how simplified a Japanese kanji is during a temple calligraphy lesson in Kyoto. Those experiences culminated in my fascination with my favorite letter, the . These four strokes have the same meaning in China, Japan and Korea, thus culturally unifying these now again diverse countries.

Reflecting on my history with 天, why do you think that your favorite letter is what it is?

Letters are revered in Japan, where each year they select a favourite kanji that later is painted by a famous calligrapher or an artist. The kanji of the year is then exhibited at the Kanji Museum in Kyoto.

Kanji of the Year Japanese alphabet

I employed a poetic method called Abecedarian, which is a poem where the first letter of each line or stanza follows sequentially through the alphabet. Contemporary poets who used the abecedarian across entire published collections include Mary Jo Bang in The Bride of Eand Harryette Mullen in her fifth book Sleeping with the Dictionary.

On the notes of tiān, my favorite letter is also the name of one my most beloved vegetarian restaurants — Tian in Vienna. Sometimes meaning stretches into unexpected lengths. C.G. Jung captured that in his term synchronicity, which can eerily seem almost magical.