Poem Friday: Chris Tse’s ‘The saddest song in the world’ sweeps you into folds of sadness that in turn become folds of joy

Chris Tse - author photo - 2014 - resized

Photo credit: Sklee

Today, two sections from a longer, unpublished poem by Chris Tse.


The saddest song in the world


I can fit the saddest song in the world in my carry-on.

I can fit the saddest song in the world in my right-side brain.


But I can’t fit it in my lungs or hold on to it with confidence

when underwater.                 And I can’t fit the saddest song


on one side of a 90-minute cassette tape without

an uncomfortable silent interlude cutting into its breath.


There is only so much space I can allocate to the saddest

song in the world;                   the weight is unbearable.



Once, a lover exhaled my name in ecstasy and transformed it

into the saddest song in the world       all bolting nerves


and tender skin       pulling at the roar of the avalanche

in me.     By morning his name had taken another form


one freed from the haze of giddy crush     though it still rings in me

a stubborn joy.       The room in which we sung each other’s names


is now an altar with no idol.           Likewise, when I was once lost

in the company of foreign tongues       every new word shared


to describe the sorrow of joy   shook me like the saddest song

in the world.   A list of first loves.   An index of loss.


The saddest song in the world was kind enough to pull me back

into comfort               its reassurances a cool blade of sound.


© Chris Tse.doc

Chris lives and works in Wellington. His first full-length poetry collection, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, will be published by Auckland University Press in September.

Chris’ note: I have a playlist on my iPod of my all-time favourite songs (embarrassing fact: the playlist is called “Awescool”). The majority of these songs are touched with tragedy and sadness, so it’s been a personal quest of mine to find the saddest song in the world (any leads will be gratefully accepted). Many of the poems that I’m writing at the moment explore the role of music in our lives and its relationship to memory. I’m particularly interested in how music functions as a conduit for shared experiences. With that in mind, this poem ponders what ‘the saddest song’ (in whatever form it might take) could mean to different people.

Paula’s note: With no idea of its genesis, when I originally read this poem, it read like an extraordinary incantation of sadness. It struck me as part list poem, building delicious momentum in surprising pieces and productive links, and as part song, exuding bitter-sweet lyricism. For me, the first section became more than how and where you carry sad songs, because it exploded into how and where you carry sadness. The song (the poem) became a bridge to melancholic luggage for a cast of characters. As you absorb the rhythms and details of each section, there is an ambiguous sway between invention and the real. You get pulled through memory, anecdote, confession, epiphany, and it is this glorious movement that diverts you from sadness as a distancing abstraction. Music has the power to mimic and affect you, and so too does poetry. I love the surprise and the fresh touch of this poem, the way it sweeps you into folds of sadness that in turn become folds of joy. How does the poem’s genesis change my reading? I am not sure. I love the mission. I love the way that mission becomes poetry.

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