Poem Inspires U.S. Sculptor To Honor Quake Victims A week after a massive earthquake rocked southwest China last year, NPR aired a poem called "Elegy," by Chengdu poet He Xiaozhu. One NPR listener was so inspired by the poem that he decided to make a sculpture based on it.
NPR logo

Poem Inspires U.S. Sculptor To Honor Quake Victims

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103953234/103974612" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Poem Inspires U.S. Sculptor To Honor Quake Victims

Poem Inspires U.S. Sculptor To Honor Quake Victims

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103953234/103974612" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Next Tuesday, May 12th, marks a year since a 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated Southwest China. Our colleague from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Melissa Block, has been in Sichuan Province doing stories on what's happened in the year since. And before she left she sent us this audio postcard.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. STEVE MCGREW (Artist/Blacksmith): My name is Steve McGrew. I'm from Spokane, Washington. I'm an artist/blacksmith in the afternoons and weekends. The reason I'm here is, is, well, it's a long story.

MELISSA BLOCK: It's one of those circular stories. I met Steve McGrew in a blacksmithing workshop at the Guangya School outside the city of Dujiangyan. Turns out he's an accidental blacksmith. It all started with a trip to China seven years ago with his son Ben.

Mr. MCGREW: Now, you know, knives are banned in schools in America. When he discovered at age 11 that he could buy any knife he wanted on this street in China, he wanted buy them all. Then he saw a sword. He wanted to buy that. And we didn't have a suitcase big enough for the sword he wanted so I told him no. You can't buy the sword but I'll make you one when we get home. Little did I know what it would lead to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Okay, so why is he here? Here's the story. Steve McGrew had heard on NPR that I was coming to Sichuan. He sent me an email saying he'd be here too and he told me he'd be assembling a six foot tall steel sculpture he'd made in honor of those killed in the earthquake. He said in the email it was sculpture of a dandelion inspired by a poem called Elegy, written by the Chinese poet He Xiaozhu. I thought, wait a minute, that's the same poem we aired on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED a week after the earthquake. A-ha.

Mr. MCGREW: Well, my wife heard this poem on NPR and told me about it. I looked it up on the Web site and it brought tears to my eyes.

BLOCK: Within an hour, he had drawn a sketch.

Mr. MCGREW: There we go. That's my original sketch right there.

BLOCK: A rough pencil sketch showing a dandelion emerging from a cracked boulder. He started forging the dandelion blossom, and leaves, and stalk, and here he in Sichuan one year later with his sculpture.

Mr. MCGREW: Packed it in two big crates, shipped it over.

BLOCK: Here's the ending of the poem that inspired Steve McGrew in the first place, read by the poet He Xiaozhu.

Mr. HE XIAOZHU (Poet): (Through translator) Sorrow engulfs half the world. Tears turn to ice. Let candlelight melt them away. Children, climb on a dandelion and line up for heaven.

BLOCK: Steve McGrew has taken that image of the dandelion and transformed into silver and steel.

Mr. MCGREW: These are the dandelion seeds. They're little parachutes. This is a bicycle brake cable, and then the cable is frayed out up above here and it makes a great parachute.

BLOCK: And it looks like it could just take off on a gust of wind and fly away.

Mr. MCGREW: Yes. One of seeds will be up like this so it's clear that it's blowing away.

BLOCK: McGrew feels a strong connection to China. He's been coming here for business and pleasure over the last 20 years. The earthquake really hit home.

Mr. MCGREW: This, this, I felt this.

BLOCK: You're just touching your heart, pounding your chest.

Mr. MCGREW: Yeah. We've been through an earthquake ourselves. We lost a house in an earthquake, so all of this is pretty close to our hearts.

BLOCK: That was the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California in 1989.

(Soundbite of banging)

BLOCK: Steve McGrew knows his dandelion sculpture won't fix people's lives here. It doesn't help with any basic needs. But it does tie him to this place. His dandelion sculpture will be installed at a new earthquake museum that will open on Tuesday, on the anniversary.

I'm Melissa Block in Sichuan, China.

SIMON: And you can see photos of Steve McGrew's sculpture on our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.