Japanese aesthetics speaks to me powerfully. What it means to have form and function interwoven, to have elegance but also imperfection, a flaw, the number five—like the way Japanese dishes come in sets of five. There’s an analogue in poetry: you’re trying to achieve formal harmony but there has to be a torque, something that’s a bit off, that lets the sun shine in. Another analogue is in jazz, which is very important to me, and the music of Thelonius Monk. There’s that off-note, where all the possibility lies, because life is like that. We strive for formal elegance, but the reality of life is there’s always that fifth teacup.
Ann Tashi Slater, Telling it True, A Talk with Poet Elizabeth Alexander