Last December the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Resource Center published Maghiel van Crevel’s “Walk on the Wild Side: Snapshots of the Chinese Poetry Scene,” a long take on the field of contemporary poetry in China today. He begins:
I am in the final days of ten months in mainland China. Many things that have struck me about the poetry scene are in evidence … First of all, this get-together is typical of an activism that defies anything that might resemble keeping up: with texts and platforms (books, journals, websites, blogs, Weibo, WeChat), with events, with individuals and groups, with topics, issues and trends, with projects and research centers, with histories and futures. With who is writing what and hanging out with whom and getting published where, and how it all works and what it all means and to whom. This is true for poetry but also for what I’ll call commentary, all the way from hardcore scholarship to the swarms of emoji for praise and blame that careen through the arcades of social media. Which, incidentally, has become a prime channel for publicizing and disseminating hardcore scholarship, not to mention poetry itself. The web and social media have added an entirely new dimension to the poetry scene over the last twenty years, but poetry in print is anything but out. If someone unplugged the internet tomorrow, this breathless dynamism would continue apace in the other forms and media that are available to the genre.
In all, the poetry scene exudes an almost unimaginable vitality that gives the lie to persistent lament over its “marginalization.” On that note, if we go by numbers only, which we shouldn’t, modern poetry is marginal throughout the world. And if we allow the nature of the genre in its modern incarnations to enter our line of vision, it might be only a little controversial to say that such marginality is inherent to it. This is a bigger deal in China than in many other places, because of the continuing, massive presence of classical poetry and the contrast with the roaring 1980s—but the 1980s new poetry surge 新诗潮 was really an anomaly, occasioned by a happy meeting of the public’s hunger for cultural liberalization and the poets’ activism after the Cultural Revolution, before other distractions had begun to compete. I feel like a highly motivated scratched record when I say all this at every opportunity, as an outside prisoner of what Heather Inwood calls contemporary China’s poetry paradox: a representation of poetry as all but dead and a reality of poetry being remarkably alive.
Click on the image above for the full piece.