Manfredi on Admussen’s Recite and Refuse

The MCLC Resource Center has published Paul Manfredi’s review of Nick Admussen’s monograph, Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry (University of Hawaii Press, 2016).

Manfredi summarizes:

Orthodox prose poetry is exemplified for Admussen by the writings of Ke Lan [柯蓝 ] and Guo Feng [郭风], semi-orthodox prose poetry by Liu Zaifu 刘再复 (b. 1941), and the works of Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] (b. 1956 ) and Xi Chuan (b. 1963) represent the unorthodox tradition in Chinese prose poetry. A through line in Admussen’s identification and exploration of the three sub-genres is the critical question of voice, and the vocal attribute most essential to Admussen’s analysis is a kind of ventriloquism that characterizes the prose poetic voice. This ventriloquist feature best substantiates Admussen’s argument, because it is as compellingly present in leftist oriented work as it is in more ideologically independent or experimental poetry. Indeed, the entire question of ideological underpinning, other than being responsible for the relative scarcity of prose poetry from about 1963 through the late 1970s, is refreshingly recast in this book. Admussen’s description of Chinese prose poetry manages to rise above left/right, free/constrained dichotomies.

Beyond the summary, Manfredi writes:

While the previous chapters are full of insights and useful information, one feels that Admussen is really working up to his final chapter, which addresses the work of Ouyang Jianghe and Xi Chuan. Ouyang Jianghe’s “Hanging Coffin” is the focus of the first part of the chapter. “Hanging Coffin,” however, is too long to quote at the outset, as he does with the poems opening the other chapters. Instead—and most creatively and ambitiously—Admussen advances his own condensation of Ouyang’s massive work in a single sentence: “Hanging Coffin is an epic manifestation of the evacuation of history” (134). He then proceeds to unpack that sentence, word by word, until a full reading of Ouyang Jianghe’s poem emerges. That reading details the incredible sweep of Ouyang’s work, but also the ways in which the poet endeavors to close the door on his own chapter of prose-poetic composition. By contrast, shifting finally to Xi Chuan, Admussen arrives at a very compelling summary of some of his key concepts as manifested in Xi Chuan’s work:

This is a basically ventriloquistic and pluralist ideology, one that calls into question the position of the speaker as a maxim-producing creator of wisdom; the poem recasts that speaker as a channeller of wisdom, a collector whose task implicitly denies the existence of a single set of universal truths. (153)

Manfredi concludes: “Admussen’s work is a rare combination of breezy and substantive, and certainly well worth the read.”

Click the image above for the review in full.