Their rural existence was no idyll, and it ended in tragedy: in 1993 Gu Cheng killed Xie Ye with an axe before hanging himself. By that point Hai Zi and Luo Yihe were also dead: Hai Zi committed suicide in 1989 by throwing himself under a train (leaving his copy of Walden in his bag alongside the tracks); Luo Yihe died from a brain haemorrhage just a few months later, apparently from the strain of his editorial efforts to secure Hai Zi’s poetic legacy. Wei An died from liver cancer in 1999.
Their untimely deaths seem to have sealed these poets behind the curtain of history – but many of their contemporaries are still with us, and still producing poetry that engages with the same themes. Last year Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河) published Phoenix, a 400-line mini-epic in which the spiritual and environmental strains of China’s feverish development are embodied in the vast avian sculpture of artist Xu Bing (徐冰). The polymath writer, artist, editor and filmmaker Ou Ning (欧宁) is perhaps the closest thing contemporary China has to a Thoreau figure, having founded his own rural commune in Bishan, Anhui, as part of the New Rural Reconstruction Movement. Xi Chuan (西川) was a classmate of Hai Zi and Luo Yihe, and after the deaths of his friends he switched from lyric poetry to a looser, prose-poem style, in which nature is seldom idealised.
Trees eavesdrop on trees, birds eavesdrop on birds; when a viper stiffens and attacks a passing human it becomes human … The truth cannot be public, echoless thoughts are hard to sing.
— from “Exhor[ta]tions” by Xi Chuan – translated by Lucas Klein
As Jennifer Kronovet observes: “This is not nature poetry and yet it is.”
Volume one contains a facsimile of Ou Ning’s original notebook in full color; the second volume is a translation of the notebook from the Chinese by Mai Corlin and Austin Woerner, a previously unpublished interview with Ou Ning, and his 2012 text laying out an understanding of ongoing anarchist practices in a totalitarian, capitalist reality.
Ou Ning’s 欧宁 literary journal Chutzpah! 天南 is closing, and to commemorate it, Asymptote‘s Lee Yew Leong interviews its English pullout Peregrineeditor Austin Woerner. Austin sez:
What was unique about Chutzpah! was that it didn’t see itself as a journal of Chinese literature per se, but rather as part of a global literary conversation … the magazine’s Chinese editors were very plugged into international literary goings-on, and in addition to translating “hot” Western writers into Chinese—Arundhati Roy, Roberto Bolaño, Jesmyn Ward, and Junot Diaz are a few of the bigger names—we collaborated with n+1 and A Public Space, and published interviews with prominent Western intellectuals. But that’s just one facet of the magazine’s identity. A big part of Ou Ning’s mission was to promote the work of younger Chinese writers and some older ones who hadn’t gotten the attention they deserved, and to create a niche in the Sinophone literary ecosphere for more offbeat, unconventional writing. The issues were themed and carefully curated, and the style was eclectic—we published everything from traditional realism to avant-garde experimentation to scifi, fantasy, and detective fiction—and our Sinophone contributors hailed both from mainland China (including ethnic minorities like Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Yi), and from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and throughout the Chinese diaspora, from Singapore and Malaysia to the U.S. and the U.K. … As far as the English supplement goes, the notion was to make some of these new Sinophone writers available in English so that their work might eventually find readers outside of China and the exchange might become more bidirectional.
What satisfied me most was to have had a hand in creating a community of Chinese-English literary translators, and to have given a handful of translators, particularly younger ones, a chance to hone their craft and encounter new authors. When I started as English editor, my first priority was to make sure that translating for Chutzpah! was a worthwhile experience for our translators. So even though we often operated on a breakneck schedule, I insisted on having a complete editorial process, giving translators detailed responses and line edits and building in at least a couple days for revision and back and forth. I thought of “Peregrine” as a kind of translation incubator, where Chinese-English translators could cut their teeth on new authors and forms with the benefit of editorial feedback and in a friendly environment.
The new issue of Pathlight is now available, with a Mo Yan 莫言 feature, fiction by Han Song 韩松, Dung Kai-cheung 董啟章 , and others, and poetry by Liao Weitang 廖偉棠 (in my translation), Ou Ning 欧宁, Yao Feng 姚风, and Yang Xiaobin 杨小滨. Click here for download information.
Chinese poet and poetry critic Qin Xiaoyu invited the Proletarian to attend a meeting at Peking University last Friday on poetry in online media. The meeting was sponsored and chaired by Yang Erwen, founder of ArtsBj.com (北京文艺网), and Yang Lian, whom Yang Erwen has worked into some advisory position at the website. Having no prior knowledge of the event, the Proletarian thought it was just going to be another stereotypical academic meeting, where people made airy speeches over an audience checking their cell phones; who knew that the first item of news would be one of significant importance? …
Well-known critic Tang Xiaodu moderated the first half of the meeting, while Yang Lian (who sounds a lot more like Ge You than I could ever have imagined) chaired the second half. Also at the table were Zhai Yongming, Xi Chuan, Qin Xiaoyu, Zhang Qinghua, Leng Shuang, Lan Ye, Zang Di, Ou Ning, Yang Xiaobin, Shang Zhen, Jiang Tao and a few others …
Morse also mentions Xi Chuan’s “observations on poetry throughout Chinese history.” Click here for the whole piece.
Chinese content for our next edition of Pathlight: New Chinese Writing has been set in soap, and I’m glad to announce that this issue will include far more poetry than any of the previous issues have. Faced with an abundance of work and a dearth of talented contacts, this is a call for motivated, experienced translators of Chinese poetry to establish a relationship with us. To be featured are Zhu Ling (朱零), Ou Ning (欧宁), Yao Feng (姚风) , Wang Yin (王寅), Wang Xiaolong (王小龙), Yang Zi (杨子), Huang Jinming (黄金明) , Liao Weitang (廖伟棠) and Yang Xiaobin (杨小滨). The deadline is coming up soon; we’ll do our best to assign poems based on their relationship with the translator, and first drafts will be due in mid-September. Compensation is, if I may say so, exceptional for poetry. If interested, please send an email either to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.