China Daily Reports on Death of Wang Guozhen

Beloved poet hits the road again, this time never to returnWang Guozhen 汪国真 has passed away. China Daily reports:

Chinese poet Wang Guozhen, who was quoted by President Xi Jinping in his public speech, passed away in Beijing on Sunday.

Wang, whose poems became a sensation in the 1990s, died of liver cancer at the age of 59.

His passing has brought him back into focus across the country’s traditional and social media, with people mourning and also debating his place among China’s contemporary poets.

“There’s no mountain higher than a man, and no road longer than his feet,” Xi had quoted from one of Wang’s poems during a speech at the 2013 APEC CEOs’ summit in Indonesia, to emphasize China’s determination on economic reform.

“Wang’s writing had an impeding effect on Chinese poetry,” Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河], a renowned poet of the school of “misty poetry” that flourished in the 1980s, says.

“If we judge the quality of a poem only by its number of readers, then it is a shame for poetry. What represents Wang’s poems? The spirit of the time and motivational aphorisms … These are what I think makes a poem fake.”

Click on the image for the full write-up.

Sound & Image: Chinese Poets in Conversation

IMGP0652As part of the “Birds of Metal in Flight” event, Columbia University hosted a panel discussion with Bei Dao 北岛, Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Xi Chuan 西川, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Zhou Zan 周瓒, and Xu Bing 徐冰, as moderated by Lydia Liu 刘禾 and John Rajchman and introduced by Eugenia Lean, titled “Sound and Image: Chinese Poets in Conversation with Artist Xu Bing.” Click the image above for more information & photos, or here to stream the discussion via iTunes.

Video of Birds of Metal in Flight Readings

collage by Tara Coleman

Readings by Marilyn Nelson, Bei Dao 北岛, Afaa Weaver, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Pierre Joris, Xi Chuan 西川, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Zhou Zan 周瓒, Charles Bernstein, and Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, followed by remarks from Xu Bing 徐冰, introduced by Lydia Liu 刘禾.


For Xi Chuan reading my translation of “Bloom” 开花, jump to 49:21.

For pictures and more information on the reading, click here. For recordings of the readings, visit PennSound.

Birds of Metal in Flight

Birds of Metal in Flight: An Evening of Poetry with 5+5

Readings by

Bei Dao 北岛 • Charles Bernstein • Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
Pierre Joris • Marilyn Nelson • Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河
Afaa Weaver • Xi Chuan 西川 • Zhai Yongming 翟永明 • Zhou Zan 周瓒

with remarks from
Xu Bing 徐冰

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Reception to follow

Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10025

This event is free and open to the public.
Registration Required


Asymptote write-up of Ouyang Jianghe’s Phoenix

Dylan Suher for Asymptote writes on Austin Woerner’s translation of Phoenix 凤凰, by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 (after a sculpture by Xu Bing 徐冰) (Zephyr, 2014):

This excellent Zephyr Books edition packages the poem together with pictures of the sculpture, and, in what happily seems to be becoming the norm, places Woerner’s translation alongside the original. The bilingual reader can thus fully appreciate that the translation, rather than aiming to fix the quicksilver of the original, is a piano four-hands between two talented writers. From verse 14:

Ransacks the void till no emptiness remains,
while prestidigitating truths from thin air;


Woerner translates “” (tao), “to pull out” or “to fish out,” as “ransack” in the first line and “prestidigitate” in the second. These words do not quite come out of thin air, but—to borrow from the language of finance—it is a leveraged interpretation, and its yield is spectacular. The Zephyr books edition of “Phoenix” is therefore poetry truly suited to this age of globalization: two poets from opposite sides of the world collaborating to illuminate the way of life that unites them both.

Click on the image for the full write-up.

Wolfgang Kubin interviewed at CLT

In the new Chinese Literature Today, editor Jonathan Stalling interviews Wolfgang Kubin about his life and the poets and poetry he’s known.

Zhang Zao and Ouyang Jianghe wanted pure poetry and new vocabulary, whereas the vocabulary of Bei Dao before ’89 is quite conventional and comes close to what the Spanish poets of the ’30s and ’40s made use of. Bei Dao writes short poetry, but the so-called post hermetic poets prefer the longer form and their outlook is quite different. They are not politically naïve anymore; they do know how complicated a society can be. The poetry of Bei Dao or the poetry of the ’80s, however, always believes in a future that will be good and that will be coming tomorrow. You won’t find this kind of naiveté in Ouyang Jianghe … Zhai Yongming’s starting point is so-called hermetic poetry, and her first cycle about women is so complicated that it drives you crazy as a translator. I translated her work into German and published a book of it very early. I translated much more of her poetry, and actually I should have produced another book, but she’s very modest and always asks me to translate others before editing a new volume of her poetry. But before long she left this kind of hermetic poetry. During her second phase, she dealt with a history of women in her mother’s generation in China before and after ’49. She chose a very plain language and she preferred the long poem. The poetry of her second phase is very easy to translate into a foreign language; it’s not complicated at all. During her third phase, when she started criticizing men, when she started making fun of male protagonists, then her language changed again—it was not hermetic, it was not plain, it was something in-between. Nowadays she prefers a very plain language for social critique. This is her fourth phase, so she’s the only Chinese poet about whom we can say that she went through three, no, four phases of different kinds of poetry. Bei Dao has only two phases; Yang Lian, I think you would say he has one phase and has never changed. P. K. Leung the Hong Kong poet—in some respects he’s always good, always the same. Zhang Zao, the same. Ouyang Jianghe has made changes, perhaps with his last long poem. Xi Chuan, he’s riper now, so he’s different, but concerning his form, I do not see much difference. He’s now more philosophical and he’s more sophisticated, he has humor, he makes fun.

Click on the image for the full piece.

Video of Ouyang Jianghe reading from Phoenix

The write-up from Paul Manfredi’s China Avantgarde blog:

Ouyang Jianghe’s 欧阳江河 poem was inspired by a sculptural work of the same title by Xu Bing 徐冰. Xu Bing’s sculpture, actually two sculptures–a male “feng” 鳳 and female “huang” – is comprised almost entirely of objects found on worksites in Beijing … Ouyang’s poem was also a two-year project, extending between 2010 when he saw Xu’s sculpture in New York, and 2012, when the work of 19 stanzas was finally published. At roughly 400 lines, the poem was first published in 2012 by Oxford (Hong Kong), and then re-published by Chinacitic Press this past July. The recording of the poem in the video took place on July 5, at the Central Academy for Fine Arts in Beijing where Chinacitic was promoting Ouyang’s book…  Xu Bing was also present at the event.

As Manfredi’s first feature in his Visual Poets series, the reading is preceded by close-ups of Ouyang Jianghe’s calligraphy of poetry by Bei Dao 北島 in different styles. Subtitled translation by Austin Woerner. Available for order from mccm creations.

Asia Society Hongkong Launch of Ouyang Jianghe’s Phoenix

August 8: Evening Poetry Reading and Discussion

Drinks Reception at 6:30 pm
Reading & Discussion at 7:00 pm
Close at 8:00 pm
Asia Society Hongkong

Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 will read from his ekphrastic mini-epic Phoenix 凤凰, with poet Nicolas Wong reading Austin Woerner’s English translation. A discussion on the relationship between Ouyang’s writing and its inspiration in the sculpture by Xu Bing 徐冰 will follow.

From Woerner’s preface to the translation:

The poem multiplies the complexity of his earlier poems; it is, by his own account, his magnum opus. Synthesizing his earlier concerns of the materiality of language, the Chinese literary legacy, and the role of art in society into a sustained meditation on the theme of flight, it reflects two and a half decades of work refining the “obscure” language of Misty poetry into a vessel for sophisticated philosophical inquiry. The poem, written by Ouyang in 2010 after a silence of almost two decades, is the culmination of his experiment, where in the eighties and nineties he produced a body of poems distinguished by their length, technical intricacy, and high degree of abstraction. He has, in his recent work, taken this project to a new level, writing book-length poems of densely interlinked stanzas rife with wordplay, a fugue-like development of motifs, and the technique of argument by paradox — known in Chinese as beilun (悖論) — employed by the philosopher Zhuangzi (莊子) to capture the illogical logic of Daoism.

Click the image above for further event information and free registration.

Ouyang Jianhe named BNU Writer-in-Residence

Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 has been named a writer-in-residence at Beijing Normal University. China Daily reports:

In a symposium at BNU on March 16, Yu Hua 余华 called Ouyang a “broad and complex” poet for relating history to modern times. Mo Yan 莫言, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012, said Ouyang’s poems always touch on the essence of life and the poet has the ability to make his culturally profound and philosophical poems understandable to the general public.

While compliments were paid to Ouyang’s literary achievement at the symposium, the poet said he wants to hear more criticism. He said that since many new things have occurred so rapidly in modern poetry over the past three decades, it’s harder for classics and milestone pieces to emerge.

“Our poems are still just the questions, not the answers,” he said.

Ouyang also said during the symposium that one of his biggest childhood dreams was to become a college professor. However, he never had the chance to even attend college as he was already 35 when he retired from his service in the army.

Click on the image for the full article.

Lilburn on Xi Chuan & Zhai Yongming in Brick

The Canadian literary journal Brick has published Tim Lilburn’s essay on “A Mandelstamian Generation in China,” on Xi Chuan and Zhai Yongming 翟永明. He writes,

There has been a tendency in North America and Europe to imagine Chinese writers, poets especially perhaps, as inevitably and necessarily political, dissidents in a way that flatters the West. This was true for writers in the Soviet Union too, which made it difficult, for example, to appreciate the complete range of someone like Joseph Brodsky once he first became known outside of Russia. Taking Xi Chuan this way, or any in his generation, would bring on similar reductive distortions. It is true that in China’s current state of cultural undefinition, some intellectuals, as Xi Chuan told [Eleanor] Wachtel, “are trying to rethink or reflect on history, not only ancient history but also on modern history, revolutionary history,” in order to imagine a possible, more coherent China. It’s also true that traditionally poets, like scholars, in the Confucian scheme of things, have seen themselves as serving the state by helping to shape its notion of itself, either by speaking directly to the masses or by educating the ruler. But the West is chiefly keen to identify dissidents wherever it can, because these, it supposes, are warriors for its own cause within an opposing power, who work utterly at their own risk. It’s hard to believe that any of the major Chinese poets I spoke to seeks to fulfill the role of furthering Western cultural expansion. As Xi Chuan said in the Wachtel interview: “I don’t think Cnia will one day become, for instance, Canada, America, England, or France.” Nor, it seems, does he wish exactly that it would. When I asked the Chinese poets gathered in 2008 at White Stone Town in Anhui Province how they thought of being seen by the West as dissidents, Ouyang Jianghe, one of the most fiery of the group, exploded that he had no wish to be regarded as a writer who was professionally a disaffected Chinese intellectual. Such a vocation was far too soft and besides was a self-serving invention from elsewhere.

For ordering information and the journal’s table of contents, click the image above.