Paul Manfredi at China Avantgarde writes about the exhibition of the paintings of the Poetic Survivors. He explains:
This exhibition, title The Poetic Survivors 诗意的幸存者, is on a larger scale than many iterations past, with some new members in the line-up. In particular is the calligraphy of Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, long-time critic and cultural figure whose visual art I had never seen before this collection emerged. Also notable is the preface to the exhibition written by Yang Lian, who is not often so closely engaged with goings-on inside China. The funding will carry this exhibition through numerous cities over the next 12 months, among them and besides Shanghai where the operation kicked off in November, will be Beijing, Shenyang, and Dalian.
The seven-person lineup this time rather different from previous “Poets Group” (诗派) of painters, with only Mang Ke 芒克, and Yan Li 严力 the constant members. They are here joined by Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, as mentioned, but also You You 友友, Guo Changhong 郭长虹, Li Li 李笠 and Jie Wei 解危.
Click the image above of the painting by Mang Ke for Manfredi’s write-up, and Yang Lian’s intro in Chinese (the English of which I translated for the exhibition brochure).
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” 凰– 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.
How does one “see” a poem? Is seeing a poem like reading a painting, a friendly metaphor that brings together various perspectives on literature and art? As such, are there any poems that can not be seen, apart from those that commit the unforgivable sin of speaking in abstractions? If not, can the metaphor succeed in capturing a particular set of texts, rather than the genre in its entirety?
Chinese poetry, along with many other art forms in China, underwent a highly self-conscious transformation in the first decades of the twentieth century. Poetry, perhaps more than any other art form, did so under the heavy burden of a voluminous literary precedent, a precedent which was in its very format of patterned words inscribed on scrolls––a mark of the Chinese literati tradition. Turning away from this tradition seemed necessary in the context of a political, social, and cultural reform movement (which was designed to strengthen China in the face of increasing international pressure as well as domestic breakdown). At the same time, reforming a poetic tradition which had served as a principal touchstone of aesthetic accomplishment––from its role in Confucian canon as object of contemplation for correct action, to its function as a test of candidate’s qualifications to govern through the civil service examination, to its function as national past-time in all manner of social gathering––was a major challenge.
The result of such a predicament for poets throughout the twentieth century has been the compulsion to discover a poetic style which resonates with the modern world and yet is rooted in Chinese cultural experience. One way in which poets have been able to accomplish this is by relying on poetry’s visuality, be it in the graphic properties of the writing system itself, the visual context of the presentation of the poetic texts, or the acute image details in the poems.
To be influential in this context means more than finding a way to cause other poets to follow one’s example in style or substance. It is a matter of literally finding a viable language in which to speak. Viability in terms of poetry relates to some form of authenticity, which means some form of “truth,” a fact which separates literature generally but poetry in particular from other realms of linguistic experience. Think politics, where the opposite is the case—Chinese politics in particular (though recent debates in the United States makes one think of this country as well): here we experience language not as something predicated on viability (it needs no such bolstering) or authenticity. Political language in China is not truth to power, it is power to truth.
Under the title “American Poetry Culture & Chinese Culture,” Seattle-based cultural figure Paul Nelson (who earlier interviewed Xi Chuan) has a write-up of Xi Chuan’s reactions to Seattle & American poetry, and his recent reading at the Seattle Central Library with Paul Manfredi. I particularly liked Nelson’s description of the following:
The Q & A session after the reading was remarkable due to Xi Chuan’s thoughts about contemporary Chinese culture, saying that tourists want to visit the “old China”, that it has been part of Chinese culture for a long time to bulldoze most of the buildings of previous dynasties and that there is a symmetry issue with adding cars and roads, but leaving pre-auto landscapes. He said modern American cities like New York, Chicago and Seattle had been the model for China’s building spree, but now it is Paris and London. He kept saying “it’s complicated” a negative capability reflected in his poetry, a quality I appreciate. He also answered a question about memorizing old poetry, but gave a long chunk of an old poem that, even in the Chinese, did not seem easy to memorize and recite. He knows his stuff and related well to the older Chinese man who asked the question. The library event was after a long tour of Seattle that I took him on. He was able to recognize the Lenin statue from the back and was honored to see the graves of Bruce Lee and Denise Levertov.
Follow the link for the rest of the write-up and more pictures of Xi Chuan in Seattle.
Chinese poet Xi Chuan reads from works Jan. 9 at The Seattle Public Library
Chinese poet, essayist and translator Xi Chuan will read from several of his works, including “Yours Truly & Other Poems” and “Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems,” from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9 at The Seattle Public Library, Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Level 4, Room 1.
[Xi] Chuan is the internationally award-winning author of five collections of poems, two books of essays, one book of criticism and a play. He has translated works by authors ranging from Ezra Pound to Jorge Luis Borges to Czelaw Milosz.
The program is free and open to the public. No registration is required. Parking is available in the Central Library garage for $5 evening rate. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.