In a piece titled “A Poem of Shame: In the Words of China’s Workers” published at Hyperallergic, Matt Turner gives his take on Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman. He explains,
In 1923, not long after returning from working as a correspondent in Moscow, becoming the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and translating “The Internationale” for the first time into Chinese, Qu Qiubai wrote the poem “Iron Flower” (which I’ve translated below). It was written at an odd moment in CCP history: a literati like Qu could accomplish all he did politically and write modernist poetry, as much about the revolution as about signifying a new kind of beauty.
I’m not of a soft and smooth nature,
I’m not in the midst of glam and grace;
inside this smoke-filled factory,
forging my iron flower, fire surges.
Iron flower not receiving the warmth of sunlight,
iron flower not getting the solace of moonlight;
the unifying gale of fire in the furnace,
it cracks to burst the pistils into flame.
That place’s sound of hammers is dull,
that place’s sound of metal is staccato;
like a copper pine whipping the hard wind,
I’ve fallen in love, and can’t bear desertion.
This isn’t a fan dance, lightly circling across the floor —
but wherever you look are callouses — strong hands.
The inextinguishable flame burns in the factory,
and shines on my resolute and bold chest.
I billow labor’s rage in the iron furnace,
I envision, envision the Great Community,
and drunkenly belt out a song… the masses!
Forging my iron flower, fire surges.
… A volume of similar indictments, Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu and translated by Eleanor Goodman, collects work by Xu Lizhi and 30 other worker poets. Their poetry ranges from lyrical, like the above piece, to experimental (exemplified by another of Xu’s poems, a verbatim listing of a peanut butter production slip).
Poems are in verse, prose, and combinations thereof. Some tell stories, some list facts, some offer only fragments. The formal variety is on par with what you would get from any major anthology in the US (excepting spoken-word poetry).
The authors are not members of literary coteries, either. Aside from being poets, all they have in common is that they are migrant laborers.
Click the image for the full review.