Writing at mychinesebooks.com, Bertrand Mialaret offers a synopsis of the life and poetry of Hai Zi 海子. “Almost thirty years after his suicide, the poet Hai Zi remains celebrated in China,” it’s titled.
Hai Zi, who committed suicide at age 25, remains one of the most celebrated poets in China especially with the younger generations. Some very creative years, 250 short poems, 400 pages of long poems, short stories, plays. His complete works were published in 1997 by his friend, the poet Xi Chuan.
Mialaret also mentions the difference generations make in forming different poetic styles, which are born in some ways from the encounter of the personal with broader gyrations of history.
He was not part of the group of “misty” poets of the early 1980s, which were made famous by Beidao, Gu Cheng, Mangke, Yang Lian … This group refuses the revolutionary “realist” tradition and poetry at the service of politics. Poetry is an individual creation, it is a mirror of oneself. The focus is on the image in the creative process even if it is accompanied by sometimes complex and obscure texts.
The generation of Hai Zi is very different, it did not experience the re-education in the countryside, could go to university, knows the works of the world literature, the great movements of thought and all the “isms” (existentialism, surrealism, structuralism …).
Click the image for the article in full.
From the intro:
Published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2016, Nick Admussen’s exciting new book Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry explores the development of twentieth-century prose poetry within the unique political and cultural context of Communist China. In this ambitious study, Admussen attempts not only to define prose poetry but also to trace its ever-shifting role in modern Chinese society. In doing so, he produces a study which comprehensively analyses the dynamic manner in which Chinese prose poetry engages with a range of diverse cultural discourses, including science, popular culture and political rhetoric. Throughout the book, Admussen foregrounds the protean nature of the genre by exploring how prose poetry has been used by poets working both within and outside of official Communist Party strictures. Moreover, he identifies Chinese prose poetry as a unique tradition, distinct from Euro-American manifestations of the genre. In addition to these insightful analyses, Recite and Refuse also contains a number of original translations of important Chinese prose poems, including Ouyang Jianghe’s stunning “Hanging Coffin”.
Click the image above or listen here.
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has collected recommendations from noted American writers and publishers for what to read of Asian literature. And unsurprisingly, Chinese poets and poetry are well-represented.
Barbara Epler, president of New Directions publishing, recommends Li Shangyin and Bei Dao, among others. She writes:
I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family.
And Eliot Weinberger gives an even fuller syllabus, explaining, “‘Favorite Asian book’ is as impossible as ‘favorite European book’ or ‘favorite song.’ Sorry not to play by the rules of this game–and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves–but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.” His list includes:
The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)
As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)
It’s a lot to read!
Click on the image above for the full list.
A great and expansive discussion between Xi Chuan and Xu Zhiyuan 许知远. No version with English subtitles yet.
Xi Chuan and other Chinese and American poets are at the University of Oklahoma for the US-China Poetry Dialog, organized by Jonathan Stalling.
The first public events will be on the 24th at 10:30 a.m. in OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library and 7 p.m. at Fred Jones Museum of Art. There will also be a reading on the 25th in Eureka Springs, AR, at 7 p.m. at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, and on the 26th in Bentonville, AR at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art at 6 p.m.
At SupChina Anthony Tao interviews US poet laureate Tracy Smith on her recent visit to Beijing, where she traveled to translate Yi Lei 伊蕾 with Changtai Bi.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
AT: And what is your relationship with Chinese poetry?
TKS: I know a little bit about the history, but it’s very patchy. I’ve read some poems of [ancient poets] Li Po (李白) and Du Fu (杜甫), and then leap forward to [the 1970s/1980s “Misty Poet”] Bei Dao (北岛)… and now, some of the more recent translations [of Chinese poets] that have come out in the States. So it’s a really incomplete body of knowledge so far. But it’s still growing, a growing region of my consciousness.
AT: You recently took part in a translation workshop as part of your trip [organized by Ming Di (明迪), along with renowned poets such as John Yau, Kevin Young, Mario Bojórquez, Xi Chuan (西川), Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河), etc.]. What was it like to see your poems in Chinese?
TKS: I wish I could speak the language so I could really hear what it became in this other language, which I can’t. I love the sound. I’m mystified, I’m fascinated by the characters. Even though I know what the poem said, I don’t know what they say. But I think it’s exciting to know that there’s a version of my poems now that can be touched on for readers in a different language, and I’m curious to know how the references live on the other side. I know there’s a lot of choices. Ming Di translated a poem [of mine] called “Ash,” and she said, “Okay, is it this kind of ash, is it this kind of ash?”
So just thinking about the possibilities. And then having to make that affirm certain meanings or implications also makes me have to listen to my poems differently. And some of the things that happened unconsciously, I’m urged to reflect upon them more consciously now because I have to say, “Is it that or that? Well, actually, it’s more this thing than the other, and this is why.”
For the full interview, along with a clip of Smith’s reading, click the image above.
Ever since the Bookworm Beijing bookstore postponed and later canceled its annual Bookworm International Literary Festival (BLF) fans have been waiting and wondering whether the 10-year-old event would return.
Well, the wait is over as according to Peter Goff, the general manager of the Bookworm, the BLF will be back in full swing from March 8 to 24 in 2018 in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou.
Click the image for the full article.
The PN Review has published Stephen Procter’s article on Xi Chuan, “Xi Chuan & the Contradictory Aesthetics of Revolution.” Procter writes:
While potentially a contradiction might be logically fertile, assisting in the discovery of meaning, the indissolubility of the oxymoron must simply be accepted, with no meaning being made to adhere to it. As Xi Chuan points out, the latter pervade contemporary discourse, in phrases such as ‘Party-member capitalist’ and ‘Socialist Market Economy,’ and they are the linguistic legacy of the early days of communist China, which proclaimed the ‘People’s Democratic Dictatorship.’ According to Xi Chuan, Chinese literary tradition is not just a matter of immersion in the classics, but also of coming to terms with the ‘minor tradition’ of socialism which has played its own role in shaping the language.
Xi Chuan reflects the way in which the margins feed into the centre. As he points out, marginal annotation is the primary means through which Chinese culture has been transmitted. In ‘That Person Writing,’ it is the unnamed ancient scribe whose modifications flow into the mainstream: ‘Wittingly or not certain words are altered, wittingly or not he retains his own breath within the views of another. From a humble stenographer, he unwittingly transforms into a minor author, like an ant tethering thought’s kite against the wind.’ By focusing only on the central currents, we miss the process of accumulation through which a culture comes into being, its essential force. The life of tradition is in its transmission, not its preservation.
Click the image above for the paywalled article.
The new Cha also features my review of László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Semi-fictional reportage about Krasznahorkai’s travels through China, it features transcripts of discussions with Chinese poets–which I elaborate on in my review:
My own reading experience was one of being amazed at the representative resonances with those whom I know among the book’s characters—critic Tang Xiaodu and poets Yang Lian and Ouyang Jianghe as well as Xi Chuan—while also being enwrapped in the dramatic tension of its various frustrations.
I also take a look at whether the book is fictional, and how Krasznahorkai plays with central questions in Chinese literary studies to
While those trained in European literature are equipped to believe that writing is in itself a fictional act, others have argued, “In the Chinese literary tradition, a poem is usually presumed to be nonfictional: its statements are taken as strictly true.” But this statement is itself at the core of further debates in Chinese literary studies, such as about Orientalism and the mental sequestering of China as an object of study that comprises much scholarship in Chinese literature.
These debates play out implicitly in the pages of the book, I say:
This is the game Krasznahorkai plays. His self-aware presentation of his Westerner’s vision is embodied and embedded in his structure. In Hungarian, Stein’s name is Dante. Changing it to Stein invokes Aurel Stein (1862–1943), the Hungarian-British archaeologist who discovered the grottoes at Dunhuang and removed four cases of relics and paintings and twenty-four cases of medieval manuscripts to the British Museum in London, where they are preserved, or to which they were stolen. But the moniker Dante also implies Destruction and Sorrow‘s knowing Eurocentrism: the book’s three-part structure proceeds through the hell of the narrator’s exasperation to the utopia of the Suzhou gardens … By positing his China as a passage through the hereafter, Krasznahorkai acknowledges his enclosure within the Western tradition. Not that all narratives in Western literature are fulfilled: from Exodus to Ulysses, heroes have failed in their journeys, too. Or that unfulfilled narratives are the only Chinese authentic: don’t the pilgrims in Journey to the West reach Buddha’s Western Heaven?
Click the image above for the full review.