Yan Li, Recent Works

Zhuanzi With Bird

Yan Li’s poetry and art has been receiving a lot of attention of late in China. Among others, the online poetry portal New Poetry Canon 新诗经started in 2012 by Gao Shixian, ran a lengthy piece (#067 May 15) containing many new poems. The opening introduction to Yan’s work also includes his recent work on the Autumn Moon festival, running annually in Beijing. That introduction as follows:

严力

严力:(1954—)祖籍浙江宁海,出生于北京,旅美画家、纽约一行诗社社长、朦胧诗代表诗人之一。1973年开始诗歌创作,1979年开始绘画创作。是1979年北京先锋艺术团体“星星画会”和文学团体“今天”的成员。1984年在上海人民公园展览厅举办了国内最早的先锋艺术的个人画展。1985年从北京留学纽约并于1987年在纽约创立《一行》诗刊,任主编。2009开始主持每年一次的北京中华世纪坛中秋国际诗歌会。严力出版的有:诗集、中短篇小说集、长篇小说、散文集、画集等二十多本。画作被上海美术馆、日本福冈亚洲美术馆、以及私人收藏家收藏.作品被翻译成多种文字,目前定居上海、北京和纽约。

Yan Li: (1954-) native of Ninghai, was born in Beijing and has had long residences in New York, Shanghai and other cities. He began composing poetry in 1973, and in 1979 also joined both the avant-garde Stars artist and Today writers and artists collectives. In 1984 in Shanghai People’s Park Hall he held his first one-man show, in fact the first one-man show of avant-garde art in contemporary China. In 1985 he moved from Beijing to study in New York, and in New York in 1987 founded One Line. In 2009 he began hosting the annual Mid-Autumn Festival China Millennium Monument in Beijing international poetry meeting. Yan Li has published over 20 collections of poetry, short stories, novels, essays and other arts-related works. His paintings have been collected by Shanghai Art Museum, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and private collectors. Works have been translated into many languages, currently we live in Shanghai, Beijing and New York.

 

Here, as well, the first poem, a short, 2-poem sequence, actually, with my translation:

 

1

对简单的形象

我一直很有亲近感

比如板凳和鞋拔子

唯有对门一直不敢轻信

主要是门后太复杂了

我还听说

为此有人在制作门的时候

特意往里面加进了敲门声

那是干什么用的呢

几十年过去了

我觉得真的很管用

门要时常敲敲自己的内心

 

DOOR 

1.

I’ve always felt close to

Those simple shapes

Like benches or shoe-horns

Only doors I don’t approach lightly

Mostly for the complexity of what lies behind them

I’ve heard that

When doormakers make doors

They often have to add a couple of knocks inside

What can that be for?

After a few decades

I discover they’re really useful

Because doors too need to knock now and again

on the doors to their own hearts

 

 

2。

关在门里的门

是卧室的门

关在门外的门

是家的大门

而从来不用关的那扇门

还没诞生

 

The door in the door

Is the bedroom door

The door outside the door

Is the front door

And the door that never needs closing

Has yet to be born

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Yang Xiaobin, another poet’s photography

 

Poet, critic, scholar Yang Xiaobin, now on the faculty at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, has in recent years joined the group of contemporary Chinese poets working in photography (Bei Dao, Mo Mo, Li Li among others). Yang is certainly the one whose engagement is most fully explicated in his own theoretical manner on his website. The textual companion

關鍵詞

 

is constructed in the manner of “keywords”, including “quotidian,” “badness,” “ready-made,” “subjectivity,” “other,” “garbage,” “trace [Derrida],” “automatism,” “abstract/figural,” and so forth. His photographic images, meanwhile, were originally material objects (flat surfaces such as walls, doorways, pavement) at such acutely close-up range as to render them visually unintelligible. Since then he has moved on to something different, more tactile, and readable. Long explication of his “post-photography-ism” is Palimpsest and Trace: Post-Photographism. Sample images from the exhibition site:

 

pic1

 

More, and I think better, works available on his blog:

001a4U1wgy6Kdp5KWM088&690 001a4U1wgy6Kdp5mHa7df&690 001a4U1wgy6Kdp5ukfUaa&690

 

 

As for Yang’s poetry, it is often described as being difficult, or at least challenging. Here, for instance, in a translation produced by Karla Kelsey, John Gery and the poet himself, is the second of three short poems, this entitled “Bread”

 

BREAD

You sliced the loaf of bread with a comb,

finding inside it hairs of the dead, a squamish voice,

and dry, warmed-over love.

the bread darkened and darkened, its crumbs

more and more seared and shriveled:

Before you could wash and dress, you face, too, was burnt:

its features, not easy to swallow,

burgeon with a hunger for beauty.

面包

你用梳子切开面包。那里

有死者的发丝,娇嗔

烤热的爱。

面包越来越黑,碎屑

越来越理不清:

梳洗之前,你的脸已烧焦。

难以下咽的五官

带着美的饥饿。

*translation appears in Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry edited by Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong (Talisman House, 2007), 290.

Layman poetry

Reading "Blood Sacrifice" by Layman

Reading “Blood Sacrifice” by Layman

 

This summer I spent some time with an interesting writer. His name is Leiman (“Layman” in English), a highly successful entrepreneur, business executive, engineer, inventor–the list of occupational identity labels could go on. Most recently, though, which is to say since he turned the age of 60 five years ago, he focused in making a name as a poet.

In early September Leiren was in town for the Boao Forum, an annual event usually held in Hainan but this year taking place in Seattle. Leiren was one of the attendees, and the list of speakers is certainly an impressive bunch (Governor to Bill Gates himself). Leiren’s contribution, meanwhile, is the following poem. We read the poem the poem, along with some others later in the week at the Art Rhythm art exhibition held at the Ryan James Gallery where the photograph above was taken.

 

 

 

Blood Sacrifice for Humanity

——To The Boao Forum for Asia Seattle, 2014

人类文明血祭——诗致2014博鳌亚洲论坛

 

Yiou-Yiou-

悠悠

Humanity!

人类

Yiou-Yiou-

悠悠

Vicissitudes

万年

Woohoo — humanity

呜呼,人类

Woohoo —  Alas!

呜呼,哀哉

 

All war

所有的战争

Is

都是

The war of rulers

统治者的战争

All defeat

所有的亡国

Is

都是

the defeat of rulers

统治者的亡国

All independence

所有的独立

Is

都是

A ruler’s independence

统治者的独立

 

Whether

无论是

For conquest

为了拓疆

Or

还是

Defense

为了守土

Whether for

无论是

New doctrine

新教

Or

还是

Old doctrine

老教

 

People

平民

Everywhere

在哪儿

Are all

都是

Heads lowered

低着头

and bent at the waist

弯着腰

 

*****

 

Still water makes no current

水平不流

War after punitive war

征战不止

 

The strong win; the weak die

优胜劣汰

Dynasties come and go

改朝换代

 

Humanity

Lacking leadership

无头

Goes nowhere.

不走!

 

Birds

Lacking a leader

无头

Don’t fly!

不飞!

 

Civilizations

文明

Start naked

从赤裸

Sprout leaves, then

到树叶,再

Come the robes

到长袍

And then, after robes

再,从长袍

Comes BIKINI; and then

到三点式,再

Naked again

到赤裸

 

From

Knives and spears

大刀长矛

To

Guns and A-bombs

枪炮核弹

 

From

Cold weapons to

冷兵器到热兵器

Hot weapons

再从

And from

热战

Hot wars to

Cold wars

冷战

 

And now

而现在

Still hot and

依然热

Still cold

依然冷

 

Civilization

文明

Blood-stained through

一路血迹斑斑

Civilization

文明

All swaggering braggart

一路狰狞招摇

 

Wherefore civilization?

何以文明?

Civilization wherefore?

文明何以?

 

Boundless, the sea of bitterness

苦海无边

But the shore is there, if you look back

回头是岸

 

Human beings

人类

Are no more than

不过是

The ink

书写人类文明史的

Of human history

墨汁

 

Civilizations

文明

Are no more than

不过是

The last breath

人类和人类史的

Of the humans

延喘

And their history

 

Between

The cracks of thunder and lightning

雷电交加的缝隙里

Light all-encompassing

普世的阳光

Manages

得以

To emerge

泄下

 

Bronze is cast into cauldrons

青铜铸鼎

Iron, crafted into cannon

铁器造炮

 

Steam

蒸汽蒸开一个活塞的时代

Steams up an age of pistons

电火花

Sparks electric

点燃了

Have ignited

国界

The borders of nations

 

The PC

PC

Makes the Earth

让地球

Flat

扁平

 

*****

 

Human civilization

人类文明

Is a strongbox

是一个保险柜

Opened

For the first Time

华盛顿

By

第一个

Washington

打开

 

Ever since

从此

The Sun

太阳

Is Apollo no more

不再是太阳神

The Sun

太阳

Is becoming

成了

Sunlight’s tool

阳光的工具

 

Two centuries since

200年之后

One and all

一股脑儿

Out comes

走出来

Mahatma Gandhi

圣雄甘地

Out comes

走出来

Chiang Ching-kuo

蒋经国

Out comes

走出来

Mandela

曼德拉

Out comes

走出来

Gorbachev

戈尔巴乔夫

There’s also

还有

The King of Bhutan

不丹的国王

Who will be the next?

下一个是谁?

 

Community

根申国

Is

是一个

A chorus

大合唱

Who will be

下一个

The

大合唱

Next

Chorus?

谁?

 

*****

 

Science is a treasure-trove

科学的宝藏里

Of inexhaustible treasures

有取之不尽的宝藏

 

Air

空气

Can become grain

可以变成粮食

Sea water

海水

Can become oil

可以变成油

 

You, Sir

只要

Need only

Agree

To bend a bit

弯一弯腰

Need only

只要

Sir

Agree

To think a bit

用一用脑

Why is it

为什么

Some people

有的人

Always

总是

Whet their knives

磨刀霍霍

Gazing

盯着

At other people’s cake?

别人盘子里的蛋糕?!

 

Stop the blood stench of five millennia

不要再用5000年的血腥

From expanding our desires.

鼓胀我们的欲望

 

We have to use the bloody spots

我们要用斑斑的血斑

To shine

擦亮

Our

我们

Truly-civilized eyes

真正文明的眼睛

To be a World Citizen

做世界人民

 

 

 

 

雷人  作/译written and translated by Layman Lei

revised by Paul Manfredi

Mang Ke, painting and a poem

Here again working on poetry-art intersections. One interesting case in point, I think, the Chinese poet Mang Ke, one of founding members of Jintian 今天 (Today) poetry journal, and otherwise major forces in the opening up of poetic and other artistic expression in the 1970s and 1980s. Since around the year 2000, though, Mang Ke has been turning his attention more and more to oil painting, principally landscapes. For a poet towards the end of his career, particularly a career as distinguished as Mang Ke’s is, to suddenly pick up visual art is in itself an unusual event. His own explanation, in typically self-deprecatory fashion, is to suggest that he needed money to support his family, and paintings are more lucrative cultural objects than poems. Perhaps so, but one cannot detract from the rather extraordinary progress he’s made in the realm of painting in a very short space of time. Below an untitled work from 2012

MangKe_Landscape

Mang Ke, 2012, oil on canvas, no title, 800mm x 800mm

This I pair with “A Poem Presented to October”, here in translation by Gordon T. Osing and De-An Wu Swihart. The poem in context of painting is, to quote Octavio Paz something like translation, replete with “shadows and echoes”

1. The Crops
Quietly the Autumn fills my face;
I am the wiser.

2. Working
I want to be with the horses and carriages
pulling the sun into the wheat fields . . .

3. The Fruit
What lovely children,
what lovely eyes;
the sun himself is like a red apple,
beneath it the countless fantasies of children.

4. The Forest in Autumn
Nothing of your glance is here.
no sound of yours,
just a red scarf fallen by the way . . .

5. The Earth
All my feelings
have been baked by the sun.

6. Dawn
I wish you and I with one heart
could sweep away the darkness down the road.

7. The Sailboat
When that time comes
I will come back with the storm.

8. Sincerely Yours
I bring one rose-red petal of sunlight
and dedicate it to love.

Modern Poetry in China promo

cambria-press-author-paul-manfredi

Fresh from Cambria Press blog, generous write-up about my book:

Another fantastic thing for Cambria Press at this year’s MLA (as was the case last year for Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian’s book and E. K. Tan’s much-lauded book) is how some titles were published right in the nick of time for the MLA!

It is even better when the author is there to see the book in person! This year, Cambria Presspublished Paul Manfredi’s book, Modern Poetry in China , just in time for the 2014 MLA annual conference.

Dr. Manfredi’s book sets a high precedent because it illuminates the important dynamics which fall outside of general narratives given how modern Chinese poetry production has been addressed only very broadly in scholarship. The importance of Chinese visual tradition to modern Chinese poets is a good case in point. Accordingly, this book addresses specific manifestations of the nexus connecting modernity and visuality in Chinese poetry. It begins with a discussion of May Fourthpoetics as exemplified in the groundbreaking work of Li Jinfa, China’s first “Symbolist” poet. From there the book traces notable developments of visuality in the new form or free verse writing (called Xinshi or “New Poetry”) through mid-century modernist experiments in Taiwan (focusing on Ji Xian). The book also explores the avant-garde poetry of Luo Qing and Xia Yu before returning to mainland Chinese developments of Misty poets Yan Li and his contemporaries.

The book includes rare, stunning color images of the poet-painters’ works. It is also part of the prestigious Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania). Be sure to check out the China Avant Garde blog too!

Modern Poetry in China will be on display again at the 2014 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Philadelphia, but you don’t have to wait–read it online now!

Don’t forget Cambria Press is offering a 40% discount on all hardcover titles for the MLA. Please use coupon code MLA2014; the offer is valid until Feb 14, 2014. Librarians can use this code too, so please pass this on to them! Download the Cambria Press MLA catalog and booklist.

Abstract Paintings and Poems by Chin Sung

Here of late my work returns to the abstract. Below two images and two poems, all by once New York-based Chin Sung (Qin Song). The first is a strikingly experimental poem (“Black Rain”) from 1950, following an image (“Black Forest”) from 1959, then an acrylic painting from 1991 (“Variations”) followed by a poem from 2000 “Notes of a Market Goer”. More on Qin’s biography, etc. in subsequent post.

Night Rain

Windy trysts in the wilds and eloped

Night’s kiss of death loses consciousness

Rapping of rain and monk’s monotonous wood fish

In the distance thus cries of flowing water?

Ice cold dream is colorless

Weeping night sings a black song

like a black funeral march

Midwifing tomorrow’s landscape

The resurrected sun robes itself in a red cassock

Resurrected bearing a superlative cross of gold

山林裡野合的風和奔了

死吻的夜失去知覺

雨敲響音和尚的單調的木魚

遠方乃有流水的哭?

冰冷的夢沒有顏色

流淚的夜唱黑色的歌

如一支黑色的送葬曲

接生明天的風景

復活的太陽披上紅袈裟

復活著背負超金十字架

QinSong_BlackForest

Notes of a Market-goer

No matter Nirvana attained or not

He goes to the flea market to catch a show

That cream-colored woman with thick red lips

Sways like shadows in the hot sun

Variety of forms don’t impede joy

A parasol a pair of rain boots some

Used stamps envelopes old record albums

And lost missing person items waiting to be found et cetera

Nirvana once attained  numerous trips to the

Performance    you catch those serendipitous

Market shows  (lost items missing persons et cetera found locations unknown)  that cream-colored woman

Thick red lips under a hot sun like a record album

Like a flea     swaying swirling shadows upon

Shadows (lost items found waiting missing persons?)

Serendipitous joy of a market in unknown location

The beauty of slow smoldering ruins long after the fires of war

趕墟者的注釋

無關於涅槃寂不寂滅


他去跳蚤市場戲一場墟

那個厚紅唇的奶油色女人

如烈日下影子搖晃

不同的行色無礙所好

一把陽傘一雙雨鞋一些

用廢過的郵票信封老唱片

以及失物尋人等待招領等等

涅槃寂滅一次    趕墟戲

游數場  彼等趕幾回不約

而會之墟 (失物尋人等招領

地址不詳)那個奶油色的女人

烈日下的厚紅唇老唱片一樣

跳騷一樣    搖搖晃晃的影子與

影子(失物招領等待尋人?)

不約而會之墟不詳地址之所好

如戰火焚後廢墟之傷殘之美

QinSong_Variation

Wang Qiang (Mai Cheng) or, Two Poetic Nights in Dalian

I met the poet Mai Cheng 麦城 (pen name of Wang Qiang 王强, left, pictured here with Yan Li 严力) a number of years back in Seattle, which is to say totally out of his element.  I met him again two weeks ago, this time in Dalian, his very own city.  By ‘his very own’ I mean that the man seems to own the city, and not only because he is a wealthy real estate developer,  wealthy enough in fact that he doesn’t bother to develop much anymore.  I say “owns” because his command of his environment, via the highly understimated medium of the language of poetry, is near complete.  Wang Qiang is, in other words, a successful contemporary Chinese business man who also happens also to be Mai Cheng, one of the best poets of his generation.

Take, for instance, “After a Dream Passes Over”

A dream paved my way to the city
A glimpse provided by a surge
From an out-of-date battery
Showed a different view of my native ground
The silence on the left side of the road
Persuaded the silence on the right
By order of the street light
A Glass elevator
Slowly lifted my social standing
And the marriage that fell in line behind it
Was bottled by pop songs from Taiwan
With their imported melodies
As Theresa Teng’s singing style
Moved from outer to inner regions
There I was, sitting at the most reflective part
Of a transparent screen
Watching mannerisms of wealth enter and leave
My gaze was hijacked
By lurid signs winking through glass
But behind that gaze
Was yet another gaze
A teenager’s red mini-skirt
Scorched by toughness under her skin
Opens a split at the seam
The bartender measures precisely
Two densities of liquor in a glass
A woman pours liquor for a man
His spinning head leaps toward her recesses
In places where nightfall lies in heaps
New darkness embraces old darkness
Spurred by the dream, I try on a new status
Leather shoes, neckties, trench coat
Like a turned-off lamp
Turned on once again
I hurry after another lamp’s light
At a crossing the signal light
Brings my dream to a halt
Along with the self that rambled in dreams
Now night-blue air stretches before me
I try to use it, to elevate the night to higher quality
Then, over the canyon of discarded experience
To make the leap
To go or not to go?
After the dream passes over
(translation is by Denis Mair and appears in Selected Poems: Mai Cheng [London: Shearsman Books, 2008], pp 57-59)

Sight is the operative sense in the work, appropriately for the city, particularly at night.  Mai Cheng is seeing–mini skirts and skin, liquor glasses, glass elevators, and street lamps. But he is also seen, in new clothes, in an orderly marriage, in reflections.  While occupying a rather difficult space of both agent and object of gaze, he can also be found listening carefully, to pop songs, and to the commanding sound of silence that both frames his native ground, again street level, and opens it up as a “night-blue air” that remarkably “stretches” before him.  This unbroken transition from the concrete to the abstract, a rising to higher quality over “discarded experience” seems so familiar, so apt, even for the reader who is none of the things Mai Cheng is.

There is no question that the “value” of Mai Cheng’s voice can be in part attributed to his financial success, a fact which pervades a contemporary Chinese society reduced too often to crass calculations and cost-benefit analysis.  In such a context, if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t matter.  And poetry doesn’t sell.  On the other and I believe equally important hand, the successful business wo/man in contemporary China is increasingly in need of poetry, and all that poetry symbolizes.  The question, I suppose, is when that need for poetry becomes more acute (such that poetry might in fact jus sell), will there be anyone there to write it?  At the moment, fortunately, Wang Qiang is on the scene.   Let’s hope he lasts.