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


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.

In Other News–Xu Bing

Testament that well-financed expatriate Chinese artist whose conceptual work of the 1980s stands as a monument in the development of contemporary Chinese art can still make some-thing of relevance (“things” remade from construction sites in Beijing)


Phoenixes Rise in China and Float in New York

Xu Bing Installs His Sculptures at St. John the Divine

By FEB. 14, 2014

Zhong Biao Old and New

A Passerby (过客):


has long been one of my favorite Zhong Biao images. It is a painting from almost 20 years ago, long before Zhong shifted from oil to acrylic as paint of choice, and longer still before he started to add considerable elements of abstract imagery in his work. The painting is typical of Zhong’s hyper-realism, acutely drawn figures, personable and yet iconographic, as though this is not just any phone booth decked out in a global brand, it is this phone both, as distinctive as the autobiographical Zhong and, I am going to guess, his grandmother. Most notable, though, is the curvaceousness of the ground, suggesting the planet earth, and thus a global picture encoded with a smattering of signs, global and not.

The collapse of space-time is what I’m considering, though, when jumping to a 2010 Light Year (光年):

Light Year, 2010 Acrylic on Canvas, 440x717cm

Light Year, 2010
Acrylic on Canvas, 440x717cm

There is, I believe, considerable consistency from one to the next, only the constituent elements have shifted from landmarks of built and natural environments (Mt. Fuji, Coca-cola, the Forbidden City) to landmarks of larger space-time context, galaxies, planets, meteorites, and on down. The same coalescence of place and time, brought together through Zhong’s single lens vision which zooms in and out at once.

Putting the two images together meanwhile suggests another possibility, namely something approaching spirituality in Zhong’s work。 This is something I’ve never considered at length, but looking across works separated by decades there seems to be a more than accidental consistency to religious imagery (broadly construed). To go out a bit on an interpretative limb, in Light Year there is an impression of the Sistine Chapel, and the figure of Christ attended to by angels down right,

"Light Year" Excerpt

which loops back to the baby, oddly adult and somewhat surly as in early Renaissance work. Meanwhile, the title (Passerby) suggests much more Buddhist orientation, with the three generations framed by the comings and goings and the cranes, symbols of longevity. These hieratic dimensions, forming their own specific gravity of spiritual nature, take us back to the cosmic space-time of Zhong’s Light Year. In short, looking at these two, Zhong’s work appears to have changed more on the surface than on the inside.

Modern Poetry in China promo


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.