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

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.

Zhong Biao at the Margins of the Avant-garde

 

Last month at the American Comparative Literature Conference in Seattle, on a panel co-organized by Barrett Watten, Jonathan Stalling and Jacob Edmond, I was presenting on Zhong Biao. Here a brief digest of my remarks.

 

Title: Zhong Biao at the Margins of the Avant-garde

Highlights:

Broader context:

I am trying to situate Zhong Biao with regard to the contemporary Chinese avant-garde. In the process, I am posing the following question: if we begin with the assumption that essentially (and among other things) the avant-garde is a challenge to status quo, a compulsion to dissolve codifications wherever they occur (and particularly as they relate to or bolster ideological structures with mass influence, be they market appeal or state apparatus based on coercion), then what of a situation where so few codifications are in fact in effect? –that is contemporary China, a tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it ethos, be it in the array of material work of the built environment or in the circular waves of political campaign didactially deployed to lead the nation “forward” but, I suspect, more often than not not fooling anyone.

Zhong Biao focus:

Zhong’s work strives, through a combination of abstraction and uncanny juxtaposition of realistically rendered figures from disparate space and time, to uncover latent energies or pneuma of the universe, manifest momentarily. The ephemera of our lives and ourselves emerge in his painting at the point of concretization but also dissolution, and always in some inherent interconnectedness.

This is an ambitious project because Zhong’s work does not fit easily within the avant-garde. Indeed, I suspect many would argue that his work belongs in an opposite category, if such a category exists. Where avant-garde practice is oppositional and in some respects destructive, Zhong’s is affirming, constructive, and mainstream. The reason I believe such a conversation is even warranted is that an attempt to situate ZB in AG context encourages fathoming of the limits of each. While discovering limitations of an artist poised too close to market impulses is unremarkable, observing the edge (blunt rather than cutting?) of the avant-garde as marginal overlap with the market is perhaps news.

 

Images discussed:

20、An Overall View 87.8x69.6cm Serigraphs 2013

An Overall View 150 x 120 cm 2013

10 Thousand Years

10 Thousand Years 200 x 150 cm 2011

ZBFLIGHT1

Life 280 x 200 2004

荡漾山水

Swinging Landscape 200 x 150 cm 2010

 

11-090310-ZB

Today 400 x 280 cm 2009

ZBLivingSpace生活空间

Living Space 130 x 130 cm 1996 (Oil on Canvas)

 

Golden Age for Poetry

 

Great to see “Golden Age” and contemporary poetry mentioned in the same breath. Just wondering why only “2000 years of tradition” at Chinese poetry’s back. Would have gone for 2500 at the very least.

http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-03-24/no-one-cares-about-poetry-right-check-out-chinas-vibrant-scene

 

New golden age for Chinese poetry

I heard this story in the car yesterday and found it quite interesting. I think there are probably some list members featured, too.

Andrew Stuckey <andrew.stuckey@colorado.edu>

Source: PRI (3/24/15)
1,200 years later, is Chinese poetry entering a new golden age?
The World in Words
By Alina Simone

Poet Yu Xiuhua lives in her home village in China's Hubei Province. She became an internet sensation with the publication of her poem, "Crossing Half of China to Sleep With You." Credit: ChinaFotoPress via Getty ImagesPoet Yu Xiuhua lives in her home village in China’s Hubei Province. She became an internet sensation with the publication of her poem, “Crossing Half of China to Sleep With You.” Credit: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

A few weeks ago in Beijing, a dozen well-known poets got together.

Among them was an IT guy who wanted their help testing out a new app for a social network — not based on sharing friends, photos or business contacts, but about sharing poetry. He convinced them to each recite some of their work.

Yibing Huang recorded his poem, “Shoulder to Shoulder We…” into an app called “Poem For You.” According to Yibing, the poets were skeptical. They weren’t “app” kind of guys. Was this really a good venue for poetry, they wondered? But, within minutes of the poets uploading their poems, he says, “there were hundreds of people ‘liking’ them and writing comments.”

Poets Gao Xing, Xiao Xiao and Yibing Huang at the "Poem For You" recording session in Beijing.  Credit: Courtesy Yibing HuangPoets Gao Xing, Xiao Xiao and Yibing Huang at the “Poem For You” recording session in Beijing. Credit: Courtesy Yibing Huang

Hundreds of ‘likes’ within minutes. In the US, where poetry can feel like the exclusive domain of MFA grads and disaffected teens, I would never say to someone, “If you really want to understand America, read some modern poetry.” But in today’s China, where it seems like everyone is writing poetry, that might be just the thing to do.

“Maybe you hear a poet like Zheng Xiaoqiong, who’s going to read a poem she wrote when she was a migrant worker in Southern China,” says Jonathan Stalling, editor of Chinese Literature Today, of the scene at a typical reading. “She’ll be talking about the vulnerable bodies of her co-workers, dancing like dust in the afternoon sun, reflecting off the machinery on the factory floor. The next poet could be Luo Ying, the pen name of Huang Nubo, who’s one of the most wealthy men in China and writes poetry from the point of view of a capitalist.”

As in other spheres, the Internet has proven a huge democratizing force in the world of Chinese poetry, leveling the playing field for migrant workers and millionaires alike. But love of verse was already there. Chinese poetry has 2,000 years of tradition at its back. Parents read it to their babies. Kids study it in school. But the thing is, most Chinese believe poetry peaked in the Tang Dynasty. That ended more than 1100 years ago. So for today’s poets, their chosen art form’s exalted status can feel like a double-edged sword.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, new poetry is dead in China,’” poet Ming Di says. She loves the ancient poets, but feels the strict classical forms they pioneered tended to dead end after, you know, a few hundred years.

“Poets in the Tang Dynasty already did their best. And we in 21st Century have to do something new — either we bring something new to the old form or go our own way.”

And they are. Modern Chinese poets are exploring radical new terrain when it comes to form, sentence structure, and perhaps most importantly, subject matter. At the far end of this spectrum, according to professor Heather Inwood, is the “School of Rubbish.” (Although, she says, “you can also translate it as the ‘Trash School,’ or something like that.”)

Poets Mo Mo and Yu Jian reveal a commemorative plaque at the the First Lushan New Century Famous Poets Summit. Credit: Heather InwoodPoets Mo Mo and Yu Jian reveal a commemorative plaque at the the First Lushan New Century Famous Poets Summit. Credit: Heather Inwood

Inwood teaches Chinese cultural studies at the University of Manchester in England and is the author of “Verse Going Viral,” a book about China’s new media scenes. “The ‘School of Rubbish’ became famous for writing poems about, basically, bodily excretions,” she explains. “Their goal was to go one meter lower than the ‘lower body’ — that was the name of an earlier poetry group around the turn of the millennium that wrote about sex. So they were thinking, ‘If we can’t write about sex because that’s already been done, what can we write about that will open people’s eyes to new ways of thinking about poetry?’”

And the answer was: Poems with a toilet theme. Of course, not everyone is convinced this is a hallmark of literary progress.

“People have argued … modern or contemporary Chinese poetry has not completely found its own legitimacy,” says Yibing Huang. “Some people say, ‘Is this a poem?’ You know, ‘This morning, I woke up. I drank a cup of coffee… Life sucks.’ People say that’s not a poem because it doesn’t rhyme. It doesn’t fit a certain expectation.”

Yet, social media may be turning the tide. This past January, WeChat, a messaging and social networking app, produced an unlikely media darling whose poems don’t rhyme and don’t avoid the fact that, yeah, sometimes life sucks. Yu Xiuhua had two books come out in one week and sell out overnight — 15,000 copies.

In addition to being a poet, Yu is also a farmer from a rural village who was born with cerebral palsy. As Ming Di points out, “Some people even consider her [to be the] Emily Dickinson in China.’”

Ming has translated some of Yu Xiuhua’s poetry, including her most famous poem, “Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You.”

To spend or to be spent, what’s the difference if there is any?
Two bodies collide — the force, the flower opened by the force,
and the virtual Spring brought by the flower — nothing more than this,
and this we mistake as life restarting.
In half of China, things are happening: volcanoes
erupt, rivers run dry,
political prisoners and displaced workers are abandoned,
elk deer and red-crowned cranes get shot.
I cross the hail of bullets to sleep with you.
I press many nights into one morning to sleep with you.
I run across many of me and many of me run into one to sleep with you.
Of course I can be misguided by butterflies
and mistake praise as Spring,
and a village similar to Hengdian as home.
But all these are absolute
reasons that I spend a night with you.

Shi Zhongren recites his poetry at the Zhu Gangzi peach blossom poetry meeting in a Beijing suburb. Credit: Heather InwoodShi Zhongren recites his poetry at the Zhu Gangzi peach blossom poetry meeting in a Beijing suburb. Credit: Heather Inwood

It’s hard not to feel good about social networks like WeChat if they can launch a woman like Yu Xiuhua into literary celebrity. And WeChat recently debuted a new program where every evening at 10pm it publishes a poem read by a “daily guest,” including luminaries like China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan. WeChat’s goal for the project is to help people “develop a deeper understanding of life.” Hard to imagine Twitter doing that.

Recently a popular Beijing anchor read “Shoulder to Shoulder We…” one of Yibing Huang’s poems on WeChat. Yibing is thrilled about the exposure the Internet brings him. But what is this all this doing to Chinese poetry?

“In a way I would say there is a danger in contemporary Chinese poetry,” Yibing says. “There is a kind of intellectual laziness. Taking poetry more for its entertainment value or eyeball effect.”

Social media has ensured there’s a lot more poetry out there, but Yibing argues it also makes the good stuff harder to find. How many microblog posts do you really want to scroll through to get your poetic fix? True that, but I wonder if purists are also miffed because they believe poetry is supposed be difficult — and a little out of reach. For this crowd, clickability has taken away some of poetry’s luster, and that’s unlikely to change. But as a vehicle for enjoyment, poetry has always been more unicycle than bullet train. Even the simplest poem requires a lot more of us than settling back to watch a movie.

The Internet isn’t going to kill poetry, people deciding it’s not worth that effort will. And that doesn’t seem likely to happen in China anytime soon.

Lisbon 2015 – Symposium: “Chineseness” in Contemporary Art Discourse and Practice (Day 4)

paulmanfredi:

‘International Research Network for Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art’ sounds like a great idea. I’m intrigued by mention of Gladston’s mention of a “closed network,” something which is closed by necessity, or choice? I can see some benefit of the the latter (selectivity leads to higher quality), but in this context perhaps open is preferable.

Originally posted on Rachel Marsden's Words:

The final day of the ‘”Chineseness” in Contemporary Art Discourse and Practice’ symposium but not my final day in Lisbon…that’s actually today, Friday…the end of my literally worldwide research travels from Dubai to Sharjah to Hong Kong to Lisbon. So many more blog posts to come! If you missed reading the write-ups of days 1 to 3, take a look through the link here. Before I jump into the account, I just wanted to say thank you to all those involved in the symposium…from the organisers, to the delegates, to the audience members…it has been great to talk about a subject that is important to so many of us, reaffirming as such…and for 4 days, something that doesn’t happen very often as we all have such busy work-home lives. To new and old friends and colleagues…see you very soon, no doubt in another random corner of the world. I’m already looking…

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