A New Category of New

The particular instance of verbal visuality apparent in contemporary calligraphic performances of contemporary Chinese poetry is fascinating to me. Calligraphy, though indeed rather variegated after roughly 2000 years of theory and practice, experiment, return, renewal and the rest, has among its underlying concept balance. The balance in calligraphy, something ancient and fundamental, drawn from the world of nature in ways few arts can (in my humble opinion) stands in rather stark contrast to the awkwardness of modern poetry, the awkwardness of the everyday, the voice of the now.  The drawing together, so to speak, of these two media is an exciting prospect, exciting because of the inherent conversation at work, an extra-linguistic (graphic) comment on the ideas conveyed combined with a musicality or rhythm all its own. The following calligraphy by Ouyang Jianghe, a performance of the first three stanzas of Bei Dao’s  “Rose of Time,” is a good case in point:

时间的玫瑰

当守门人沉睡
你和风暴一起转身
拥抱中老去的是
时间的玫瑰

当鸟路界定天空
你回望那落日
消失中呈现的是
时间的玫瑰

calligraphy by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 书法

当刀在水中折弯
你踏笛声过桥
密谋中哭喊的是
时间的玫瑰

当笔画出地平线
你被东方之锣惊醒
回声中开放的是
时间的玫瑰

镜中永远是此刻
此刻通向重生之门
那门开向大海
时间的玫瑰

The Rose of Time 

when the watchman falls asleep
you turn back with the storm
to grow old embracing is
the rose of time

when bird roads define the sky
you look behind at the sunset
to emerge in disappearance is
the rose of time

when the knife is bent in water
you cross the bridge stepping on flute-songs
to cry in the conspiracy is
the rose of time

when a pen draws the horizon
you’re awakened by a gong from the East
to bloom in echoes is
the rose of time

in the mirror there is always this moment
this moment leads to the door of rebirth
the door opens to the sea
the rose of time

translation from The Drunken Boat

Ouyang, a veteran poet himself, has taken Bei Dao’s actually rather regulated metrical form, with repetition of “rose of time” phrase and relatively strict free-verse structure, and strewn it about the page like, to quote old E.P., cabbages tossed on pale satin. This cacophony of strokes,  seeming attempts at indentation, awkward drifting and bending of the lines, allows us to actually see the opening up (Heideggerian clearing) of poetic spaces, visible resonance among the words, like the breath of the poet, like, in fact, so many knives bending in water. It is this combination of visuality in imagery and visuality in the presentation of the imagery that I find extraordinary. Such a tradition is ancient in China, but also new and renewed each time a calligrapher sets her hand to the task of the performance. This is, to my mind, an excellent instance of an intimately ancient art that is also fully contemporary.

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2 thoughts on “A New Category of New

  1. maria says:

    I definitely agree with you. The perfect fusion between words and images in traditional Chinese paintings is beyond compare and the way many contemporary artist and poet are renewing it it’s equally interesting and fascinating.

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