“Thanks for That”

Here’s a video I made a while back. If all goes well, this will be the first in a long series of poetry/art short takes.

This particular poem is one of my favorites by Yan Li. What caught my attention to begin with is the line “I can only help them tie their shoes”. Four years ago (when this was filmed), I was spending a lot of time tying shoes on five-year-old feet. It struck a chord.


<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/98451421″>Thanks for That</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user5276801″>paul manfredi</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Sun Lei “going out”



Preparing for a summer trip to China.  June-July in Shanghai-Beijing. After years of living in cool summer Seattle, the prospect a bit on the daunting side. Somehow, the exercise of translating Sun Lei’s poem (and pairing it with his painting “Purple Boat”) eases concern with just how hot it will be.



“Tendency” 取向

Going out. Summer

Facing this congealing wave of heat


It often becomes some kind of observer

Not far off, it staring down at virtually everyone

and the rain it expels is supple

wiping out half the sky


But an evening rain is in fact a kind of brutality

Sending main thoroughfares careening

down to lower ground


Going for a walk in summer

Is to go out looking for love. To go out in protest.

To go out and twist up this life.


At least, its to go out and lay claim to a slip of shade

Gingerly heading home along the tree shadows

Along roads many times obscured


And the few stones that comprise resistance

Give me a deep impression


They are lazily arranged there

and they are absolutely quiet

Cooling my own high self-esteem down a bit






























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.

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.

More on Qin Song, abstract painting and circles versus squares

Posted recently two poems and visual art works by Qin Song. Following up now with a bit more about him, and the project concerning Abstract expression I’ve got going. Qin was born in Anhui in 1932, and moved to Taiwan in ’49. He had a very successful career there in the 1950s, leading the modern printmaking movement (版畫), a work of which entitled “Sun Festival” (太陽節) gained him international acclaim. He was also the chair of the Modern Art Festival in 1966-1967.

At about the same time, he garnered attention of a wholly different sort, namely the ideological police of “Free China’s” ultra anti-left government. They found a single abstract image of his, a somewhat undulating red square, to be a reference to Chinese Communist Party. With that “discovery” they proceeded to find leftward leaning in anything he did, for instance the following “Spring View” (春望):


In fact this image was problematic for its containing the first character of Taiwan’s leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣), only its rendered upside down, which “translates” to “dao” 倒, meaning also to “bring down” or end a period of power. Try as I might, I can’t seem to quite find the character in the image.

After constant pressure and what amounted to a blacklisting of his work, Qing left Taiwan in 1969, emigrating to New York where he lived until his death in 2007.

In his later years he was more a painter than a poet (or printmaker, which as mentioned in previous post was his main claim to fame in the 1960s). His works are abstract, and mostly acrylic on canvas. They are also marked by a single enduring theme, namely the relationship between circles and squares. Paraphrasing her observations, this basic dichotomy is very rich in associations:


indicate nature,  like seeds, suns, and moons; circles are primitive, emotional, timeless, and original.


are man-made, they are limited, rule-based, reasonable, and ideological, and occasionally dogmatic. 

(抒情抽象繪畫 黃麗絹 行政院文化建設委員會, 2004)

Huang could go further with the same discussion, pushing back into Chinese philosophical tradition, namely the Yijing which includes discussion of the same dynamic (圓神方智), though with slightly more neutral (balanced) outcomes (–my thanks to Kiki Liu for this perspective). Regardless, with these oppositional scheme in mind, images do become more compelling:

“Variations on Circle and Square”方圓變奏