Poetry. Again. No escape. I guess I will just admit it. I like it. Dammit.
Last week one of my students came in with a proposal for a literature project on the Chinese poet Ouyang Jianghe. What the fuck? Chinese poetry? Are you kidding? Nothing but a little thing (4,000 words) examining the life and work of Ouyang Jianghe. (Who?) And then, as they say, a funny thing happened in the midst of my negativity. I read the stuff.
Most students who deal with Chinese poetry over here study Bei Dao, one of the so-called “Misty Poets.” These guys were, for the most part, booted from the PRC following the Tiananmen Square events in 1989, and are described as “misty” because their work is full of intentionally vague allusions and hermetic references. Probably the most famous Bei Dao poem is “The Answer”, though the collection, At The Sky’s Edge gets a good amount of play. Anyhow, suffice it to say, I was totally unfamiliar with Ouyang Jianghe.
And for good reason. The guy is no longer writing poetry, as has been said, everyone’s a critic. And now he is too. A member of the third generation of Chinese poets, Ouyang Jianghe is not “misty” but known as one of The Five Masters of Sichuan. Rather than focusing on politics or more abstruse references and metaphysics, he writes about everyday things – a modern/Eastern incarnation of literary realism, I suppose. He is pretty hard to find info on (shit, he is not in Wiki? What ever will we do??) but there is a brief bio online from a Berlin literary festival as well as a couple of others from various events.
But of course, my student came armed with verses. Literally. And we began to read.
“Every moment is the same moment.”
“So, an incisive look will reveal mankind to be wholly faceless, appearing as everything but being nothing.”
“But English has no territory in China.
It is merely a class, a form of conversation, a TV program,
in university a department, tests and paper.”
“Transparency is a mysterious visible language of waves,
when I say it I have already separated from it…”
“Language leaks out, dries up, before light penetrates.
Language is to soar, is
openness facing openness, lightning against lightning.”
“Language and time are transparent,
we pay a high price.”
“But who is the master of hat wild thought and ornate diction
speaks with flames, smears lips with tulips”
“With one eye people look for love
the other presses into the barrel of a gun
bullets make eyes at each other
your nose aims at the enemy’s living room
politics incline to the left
one person shoots at the east
another falls in the west”
“Wind, a masterpiece that surrounds the body.”
“Always I read, draped in flame or hunger.”
A realist. Perhaps. Realism gives a writer an opportunity to be supremely subversive by presenting something that is just about understandable and only subtly askew. Then only the truly astute will notice and how rare that the astute would be the ones who would choose censure or dismissal or death. Ouyang Jianghe writes about words and books and beauty and planned economies and leopards and diaspora and Soviet composers and workers in a glass factories Hamlet and fast food and language and power and death. Everyday is art. If all that is not political than I am not sure what is. For people who do not understand that… well, I suppose there is FNC and the WB for them.
So, Ouyang Jianghe is a master at that clever Chinese sleight of hand/mind/tongue/thought… he will let you think as you will about his poetry but he is most certainly saying what he means to be saying; and he feels no need to correct you, your error is your responsibility not his.
I think this will be a pretty interesting research project.