The Grace of Words: Deep in Lan Lan’s Lyricism

Translator’s Note

Lan Lan
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

In the male-dominated Chinese poetry world today, Lan Lan has been a significant female poetic voice, known for her lyrical writings and popular children’s literature. When I started reading Lan Lan some years ago, I came across an article that literally described her poems as maintaining “warm temperatures and sensibilities.” The adjective “warm” added an unusual dimension to my reading of her work, which explores romance and womanhood with unabashed yet subtle femininity, as well as depicting a décorticage of details in a receding natural world seen through an urban lens.

The question of “sentimentality” often arises during a critical analysis of the poet’s writings — whether it speaks from the heart and specific emotions in response to specific social happenings, or if it is a mere linguistic polish. As a reader and a translator, I observe how sentiments such as joy, grief, passion, kindness and forgiveness often sift through a distilled as well as contemporary word choice at a very gradual and steady rhythm — at ease and confident, seldom in excess. One does not find a hysterical voice, nor declarative statements. Instead, one finds different narratives that expand through small moments, and it is the music that provides the conduit. In-between certain word groupings embeds physically a silent space, which lends the work a quality of timelessness. A reader watches a poetic moment unfold itself in his or her present, while the words, as Lan Lan often alludes to, “nailed to the page” after “much deliberation,” resist being “over-read” grâce à their particular sonority and phonetic effect.

Poems of eros and meditation and lament, each of Lan Lan’s writings is a very intimate address. I have found in them a healing well. It invites me, again and back again. Its lightness, its grace, fallen from somewhere, lands on quiet notes, reminiscent of what Antonio Machado has fittingly coined as “weightless”:

I never sought the glory
nor to leave in memory
of men my song;
I love subtle worlds,
weightless and graceful
like bubbles of soap.

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