In Search of a Transient Eternity: Chinese Poet Yu Xiang

Yu Xiang
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

A key figure of the post-70s Chinese poets, YU XIANG ( 宇向 ) began writing poetry in 2000. She has been actively involved in contemporary art, avant-garde literature and other activities. Her honors include the Rougang Poetry Prize (2002), the Yulong Poetry Prize (2006), and the Cultural China Annual Poetry Award (2007). Enigmatic and sensual, Yu Xiang’s writings are immensely popular. She is the author of a volume of poetry, Exhale (2006) and a chapbook, Sorceress (2009). A pocket and bilingual edition of her poems, Low Key, was also recently published by The Chinese University Press of Hong Kong in November 2011.

Yu Xiang’s first major collection in English translation, I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain) is forthcoming from Zephyr Press as part of the Jintian series in 2012. She has also, as a visual artist, exhibited oil paintings at various venues. She currently lives in Ji’nan, the capital city of Shandong Province.

You once said, “Poet and hero do not share the same concept.” Why? Poet Bei Dao — the key figure of the “Misty”/”Obscure” poetry movement — wrote in his poem, “Declaration”: “I am no hero, / In an age without heroes / I just want to be a man,” whereas ancient Chinese poets seem to laud for the romantic image of a poet as the “hero,” a spiritual herald, a savior…

This depends on the context. Even if it is out of any context, in today’s Chinese society it is awkward to claim that “a poet is a hero.” This is because the concept of “hero” is a murky polysemy, even self-contradictory. In terms of implications, it is far from the essence and purity of a “poet.”

As a poet who speaks through poetry, have you ever felt constrained or restrained by poetry as a form of expression?

There is a context too when it comes to “a poet who speaks through poetry.” It does not mean in an absolute sense that I’d ever “felt constrained or restrained by poetry as a form of expression.” Rather it signifies my pure passion for poetry, and my preference not to participate in activities or exploring terrains that do not really interest me.

What is your environment for creation like?

I don’t have a fixed environment for creation. Every environment contains the possibility for writing. Sometimes I jot down lines in my cellphone; sometimes I write them on a notebook, a piece of scrap paper or in the margins of a newspaper; sometimes, I type them in a computer. Most of these lines do not make it into a poem, but this is a habit of mine. In most cases, I ponder over a poem for a long time, revising it continuously.

When a piece of writing is about to be completed, or when it is completed and needs to be tidied up on the computer, I occasionally choose some music, or most of the time, just stay quiet. Perhaps there might be voices or sounds from the surrounding environment, for instance, the sweet snores of a child, furniture being moved, someone washing his foot or sweeping the floor upstairs, a neighbor coughing, people yelling downstairs as they sharpen their knives, the wind suddenly pushing open a window… these mysterious sounds help sustain my writing.


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