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Re-inscriptions: Poetic Engagement and Late Socialist Cultural Identity
Organizer: Jiayan Mi, The College of New Jersey
Chair: Rui Shen, Gettsburg College
Discussant: Michelle Yeh, University of California, Davis
Since the economic boom in post-Mao-Deng and late socialist era, contemporary Chinese poetry has suffered extreme marginalization and negligibility. This often-heard apologist lament about the bleak ecology of poetry raises many unsettling questions about the value, validity, and the civic function of poetry. In particular, questions of "Can Poetry Still Matter?" and "What Can Poetry Do?" force us to remap the cultural-political and aesthetical-ethical identity of poetry today. This proposed panel of four papers is to explore the active performance of poetry in a disturbing contemporary Chinese society. A particular focus of the panel will be on the new possibilities opening up for Chinese poetry, cultural strategies for launching poetic activities for engaging with social changes, and critical questions poetry helps us to ask about cultural flows and Chineseness.
Michael Day’s paper examines online poetry writing as new space for Chinese poetry in terms of audience, access, publication, and poetic experimentalism. He investigates how E-avant-garde poetry challenges the ideological censorship while creating a new lyric voice. Lucas Klein studies the global response to contemporary Chinese poetry. He scrutinizes how international consumption of contemporary Chinese poetry through translation created a contested ground for negotiating both Western and Chinese cultural identities. Shen Rui’s paper focuses on the critical positions of "women’s poetry" from a feminist perspective. She brings us to the pressing issues of female body, gender and sexuality in contemporary women poetry. Finally, through a study of the cinematic representation of poets and poetry in three contemporary Chinese films, Jiayan Mi seeks to shed new light on the issues of marginalization of poetry, and how its marginal status creates an enabling agency for the rejuvenation of Chinese poetry.
Online Poetry and New Cultural Populism in Contemporary China
Michael Day, Leiden University, Netherlands
The Internet as a space for poetry production became an integral part of the poetry scene in the People's Republic of China during 1999. Www.poemlife.com and other poetry forums began to attract the attention and participation of recognized avant-garde poets, previously only interested in paper publication, official or unofficial (in self-published journals with limited circulation). Earlier, access to such forums had been largely restricted to technology-savvy, "amateur" poetry enthusiasts. Amateur / avant-garde interaction is among the factors that have led to the development of Internet writing styles. This new trend is evident in the work of those who have learnt to write poetry and/or primarily publish in Internet forums (such as the woman poet Yan Wo). Among its features are spontaneous topicality and response, a quick "hook" that draws readers into poems, the topic of writing on the Internet itself and the new perspectives on writing and communication that this brings.
The Internet gives newcomers unprecedented, direct access to the avant-garde. They can publicly challenge established voices, and liase easily with like-minded poets, both in cyberspace and physically. An example of this is the developing "Low Poetry Movement" (Di shige yundong), which involves several online forums and associated poets and paper journals. This is not only an attack on established poetry and the recognized avant-garde, but also on the emergent E-avant-garde, such as the Poemlife website and associated poets, among other targets. Women poets have also taken advantage of the Internet to reach a larger readership in establishing forums devoted exclusively to women poets and poetry: Wings (Yi) and The Woman’s Poetry Paper (Nuzi shibao), both unofficially published poetry journals.
This paper offers a rough guide to the new territory of Internet poetry, and explores how it stimulates poetic developments in China at large.
Exile, Audience, and Aura: Contemporary Chinese Poetry and the Place of
Lucas Klein, Yale University
When Stephen Owen reviewed the prominent Chinese poet Bei Dao’s first book in English translation in 1990, he proposed that global political and economic realities compelled Chinese poets to write for an imagined audience in translation. Over the years a slow storm of responses from poets, translators, and academics has risen, arguing over the relationship between contemporary Chinese poetry and the international translation market. Rey Chow has called Owen an Orientalist for his essentialist view of what constitutes Chinese literature; Michelle Yeh has suggested that while poetry is created in history, it may also transcend history. Meanwhile, Yang Lian has elsewhere suggested that Ezra Pound’s Cantos reached their completion upon translation into Chinese, a view that specifically runs against the current of Owen’s argument, which recognizes the current political power of English over Chinese.
While my paper will attempt to untangle the strands of these debates by presenting something of a sociology of Chinese poetry in translation (especially into English) during the past two decades, I will make no claims for objectivity. In addition to being a scholar, I am also a translator, promoter, publisher, and reviewer of contemporary Chinese literature, and I will be upfront about my personal relationship with my topic. I aim to use my unique and engaged viewpoint to discuss the manifold ways in which Chinese poetry today is created and consumed within the context of translation, and how the Misty and Post-Misty poets have responded to this context in their poetry.
"Erotic Photos" and "The Obsession of Refusal": Repositioning Chinese Women
Poets at the Turn of the New Century
Rui Shen, Gettysburg College
Chinese women poets have been consciously active in the construction of "women’s poetry (nüxing shige)" in the past ten years under the influence of feminist literary theory. Due to the freedom of publication on the Internet, women’s poetry journals such as Yi (Wings, Beijing, 1998), Nüzi shibao (Women’s Poetry, 1990, Sichuan), Shichuhua nüzi shishe (Women’s club for poetry) and many Internet forums on women’s poetry signify the dynamism of women poets and their vigorous roles in the literary field of poetry. What position do the women poets take in their writing? How different are their positions in writing from that of women poets in the 1980s? What kind of relationship is there between their poetry and contemporary male poets’ writing? How can we understand women’s poetry in the context of social, cultural and moral changes in China in the past ten years?
I examine works from the body of women’s poetry and argue that Chinese women poets put forth a variety of new positions in their poetry. First, some women poets focus on the celebration of the female body and desire. The so-called "lower body" (xia banshen) poetry embodies this position. I will use Ding Liying’s poem "Erotic Photos" (Seqing zhaopian) as an example to discuss the significance of this trend. Second, some women poets take a conscious feminist position to describe and express female experiences in order to differentiate themselves from male poets’ writings. I will use Xing Hong’s poem, "The Obsession of Refusal" (Dui jujue de milian) to categorize this position. The aim of this paper is to delineate the development of "women’s poetry" (nüxing shige) as well as to analyze it in the context of contemporary Chinese literary and intellectual discourses.
Rewinding the Lines: Lyric Minoritarianism and Depoeticization in New Chinese
Cinema of Poetry
Jiayan Mi, The College of New Jersey
This paper, instead of looking directly at the disturbing condition of poetry itself, will focus on the cinematic representation of poetry and poet in three films The Poet (Casey Chan 1998), ZhouYu’s Train (Sun Zhou 2002) and Chicken Poet (Meng Jinghui 2003). Interesting enough, the three films of poetry attempt to address three significant manifestations of late socialist poetic zeitgeist—the diasporic, the romantic, and the consumerist. By situating poets and poetry in the tumults of social, cultural and moral changes, I argue, the films not only grapple with the uncanny fate of contemporary Chinese poetry in particular, but also provide us with a perceptive vision to understand the symptoms of our individual and communal identities in general, hence Oedipus infantilization in Gu Cheng (The Poet), romantic desexualization in ZhouYu’s Train, and claustrophobia in Chicken Poet.
By drawing on Delauze/Guattari’s retheorization of minor literature and minoritarianism, I will argue that the marginalized status of contemporary Chinese poetry cannot be said to confirm the demise of poetry, but rather, signifies an oppositional, deterritorializing power that enables poets and poetry to challenge the overarching majoritarian systems of repression and normalization while reclaiming poetry itself in the process of heterogeneous becoming. The final scene in Chicken Poet about the protagonist’s reincarnation of the combating Russian poet Mayakovsky marching in an empty Chinese street seems to make an unashamed statement that this is not a time of the ending but a new beginning for Chinese poetry.