New poems from Spittoon magazine, by Li Jiaoyang and Chen Bo
Writing poetry in a second language is like floating in zero gravity; it is freeing and terrifying at the same time. Many jump out of their mother tongue, but few find grace in the free-fall. Li Jiaoyang and Chen Bo – both native Mandarin Chinese speakers whose English poems are published below – have each found a distinct voice in a foreign tongue. Not only that: they have succeeded in presenting the English language to native speakers as something wild and new.
These two writers demonstrate clearly why to learn a new language is to see the world in a different way. It is not hard to see the productive potential that language learning has for poetry, whose gift is to show us the world in new ways, and also to understand how a Chinese-speaking poet might, upon learning English, see a fresh new set of tools with which to paint.