Poetry

Poetry Between Languages

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.

Poetry

A Century of China’s New Poetry

Six poems by Mo Yan and others, spanning generations – edited by Ming Di

China’s New Poetry Movement was started in Beijing in 1917 by Hu Shi (1891–1962) and reinforced by the May 4th Movement in 1919. But what was its esthetic goal, what influence does it still exert on cultural life in China, and what has been challenged? New Poetry From China: 1917-2017, a new anthology, tries to address the many dimensions of the movement, covering works from most of the important poets still relevant today. 120 poets were selected, from Hu Shi to contemporary voices, including dissident poets. Mo Yan and Liu Xiaobo are back to back on the pages, and many other poets are translated into English for the first time. Two major traditions within the New Poetry Movement have been pushing each other forward: Spoken Language Poetry and Neoclassical Poetry, both are experimental in language and form but with different approaches. We hope you enjoy this small sample of six poems below, representing the span of different generations of poets, from Zheng Min, born in 1920, to Su Xiaoyan born in 1992. – Ming Di

Poetry

Waterfall of Youth

A seminal Tibetan poem, in a new translation by Lowell Cook

The tragic yet prolific life of Dondrup Gyal (1953-1985) was one of foremost catalysts for the birth of modern literature in Tibet. Having grown up during the Cultural Revolution, Dondrup Gyal was one of the first Tibetans to attend Chinese universities in the Reform and Opening era. Not only did studying with renowned Tibetan and Chinese scholars at the Central Nationalities Institute in Beijing hone his writings skills and give him access to a new world of literature, it also shaped his progressive vision for the Tibetans. It was this combination of literary skill and innovative thinking that Gyal would soon become famous for. Unfortunately, his progressive views also made him a target for criticism and ostracization in the highly conservative Tibetan society of the day. This, in addition to strained relationships with colleagues, local officials, and his wife Yumkyi, contributed to his suicide in 1985 at the age of 32. Despite Gyal’s short life, his collected works contain six volumes of poetry, fiction and essays.