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

Excerpts

Beijing’s Last Steel Factory

Jonathan Chatwin visits the abandoned Shougang steelworks

EXCERPTED FROM LONG PEACE STREET

On a sultry August morning, a taxi brought me through Beijing’s western suburbs to the literal end of the road. At a makeshift barrier, a young police officer waved us to a standstill. “You can’t go any further,” he told the taxi driver, glancing pointedly at the foreigner in the back- seat, “It’s a building site beyond here: residents only.” Behind him and the barrier he tended, an almost empty stretch of gloss-black tarmac ran west.

I told the driver I would get out. “Here?” he asked, raising an eyebrow in the rear-view mirror. Here was the very western limit of Beijing, where the frayed edge of the city rubbed against the rough dun stone of the Western Hills. Besides the checkpoint, there was nothing here but a few brick buildings, the forbidden road ahead and the construction site which bordered it, fenced off with blue corrugated iron panels. “Here,” I repeated, proffering my money.

Excerpts

The Dirty DA of Shanghai

US judge Leonard Husar’s sordid judiciary in 1920s Shanghai – Douglas Clark

Milton Purdy, upon arrival as the US Judge in Shanghai at the hearing to welcome him, commented on “how fortunate had been the U.S. Government in getting men of such excellent quality and ability as the officials of this court.” At the very end of 1926, he learnt how wrong he had been. The US Court for China saw the trial of two of its officials for engaging in serious criminal misconduct.

First, Purdy had the sad duty to pass sentence on the former Clerk of the US Court, William Chapman, who had pleaded guilty to embezzling $15,000 from the court. He had originally fled to Seattle, but was caught on arrival in the US and was brought back to Shanghai for trial. Purdy sentenced Chapman to three years and five months imprisonment. Having arrived in Shanghai to be sentenced, Chapman was then put back on the same boat, the President Roosevelt, heading back to Seattle. Long-term US prisoners were now imprisoned at the federal penitentiary on McNeil Island in Puget Sound just near Seattle.

Bangdong

Village Lives

Profiles from China’s changing countryside – Matthew Chitwood

The changes that China’s countryside has witnessed in recent years are unlike anything experienced in any other country during any other time in history. Many cite Shanghai’s iconic Pudong district as a feat of modern development, transformed in just 30 years from empty farmland into futuristic skyline. But to me, the transformation of remote rural China is even more remarkable.

Consider that most rural Chinese grew up in poverty with little or no education. People in their sixties endured unspeakable suffering during times of violent domestic chaos. Most in their fifties never got enough to eat in childhood, and many are illiterate. Those in their forties grew up without electricity, and most in their thirties still remember their village getting its first television set, and completed only junior high school, if that. Now, not only do they all have more than enough to eat, but virtually everyone carries around a mini-computer in his or her pocket.