Ouyang Jianghe is one of the most known poets living in China, as well as the president of the literary magazine Jintian (Today). In an extensive talk with mART, the Chinese author discussed poetry’s history in his home country and revealed there is a new movement surfacing in the last two years, bringing back strength to a genre that was getting less attention.
By Luciana Leitão
Chinese poetry is regaining strength in the last two years, with new authors coming up inspired by daily life scenes, and incorporating keywords and new media language into their compositions. Ouyang Jianghe, here in the territory under The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival, says he appreciates this movement and is now trying to get some influxes into his own work.
Born in Sichuan, Ouyang Jianghe is a poet and critic of music, art and literature. His first poetry collection in English, Doubled Shadows (2012), was published by Zephyr Press.
China’s has had an extensive poetic production throughout centuries, but over the last years that has somewhat changed. “There has been a change of position of poetry — it is still very important, but the scale has gradually changed; before, it was widely spread and much more popular,” he says. Yet, with modernization and the development of Internet, people are getting distracted. “People have other things to consider,” he adds.
Throughout history, “poets were usually considered well-educated and bureau-related people,” which would be “a strange situation” for poetic production. In contemporary China, People who are writing poetry are “no longer tightly bonded with the Government” and, instead, “they are individuals, creating their own poetry, they have their own genre”, contributing for “diversity”.
He would divide poetry production into different phases in China, starting with “ancient China”, moving on to a second phase in which the interest has “shrunk” with people having “other distractions”. Let’s not forget “poetry went through the Cultural Revolution, which put a stop into its growth, taking about 40 years” to grow back again.
More recently, in the last two to three years, a re-growth of interest in poetry has surfaced. “Among young readers, now poetry is even more important than novels, which is not a normal situation,” he says. As to why this is happening, he doesn’t have answers yet. “One explanation may be that young people use poetry nowadays to know themselves better and express themselves better and also try to develop themselves,” he mentions. “Another reason is that they may think the access to other things is very easy, like Internet and other kind of digital information, so they don’t feel these resources are enough for them to really know themselves,” the poet adds. “There’s poetry in newspapers, advertisements, even commercially.”
This new poetry movement gets influxes from the older generation and from abroad. “They write things in a way that’s simple, fast and does not have much burden or attachment with history or politics, but it still has the heritage of older generation of poets, like through the topics of love, youth and loneliness,” he says. “They use language and keywords from the Internet and the new media, they naturally adopt this into their poetry language.” They write about “news, commercials, work, modern daily life”.
Ouyang Jianghe is also “absorbing this energy” from younger authors, writing also about more daily things.
Asked whether the Government censorship, which exists in Mainland China, has any impact on the poetic creation, Ouyang Jianghe says he does not feel it in his own work. “There are two layers of poetry in contemporary china — the first one are the official publications, under the guidance of the Government,” he says. But then there’s a poetry “more related to folk culture,” which is what Ouyang Jianghe has been doing. “At first, we started doing this underground, printing out the outcome in Hong Kong and overseas,” he says.
Nowadays, they are able to publish even inside China. “Government has not had influence in what I’ve been writing,” he assures. “I already eight poetry collections published in China; the difficulty does not lie on the control of certain officials, but on the writing itself, because the more popular their poetry is, the higher standards he needs to comply,” he adds.
Chinese poetry is scarcely translated into other languages. He hopes “there is more” being translated, but he recognises the difficulties. “There are more translations of [Chinese] novels — these are stories and people related more to that,” he says.
Plus, poetry also aims at “building the language,” becoming “non-translatable” as a whole. “There is always going to be that problem, but that’s also the charm of poetry,” he adds. “It represents the highest level of success of the language, and it’s always going to be a minority’s language.”
Some of his own poetry has been translated into English, French and German. “It’s difficult to translate, but if you turn it into English, you gain some new ideas — there is something gone and something gained,” he says. “I always welcome this exchange.”