Poets find new pulse

By Lu Qianwen Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-13 20:30:03

Poetry reading event in Xi'an. Photo: CFP
Poetry reading event in Xi'an. Photo: CFP
Is poetry fading from contemporary Chinese life? It seems that this revered form of literature has slipped through the cracks, in an age where the Internet offers quick literary fixes. Asked to cite notable poets, young Chinese people will throw out ancient names like Li Bai, Du Fu and Lu You.

Notable names in modern poetry include poets like Xu Zhimo, Dai Wangshu, Hai Zi and Bei Dao.

But poetry has always been a mainstay, despite varying popularity. It is prospering now, from the recent focus on poetry by publishers, to the depth of people's engagement.

"China has the largest number of poetry gatherings in the world," said He Xingsong, president of the poetry department at Changjiang Literature and Art Publishing House (CJLAP) in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei Province. "

Compared to the past two decades, poetry in China is embracing a [period of] rejuvenation," He told the Global Times.

New editions

As the president of the poetry department in CJLAP, which was officially set up in June, He said they have long been preparing for its establishment.

"We decided to set up this special department for poetry since enthusiasm for poetry has been warm," said He.

"The department is planning to publish a collection of modern Chinese poetry, as the 100th anniversary marking the arrival of Chinese modern poetry will be in 2017," said He.

"The book will cover more than 300 poets ranging from pioneers like Hu Shih and Lu Xun, as well as poets of the current generation like Zheng Xiaoqiu, born in the 1980s," he said. "It will be released early next year."

"Modern Chinese poets, poetry reviews and foreign poetry are all on our future publishing agenda," He said.

Another leading publisher, Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House (HNLAP), recently announced plans to publish a new edition of Garden of Translated Foreign Poetry, a publication popular from 1983 to 1992, suspended due to copyright issues.

According to Xu Xiaofang, the editor, the first issue is scheduled to be released this September. The issue will include poets like Edgar Allan Poe, George Gordon Byron and Charles Pierre Baudelaire.

"In the 1980s, this publication influenced the whole concept of modern Chinese poetry," said Xu in a recent interview with The Beijing News.

"With the recent demand for poetry, publishers like Hebei Education Press began to refocus on publishing poetry," said Xu. "We felt this was a good time to release this edition, based on rising interest."

Spiritual demand

"Poetry is not just an occupation, but a spiritual [calling]," said He. "Its gradual rise in recent years is due to the improved quality of people's life as well as the convenience of communication."

It's an instinct for people to be on the quest for spiritual fulfillment, after material needs have been met, he added.

Poemlife.com, China's first professional website on poetry established in 2000, covers everything related to the genre, including the latest publishing news, criticism, columns, translations, poetry meetings and blogs. The website is highly frequented.

"Social networking channels like Sina Weibo have also become popular platforms for poetry exchange," said He.

Thousands of online poetry forums like yze2000.com, wenxue2000.com and shixuankan.net materialized due to demand.

This brought in an upsurge of catchy online poems like "Three Playing Cards on the Sahara" written by Zhao Lihua, a member of Chinese Writers Association.

These online poems are popular among netizens but spark controversy, with academics and others arguing that they are vulgar and not real poems.

"Online poetry is a new kind of poetry, with [a different] format," said He.

Though some do not think poetry today can mimic the success of poetry in the 1980s, He said this is because appreciation for poetry often comes retroactively.

"There's a lag between the production and popularity of a work," he said.

Hai Zi, for example, was not famous before 1989. But after he committed suicide that year, his poems became famous. Hai's "Facing the Sea with Spring Flowers Blossoming" is now a classic in modern Chinese poetry.

"When poems arouse sympathetic feelings among readers, they become popular," said He.

Gilded future

With people seeking spirituality, more will seek poetry, according to He.

"Poetry can become part of life, a hobby instead of a job," he said. "Real poets today are not the stereotypical images of the impoverished or the psychotic writer," he added. "They lead normal lives and have decent jobs."

Poets like Li Yawei and Pan Xichen, who have published poems like "Chinese Department" and "See Sea in June" respectively, have their own companies valued at millions of yuan. Other poets like Zhu Zhu, acclaimed for "Bounding for Another Planet," work as curators.

This month, seven renowned modern poets including Sang Hengchang, Zhao Yonghong and Gao Yanguo paid a visit to Europe to hold 10 poetry workshops in Hungary, Austria, Czech and Germany.

Modern Chinese poetry draws heavily from the West, according to Hai Xiao, a poet in China.

"When breaking from the concept of traditional Chinese poetry in the 1910s, Chinese poets failed to connect with tradition," said Hai Xiao. "Now we should think about extending tradition."

"There are many international poetry festivals today that facilitate the communication between Chinese poets and their foreign peers," He said.

With platforms at home and abroad for Chinese poets to utilize, poetry is entering a golden age.

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