有批评家认为我诗歌的主调，是文化批判和社会关怀，也许是小时候读的中国传统文学“忧患”意识的烙印，特别是《诗经》和唐诗宋词深入骨髓的浸透，我自诩学习先辈屈原、杜甫那样写作，守护一个诗人的语言良知。我诗歌中的日常生活并不仅仅是个人的琐屑事情，内心的追问也不仅关乎彼岸，而与公共空间的遭遇相切。比如我1985年的诗《大迁移》就写了修电站搬迁22万多人，山民“对脚下的土地”的陌生，传统民俗的痛苦呻吟。1990年2月11日，南非当局释放他当天，我就写了《纳尔逊·曼德拉》： “真理像洁白的牙齿闪亮”特蕾莎修女刚刚过世的1997年9月29日，我写了《德兰修女》，90年代，我写了《在商品中散步》等一系列涉及中国由农业文明背景断裂为消费信息社会的诗，例如当中国的第一家商场以“广场”这种过去属于政治术语的名词命名，我写了《天河城广场》，当中国成为世界工厂之际，我写了《在东莞遇见一小块稻田》，关于土地的变迁。早在世纪初，我写了《太原》，其后《野生动物园》等，涉及国人当时甚少关注的环境生态问题。我很早就写了《1967年的自画像》，为小时候对文革期间武斗等事件的感受，《震惊》写了林彪9.13事件；《罗姆尼新罕布什尔胜利集会》写了美国总统选举；《给那个踢球的人当一回总理》写了欧盟的经济危机；《有关与无关》写了复杂的国际政治和国内政治关系。1987年我写《电子游戏》，2014年写《地球 苹果的两半》触及微信，科技对人类生活的影响不言自明。而《人民》《如今高楼大厦是城里的庄稼》等诗，可借用《南方周末》的广告词，在这里，读懂中国。但我是一种倾听的姿态进入写作，并不剑拔弩张。中山大学中文系副教授胡传吉说：“杨克区别于多数诗人回避世俗，或将世俗生活丑化、矮化的倾向，杨克的手法则是以一个相对温和、儒雅的方式，主动发现生活中那些温情的部分，以及生活中自含的悲剧性。愤怒出诗歌是再容易不过的，要骂、批判一个东西非常容易，但温和儒雅恰恰非常罕见却又十分有力量。这种温和、儒雅后面包含了一种智慧和冷静。”
A Gaze at the Infinite from the Limits of Profound Realistic Concerns
I remember myself buying the book Foreign Modernist Works, published by the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, in 1980. This book was the first encounter of a whole generation, me included, with western modernist literature. Then, over a decade ago, I wrote an essay about the deep impression that Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem The Panther left on me the first time I read it. It could fairly be said that from that moment and throughout the 1980s, that entire generation was eager to devour western modernist and post-modernist literature, including all kinds of artistic theories and philosophies. That era was greatly influenced by European, north American literature and by the “Latin American Boom”, trends that emphasized the Self and that considered How to be more important than What in literary creation. Just as Liang Xiaobin said “The floating descent of a blue handkerchief flying off a balcony is no less important than the blue handkerchief in itself”
Yet when I look back at my creations now, after over 30 years of writing poetry, I realize that I share the same feeling once expressed by Yu Hua: “I thought my writing technique had a fresh modernist style, but it turned out it was actually realist to the very bones”.
I once said: “The poetry that I write about the world makes modernity plunge into realistic concerns and the individual to merge with its time, thus displaying the elements of a specific coexistence space while firmly believing in writing for humanity.” I’ve always been distinguished from other poets in my quest for maintaining a tension between the “on-the-spot” and the “right now” and, specifically, in facing and handling the powerful strength of the “right now”.
Some critics think the keynotes of my poems are cultural criticism and social concerns. Maybe due to the footprint left by the consciousness of “suffering” in Chinese traditional literature, such as that found in The Book of Songs or in the poetry of the Tang and Song Dynasties, all of which I eagerly read in my childhood, I immodestly claim to follow the steps of poets like Qu Yuan and Du Fu in the sense of striving to maintain the linguistic wisdom of a poet. The ordinary life depicted in my poetry is not just about the trivialities of my personal life, nor only about a deep questioning of my inner self, but rather about the vicissitudes and encounters that public spaces provide. For example, in my 1985 poem the Great Migration I depicted 220,000 peasants relocated to make room for a power plant, the awkwardness of the “the earth under their feet” and the throbbing moaning of traditional customs. On February 11, 1990, the day Nelson Mandela was released by South African authorities, I wrote the poem Nelson Mandel: “The truth shines just like his clean white teeth.” On September 29, 1997, when Mother Teresa just passed away, I wrote the poem Mother Teresa. In the 1990s I composed Wandering in Commodities and a series of other poems about China shattering its longstanding agricultural civilization and diving into an era of information consumerism, example of which is the poem Tianhe City Square, that was written when the first mall of China was named “Square”, a word that previously belonged only to political terminology. I also wrote Encountering a Small Patch of Rice Field, a poem that depicts the transformation of the land and portrays China turning into the world’s factory. At the turn of the century I wrote Taiyuan followed by Safari Park, along with other poetic works swirling around environmental issues of which society was not very much concerned back then. Many years have gone since I wrote Self-portrait of 1967, a poem in which I depicted my feelings, as a child, towards the violence experienced during the Cultural Revolution. Shock was about the 9.13 Lin Biao incident; Romney’s Successful Gathering in New Hampshire was about the presidential election in the US; Be the Prime Minister for that Soccer Player was about the economic crisis in Europe; Relevant and Irrelevant depicted the complex political relationships at the national and international levels. I wrote Video Games in 1987 and Two Halves of the World Apple in 2014, to illustrate how “WeChat” and technology in general have undoubtedly influenced people’s life. As for poems like the People and Skyscrapers are Crops in the City, they are the poems to read if you want to learn about China, to quote Southern Weekly journal. But I’m never an aggressive writer. I always start to write as an open-minded listener. Hu Chuanji, associate professor of the Department of Chinese of Sun Yat-sen University once said, “Yang Ke has a different approach compared with many poets who tend to avoid or, even worse, vilify and debase mundane life. Yang Ke has a more mild and elegant style, which realizes both the warm-heartedness and tragedy amidst life. To write a poem out of anger just needs cursing and criticizing, a rather simple task. To be mild and elegant, on the other hand, is a rare and powerful force which carries wisdom and calmness within.”
Xie Mian, a Peking University Professor, reviewed my work in the following terms: “Yang Ke’s poetry is filled with vast and deep history and reality. His flying imagination is deeply rooted in reality, thus allowing us to see the infinite within the limited and to gaze at the opposite shore from this very bank. His words might be simple, but richness and depth underlie beneath.” Wu Sijing, Yang Lian, Huo Junming, Zhao Siyun and Gong Kuilin share similar opinions: Yang Ke’s poetry “depicts the living conditions of the lower classes amidst the mismatch between the self, the other and society as a whole. As they call our attention for that dark and hidden reality, they reveal with grave depth the pain which besets our society”; “opens the doors or cracks to observe the history of a poet’s soul and the history of China from a more local and personal perspective”; “provides a holographic panorama of this era by deeply plunging into the moving historical context.”; is “the true shelter for ‘the people’ and Chinese culture”. Zhang Ning, Gan Gulie and Zhang Liqun said that another dimension of my “roaming-in-the-city writing” “involves ‘a new urban experience’ expression” and is “the paradigmatic poetry of China’s commercial age”.
But of course a poet’s writing cannot be philosophically consistent. I also write poems that experiment with words, poems about nature and poems about the Self. Moreover, an important part of my work swirls around deep questionings about time. Zhang Ning also said, “Yang Ke is one of those people blessed with the ability to be surprised at new things. In this modern era, a poet able to be curious and amazed by the world is, indeed, a poet by nature.”