Hold Fast in the Heart, Win Slowly of the World
--Inside and Outside of the Poet, Centres and Margins of Poems
(Trans. from Chinese by Xuan Yuan & the author)
No matter how far the modern art can go, the center remains its attribution in the square inch, the artist’s heart.
Ever since the leaving of the God, his place, explicitly or implicitly, has been left to the artists with the job of creation. However, it would surely be another story whether he/she were needed to take it on, or were able to.
Language artist, the poet has had the eternal faith in the harmonious coexistence of the Heavens, the Earth, Human Being and Gods. He/she had been confident in that the outside vastness is his/her inside deepness. But now, despite the abdication of this confidence, it remains unknown yet hopeful that the arrival of the vastness of the world can be done by the instead inside mining of the language.
Ideally, also on the actual writing reality, without the inside deepness, the immeasurable width of the outside is no more than boundless emptiness for the poet; without the emotional impulse of writing from the deep inside, the enormous information cloud in the outside is nothing but the inevitable jamming in your life setting; without the immovable ballast of a sober inside, you will get lost in nowhere in this restless mortal world.
Undoubtedly, nowadays everyone including poet lives in an unsettled changing era. Lost are bucolic tranquility, walking-on-the-earth steadiness, “Ellâm Onru” (means “All is One”) direction, and the protection of valuable criteria. Even “look”, once the beginning of thinking has given way to the spamming of endless dispensational visuals. These, for an inner being, the contemporary one with the requiem will, are disasters but definitely coexisted with opportunities. Such reality is not only doomed to produce its epochal shock troopers, but also even beneficial to the poetry if the poet can hold fast himself/herself, because “disaster shock” is exactly the creation mechanism of poetry which could hardly reach the sublime unless fixing its initial point within. As long as those misfortunes imposed on are not too strong to destroy, poem-pearls are given the clam to breed.
The reality obtaining its gigantic success never needs a poet and its own creation canopies its triumphal procession while the failure, the real disaster is the precipice for the myth of poetry to open its eagle wings and renew its flying into another world where wild vitality of heroism pioneers its way lonely but rampantly.
Then, a poem comes out, also a center in margins comes out and from this moment forward, the center enters into an eternal chain of sliding game, slipping into margins unstopped, meanwhile appearing as another center always. Every center is strewn in the countless centers.
Poet is usually someone staying in margins, with his/her square inch, the heart as the center of the world. Set on the look and scrutiny at margins, he/she is destined to build up the heart of the world. All things entering into his/her square inch are applied as materials for the world building, while others failing to, not taken or rejected are non-existent. So is the reader being in the margin to look and scrutinize, poems are not existent either when failing to get his/her responsiveness.
Before meeting with readings, communications, each poem, each center stays in the cold margins till someday it is embraced by the passion of a reader or a translator… Indifferent treatments are margins, warm welcomes are centers. When margins melted in the sites of understanding, of communicating, of translating, flowing centers emerge. Everyone could seize the chance to be at a center in this era producing 15-minute fame for all. In the globalizing space, this center could become a legend, like this morning when I wrote this short essay, I got a wechat message from Hai An that he got a Polish translator’s email and informed his poem “Tsunami” (2004) had been chosen by “One Poem One Week” project on web and had been translated into more than 10 languages in one week. I even heard another poem in this project has been translated into 100 languages. It could be the best thing for a poet during his career when his works are translated into other languages as much as possible, not just in circulation, also, even in understanding. Sometimes even those doubts, obscurities, incoherence in the original poems are luckily invented to be the intelligible. However, even the poem that got 100 languages translations slides into the margins next week, and is replaced by another poem with its multi-languages translations. The changeability of the centers is the typical feature of a cyberspace time in which centers constantly float into margins that is the most popular curses played on loop by the time culture.
So, a poet nowadays, particularly the best one among others all, maybe he/she still writes his/her own birth stories, metamorphoses, that is, uses his/her own language to rewrite classics, metaphors, those of erstwhile or present-day, regenerating those centers again and again. Thanks to this instinctive literary taste, unintentional tactics, the poet cope accidentally with the curse and find a crack to flee out of its black hole. Before covered by the next poem with its multi-languages translations, the center of this week resorts to the powerful tradition, enters into a deep place in one passionate reader’s heart and settles down there. Only this single stationing in could the poem resist the time curse of a too-quick marginalization.
If this resistance is only a myth in contemporary changeableness, then, I’d like to be an ancient one who cherishes the myth and awaits someday, every dog has its day, it also could become a 15-minute fashion in poetry circle.
Am I a pessimist? Maybe, pessimism closely related to and mutually dependent on disasters is usually the productive resource of poems. When I wrote the poem “A Dot” with huge sorrowfulness, the core resistance is to “create” instead of “say about” a real “smallness”, namely, the dots of small souls being squeezed and crushed in our time. And see what the dot screams. When “A Dot” with speedy rhythm, theme of small souls struggling in the margins was read in a communication center – 2016 The 13th “Ars Poetica” International Festival in Bratislava, it brought me unexpected good luck and got a special chance to become a relatively fixed center. The organizers of the festival decided to publish my Slovak poems book and it is said to be the first Slovak one from a contemporary Chinese poet. Finally, I got the book one week ago when the translator, sinologist Daniela Cziráková came to Beijing to visit CASS.
Please allow me to read this lucky poem.
Running in a race with destruction, nowhere to hide, a dot runs;
destruction blossoms dottedly, large dust-flakes pressing down;
a dot runs, desperately, heart-full of passing-through scudded clouds
across the sky, across fallen homeland, piercing the waist of evil creativity.
An angel looks back, everywhere no shelter, who is demolishing, demolishing
with full speed ahead? Homeless, helpless, I run and run and run at a loss, no touchdown,
a dot running on tips of needles, on blades of knives and chopping boards,
a dot, tiny as a conjured mote, all that remains of our soul,
a dot, casted by a big ball of desire to survive. Thank god!
I ride and ride and ride a flower parachute, three flower umbrellas,
against waves of spraying dangers, and incessant crises swell, swell, swell...
There must be actions! No. 20 dot kicks a shot, making the bullets fly;
No. 13 dot dashes out like a slant shot out of a barrel.
Riding on bees, jumbo mount buzzing about, at least nine dots
break through 9 millimeter bean-shaped lights in the hell-deep towering
of terror. Twinkle dots falling,
hopes splashing, flashing sparkles!
Struggle! Struggle! Lifting two sewing needles,
threefold be the curse I weave and weave and weave 'round disorder's head,
a bag of saving oneself, a preaching finger
covers me, I lie down under the sky, towards the flameout morning sun.
(Trans. by Xuan Yuan, Tim Lilburn & the author)
Chinese poet, essayist, translator, poetics scholar, editor, Ph.D. Zhao Si (b. 1972) is the author, translator of 12 books, including poems book Disappearing, Recalling (2016, won the "2014 Major Support Project" by CWA), Matchstick Man (in USA, 2017, nominated for 42 Pushcart Poetry Prize), two poetry books of Tomaž Šalamun (both 400+ pages each): Light-Blue-Pillow Tower (2014) and The Enormous Boiling Mouths of the Sun (2016), Edmond Jabès: Complete Poems (one of two translators, 2018), and selected work by others: Hart Crane (US), Ted Hughes (UK), Vladimir Holan (Czech), Yannis Ritsos (Greece), et al. Some of her poems have been translated into 16 languages and published overseas. She is a frequent guest at different poetry festivals held worldwide. She works for the Poetry Periodical and is the executive editor-in-chief of the prestigious Contemporary International Poetry. She was awarded Polish Marii Konopnickiej Poetry Prize in 2012, Orion Visiting Artist in University of Victoria, Canada in 2017-2018. Since 2017, she became the vice-president of European Medal of Poetry and Art-HOMER. She lives in Beijing.