Two New Poems by Yu Jian, January 2018

Yu Jian photo AUG 2014

Chinese poet 于坚 Yu Jian

  • 《雄狮》

哪里是城市  人类  哪里是图书馆
它知道哪儿要奔跑  哪儿要悠游
它知道孤独  欢乐  失败与荣耀
它知道哪儿是草地  河流  沼泽 长颈鹿
它知道  君临一切   运筹帷幄
匍匐在荒野上  苍茫万物中的
一小个点  一粒沙子  一片树叶
一个穿着迷彩服的士兵  一个土著人
烧制的幽暗陶罐  空着  在时间中



  • “Lion”

It has the whole of Africa inside its head.
It knows where it can — and can’t — go.
Where the cities are. The people. And the libraries.
It knows where it must run for its life. And where less haste is best.
It knows solitude. Pleasure. Defeat and glory.

It knows where the plains are. Rivers. Swamps. Giraffes.
It knows how to be King of the World. How to think up strategies.
Slinking through wilderness. In the vast realm of creatures.

A speck. A grain of sand. A single leaf.
Soldier dressed in camouflage gear. Tribesman.
A dark clay pot fired in the flames. Empty. Waiting
in time for food.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Continue reading “Two New Poems by Yu Jian, January 2018”



To be like her: to enjoy
the fair rest of the fairest,
that repose, where doubt
overturned by beauty
completely loses its voice, as if —
like a stone — it never had a voice;
no hemidemisemiquaver of negative noise;
no tremor even from remote self-shadow;
just perfectly pleasurable pause.

Harrison Mitchell Plays “Simon Says”

We never know what he’ll come up with next. The thinking hard written all over his face reduces us to painful helplessness every single time. “Simon says . . . ,” and he pauses wickedly in his grin, ‘ . . . be a spine tree!’” he shouts, knowing that none of us even has a clue until he demonstrates on one rickety leg, arms waving as crooked skin branches for balance and his idea of a bony evergreen look echoed somehow electrically in wry features. Defeated, we resume our waiting as Harrison ponders the monumental difficulties of his all-time favourite game. He screws down his eyes with his screw-driver fists — “Simon says, ‘Roar like a dandelion’” is what he’s likely to serve up then or, just to really show us who’s champ, “Simon says, ‘See with the eyes on a butterfly’s wings!’” or to catch us out, “Punch with the fists of a bashful boxer”. He’d go on like this all day if he could, unless there’s swimming to be had, and the sinking he loves: it’s there at the blue, true bottom of the pool where the body explores what the senses shut off that he gets all his best ideas, he reckons, before he comes back to us glistening and goggle-eyed for breath.

《蛙文》/ Frogscript 3 • 郭少鳳 Evette Kwok

Japanese Frog for Frogscript_Thumbnail_2 FEB 2018

Please scroll down for the English translation!

《蛙文: 蝸牛》









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From “Equatorial Guitar”


2018-02-08 Moon Guitar Two_RESIZED

For all the guitar players out there in the WordPressSphere

Even unseen, this odd moon / gets into a man’s guitar, / entrancing its strings’ sixth sense / as he leaps the pineappled air.

Its lunar, lemon-white whispers / tell him what half-startling notes to make, / hunched — hummingbird — over the round sound hole / that yawns him wider awake.

Funny, he thinks, that all this noise / now raining down hard like a gift / should be derived from the thin nails of my own right hand / and the thick calluses of my left.


The Hurricane and the Poet


One prompt for poetry is the intense experience, something out of the ordinary which reduces us to stunned silence. When words fail us, we turn to poetry in order to make sense of an occasion that defies the ordinary run of our vocabulary. Language, in such cases, is forced to reach for new resources. It has no choice but to rise above its habitual methods. Such experiences constitute a kind of high-level apprenticeship in “extreme” creativity

Tomas Tranströmer’s prose poem “Hurricane, Iceland” is a simple example of what I mean. The speaker, probably representing the poet himself, gets caught in a strong wind, an unusually strong wind. He tries to make this perfectly clear in the opening lines:

Inget jordskalv men himlabävning. Turner kunde ha målat det, fastsurrad. En ensam vante virvlade förbi nyss, flera kilometer från sin hand.

Not earthquake; rather, skytremor. Turner could have painted this, lashed up tight [fastsurrad]. A solo/unpaired/single glove whizzed past just now, several kilometres from its hand.

The three moves here all attempt to convey magnitude. The first makes use of an indirect kind of simile. The hurricane is compared, by implication, to an earthquake, but since it happens in the sky, the poet invents the compound word himlabävning, made up of himmel = sky, firmament + bävning = trembling, shaking. This audacity at once brings home to the reader something of the power of the weather the poet faced on that day: the shock of the hurricane is at least partly duplicated in the shock of the unexpected comparison.

Tranströmer’s second magnitude is a cultural one. The reference to the English artist Joseph Turner is there to remind us of the fact that the artist had a fondness for painting violent natural scenes — titles such as “Eruption of Vesuvius” (c. 1817) or  “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth”  (1842) alone suggest this particular bent of his imagination. But, as the poem makes explicit, he would have to have been fastsurrad or “strapped up tightly” to avoid being carried off as he worked. This incidentally poses a bit of a problem in translation: the tendency is to want to fasten Turner down, but obviously he would need to be upright to make his art. At the same time, despite this binding, he would have to have at least his painting arm free.

Perhaps this thought about arms crossed Tranströmer’s mind as he added a third image to complete his presentation. The word ensam in Swedish looks as if it might mean “one-some”, but its most common meanings include “sole” and “alone, lonely”. The poet uses it here to underscore the fact that gloves come in pairs. The image is shifted from merely striking to exhilarating with the addition of the phrase flera kilometer från sin hand. The intrusion of the word “kilometres” between the hand and its accompanying glove magically, I think, conveys the enormous interval involved.

So far, we have an evocation of an extreme weather event. Tranströmer goes on to increase the drama by adding a life-threatening predicament:

Jag ska ta mig fram i motvind till det där huset på andran sidan fältet. Jag fladdrar i orkanen. Jag är röntgad, skelettet lämnar in sin avskedsansökan. Paniken växer medan jag kryssar, jag går i kvav, jag går i kvav och drunknar på torra land! Vad det är tungt, allt jag plötsligt har att släpa på, vad det är tungt för fjärilen att bogsera en pråm! Äntligen framme. En sista brottning med dörren.

I will make my way into the wind across to that house on the other side of the field. I flap/flail about [fladdrar] in the hurricane. Having been X-rayed, my skeleton hands in its notice. The panic mounts as I criss-cross back and forth, tacking: I’m going down, I’m going down, drowning on dry land! How heavy they are, all these things I suddenly find myself having to drag with me, and how heavy it is for a butterfly to drag a [whole] barge after it! I made it. A final struggle with the door.

The speaker has no choice but to make his way in impossible conditions to the distant house. The meaning of “fluttering” links back to the wind, and is close etymologically to the Swedish verb fladdra, but the word seems a bit feeble to me in this context: possibly “thrash” or “flail” would be truer to the situation, if less linguistically accurate, here (Robin Fulton uses “flutter” in his version: it certainly prepares us much better for the butterfly image). The bit about X-rays may seem out of place, but the dislocation of terms here, especially the phrase “to hand in one’s notice”, gives it power by dint of its incongruity. At this point, maritime references come to the fore to drive home the point about the speaker being both out of his habitual element and seriously in danger. They culminate in the topsy-turvy image of the butterfly-tugboat towing a barge [en pråm] behind it. By putting the cart before the horse here, the poet once again evokes the magnitude of the wind. At the same time, there may be a hint of something existential here: as the panic increases, the speaker is made to feel the full weight of his being on the Earth.

Of course, after that, the poem has to tell us what happened. Did the hurricane victim make it to safety or not? Tranströmer provides the following resolution:

Och nu inne. Och nu inne. Bakom den stora glasrutan. Vilken egendomlig och storslagen uppfinning är inte glaset — att vara nära utan att drabbas . . . Ute rusar en hord av genomskinliga sprinters i jätteformat över lavaslätten. Men jag fladdrar into längre. Jag sitter bakom glaset, stilla, mitt eget porträtt.

Finally inside. Finally inside. Behind the big pane of glass. No strange or rather magnificent discovery, [this thing] glass [I’m not sure about this interpretation! Fulton has “What a strange and magnificent invention glass is”] — to be so close without being struck [drabbas] . . . A hoard of transparent sprinters the size of giants rushes by outside over the lava plain. I no longer flutter/flail about [fladdrar]. I sit behind the glass, calm: my self-portrait.

His relief is palpable, signalled by the repetition of the simple phrase “Finally inside”. Along with the simplified language, the mood shifts: things gets mundane. There is one final, showy image of the weather, but what counts most is the glass and its calm. The speaker may see actually himself reflected in the pane — hence the words mitt eget porträtt (“my own portrait”) — but by now he is stilled, like the language of his text. His days as a butterfly have come to an end.

This is language at home in its habits: composed and equal to the task. Only when it is called on to deal with something larger than ordinary life, like a hurricane, is it put to the test. Such ordeals are vital though. When a writer comes to grapple with the more subtle, less dynamic occasions of human being, she has at her disposal a model of sorts for the precision, the power, and the quality she needs in order to communicate her experience unforgettably. She has, in other words, an idea at least of how to hurricanize herself against banality, chattiness, blur.

Here is a link to Robin Fulton’s full translation, “Icelandic Hurricane”, on Tranströmer’s official website.

《蛙文》/ Frogscript 2 • 郭少鳳 Evette Kwok

Japanese Frog for Frogscript_Thumbnail_2 FEB 2018

Please scroll down for the English translation!








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Only Accept (The Blind Self-Interview)

I filled my pockets with the weight of a day’s long pain
and trudged to the edge of a barnacled pier —
not to throw myself off
but to kill myself
thought by thought by thought to the end of time.
I failed in the freeze,
as the chill sun set,
hopelessly unable to see what I meant,
and marooned in that zone between iced
and unthawed, where all I could do
was to find in myself one thought at a time —
and thought by thought to the dead-end
of time — a single good reason
to come back to life
once more. I failed,
but in the freeze of twilit sea air
and in the canvas quiet of so much intricate natural noise
I realized, with my hands,
that pockets could never be filled by that sort of emptiness,
and that dusk in a way can be another kind of dawn —
if you’re lucky —
and that home, if you want one, must be built
out of nothing with hard-heart-felt questions
and barn-nail thinking,
thought by thought
to the end.