Last year, on a twenty-hour bus trip from Brisbane to Australia’s capital city Canberra, I took along the latest edition of the China New Poetry Yearbook [Zhongguo xinshi nianjian] for inspiration. This ambitious work, which is edited by the indefatigable poet Yang Ke, first appeared in the late 1990s and continues to provide an exhaustive overview of developments in Chinese poetry. The current Yearbook, covering the years 2002 and 2003, contains 357 pages of poetry by 110 poets—a truly mind-boggling amount of material.
As I read my way through the collection, I came across much that was too subtle to leave an impression, as well as much that was far too crude to give a damn what the reader thought of it! One thing that struck me was the trend for bizarre pen-names. The Yearbook includes work by poets called Monster-headed Baby, Mouth Pig, Vertical, Cold Eye, and The Potato Brothers. It’s inevitable, I guess: the more poetry comes to operate as a supermarket, the more “producers” rely on attention-grabbing gimmicks and novelty packaging to compensate for the fact that they have nothing intrinsically different to offer.
There are, however, still poets who write not to sell but to celebrate all the intricacy of what we do and think and feel on this small blue planet. Song Xiaoxian, the latest addition to the China domain of Poetry International Web, was one poet I came across in the Yearbook who struck me as having a voice worth listening to. Regular visitors to this site will see connections between his work and that of others we have already published. Like Sheng Xing, Shuijing Zhulian and Yi Sha, Song Xiaoxian cares little for linguistic inventiveness or imagistic splendour. Instead, he deals simply with events from his own plain life-history—events that made him feel something out of the ordinary. He tends instinctively towards minimalism. He writes about sexual love, about a sense of the divine, about humanity’s inhumanity to itself and other species in short poems in which no word is wasted. The result: compressed poems, deceptively slight, that stick to your clothes like burrs and grass seeds and won’t be shaken off easily.