Duo Yu
(China, 1973)   
Duo Yu

Although, as Fred Inglis once wrote in An Essential Discipline, the highest function of art is celebratory, there are times when poets need to stand against the self-congratulatory triumphalism of their times, casting, to the best of their abilities, a tarnished and sceptical shadow. This Duo Yu knows.

He also realizes that the problems of the world are, in direct and essential ways, linked to what goes on in human beings. In a recent article, Duo Yu dismisses the heroic-Confucian notion of poetry as the work of those "who take the burden of morality and justice on their shoulders". Instead, he discovers in poetry two more intimate possibilities: personal salvation and a dilution of the darknesses of the mind (perhaps the two are really one and the same thing).

What this means for readers, first of all, is a challenge to the "Life is Good" mentality associated with technological and economic progress. Happiness may, as some academics have claimed, be in direct proportion to GDP, but we're just beginning to realize some of the social, environmental as well as spiritual costs of such. Duo Yu, experimenting on the subject he knows best (himself), seeks the failure of such a world-view in his ordinary life. In a poem entitled 'Sick during Winter' he writes:

in the early morning, I watch the sun crawl inside here
lighting up the waning plants. such weather
is perfect for staying home with the TV, cigarettes and tea
porno movies of vastly different styles
I turn down the volume as low as possible
close all the window
as my spotless body learns to make love all over again

Beyond such ambiguous gestures, gestures that seem to reverse heroism rather than upset it, Duo Yu allows others forces to speak through his language. 'Written before Rain' is consumed by an overwhelming banality, yet in its final lines, an irresistible power surges into the poem almost despite both itself and the writer. 'In Time Holds No Roses . . .', Duo Yu expresses a bitter-sweet nostalgia for his hometown in an image of chilling clarity: a neglected life / transformed as if by magic / into my grandmother's bones. Finally, at the end of 'A Sprinkling of Snow', there's a hint, reading between the lines, that poetry is like the phantom breath of a dead girl that "pierces the deafening noise of the city". 

How does Duo Yu really see himself? In "Inside Me, It's All Darkness" he writes:

I bite my nails, pick my nose, look down on the poor, tell lies to God, spit in public places, hug myself with pleasure, am narrow-minded, support war without taking part in it, fantasize about sex, am suspicious, block my ears to the song of the swan, no longer regard art as being a kind of gold... But this is not the sum total of the blackness I have inside me, and if I could bring myself to face it in its entirety, I know that it would suddenly transform into light!

© Simon Patton


Duo Yu shixuan (Poems by Duo Yu), 2006.


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