In the following section dedicated to the work of Chi Lingyun 池凌雲, literary scholar Shengqing Wu 吳盛青 and translator Eleanor Goodman 顧愛玲 offer CLT readers an avenue into the lively scene of contemporary women poets. Focusing on Chi’s poetry, they explore issues of the feminist consciousness, different possibilities for the expression of empathy, questions of a writer’s social responsibility, and the status of a poet’s relationship to language in contemporary China. Born in 1966, Chi has emerged as one of the most prominent feminist voices in poetry during the past decade. Her books include Darting Snowflakes (Feiben de xuehua 飛奔的雪花) published in 1997, One-Sided Dialogue (Yigeren de duihua 一個人的對話) in 2005, Selected Poetry of Chi Lingyun (Chi Lingyun shixuan 池凌雲詩選) in 2010, and Stealth’s Gleam (Qianxing zhiguang 潛行之光) in 2013.
As a whole, Chi’s work is characterized by a strong female voice and charged with lyrical emotionalism. Many of her early poems offer reflections upon and metaphorical transformations of her struggles growing up as an intelligent, inquisitive child in the restrictive environment of rural China, and then coping with the rapid changes the country has undergone in the last several decades, an experience shared by many of her generation. She also writes extensively about the experiences of other prominent female figures, from Lin Zhao 林昭 to Jacqueline du Pré, through which she delves into a collective experience of—and resistance to—the forces of seemingly predetermined fate, as well as to gender and social hegemony. Much of her literary inspiration is drawn from other great writers of the past century, especially the poets of the Silver Age of Russian literature, such as Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Akhmatova, and, like these writers, Chi uses a deft touch to reveal “the beauty of tremendous difficulty” in life as in art. Her work draws upon personal experience and everyday life to explore often-disturbing themes of death, suffering, and assault. Yet she is also able to write about a full range of topics, and demonstrates a virtuosic ability to render everyday subject matter with an abstract and philosophical dimension. In this way, she has made great contributions to the larger artistic exploration of the ethical dimension and affective power of contemporary Chinese poetry. In her personal ethos, “Sorrow is ever / the slow walk of maturity.”
According to contemporary critic Xi Du 西渡, Chi Lingyun belongs to the third wave of Chinese female poets who have come to the fore since the late 1970s. Having internalized a “consciousness of night” (a phrase coined by her contemporary Zhai Yongming 翟永明), her articulation of a feminist grounding can be more subtle and mediated than what is sometimes found in the work of her peers. Further, Chi is deeply committed to dealing with subject matter such as poverty, despair, injustice, and death, all of which carry significant social import. With these dark materials she fashions a melancholic voice, a “feeble murmur” that in the current situation in China can paradoxically be heard more clearly than a shout. She understands her own writing to be a form of “hungry writing,” a concept indebted to Nietzsche, which she uses to mean a commitment to the social responsibility of writing about poverty, disasters both natural and manmade, and the plight of the less privileged. This idea is also revealing of her attitude toward language, which she considers “another skeleton of my spirit, giving me a second life.” In purely artistic terms, her poetry is characterized by concrete imagery, a strong lyric voice, and the use of oxymoron and concise description. With its expressive power, language is a “dangerous light” that can combat darkness of social, historical, and existential import.
By Chi Lingyun 池凌雲
Translated by Eleanor Goodman 顧愛玲 and Shengqing Wu 吳盛青
The Chrysanthemum’s Question
The chrysanthemum enters the wheat field, and reaches up between the wings
of gold-plumed birds. Why does its hungry stomach
reject the real grains of wheat? The pitch-black prairie
refuses to subside. The shadows of days bearing chrysanthemums
shift about, worse than a yoke.
More chrysanthemums pace along the road.
More white-colored rites fall from the sky. More empty earth
comes under the potter’s hand. One by one, human puppets
are captured, offered up for sale.
You are all the same sort of thing.
are also the same.
Her longing is soundless
her longing covers all of longing’s eyes
it shocks all those who are falling
An unstoppable descent
each soft closure
drives a woman to madly
entangle her own body in the dark
and dance in silence. An aching bird
takes off in low flight
her pain has a warm exterior
This one single refuge, an inexpressible
loneliness, adds to life’s urgency—
the setting sun in her heart is transparent
and emits a mysterious radiant halo
A soundless violation is beautifully patterned
I’ve gazed at it for a long time, touching
her loosening pain
it lets someone completely different from me
live inside my body
But she has forgotten her fate
she hopes to encounter a thief
and be stolen. She dashes through the stillness
with a tearing sound
A Kind of Poetry
To discover a tree’s memories is impossible.
To seek a pebble’s experience is also impossible.
We spy on water’s motion
but in the end we still can’t touch its core.
The cloud has always been there, we exhaust our energy
to understand its will, yet there’s no hope
it will reveal the sky’s mysteries.
Poetry also has the will of clouds
with words like rain, to avoid madness
it creates more madness. Just as when love
is written down, it loses half of its sincerity.
When explained, there is only a layer of sticky
mist left. No one is quick or deft enough
to capture poetry for long. Everything perfect
contains a dark cave.
I can’t explain the attraction of this cave.
A kind of tranquility, which carries a greater sacrifice
undissolved by light. A kind of dizziness
from this shore to the farther shore, crossing freely.
It has enslaved every golden finger.
A wild cave, harboring minerals, ice and feathers
a few symbols, and I still don’t know what it is.
As it retreats step by step into the deep sea
opening into a sea lily, the world’s
loneliest flower appears on the horizon.
My path also secretly revolves.
The breeze blows over the water and the newly built towers,
lurks between the railings and inscribes its yellow mark
and spreads the sea lily’s seeds.
This lithe lit gold,
the feather-light petals dance with flames.
These ancient young deaths in the ocean, the end
to which it has retreated, let it all rise from the dead.
A Flame’s Hardship
A sheep sparkles in crystal—it’s very important not to run.
Inside, he softly lifts his front hoof.
So it goes year in and year out. A flame’s hardship
has never pulled along a wisp of smoke. No fissures.
I am convinced that a sheep lives in the crystal.
I don’t pity him. The sky
darkens with every minute.
We are already soaked through.
I tell them his heart is pure.
People haven’t changed the bark and grass.
No one knows what his breath means.
Anyway, trees are pulled up tall from the earth.
A woman hovering over the craggy terrain
goes on her way alone.
From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 4 No. 2