Yu Xiuhua 余秀华 became an overnight celebrity poet when her sensationally titled poem “Crossing Over Half of China to Sleep with You” (“Chuan guo daban ge zhongguo qu shui ni” 穿过大半个中国去睡你) went viral online in 2014. Because of Yu’s disability (cerebral palsy), gender, and background as a farmer in central Hubei, her poetry was initially popularized over the internet as the work of a “brainparalyzed peasant woman poet.” At the same time, her poems quickly garnered attention from scholars, who took notice of her piercing poetic voice and unconventional use of language. Since the online circulation of “Crossing,” Yu has published three books of poetry that have sold over 400,000 copies, signaling a major poetry craze that has not been witnessed in China since the 1980s Cultural Fever. Additionally, in 2018 Yu published a personal essay collection and an autobiographical novella. She accumulated an international presence after appearing in Fan Jian’s 范俭 2016 documentary film Still Tomorrow (Yaoyao huanghuang de renjian, 摇摇晃晃的人间), which chronicles Yu’s rise to literary fame and struggle for the right to divorce. Her story has been featured in mainstream media such as the New York Times, and in 2018 Yu was nominated for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature alongside writers such as Bei Dao, Xi Chuan, and Xi Xi.
We have put together this special section with the hope of introducing Yu’s poetry to English-speaking readers. To that end, we have carefully selected twelve poems for translation. We believe that they exemplify Yu’s work in three significant ways: First, they are highly autobiographical and use her own bodily experience as an anchor to reflect on recurrent themes of love, desire, death and loss, illness and recovery, and human cruelty. “I Love You” (“Wo ai ni” 我爱你) and “Spend a Night Remembering You” (“Yong yi ge yewan huainian ni” 用一个夜晚怀念你), for instance, are love poems that establish the poetic voice as a desiring subject and express a deep yearning for intimacy. These and other poems situate the subject within an unmistakably embodied (gendered and disabled) corporeality. Yet the image of the body can serve subversive purposes. Yu’s poetic voice is at once calm and penetrating, daring to subordinate high politics and matters of national concern to her own daily experience. In poems such as “In Autumn” (“Zai qiutian” 在秋天) and “My Body Also Has a Train Inside It” (“Wo shenti li ye you yi lie huoche” 我身体里也有一列火车), for example, high politics are indexed but only significant in the sense that they impact the poetic subject’s physical and emotional world.
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