Question Yang Lian
1, "If it were not for Tien-An-Men, my poetry would have continued to have a harmonious evolution". Can you explain to us what this abrupt change consists of from a literary standpoint?
To me, the evolution of Poetry should be based on the internal energy that found out by the poet himself, the energy specially linked with the thought of language and poetic forms. To the case of Contemporary Chinese Poetry, this point means, How to create a creative link between the classical poetry and the poetry written today. I did call the poems I wrote in China before 1989 “China Manuscripts”, because they have shown the way to build up the understanding rooted in the history, as well as in the language. book by book, a so-called “my own little tradition” has grown . Tien-An-Men was a very important, yet very rude happening in my life, it pushed the political reality to the surface of my writing, as a person and a poet, I have to react it, these poems such as “1989” was a very rare case to me, they spook to the political reality directly. They are sharp, even sharper than the normal “political works”, please read the last line of “1989”: “this is no doubt a perfectly ordinary year”, again, poem addresses the year to the depth of never-changed situation.
2, Still regarding Tien-An-Men, you have written that weeping washes away memories. Does crying mean to forget?
Crying does not means forgetting always, but at the case of Tien-An-Men, I am afraid It was. When I saw people crying with the huge shock by the death, my only mind was: do they remember those deaths happened before today? If not, who can guarantee these tears will be not washed away? Crying then forgetting, forgetting therefore could cry again, what a hopeless circle we are?! Even more importantly, it was a Chinese case, but IT IS the case of whole world today, look how the western big invests run to Chinese to shake Chinese government’s blood-hands when they smell the fishy-smell of money, they (perhaps) did cry at 1989, then forgot the crying as quick as they can, now, since their money safely protected by the Chinese communist party, it is their time of LAUGH!
3, What does it mean today to be a Chinese poet in exile?
To be an internationally individual poet, to against every hell when seems there is no heaven.
4, You have written that exile means to reach the limit and go beyond it. "I come from nowhere, I do not find myself anywhere", is this the condition of exile? How has this condition modified your relation with language?
I rather like to call that it is a possibility of exile. As a poet in exile, I started to question all these concepts which I never doubt when I was in China, such as: What’s mean being a Chinese poet? Why do I write poetry? What’s the special nature of Chinese language among other languages? Does it could be an inspiration to people in other languages as well? If yes, How can I re-discover the language in my poetry and don’t let them become a cheap “Identity-game” or “exotic-game”? ..... actually, these questions created an internal journey in my writings, finally, turning the poetry-writing becomes the prototype of exile. “questa e la riva da dove mi guardo prendere il largo” – the last line of “Where the Sea Stands Still”. A poet can only understand – and stay in -- the “nowhere” when he/she transcends the limit of “anywhere”.
5, Do you feel like an international poet? If so, in what way?
Yes, I am an international poet whom brings a lot of local treasures with me, to show to and share with my friends.
6, What is the nature of your relation with China at present?
To make China as a part of my own world map. In another way to say, I have no Home-sick to China, my only home-sick is to Poetry. Since I can continue to create my poems in Chinese language, China is a part of ME.
7, You have been defined as a menglong poet, obscure, incomprehensible. Why this accusation? Ought poetry help us discover the true significance of words?
“Menglong” is a hat put on to our heads by official criticize at early 80s, when Chinese ears were still flooded with the communist propagate-language. It was a very sad experience when we found out that people thought that “they understand” these words like “historical materialism” or “people’s democratic dictatorship”, but don’t understand “water”, “moon”, “earth”, “life” and “death”! I and other “menglong” poets did one thing in common even before we actually met, which was to through out these empty and political big-words out of our poems. “To express ourselves with our own language”, I called this sentence a first little theory of our poetry. The passion to express our deep feelings became the energy to collect back, to pure and to rediscover the language, in Chinese case, the blood-line between the great classical tradition and the contemporary has been built in this way. It is not only “significance”, it simply the only way to survive!
8, The musicality of the Chinese language is hidden behind the visual perception of the image. It lies therein. You say that is the secret energy of poetry. In European languages, on the contrary, one sees the sound of the letters of the alphabet. Does the poetry then act in a different way?
Actually, Poetry doesn’t act in different way, but poets, if they are not good enough, maybe weaken their poems by their own ignorance on the possibilities the language provided. Because of the hidden sounds of Chinese characters, there were the laws of tones created and fixed in the classical poetry forms, in order to compose the music. The classical poets had to follow the law, to find the word with the correct tone for the place, otherwise, it was “illegal”! To me, it shows the highest value of Poetry, even though we are very difficult to follow the classical rules, but the way of creation is the same, when I write, actually I write three poems within one piece: the visual-poem, the music-poem, and the meaning-poem (again, the final meaning of a character rely on the contexts). I also check the three lavers when I read any poem in Chinese, unfortunately, I am often disappointed for their poor music, there were no “secret energy” because there were no energy, the poems are simply mutes.
9, How do you evaluate the work of the Dalai Lama?
Just simply look at his shinning, warm, peaceful and forever-young smile, then you know, he is not only a fighter for the rights of people and culture in Tibet, he is a great model of our world!
10, London is the city where you currently live. Are the terrorist attacks the reflection of a religious war or a cultural war?
Of course, I felt terribly pity for these dead in bombs, but, there was an English friend said: “don’t forget, Iraq is like this every day!” The attacks shouldn’t be simply pushed back to the religious and cultural backgrounds, it related with a much wilder, realistic contexts, especially the double standards held by the western governments based on the different interests, USA is the embodiment of Justice in Iraq, but look what their attitude to Chinese government that also (and still) does the massacre? In fact, they need that autocratic power to guard their huge investments! The dirty interests have been shared by both powers. Thus, I don’t agree with the words of “religious war” and “cultural war”, it is still a war of unfair world. To prove this, you can simply read poems written by American poets and Iraqi poets, then to know how similar they are. Poetry holds and shows the root of every culture. We are actually all linked together. The attacks in London and elsewhere show the real problem, which is, within the noises of collective, emotional slogans, the individual thinking and voice within each culture became even more difficult to be heard, this is the greatest danger to the world today.
11, How would it be possible to resolve the situation of conflict that for years has gripped your country of origin, China?
***I am not sure about what’s mean of “the situation of conflict”? Do you ask about the war between China and Taiwan? If so, my answer is following –
To me, “the situation of conflict” between Mainland and Taiwan is not between two powers, or two countries, it is, in fact, between two political systems and two values: Taiwan represents a newly transformed democracy-system; Mainland China represent an autocracy-system which, based on the worst mixture that the fact of Chinese traditional dictatorship covered by the Western hollow words of “social evolution”. The reason that made China became an opposite case at the end of “Cold War” was the size, the bad side is too huge and the good side is too small. But, the whole changing so far shows, the big is not always won. Taiwan is a model of the good modern transformation, and holds huge influences to Mainland on all layers from economy to politics. I believe there will be no any reason to keep the two parts separated when/if Mainland becomes democratic as well, it is the target that Chinese people fright for, it’s also the best way to solve the “conflict”.
12, You have received a very warm reception on public occasions during your visits to Italy. What do you think that others most admire in your poetic production?
I have been enjoying so much to be a poet beloved by people whom produced Ovid and Dante in their own tradition! But I also have to say, I am so familiar with this feeling in almost all more than 20 languages I have been translated into, from English to Russian, from French to Turkish, from German to Arabic, I shared the understanding on the depth of poetry when in a dialogue with the South African poet Breyten Breytenbach; I exchanged a lot of ideas on the rediscover of the tradition with Japanese poets….all my experiences proved one sentence I love very much: “Poetry is our mother tongue!”
13, Do you feel that you are a "poet of fire", as you were presented in Castelbasso?
I would love to be a poet of fire if poetry is a piece of gold could be extracted and purified in the fire! In fact, my own name “Lian” means exactly “Smelt” in Chinese. Since thousands ago, classical poets have been using this image of “Smelt” to talk about the process of poetry-writing, the beautiful and powerful words, sentences, and poetics must be brought out with the power of fire! What a wonderful name that fix the fate of my whole life! Don’t forget, I received this name after I was born just three days in Switzerland, where a baby must be registered very quickly after the birth!