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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
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Modern Poetry in China:

draws the parallels across too expansive a territory so that the reader can no longer follow. The oft-quoted example of this is Li’s “Expressions of Time” 時之表現 (Shi zhi biaoxian), a numerated, serial poem that begins,

The wind and rain on the ocean
A dead deer in my heart.
Look! The autumn dream spreads wide its wings and flies away
Carrying with it this wasted soul

看, 秋夢展開翼去

Li’s (1925) “Expressions of Time”

I will return to this seminal poem. In the meantime, it is important to note that the exercise of delineating the parameters of tenable metaphor, a spatial configuration that situates and distinguishes acceptable from unacceptable imaginative leap, is indicative of the efforts by critics of modern Chinese poetry to establish criteria for evaluation and in so doing stabilize the genre itself in a cultural field in which it has always held a precarious position. Li Jinfa’s work is not easily defended according to most of the criteria that would be developed given that some of the basic elements of reading practice (comprehensibility) are willfully challenged by his style and approach.

If one goes to the source, which is to say Li Jinfa’s own words on what he intended to accomplish with his poetry, one finds that he was in fact particularly conscious of his readership. Li’s indication of how his poems should be read is as follows:

This collection is comprised mostly of love poems and some of my personal grumbling. Perhaps the “you, you; me, me” of love poetry will be a tax on some readers’ patience, but this kind of open expression of emotion is actually needed to correct the frigid nature of inter-gender relations in China. And as for the personal