Exit Viewer

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

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
image Next
Modern Poetry in China:

symbolism being but one of many, but nothing that could be transmitted outside of the medium of the Chinese language itself. In other words, even if Li had wanted to spend time revising carefully and perfecting his vers libre compositions, he could not have, as there was no model, no standard, no successful work to which he could turn. It was an open field, and one badly in need of new direction.

Charting a new direction is the job of the modern lyrical subject, in Li’s case one whose grammatical structures and diction often make mere comprehension a serious challenge. This, however, does not at all impede the visibility of such a subject; instead, it reaffirms his status as modernizer (in a language one cannot always understand).23 In other words, the figure whose failure to communicate a viably modern “meaning” is an essential part of the persona of the modern lyrical subject itself, a poetic textual version of his darkened face atop a Roman precipice. Unsurprisingly, twelve poems in to his first collection, there already appears a textual counterpart to Li’s visual “Self-Portrait,” 提自寫像 (tizi xiexiang):

While the moon rests at bottom of the river
And still can jest with purple forest
This soul of a Christian acolyte
Oh!, Too emotional.
I’m thankful for these hands and feet
They don’t amount to much
But they’re enough
In old times the warriors carried shield
And subdued tigers
Me? I’m a bit more bashful
Hot as midday sun
But grey like a new moon in clouds
I’m suited up to
walk the corners of the world
But for sprouting wings?
That’s a bit too much!