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

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Modern Poetry in China:

Chinese poetic tradition Du Fu 杜甫 (712–770) and Li Bai 李白 (701–762).10 Most famous, of course, is the poet Wang Wei (701–761), whose work the Song dynasty master Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 (1037–1101) described as demonstrating “poetry in painting, painting in the poetry” 詩中有畫,畫中有詩. This rather well-worn dictum has nonetheless lasting significance and, with voluminous examples of the other two masters of Chinese poetry, can be said to form a major feature of canonical poetic practice in China from at least the eighth century onward.

Historically, the model of the social category of creator of poetry and other arts presents itself as important both for its presence in the cultural record and for its conspicuous absence in the modern period. In an imperial Chinese context, a literatus (wenren 文人) would be engaged, beyond his primary responsibilities as government official, in what in Chinese is a two-character compound that provides two sides of a single avocation: wenyi 文藝. Translated into English as “literature and art,” the phrase is fundamentally a bifurcation united by the conjunction “and,” unnecessary in the Chinese context. The space between the two forms of cultural production now serves to demonstrate the specifically modern predicament of the two media. The inherent fusion of word and image common to classical Chinese traditions, be they verbal or visual, is therefore difficult to even articulate much less recuperate in Chinese today. Nonetheless, a small degree of such correspondence of media has continued into the modern era, to some extent because of the transplant and visually oriented modernist aesthetic discussed earlier.11

Although classical literary traditions in China might appear far removed from modern Chinese writing, the calligraphically executed poem in China is immediately relevant to modern or specifically modernist literary practice. The mode of creative composition that calligraphy entails could be described as one which collapses signifier and signified not only at the point of signification but at the point of execution, which is to say at the point when the brush first moves across the paper (or silk screen,